To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
It has long been recognized that any study of the Gospels must incorporate to some degree a detailed understanding of the origins and traditions of early Christianity, whether explicitly or implicitly. The modern commentary almost always begins by discussing the introductory material before discussing the text proper. This approach is simply assumed. The end result is certainly affected in principle by the starting point. This is not to say that any understanding of the text is predetermined a priori and that the text itself is left helpless to the scholar's dissecting and analyzing tools; on the contrary, the text is often used as the very tool itself by which one draws theories by which it need be analyzed. Thus, any attempt to understand the Gospels and their meaning must consider thoroughly the means by which an understanding of what they are and how they came to be directly affects how one discovers what they mean.
The danger with the above is obvious: where one starts can undoubtedly determine where one will end. Too often a particular understanding of Christian origins can malign a text so that it no longer reveals the meaning most appropriate to early Christian belief and the text within which it dwells. In order to prevent such a mishap, it seems appropriate to step back from the detailed aspects of current research to see if the picture being painted by modern scholars is appropriately describing the texts as we now have them.
After spending four chapters setting the context of the Gospel community debate and challenging the current community readings of the Gospels, it is time to apply our proposal to the FG. It was Gail O'Day who pointed out that one of the weaknesses in Martyn's reconstruction of the JComm was that his reading strategy
blocked out for a while all other ways both of reading the Gospel and of reading the historical data. Martyn's reading became totalizing, not because his claims or even his intentions and methods were totalizing, but because he read so well and so easily that we forgot it was a construction of the data. We … read Martyn instead of rereading the data …
The question of reading the Gospels is the key issue in the Gospel community debate. But until now the debate has been entirely theoretical. The various conferences and article interchanges have only dealt with the exegetical principles and not exegetical practice. The newness of the debate has required more in-depth discussion and clarification, as this book has attempted to do in the first four chapters. But now we must turn to exegetical practice. Before we enter into exegesis, a brief summary of our proposed reading strategy is in order.
Our proposed reading strategy assumes, at the broadest level, that the Gospels were written for an indefinite audience, not an individual “church” or network of churches disconnected from the rest of the early Christian movement.
No discussion of the interpretation of the Gospels can avoid discussing the Gospels as text. But the text does not exist in isolation; the Gospels were created in a social and religious milieu. For the form critic, the social environment controlled the literary creation and influenced the meaning of the text. Form criticism was sociological in its very nature and literary genre was considered a social category of communication. But as we have seen thus far, it is difficult to derive the socio-historical background of the Gospels. Not only can the sociological background only be determined in vague ways, but the text itself must be considered as its own living entity. This is stated most clearly by the social historian Abraham Malherbe:
Our major sources for the social reconstruction of early Christianity are literary. We may expect to gain insights elsewhere — for example, from archeological data and modern social theory; but eventually we are driven back to literary sources. With that in mind we must stress the obvious, namely that sociological study of early Christianity cannot slight literary criticism. We must persist in seeking to determine the character and intention of different types of literature if we hope to discern how they functioned in relation to the communities with which they were associated. When that is done they can more properly be assessed as witnesses to particular communities.
Nearsly thirty years ago Robert Kysar did a complete survey of scholarship on the Gospel of John. When summarizing the results of the investigation Kysar noted that one of Johannine scholarship's recent accomplishments was that “Contemporary Johannine criticism has confirmed that the gospel is a community's document.” Kysar claimed that the inclinations long found in scholarly literature have confirmed in a substantial manner that the FG must be interpreted as the document of a community:
The works associated with source-tradition and composition criticism, the quest of the concrete situation of the evangelist, and theological analysis have all merged upon a common tenet: The contents of the gospel are the result in large part of the conditions of a community of persons … The theology of every stratum of the gospel relates to the community of faith; it addresses the needs of that community at that moment … The gospel cannot be read meaningfully apart from some understanding of the community out of which and to which it was written … its thought is sustained in the atmosphere of that occasion and nowhere else.
Such a statement describes well the paradigm that this study has attempted to correct. It is notable that nearly thirty years later Kysar has moved in the opposite direction. Concerning the importance of knowing “as much about the [historical] occasion as possible,” Kysar now concludes:
An investigation of the past usually tells us more about the investigator than the past … Maybe we are just learning that the testing of any hypothesis is an ongoing necessity and that working hypotheses do not always “work” without flaw … As I am grateful for the work of scholars like Brown and Martyn, I suppose I have simply tired of playing the game of abstract speculative constructions.
The last generation of gospel scholarship has considered the reconstruction and analysis of the audience behind the gospels as paradigmatic. The key hermeneutical template for reading the gospels has been the quest for the community that each gospel represents. This scholarly consensus regarding the audience of the gospels has been reconsidered. Using as a test case one of the most entrenched gospels, Edward Klink explores the evidence for the audience behind the Gospel of John. This study challenges the prevailing gospel paradigm by examining the community construct and its functional potential in early Christianity, the appropriation of a gospel text and J. L. Martyn's two-level reading of John, and the implied reader located within the narrative. The study concludes by proposing a more appropriate audience model for reading John, as well as some implications for the function of the gospel in early Christianity.
The quest for the historical Jesus that occupied much of the nineteenth century largely gave way to the quest for the early church in the twentieth century. As we saw in chapter 1, the focus on the communities of the early church, though undefined, was considered by the initial form critics to be the only historical remnant left to be sought. The historical results determined by the form critics were in many ways sociological in nature. The basic methodology used by Bultmann and the other early form critics was an idea taken from the sociology of literature, namely that certain types of literature or genres (Gattungen) are bound to and shaped by specific types of social life-settings (Sitze im Leben). Literary genre is a social category of communication; the questions being asked of the text were sociological. The communities in which the Gospel texts were created had various functions which determined the forms and overall use of the Jesus tradition and its eventual Gospel text form.
Although the initial sociological emphasis in form criticism looked promising, the sociological potential was never developed. Thomas Best argues that, “it cannot be denied that even form criticism, with all its talk of the Sitz-im-Leben (life-setting) of the text, was a literary and theological discipline which produced hardly any concrete historical, social, or economic information about the traditions which it studied”.
After looking at the Gospel as a text, we now turn to its reader. We argued in chapter 2 that the language of the FG is not “insider” or antilanguage and that the Gospel “community” should be pictured as much broader than the sectarian-like groups normally supposed. We argued in chapter 3 that the very nature of an early Christian “Gospel” and its relation to the bios genre cannot define the audience of the text, but certainly make a local “community” reading rare or specialized. We also critiqued Martyn's two-level reading of John and presented a case for a “literal” reading of the Gospel text appropriate to the first century. But what type of audience does the narrative expect?
Narrative criticism has often been used by historical critics to define more clearly the audience a text would have expected. Of course, the recovery of the audience of a text is immediately faced with a dilemma: it is easier to determine if a text was written for a local, homogeneous group rather than a general audience, than it is to distinguish between a general (non-localized) audience and a local group that is heterogeneous. Our focus, then, will be specifically on noting possible distinctions in the text between a local, heterogeneous audience and a general audience. Thus, since even “community” interpreters assume the JComm was heterogeneous, we will also begin with that assumption; for a heterogeneous audience is congenial to our proposed audience.