James Still's "Critique of New Testament Reliability and 'Bias' in NT Development"--my initial response.

My Comment 22:

[date: June 20, 1998]  

James Still continues...

In other words the Jesus sayings--from oral tradition to the final canonized form that we have today--constantly evolved in a dynamic process which reflected the zeal and enthusiasm of the early Christians who preserved them.

Robertson remarks on the reasons why it is difficult to separate the various Jesus traditions from each other:

"Within a hundred years from the date commonly assigned to the Crucifixion, there are Gentile traces of a Jesuist or Christist movement deriving from Jewry, and possessing a gospel or memoir as well as some of the Pauline and other epistles, both spurious and genuine; but the gospel then current seems to have contained some matter not preserved in the canonical four, and have lacked much that those contain." (John M. Robertson, Short History of Christianity,quoted in Herbert Cutner, Jesus: God, Man or Myth? (New York: Truth Seeker, 1950) p. 230.) This statement by James (and his use of Robertson here?!) brings us into the area of what is called the 'Synoptic Problem'. [We have already argued earlier that the early church was interested in preserving the original teachings of Jesus, but here we have to deal with the issue of 'redaction' criticism.]

You see, the position that James takes here-basically that the individual churches/communities 'changed' (i.e. "constantly evolved in a dynamic...") what it was taught according to its 'zeal' and other factors-is one specific theory within a broader field of Synoptic theories. James maintains that the differences between the obviously similar Synoptic gospels are due to deliberate, and often confrontationally-based, changes to some original source. For example, some community (leader) would take Mark and disagreeing with large parts of it, would recast the Marcan material to suit their tastes, beliefs, needs, "zeal" etc-irrespective of what "actually happened." In this way, James can find implicit disagreement with earlier forms of 'the Word of God", implying that the early church perhaps did not even SEE the early gospels as 'inspired' and certainly not authoritative. If, on the other hand, the changes are either (1) NOT changes, but rather simple variances due to eyewitness factors or stylistic preferences (e.g., Jewish audiences vs. Gentile); or (2) non-ideological disagreements, but expansions, emphases, etc, then the position that the later writers held the earlier writings to be 'authoritative' and even 'inspired' (since so much of the material would have been treated with respect and honor by the sheer adoption of the vast majority of the material) would be much more probable.

So, we will need to spend a little time here on the 'Synoptic Problem".

The 'problem' itself can be stated somewhat simply: how do we account for the noticeable similarities and yet considerable differences between the Synoptic Gospels (e.g., Matthew, Mark, and Luke). James gives the example of the passage about the denunciation of the Pharisees by John the Baptist (Mt 3.7-10; Luke 3.7-9), bringing to the reader's attention the striking identity of the vast majority of the passage (although he missed the details again; there are not two differences, but THREE -the conjunction kai is additional in Luke).

Assuming that the three gospels are written by three different people, the existence of such similarity can be explained by at least three different theories:

  1. Eyewitness Theory: All three were based on first-hand eyewitness testimony, with the dissimilarities being due to (1) different eyewitness word choices or (2) details remembered/noted;

  2. Oral Tradition Theory: All three drew upon a common stock of oral traditions of the church, which was transmitted through preaching and liturgy, with the differences being either due to (1) alternate transmission paths; (2) authorial selection/arrangement of material; or (3) deliberate modification by the writers;

  3. Literary Dependence Theory: Some of the gospels were written in dependence on earlier written gospels, with large scale borrowing/adoption and modifications by the later authors. [I will henceforth abbreviate this theory by LD.]

We will come back to the Eyewitness theory at the end of this article, but to set the contrasts up now in summary fashion is Linnemann [NT:ITSP:14,15]: "In order to determine the extent of the 'agreement right down to word order and sentence structure' assumed by those who argue for literary dependence, I have investigated, among other things, a representative cross-section of Mark's Gospel, along with its parallels. This cross-section comprises 34.83 percent of the literary data that Mark contains. At least one pericope has been selected from every chapter; in most instances several have been examined. All of the genres or literary categories postulated by form criticism have been included."

"This quantitative Synoptic comparison (in which mere agreement in content is not taken into account) had the following results: In the cross section examined, just 22.19 percent of the words in parallel passages are completely identical; on the average, given 100 words in Mark, Matthew will have 95.68 differences and Luke 100.43. This means that the verbal similarities are comparatively small and extend chiefly to identical accounts of Jesus' words and to specific and unalterable vocabulary that is required by the nature of what is being related.

"These data are quite normal is one assumes the original and independent free formulation of the same events and circumstances. The same data furnish no basis for assuming literary dependence."

"...if the Synoptics are three reports having a common basis in the reported event, then the differences in parallel passages amount to nothing more than the perspectival contrasts that one would expect when eyewitnesses are involved. Minor discrepancies are normal; supplementary verses can be regarded as additional information. On the other hand, if one assumes dependence on a literary exemplar, then every sentence becomes more or less a falsification of what was originally stated. Then one is required to see Matthew and Luke as the result of arbitrary reworking of the Marcan original."

The dominant (although declining) scholarly opinion today is for Literary Dependence (LD), and the main question for LD'ers is which gospel was dependent which other gospel or gospels.

Within Literary Dependence, there are three main competing schools:

  1. The Two-Document/Two-Source hypothesis: That Mark was the earliest gospel, that there was a body of 'sayings' material (i.e., Q), and that Matthew and Luke were dependent on these two 'sources' (as their main sources). [Abbreviated 2SH]

  2. The Two-Gospel hypothesis: That Luke and Mark were dependent on canonical Matthew (which already contains all the 'sayings' material already). [This later position is called the Neo-Greisbachian position.] [Abbreviated 2GH]

  3. The Farrer hypothesis: That Matthew used Mark, and that Luke used both, dispensing with the need for Q.
I should also point out one final theory of the 'Synoptic Problem": the "We-give-up theory". This view essentially argues that we cannot unravel this problem-that the data cannot be explained by ANY theory of literary dependence, or that ALL theories of LD do equally as well in explaining the phenomena of scripture.

How I intend to approach this question:

  1. I want to survey scholarly trends in today's New Testament field (to demonstrate the move away from the position that James expouses);
  2. I want to point out that the majority-view position does not in any way require the conclusions that James reaches
  3. I want to evaluate the two main arguments for Literary Dependence: the argument from verbal identify and the argument from order;
  4. Finally, I want to sketch out the gospel formation process as I see it

First: A brief word about scholarly trends...

Twenty to thirty years ago, the field was overwhelmingly dominated by Two-Source proponents. Scarcely a textbook challenged this theory (although, as Linnemann pointed out, 2SH was never actually tested, only accepted without contest! [NT:ITSP]). In the last two or three decades, however, there are three main shifts in scholarly opinion that are relevant to our investigation here:

  1. The growing population of "We Give Up" scholars. The radical proliferation of alleged sources and documents required by ANY theory of source-relatedness has led many to this position. This might be seen in Wenham's description of the results of the Synoptic Problem Seminar of the Society for New Testament Studies [RMML:xxi]:

      "In 1979 I found myself in the Synoptic Problem Seminar of the Society for New Testament Studies, whose members were in disagreement over every aspect of the subject. When this international group disbanded in 1982 they had sadly to confess that after twelve years' work they had not reached a common mind on a single issue."

    Wenham also describes the "reluctant submission" of the Q/LD theories by so many [RMML:2]:
      "It is true that throughout this century the great majority of scholars have held to some form of the two-document hypothesis, believing that Mark came first and that Matthew and Luke independently built their gospels out of Mark and another source or sources known as Q. Probably, judging by the attitude of the members of recent gospels conferences, most scholars who have examined this theory critically have not been particularly impressed with its logical weight, yet they find no other theory convincing, and, since life is short, they have been content to go along with the majority and accept it as a working hypothesis."

      "But throughout this century there has been a steady stream of scholars who have been so dissatisfied with the theory on which they have been brought up that they have felt bound to try to do better, and a number have got to the point of publishing their findings. Yet, not only has no new consensus emerged, but the debate has reached such an impasse that the problem begins to look insoluble. In 1985 A. J. Bellinzoni assembled a collection of the most significant articles in The Two-Source Hypothesis: A Critical Appraisal. In its final essay J. B. Tyson concluded: 'After reading these essays it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that nothing convincing has emerged from this long and torturous discussion."

    Indeed, the German scholar Reisner can say [cited by Linnemann, [NT:ITSP:39]]:
      "Since the mid-1960s there have been many indications that the situation in Synoptic studies is undergoing significant change....The majority of researchers, it is true, are hanging on to the old theory, but it has lost a good deal of its self-evidentness. Especially in English-speaking quarters there is a growing dissatisfaction with the usual solutions. Framer has announced the appearance of a large new study which will advance further arguments for the 'Griesbach hypothesis.' But similar work is underway elsewhere, e.g. at the Synoptic studies institute of the University of Nimwegen. Virtually every imaginable solution to the Synoptic problem, no matter how marginal its merits, currently finds advocates."

    And even those who still accept the 2SH, have come to realize the tentativeness with which it must be held. So CMM:38:
      "The two-source hypothesis provides the best overall explanation for the relationships among the Synoptic Gospels, but two caveats must be introduced in conclusion. First, the process through which the Gospels came into being was a complex one, so complex that no source-critical hypothesis, however detailed, can hope to provide a complete explanation of the situation. Granted that at least one of the evangelists was an eyewitness, that various oral and written traditions unrecoverable to us were undoubtedly circulating, and that the evangelists may even have talked together about their work, the "scissors-and- paste" assumptions of some source critics are seen to be quite unfounded. Recognizing this complexity, along with the stubborn persistence of phenomena that the two-source hypothesis cannot satisfactorily explain, we should treat this hypothesis more as a working theory than as a conclusion set in concrete. Especially important is the need to be open to the possibility that, in a given pericope, an explanation based on the two-source hypothesis may not fit the data. For a given text we thus may conclude that Matthew is more primitive than Mark, or that Luke has followed a special eyewitness source rather than Mark, or that Matthew has relied on his own remembrance or written notes rather than on Q.

    Also, the growing importance of Literary criticism (as opposed to Historical criticism), which treats the final-form documents as unitary literary creations, is implicitly a statement about the usefulness and/or 'rigor' of traditional source or form criticism. Indeed, this has been explicitly commented upon by Melick in FBI:434-435:
      "In the late 1960s, a major shift in biblical studies occurred. Concerned with the relative fruitlessness of previous critical analyses, some biblical scholars called for a new way of approaching the Bible. Source, form, and redaction criticisms left many with the cold feeling that the text had been destroyed by constant cutting, pasting, and reanalysis. Was the Bible ever intended to be so treated?

      "Many observed that the Bible had remained a powerful book for people of faith, regardless of the historical factors that brought it about. Religious people through the centuries found meaning from the pages of Scripture apart from the historical questions of critical studies. Perhaps it would be better to approach the Bible from literary perspectives. This meant determining appropriate criteria for categorizing Scripture. Further, it meant interpreting Scripture in light of these categories.

      "These scholars left traditional critical methods for many reasons. Some were disenchanted with the findings of critical scholars. Too often they concluded with their prior assumptions. Others simply sought to approach literature holistically rather than piecemeal. Still others developed new approaches to biblical literature strictly from their literary studies. For various reasons, therefore, many scholars called for new methods in biblical studies."

  3. There is a huge resurgence of Two-Gospel advocates. The neo-Greisbachian school has produced a number of significant works in the last decade or two, making VERY strong arguments for the Two-Gospel theory (i.e., the competing theory to the two-source hypothesis, as espoused by James). The Committee of scholars which met in Jerusalem in 1984 challenged BOTH hypotheses to make pericope-by-pericope explanations. The neo-Greisbachians have published theirs, and their work BQI makes this strong claim at its conclusion [BQI:318-319]:

      "When the work began which has resulted in this volume, the group had set itself a daunting but nonetheless modest goal. Challenged by other scholars, especially at the Jerusalem Symposium on the Interrelation of the Gospels in 1984, advocates of the Two Gospel Hypothesis set out to give a pericope-by-pericope demonstration of (a) how Mark used Matthew and Luke and (b) how Luke used Matthew.

      "The latter demonstration was especially daunting because it had never been done, not even by the original Griesbachians. As work progressed on this part of the project and pieces began to fit, firm optimism began to emerge that a credible explanation of Luke's use of Matthew was possible. About two years ago, having charted the sequential relationship of Luke to Matthew in Luke 3-9, the mood changed. Hard on the heels of that advance came the painstaking process of tracing Luke's relationship to Matthew in the Travel Narrative, which for one hundred and fifty years has been the graveyard of Synoptic hypotheses. With the development of a similar chart which showed the pattern of Luke's intricate but orderly use of Matthew in the Travel Narrative, our sense of the value of this work underwent a significant transformation. We now believe that we have presented evidence which makes it difficult to hold any other position than that Luke used Matthew directly as his primary source.

      "That bold assertion is based on three kinds of phenomena which have been presented in this book. The most important is the evidence that Luke followed the sequential order of Matthew in the major narrative sections of his Gospel. In Lk 3-9, Luke followed a pattern of cyclic progression. In Lk 9-19, Luke combined the material from Matthew's great speeches in thematic sections of the Travel Narrative, often following the internal order of those sayings units within their Matthean contexts. And in Lk 20-24, he adopted Matthew's basic sequential order. A second level of evidence for the direct dependence of Luke on Matthew is the number of cases, not at all inconsiderable, where Luke has preserved key phrases that were created by Matthew for redactional summaries or introductions. But what was perhaps the most delightful surprise for us was the third level of evidence of Luke's use of Matthew. We discovered that, time after time, Luke's use of Matthew was best and most easily explained by Luke's widely recognized compositional concerns; e.g., the units on prayer in Lk 11:1- 13 and 18:1-14. Throughout our compositional analysis, we observed remarkable ways in which Luke's purposes and characteristics dovetailed precisely with his use of Matthew.

      "The net result of this study is, then, that we believe that more than a demonstration that Luke might have used Matthew as his source has been achieved. We believe that it will be difficult to argue that the data in Luke can be explained any other way than that Luke was thoroughly conversant with canonical Matthew and made it the basis of his Gospel.

      "Certainly further research is needed to pursue many details not covered by our Demonstration, to ferret out and present anomalies to our hypothesis; in short, to test our results. For one thing, future research must include a more refined analysis of Luke's use of nonmatthean tradition.

      "We now turn our attention to a pericope-by-pericope compositional analysis of Mark's use of both Matthew and Luke. With this effort, we intend to update and refine Owen's and Griesbach's original attempts. Beyond that, we are working toward a redactional analysis of Matthew independent of any assumption of Matthew's dependence on Mark and 'Q.' That task will ultimately include a tradition-historical separation of the sources of Matthew, including what may go back to the historical Jesus.

      "If further examination and debate does bear out the main outlines of our contention that we now have hard evidence that the author of the Gospel of Luke made direct and systematic use of the canonical Gospel of Matthew, then it follows that the entire currently held understanding of the development of earliest Christianity-especially as it rests on the belief in 'Q"-will need a complete overhaul, since a whole series of misconceptions and false conclusions would have to be given up. As is made clear in the Introduction, this overhaul would necessarily extend to the very instruments used by all scholars in Gospel research: the synopsis and the critical text. In this sense, Luke's Use of Matthew presages the beginning of an exciting new era in New Testament studies. [italics original; bold mine]


    CMM, themselves supporters of the Two-Source Hypothesis, point out that its strength has eroded greatly over the past couple of decades [CMM:32]:

      "But most scholars thought that Streeter and his predecessors had clearly proven the two-source hypothesis in general, and this explanation of gospel origins was generally assume by those, such as the redaction critics, who were working on other aspects of the Gospels...As noted above, however, this is no longer true. The two-source hypothesis has been subjected over the last thirty years to serious criticism, most notably by advocates of the two-gospel, or Griesbach, proposal, but by others also, some of whom maintain Markan priority, while questioning the existence or nature of Q. To the extent that these challenges have induced some caution into what was often an overly dogmatic and simplistic reconstruction of gospel origins, they have had a salutary effects. The two-source theory has been appropriate dethroned form the status of being an 'assured results of scholarship.'"

    Neville, in what could arguably be called the most significant contribution to the issue recently, pointed out in his conclusion [NT:AOSSC:223]:

      "we have only recently emerged from a period when the theory of Marcan priority was almost incontestable. The present climate of 'pluralism' in gospel studies is a welcome development."
  5. A number of scholars have left the LD school in a move toward the Oral Tradition approach. The vast number of substantive differences-even within the passages that are considered parallel or borrowed-have convinced a growing number of well-respected scholars to abandon LD in favor of various Oral Tradition theories. Wenham documents a number of these [RMML:6]:
"In recent years there have been at least four brave souls (J.M. Rist, B. Beicke, J.W. Scott and B. Chilton) who have defied the modern consensus with regard to literary dependence and have declared their belief in the complete independence of two or more of the gospels."

[It is important to note that these scholars are generally NOT lock-step Form Critics-they do NOT hold to "long and loose" oral transmission periods.]

And even those who DO hold to LD are aware of this erosion of consensus. Even Byrskog can say [HI:JTOT:332]: 

"I will proceed on the assumption that there is sufficient evidence for the view, still in some form held by the majority of scholars, that Matthew knew a version of Mark's narrative and that the material with Matthews's narrative shares only with Luke's narrative reflects another (flexible) body of tradition--the Q material." [emphasis mine. Notice how far this is from 'all scholars agree'!]
So, the Two-Source Theory (held by James) is weakening, but James seems unaware of this and indeed voices unusual confidence in a theory that is losing ground and adherents daily. And the Literary Dependence Theory (held by James) is weakening. And the "We can figure these interrelationships out" theory (held by James) is weakening.

And even the arguments James uses in his subsequent piece, have all "gone away", yet James seems unaware of the scholarly trends. So Farmer can point out [BQI:xi]:

"For example, Robert Funk, in his recently published Five Gospels (Harper Collins, 1994), stated that the priority of Mark and the existence of "Q" (the Two Source Hypothesis) were pillars on which the research of the Jesus Seminar rested. In support of this position, Funk cited the same arguments Streeter published in 1924. But every one of these arguments has been discredited in the course of subsequent discussion of the synoptic problem and are no longer used by knowledgeable proponents of the Two Source Hypothesis, e.g., Frans Neirynck and Christopher Tuckett. Such is the deplorable condition of some of the so-called scientific study of the Gospels in the United States today.
And some of the arguments James used have been demonstrated to be unreliable [Dungan, ABD, s.v. "Two-Gospel Hypothesis"]:  

Now, I do not expect James to necessarily bring up all the counter-arguments to his position by any means, but I do wish that his presentation of the material would be less dogmatic and reflect the much less 'assured results' character of the real situation today. (I am assuming that he is aware of how the Jesus Seminar position is a fringe phenomenon, and how the scholarly trends documented above have rendered his position into a 'working hypothesis' only, and not a secure position from which to make confident redactional judgments of large scope.)

And less we be misled, we must recognize that MANY of the arguments for one order or another of the gospels are quite reversible! Dungan, himself obviously a 'reluctant adherent' of the 2SH, points this out [ABD, s.v., "Synoptic Problem"], as well as the importance of pre-commitments (note the phrase: "on the basis of the main tenets of..."!):

"The Two-Source theory probably offers the most adequate (or least problematic) solution to the synoptic problem. It is not free from difficulties and it can never be proved with mathematical finality. Many arguments used in the discussion are reversible. Practically all arguments depend on claims to the effect that a development of the tradition in one direction is "more likely" than the reverse development. Clearly, any such claim is subjective, and always potentially open to a counterclaim which tries to account for the opposite change in question. Thus the most one can say is that the Two-Source theory provides a reasonably comprehensive account of the development of the tradition on the basis of its main tenets of the dependence of Matthew and Luke on the Markan and Q traditions." And Wenham comments on the same problem [RMML:89-90]: "The relationship which is still usually favoured makes Matthew the redactor of Mark. One achievement of the modern reopening of the synoptic debated by Butler, Farmer and the rest has been the recognition of the worthlessness of some may of the arguments which have been deployed. Most of the arguments are reversible and can be used with comparable effectiveness either way. So often reasons purporting to support a given redactional view are simply possible reasons with might have influenced a redactor if there was a redactor-which has yet to be proved."
Why is the Synoptic Problem important to the 'faith' or to the issue of 'Bias'?

Now, NONE of these theories in themselves are "matters of faith." There are outstanding evangelicals who STRONGLY hold to the same basic version of the 2SH theory of LD of James, either WITH a written Q (e.g. E.Earl Ellis [GAG]), with an oral Q (e.g. Robert Stein, SPI), or with a hybrid Q (e.g. Ralph P. Martin, NTF). What IS at issue, within LD, is the motives behind the evangelists' 'modifications' of their predecessors material (and what that might reveal about their attitudes toward the material).

For example, given LD, why would Matthew redact (i.e., change) some of Mark's material about the Baptism of Jesus? James looks at the parallel passages and does the classic redaction criticism 'pop psychoanalysis' thing:

"Matthew prefers that the post-baptism vision and God's communication be an external physical event. He overrides Mark and writes that the skies physically opened up, so that there can be no doubt that several witnesses were on hand who would know that Jesus is the Son of God. Matthew is also troubled by Mark's carelessness in not seeing how Jesus did not need to be baptized for the remission of sin. How does a blameless lamb need the removal of sin? So Matthew inserts some additional narrative that subordinates John to Jesus...There are times when Matthew and Luke correct Mark's many irritating and ungrammatical duplicate expressions..." Now, apart from the questions as to (1) how much training James has had in psychoanalysis to be qualified to have such 'insights', and as to (2) whether such psychoanalytical judgments can be based on "counseling sessions' of only a paragraph length with any confidence at all(!), we have to ask how James can 'control' such subjective judgments? For example, the "duplicate expressions" that James looks down on, can easily be seen as data AGAINST his position. So, Dungan in ABD (s.v. "Synoptic Problems") can point to this: "Although this phenomenon has been used to argue in favor of Markan priority (Matthew and Luke simply cut out Mark's redundancy: Streeter), others have felt that the phenomenon constitutes a major problem for the theory. Why should Matthew and Luke so conveniently choose to pick the half of the double expression which the other omits? Hence neo-Griesbachians would argue that the texts can be best explained as due to Mark's conflating his two sources (Farmer 1977; Dungan 1970). The evidence is probably indecisive." And the defensibility of how he came to such a position from the text is quite an issue-there are certainly alternate explanations for this data.

Consider the explanation for the 'troubling carelessness' by evangelical Blomberg [FBI:426]:

"A major tenet of redaction criticism is that wherever one Gospel differs from its sources, it most likely does so deliberately and often for theological reasons. Thus, when Matthew adds to his account of John the Baptist's initial encounter with Jesus described in Matthew 3:14-15, in which Jesus insists John baptize Him despite his reluctance to do so..., he probably does so because it fits a major theme which he emphasizes throughout this Gospel--Jesus as the fulfillment of all of God's word and will." One can see here that a different set of assumptions are at play. Whereas James can load the passage up with an amazing amount of 'contention' between Matthew and Mark (even calling some grammatical constructions 'irritating'!), Blomberg sees a more respectful attitude in the text.

[And, just in case James was suggesting that Matthew was adding 'unhistorical' narrative, let me be quick to point out that this specific incident is quoted by Ignatius, before most form critics will allow Matthew to have even been finished! [BLOM:206-207]

But this adversarial understanding of the early church simply presumes too much. Lemcio describes this particular historical understanding, with just a bit of sardonic wit (but practically NO exaggeration) [PJG:23]:

"All four communities and two traditions (synoptic and Johannine) were wracked with dissension caused either by interlopers from without or malcontents from within. Christians were engaged in a veritable "Thirty Years' War" (ca. A.D. 70- 100), dispute spreading like wildfire wherever sayings by and narratives about Jesus became collected. Nothing was taken for granted. Each point lay open for challenge. Parties vied for every inch of ground. No word or nuance that had any potential doctrinal significance was overlooked. Were the results of my analysis above to be enlisted, then no less than eight kerygmata would have to be acknowledged (ten with John the Baptist's). Here, however, a new element would have to be considered. Instead of Jesus (read "Evangelist") engaged in controversy with misguided disciples and religious opponents (read "errant Christians"), it is a house divided against itself: one Jesus kerygma versus another Jesus kerygma. In Matthew, the Kingdom Party (for Jews only) regarded the disciple wing that welcomed Gentiles as dangerous innovators. According to Luke, the faction promising release from sins to all had outgrown the activistic, lower class, and Jewish Jubilee sect. The Front for the Integrity of God in Mark and John tried to hold its own against the inroads made by the Cadre for Christocentric Inclusionism. It is hard to imagine such a church impressing the Empire with its love, maintaining enough unity to growth at the unprecedented rate that it did, and manifesting the ability to work through theological conflict like it did in Acts 14-15.

What kinds of 'changes' are we talking about? What kinds of modifications occurred?

But what exactly is meant by 'redaction'? What kinds of changes are in view? CMM:39-40 lists the basic types of 'redactions' the Evangelists could use:

1. The material they have chosen to include and exclude.

2. The arrangement of the material.

3. The "seams" that the evangelist uses to stitch his tradition together.

4. Additions to the material.

5. Omission of material.

6. Change of wording.

But these are relatively neutral 'tools', that could either be used in fidelity to sources or in repudiation of them. And some of the criticisms noted by Osborne [NTCI:213] illustrates this problem: "Many critics proceed with the assumption that every redactional change is by definition a creation and thus cannot be historical. Yet this is a presupposition and by no means carries the day. Addition and omission are not criteria for historicity, but for style, selection, and emphasis...Many proponents of Redaction Criticism assume that every jot and tittle of the author's changes carries theological weight. They seem to forget that many changes are stylistic rather than theological and that the evangelists were often paraphrasing rather than quoting their sources verbatim...The bewildering multiplicity of theories coming from redactional studies belies any pretence that the method leads to assured results...each scholar seems to produce different results from the same data, results that suspiciously resemble the thesis with which the scholar began!... My point here is that redactional analysis, which is based on LD and related 'content-borrowing' theories, will be notoriously subjective, and therefore often by radically colored by one's view of the attitude of the writers to each other.

For James, who often manifests a polemical style in even his representations of MY position (even showing the same amazing psychoanalytical presumption in statements like "Glenn is uncomfortable deviating from the centuries-old orthodox view of..." and "Glenn feels that he needs to place Luke and Matthew much earlier than scholarly consensus suggests"), all 'modifications' or 'redactions' in the text amount to disagreements between rival communities or rival theological positions. [James is drawing here from the older and fading Bauer thesis, which I dealt with elsewhere.]

On the other hand, for less radical LDers, who understand the relations as being amiable and complementary, modifications or 'redactions' in the text amount to explication, addition of additional detail, elaboration of sub-themes, emphasis, and the like. In fact, a later author could indeed have considered an earlier work to be 'the Word of God' and STILL make these redactions and expansions (assuming access to the correct information with which to modify the original).

And, just to cite another Q-believer, Byrskog can delineate the nature of 'creative elaboration' by Matthew on his sources of Mark and Q thus [HI:JTOT:387]:

"To summarize and conclude, several OT sayings in Matthew belong to a tradition which has been the object of expansion and/or rearrangement. In I 1: IO; 15:4, 8f; 19:4f, 18f-, 21:42; 22:32, 44; 26:31 the OT sayings are part of a reasoning which is more deductive than the tradition. The OT quotation itself may serve different functions in the argumentation, mostly of course as a proof. But it never stands alone, separated from Jesus' own words. Matthew achieves this deductive logic by working on the setting of the quotation, on the quotation itself or on both together. The expansion consists of additions to the setting and/or the actual quotation. The rearrangement manifests itself through the different order of words and phrases in the setting and/or actual quotation. The two means of working on the tradition--expansion and rearrangement-often occur within one and the same unit. At the end, Jesus emerges as a person using the OT as authoritative Scripture but still developing its logical function and force. He incorporates it within his own elaborated argumentation in the story.[italics original; bold mine] This hardly sounds very 'adversarial' and indeed, hardly very 'creative'...

Or consider the conclusion of the team on BQI, in BQI:14:

"If this general description is accurate, it means that the author of the Gospel of Luke was a Hellenistic Christian writer who made systematic, intelligible, and respectful use of his most important source, the Gospel of Matthew, as well as other traditions." How would one decide between the more adversarial assumption of James and this later respectful assumption?

Although it might be largely based on one's reconstruction of early church history (as being more adversarial during the first decades of the church, as opposed to being more unified during that period), a primary consideration MUST be given to the obvious fact that they used a vast majority of the pre-existing material! In other words, the very existence of the 'Synoptic Problem" with the 'vast' similarities of material, argues that the later authors had 'vast' respect for the earlier author's work. Why else use so much of it, with the obvious corollary that who ever saw the work would KNOW that much was borrowed?

The adversarial position must maintain that the appropriation of vast amounts of material was an attempt to supersede the other, and this presumes much more conflict in the first-century church than we have evidence for. All the controversies that show up have very focused ranges (e.g. circumcision, lapsed believers, diet) but NONE of this material shows up in the allegedly redactional material. In other words, the redactions are not 'self-serving' enough to evidence such an intense motive. We simply do not have adequate reason to believe that the level of contention required by some versions of the 2SH (like James') demands.

Indeed, Dungan in ABD (s.v. "Two Gospel Hypothesis") can draw the differences between the historical evidence between 2SH and 2GH thus:

"There are fundamental historical objections to the two main alternative types of source theory. First, those hypotheses envisioning a complex process in the composition of the Gospels (Parker 1953; Vaganay 1954; Léon-Dufour 1959; Gaboury 1970; Boismard 1972) invoke the existence of so many hypothetical "lost recensions" and "missing sources" of the Gospels that it is difficult to think of them as critical historical hypotheses. They are more like "conjectural scenarios" not meant to be held accountable to accepted practices of scientific evidence (Dungan 1970: 81-88). It is no wonder that none of these scholars has written a history of the early Church indicating when and where these many "lost versions" were produced or why they disappeared.

"There is a different historical objection to the 2SH, however. If Mark was written first, followed by Matthew and Luke, one must then accept a disjointed historical process. According to the 2SH, the first gospel to appear was an anonymous, legend-filled portrait of a Hellenistic miracle worker (Bultmann 1963: 346-48). This first short gospel (later called "Mark") was then allegedly "corrected" by a second anonymous author who produced a "re-Judaized" revision (later called "Matthew") that harkened back to the theme of Jesus as the long-awaited eschatological Jewish king. Meanwhile, a third anonymous author allegedly also "corrected" the first writing to present a portrait of Jesus as the universal Hellenistic Savior (it was later called "Luke"). None of these writings came from Jesus' disciples. This hypothesis results in the denial that the historical Jesus of Nazareth can be known from the Gospels since they are largely made up of pious legends and myth (Bultmann 1963: 368-74). Paradoxically, "Q is the most important Christian text that we have . . . the canon behind the canon" (Robinson 1983: 28; cf. Ellis 1983: 36-38).

"The 2GH, on the other hand, sees no evidence of such implausible disjunctions in the historical development of the early Church. It finds a consistent, carefully nurtured tradition extending from Jesus through the apostles into the early Church leadership (1 Clem. 42; cf. Gerhardsson 1961). It notes that the first gospel, Matthew, exercised an enormous influence on the life and faith of the early Church (Massaux 1950). It notes evidence that the Jesus tradition was maintained, transmitted, and applied to the living situation of the Church by a special group of traditionists especially dedicated to that task, a group which certainly included "the Twelve," James the brother of the Lord, and the apostle Paul (Gerhardsson 1964; 1986). It notes evidence that the leadership of the Church sought to maintain close and harmonious relationships, so that there might be continuity, coherency, and controlled creativity in the life of faith (Farmer and Kereszty 1990; Willis 1987). It notes evidence that the Gospel Tradition was carefully transmitted from its beginnings down to the point when it was deposited in the four apostolic testimonies (Hofius 1983; cf. Gerhardsson 1986: 49-53). They were ultimately combined with other apostolic letters and writings (a "martyr's canon"; Farmer 1982: 213-15) as a companion volume with "the Law and the Prophets" to form the Christian Scripture. Putting the Jesus tradition into written form followed the practices of the well-known Hellenistic bios encomium genre (Shuler 1982; cf. Talbert 1977).

Sometimes the adversarial position is modified down to 'bias'. This is stated quite clearly in the statement of Haacker, from a standard NT Introduction textbook [cited in NT:ITSP:38]: "Wherever Matthew and Luke obviously draw on Q, but diverge from each other, the question must be posed: Which of the two has modified the common Q source, and what were the motives? Here one must ponder whether Matthew's version is better explained as showing the bias typical of Matthew, or whether it is rather the case that Luke's version evinces a typically Lucan bias." Linnemann adds the note: "This means that every divergence should be explained by the assumption that biases are at work." [Note: whether they are theological or philological.]

And redaction criticism is far from neutral--too often it reflects the presumptions of the interpreter

Wenham, pointing out that these views of the authors are NOT the results of synoptic studies themselves, states the issue clearly and concisely [RMML:54]:

"Ultimately the acceptability of redaction theories will turn on what we think of the evangelists and their aims. If we believe that they were well informed, anxious to pass on their story in accordance with the apostolic tradition, we shall be sceptical of theories which allow great scope to the evangelist to modify and transpose his source material and to create new material to serve his purpose. (Also it needs to be remembered that the more complex such redactionary work is held to be the less likely it is that we have identified it correctly.) The only safe criterion of literary dependence is the plain man's test: IS there consistent evidence of either copying of order or copying of the actual wording." And CMM, who are inclined toward 2SH anyway, can make the same point [CMM:44-45]: "The question, then, boils down to the intentions of the evangelists as these can be determined from their express statements and their actual redactional work. Did they intend to write their gospels with a concern for historical accuracy? Or did they theologize the message of Jesus with little interest in whether it really happened that way or not? Redaction criticism, in itself, cannot answer these questions. And redaction critics themselves come to radically different conclusions about this matter. Some are convinced that a careful study of the modifications introduced by the evangelists shows no tampering with historicity. They separate redaction from tradition in order to understand the message of the Gospels better, without supposing that the redaction has any less historical foundation than the tradition. Thus, for instance, they may conclude that Luke has redacted Jesus' beatitude "Blessed are the poor' to include an economic focus by pairing it with his "Woe to you rich," while Matthew has redacted the same saying as "Blessed are the poor in spirit, to emphasize the spiritual dimension. But as long as Jesus intended both- and it is quite likely that he did, given the Old Testament concept of the poor-then it would be unfair to accuse either evangelist of an unhistorical tampering with the words of Jesus. Many instances are, of course, more difficult, and only a text-by-text scrutiny of the data is finally adequate to demonstrate the case one way or the other. Our point here is simply that redaction criticism need not be destructive to the historical accuracy of the Gospels and that redaction critics who assume that the evangelists had no concern for history in their redactional activity have not proven their point. So it is not the theory per se that is the problem, but the assumptions and pre-commitments of the critical scholar that determine the relationship between the theory and "the faith".

In fact, the evangelical scholar has two approaches to this issue: (1) either deny dependence at all or (2) demonstrate that the phenomena of dependence accords well with an evangelical understanding of the early church and her scriptures. We have seen that a growing number of well-respected scholars are beginning to move to (1), and (2) can be easily documented from synoptic studies:

"The upshot of this is that, in spite of all the differences between the two gospels, Luke is demonstrably most reluctant to write anything which alters-less still, contradicts-the sense of Mark, especially in his reporting of the words of Jesus" [RMML:29]

"If this general description is accurate, it means that the author of the Gospel of Luke was a Hellenistic Christian writer who made systematic, intelligible, and respectful use of his most important source, the Gospel of Matthew, as well as other traditions." [BQI:14]

So the presence of changes-even with LD or 2SH-does not at all require the position that James argues.

And theoretically, we could stop here-there is nothing in LD or 2SH that requires that 'bias' (in the negative or anti-historical sense) be present. But let's go farther, just to examine the case of LD. How strong is the evidence that one/some of the evangelists had other gospel(s) in front of them? If the case is shaky, then even the redactional issue that James is dependent on will prove useless.


Summary of our research so far:

  1. There is a growing number of scholars who are 'giving up' on solving the Synoptic Problem (and thus abandoning the "solution" proposed by James).

  2. There is a huge resurgence of scholarly support and argument/evidence for 2GH (contra James), as well as a healthy body of adherents of the Farrer position (Marcan priority; Luke uses Matthew)

  3. Even believers (and "Yes, James", it IS akin to informed religious belief in my opinion-I do not make radical dichotomies between religious decisions based on some factual/cognitive content and 'scholarly' positions largely based on subjective pre-commitments!) in 2SH have noted that the confidence in 2SH has dropped from "assured results" to a "reluctant working hypothesis"!

  4. The differences within the Synoptic tradition are starting to be taken seriously, with the result that many substantial scholars have abandoned the position of ANY literary dependence, with some of them falling back to the vaguer "oral tradition" models.

  5. No position within the options of LD or OT are per se inimical to "faith". It is only when one imputes negative attitudes to the redactors that one can create a 'low view of scripture' that is at odds with confessional belief. Many, many evangelicals hold to 2SH and 2GH, without it at any level impugning the revelational character of the pre-Gospel traditions.

  6. The adversarial reading of the redactions is NOT required by the text itself; this is something generally brought to the text by the interpreter/critic. (A "respectful" reading is just as harmonious with the data.)

  7. In fact, the data of 'respectful treatment', especially by Luke, and the wholesale borrowing of material and form from one evangelists by another (i.e., the very 'identity' aspect of the 'synoptic problem'!) argues at least for a very high view of the tradition.

  8. Redactional judgments are KNOWN to be quite subjective, and are generally NOT given the confidence and weight given to them by James

  9. Redactional judgments are KNOWN to often display the pre-commitments of the critics/interpreters (as opposed to being 'in the text'), such as pre-commitments to the older Bauer view of a 'contentious church'

  10. 2SH appears to be much more conjectural than 2GH, and indeed, even 'less neutral' than 2GH.

  11. 2SH assumes major disjunction and discontinuity between the careful preservation motifs of first-century Judaism and what is conjectured to have happened (without evidential warrant).

  12. Many of the arguments for this order vs. that order are reversible, and depend often on a 'best fit' argument rather than an inductive one
In short, the situation is neither as clear as James makes it out to be, nor as negative, nor is it even a very relevant argument to the issue of bias. The 'synoptic problem" itself simply cannot provide any data as to the issue of 'bias leading to distortion' on the part of the NT authors.

But let's go a step farther-how strong is the case for 'redactions' at all? To the extent that the case for LD is weak, to that same extent the existence of redactions-as modifications of literary sources-is even further weakened.

The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)