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Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 February 2005

MARGARET M. MITCHELL
Affiliation:
University of Chicago, 1025 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637, USA

Abstract

Ματθαιος μεν εγραψεν Εβραιοις θαυματα Χριστου,

Μαρκος δ Ιταλιη,

Λουκας Αχαιαδι,

Πασι δ Ιωαννης,

κηρυξ μεγας, ουρανοϕοιτης.

(Gregory of Nazianzus, Carmina dogmatica 1.12.6–9)

Richard Bauckham has called on scholars to abandon the reading strategy of redaction criticism that had risen to prominence especially in the 1960s, and return to the way the gospels had always been understood before that – as having been written ‘for all Christians’. The present essay resituates this debate as actually yet another instance of a very old and enduring hermeneutical problem in the exegesis of Christian literature: the relationship between the particularity and universality of the gospels. Study of patristic gospel exegesis reveals no author who says the gospels were written ‘for all Christians’, and, even more importantly, shows that early Christian readers – through evangelist biographies, localizing narratives, audience request traditions, and heresiological accounts of the composition of individual gospels, as well as in their theological reflections on the fourfold gospel – engaged in a sustained and deliberate dialectic between the local and universal audiences of the gospels which defies any simple dichotomy between ‘specific’ and ‘indefinite’ readers.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2005 Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

This paper was presented to the University of Chicago Early Christian Studies Workshop in October, 2003, to the Society of Biblical Literature Synoptic Gospels Section at the annual SBL meeting in Atlanta in November, 2003, and at a seminar with the Religion Department at Baylor University in March, 2004. I would like to thank participants (too numerous to mention by name) on all three occasions for valuble feedback. Although regrettably Professor Bauckham was unable to attend the SBL meeting, where he was to have been a panellist in the session, we had a profitable email exchange before this essay went to press, for which I would like here to express gratitude.
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