New Testament Survey: Gospels - Lesson 4

Literary Criticism and Presuppositions

Some time passed between the ascension of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels because there was no need for a written account while the eyewitnesses were still alive. In that culture, oral tradition was the primary method of preserving history. Form critics also note that it is likely that it is likely that many of the narratives and sayings of Jesus circulated independently.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Gospels
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Literary Criticism and Presuppositions

Form Criticism

Part 1

I. Final Thoughts on Literary Criticism

A. Only one possibility

B. What was Q?

C. Authorship issues

D. Lateness of Written Gospels

1. No need for written accounts when eyewitnesses were still alive.

2. Oral Tradition was more sacred than written tradition.

3. Centrality of Jerusalem Church


II. Presuppositions of Form Criticism (part 1)

A. Presupposition #1 - Before the Gospels were written, there was an oral tradition.

B. Presupposition #2 - During the oral period, narratives and sayings circulated mainly as self-contained detached units.

C. Presupposition #3 - Material in the Gospels can be classified according to form.

D. Presupposition #4 - We know that everything Jesus said and did was not recorded.

Class Resources
  • The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record some of the same stories and even use the same wording in sections. They also each have material that is unique, and the chronology is different in some places. Both the purpose of each gospel and the role of oral and written tradition play a role in understanding the similarities and differences.

  • The Gospel of Mark is shorter than the other Gospels and some of the grammar and theology is unique. There are also significant portions of Mark that are contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

  • Discussion of the extensive similarities between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It's possible that Mark was already written and they used that as a source. It's aslo likely that they had in common other oral and written sources of what Jesus did and taught. 

  • Some time passed between the ascension of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels because there was no need for a written account while the eyewitnesses were still alive. In that culture, oral tradition was the primary method of preserving history. Form critics also note that it is likely that it is likely that many of the narratives and sayings of Jesus circulated independently.

  • Form criticism is the method of classifying literature by literary pattern to determine its original form and historical context in order to interpret its meaning accurately. The Gospels were not written to be objective biographies. They omit large portions of the life of Jesus, they include accounts of miraculous events and they have a purpose to demonstrate that Jesus is both God and human.

  • Redaction criticism focuses on evaluating how a writer has seemingly shaped and molded a narrative to express his theological goals. Examining how Matthew and Luke used passages from Mark can give you insight into their theology and their purpose for writing their Gospel.  

  • Studying the background and theological emphases of the Gospel of Mark helps us to understand the central message of his Gospel. The central point of the Gospel of Mark is the death of Jesus when he was crucified. This event happened because it was a divine necessity in God's plan to redeem humanity. It's likely that the Gospel of Mark is a written record of the apostle Peter's account. 

  • The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes how Jesus' life, death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies that were made in the Old Testament. Matthew also shows concern for the church and has a strong eschatological emphasis. 

  • Luke emphasizes the great loving concern of God for the oppressed, such as tax collectors, physically impaired, women and Samaritans. He warns of the dangers of riches and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 

  • John's Gospel focuses on Christology and emphasizes dualism and eschatology.  John has long pericopes, clear statements about the identity of Jesus and a number of stories not found in the synoptic Gospels. 

  • By studying the background and comparing the text of the synoptic gospels, we can be confident of their authenticity. Many of the accounts in the Gospels appear in multiple Gospels and are confirmed by separate witnesses. Details in the narratives and parables are consistent with the culture and common practices of the time in that region.  

  • In order to understand Jesus' teaching, it is important to understand how he uses exaggeration and determine when he is using exaggeration to make a point. An exaggeration is something that is literally impossible and sometimes conflicts with teachings of the Old Testament or other teachings of Jesus. They often use idiomatic language that had a specific meaning to the original hearers. 

  • The Gospels record how Jesus used different literary forms to communicate his teachings. He communicated effectively with everyone including children, common people, religious leaders and foreigners. He used a variety of literary devices to communicate in a way that was effective and memorable. (This class was taught by a teaching assistant of Dr. Stein's but his name was not provided.) 

  • It's important to know how to interpret parables to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. At different times in history, people have used different paradigms to interpret parables. Each parable has one main point. To interpret the parable, seek to understand what Jesus meant, what the evangelist meant and what God wants to teach you today.

  • Dr. Stein uses the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of how to apply the four rules of interpreting parables. He also applies the four rules to interpret the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, the ten virgins, the unjust steward and the laborers in the vineyard. 

  • Jesus used different literary forms to communicate with people. It's important to know how to interpret these literary forms, including parables, to accurately understand what Jesus was trying to teach. The rule of end stress is one factor in determining the main teaching of a parable. Dr. Stein describes two parts of a parable as the, "picture part" and the "reality part." 

  • The kingdom of God is God's kingdom invading the earthly kingdom. In the Gospels, there are both "realized" passages and "future" passages. There is a tension between the "now" and "not yet" and it is important to emphasize each aspect equally.

  • Jesus' teaching about the fatherhood of God reveals for us a tension between reverence and intimacy. Jesus shows his reverence for God by not using the name of God even when referring to God. When he refers to God as Father, it is an indication of a personal relationship. 

  • Jesus does not provide an organized ethical system, but his ethical teachings are scattered throughout the Gospels. Sometimes they seem to be contradictory, until you look at them more closely. He emphasized the need for a new heart and the importance of loving God and our "neighbor." Jesus upheld the validity of the Law but was opposed to the oral traditions. 

  • Implicit Christology is what Jesus reveals of himself and his understanding of himself by his actions words and deeds. Jesus demonstrates his authority over the three sacred aspects of Israel which are the temple, the Law and the Sabbath. 

  • Explicit Christology deals with what he reveals concerning his understanding of himself by the use of various titles. Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, Messiah. The titles, Son of God and Son of Man refer both to his human nature and divine nature. 

  • The Chronology of Jesus' life in the Gospels begins with his birth and ends with his resurrection. How you explain the miracles of Jesus depends on your presuppositions. He performed miracles to heal sicknesses and also miracles showing his authority over nature. 

  • The birth of Christ is an historical event. The virgin birth of Jesus is a fundamental aspect of his nature and ministry. The details of the birth narrative in Luke are consistent with historical events. 

  • Except for the accounts of a couple of events in Jesus' childhood, the Gospels are mostly silent about the years before Jesus began his public ministry. Luke records the story of 12 year old Jesus in the temple to show that already, you can see something different about Jesus. Jesus' public ministry began when John the Baptist baptized Jesus publicly in the Jordan River.

  • The three temptations that Satan put to Jesus were significant to him and instructive to us. Jesus had a specific purpose in mind in the way he called his disciples and the fact that he chose 12.

  • After Simon Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, Jesus begins teaching about his death and focuses his efforts on teaching the twelve. The Transfiguration was a significant event because the pre-existent glory of Jesus broke through and it was also a preview of future glory.

  • The events surrounding Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem were the beginning of the week leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection. When Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, he was rejecting the sacrificial system, reforming temple worship and performing an act of judgment.

  • At the Last Supper, Jesus celebrated with his disciples by eating the Passover meal. He reinterpreted it to show how it pointed to him as being the perfect Lamb of God, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all people. When we celebrate the Lord's supper, there is a focus of looking back at the significance of what Jesus did and how the Passover pointed toward him and of looking forward to the future. 

  • The night before his crucifixion, Jesus went to Gethsemane with his disciples to pray. Judas betrays Jesus there and Jesus allows himself to be arrested.

  • The trial of Jesus involved a hearing in the Jewish court conducted by the high priest and the Sanhedrin, and a hearing in the Roman court conducted by Pilate. The Jewish leaders brought in false witnesses against Jesus and violated numerous rules from the Mishnah in the way they conducted the trial. 

  • Jesus died by crucifixion. The Romans used it as a deterrent because it was public and a horrible way to die. The account of the crucifixion is brief, likely because the readers knew what was involved and it was painful to retell. Jesus was buried by friends.

  • The historical evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus is compelling. Jesus appeared physically to people, many of whom were still alive when the books in the New Testament were written. Rising from the dead confirmed that Jesus has power over death and gives hope of eternal life to people who put their trust in him. 

  • The Gospels are eyewitness accounts that clearly show that Jesus claimed to be fully human and fully God, and what he did to back up this claim. Some people try to reinterpret the Gospels to make Jesus out to be a moral teacher with good intentions, but not God in the flesh.

This is the first part of an introductory course to the New Testament, covering the books Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The synopsis Dr. Stein refers to is the Synopsis of the Four Gospels, English Edition, published by the American Bible Society. You can click here to order it from American Bible Society or click here to order it from Amazon

The lecture notes you can download (to the right) are for both NT Survey I and II. In some of the lectures, Dr. Stein does not cover all the points in his outline, but we include the additional outline points for your benefit. 

Thank you to Charles Campbell and Fellowship Bible Church for writing out the lecture notes for both sections of Stein's NT Survey class (to the right). Note that they do not cover every lecture.

Recommended Books

New Testament Survey: The Gospels - Student Guide

New Testament Survey: The Gospels - Student Guide

This participant’s guide is intended to be used with the BiblicalTraining.org class, New Testament Survey - The Gospels with Dr. Robert Stein. This is the first part of an...

New Testament Survey: The Gospels - Student Guide

In the early church and I understood it right, the Lord’s Prayer was not thought of as some amorphous prayer that anybody in the world could pray. It was strictly a Christian prayer. When Luke introduces the Lord’s Prayer, he has in front of it the disciples asking Jesus, ‘Teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples how to pray.’

So even as John gave a prayer that identified the disciples that followed him, Jesus now gives a prayer to his disciples that will identify them as his followers. In the practice of the early church, the first time a person was invited to pray the Lord’s Prayer was on the day of his baptism, where he or she was baptized, then invited for the first time to partake of the Lord’s Supper and after the Lord’s supper, now for the first time, he prays with the community of believers the ‘Our Father.’

So praying a prayer, then, that has been identifying Christians who pray this prayer as the followers of Jesus and prayed in every continent among all races for 1,900 years and as we pray the Lord’s Prayer together, I trust you’ll try to identify with that massive people who, through the centuries, and through all sorts of places, they’ve said Jesus Christ is my savior and, therefore, I pray this prayer.

So as not to be confused, we’ll use the term ‘debts and debtors’ when we get to that place. Let’s pray together. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. Amen.


Thank you. We’re talking about the use of a source that we have called Q by Matthew and Luke dependent on the idea that Matthew and Luke did not know each other. Now, we’ve listed a number of arguments in favor of that – why Mathew and Luke did not know each other and there was one we did not include yesterday because of lack of time and that is that when you compare the order of Matthew, Mark and Luke, side-by-side, there are times when Matthew does not follow Mark and Matthew and Mark and Luke agree against Matthew.

There are times Luke does not follow Mark and Matthew and Mark agree against Luke. You will never find, however, that in the order of events, Matthew and Luke will agree against Mark. That’s easiest to explain that by having Mark first, Matthew and Luke using Mark but not knowing each other.


Now if you turn in your notes to the previous page or where we had this list of all those possible relationships, is at the previous or two pages, we have eliminated a number of these on the basis that Mark was the first gospel written. Now that still leaves the possibility on the first set of the middle two, BAC BCA, Mark, Matthew, Luke; Mark, Luke, Matthew, but on the basis that Matthew and Luke did not know each other, those two are now eliminated.

So there’s none on the li-, first line that are possible, because the middle two, which begin with Mark in priority, assume Matthew and Luke, well Matt-, Luke and Matthew knew each other. The next line, not, those are all eliminated. The line, the third one where you have B leading to A and C, that’s still possible, ‘cause Matthew and Luke don’t know each other in that.

The very last one, where you have these triangles where Mark is first, notice that in number three, A, Matthew used Mark but Luke, C, used both Mark and Matthew. That’s not possible, because C did not know A. Luke did not know Matthew. The next one is that Luke used Mark but Matthew A used both Mark B and Luke C.

That’s not possible, because Matthew and Luke did not know each other. So what happens now is have, we have only one possibility and that is the diagram two pages ahead. Here we have Mark as the first gospel used, Luke and Matthew using Mark, and then we have this other source, whatever it is, Q, we just put it there, Luke using Q, and Matthew also using Q, and then the other material, whatever Matthew has is not found anywhere else, we call M, and L for the other material.

So we have this diagram, Mark first, Q having been used also by Matthew and Luke who used Mark and then other materials and L. It doesn’t mean L was a single thing or M was a single thing. It means all that other stuff that Matthew has, all of that stuff that Luke has whether it’s one or many sources, we don’t know, but L is where you find in Luke only, unique to him, M Matthew only, which unique to him.


The common material in the triple tradition is there because Matthew and Luke used Mark. The material that Matthew and Luke have in common, not found in Mark, there because they had another source we call Q, all right? Now what was Q like?

Was it individual oral traditions that Matthew and Luke used? Was it a single oral tradition Matthew and Luke used? Was it a combination of independent oral and written materials? Was it a completely written source Matthew and Luke used? Now, my answer to that is, pick whichever one you want.

I don’t think you can decide that. I don’t think the evidence is sufficient. When we talked about the literary relationship of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, what was the one argument we had that was strongest for a literary relationship between Matthew, Mark and Luke? The argument from order, the order of materials – not the similarity and but the order.

Now, if you wanted to prove that Q was a written source, then you’d want to try to argue from the similarity in order and lots of attempts have been made to try is find a common order. I give them in the text. I’m not going to specify those and become specific in that regard, but really, no real argument seems to have demonstrated a common order of the material in Matthew and in Luke, which we have called Q.

The lack of being able to demonstrate a common order, I think, makes it very, very difficult to argue for a literary source being involved here. A literary relationship becomes much more difficult. There was a time when people argued there’s no such possibility of having just a source, because when you look at this Q material, they’re sayings materials.

What kind of a document would there be that were just sayings of Jesus? No narrative or anything like that. When the gospel of Thomas was found, that argument forever ended, because here was the sour-, not the source called Q but a written source of simply sayings of Jesus, though it’s possible, but, again, then, if you found, say for the sake of the argument, just for now, the gospel of Thomas was, is ancient Q.

It isn’t but for the sake of argument, let’s argue it. Then you would expect if you looked at the order of sayings in Matthew and Luke, if they were using a written Q, gospel of Thomas, there’d be a similarity in order and you could find ‘em. You could find the same sayings follow one another roughly that way.

You don’t find anything like that, of course, in the present one, and it’s very difficult to try to find a logical argument of chronology or events or order in the Q material and that makes it very difficult, I think, to be dogmatic about it being a written source.

You can have long, long extensive material in an oral tradition that’s memorized in an order. More probably, you memorize them as individual units but so if you have a, an order, it looks like you’re now dealing with something that’s been written.

Now I read something just this morning I thought that was worthwhile and it kind of agrees with what I think. I’m writing, quoting myself here. On page 117, I write, the argument from order has always been more convincing for some than for others but we may well ask if the order that we have observed is as great as we might tend to expect if the Q material came to Mathew and Luke as a common written source.

If Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark can serve as a pattern for how they use their sources, notice we talked about the common order in Matthew, Mark and Luke, at least one of them did not use his Q source in the same way he used Mark. Otherwise, that common order would show up. So I think it’s very dangerous to talk dogmatically about a written Q, because of that.

Now the Q hypothesis, again reading with somewhat I agree with, has its problems but the alternative hypothesis that Luke used Matthew or vice versa has far greater problems. So when you, when you’re talking about, well, you know, there are problems about this, yeah, but there are other explanations that you have to [inaudible], which have greater problems and so we’re not talking about a problemless situation, we’re talking about the fact that this seems to have the least number of problems in that regard.

Now I was just in the library this morning and I happened to quite accidentally see this one of the latest works on Q. It’s about yo thick. I was gonna bring it but I couldn’t carry it. Uh, and it talks about not only what Q was like but these stages Q went through and the circumstances which led to the variation and the various stages.

On pages 122-23, I want you to look at that argument and read it and just say, look, when you build hypothesis upon hypothesis upon hypothesis, if the fifth hypothesis has a 50 percent chance of being right, that doesn’t mean that everything winds up 50 percent.

It means 50 percent times the probability of the fourth one being possible, the third one being possible, the second one being possible and the first one being possible and, for instance, if you gave everyone a 90 percent chance of being correct, by the time you get to the fifth one, it’s not 90 percent.

It’s 90 percent times 90, so the second one is 81 percent. The third one is 72 percent. The fourth one is now in the 60 percent and then the 50 percent and that’s giving everything a 90 percent chance. If you give it an 80 percent chance, it drastically drops and if anyone is a 60 percent chance.

So when you put it all together and you start saying this is what, how Q originated, this is what the church went through as it struggled this way eventually you’re writing fiction, I think. It, it just doesn’t seem very likely in that regard. So for me, the easiest thing is simply referring to Q is to say Q refers to the material in Matthew and Luke that they had in common from various sources, written, perhaps oral, unclear.


Now our gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Two of them bear names of apostles, Matthew, John. Mark, no apostle. In fact, the tradition associates Mark ha-, having written this work as a co-worker, once with Paul, later with Peter. His home was the center of the church in Jerusalem so he would obtain information, probably brought by Mark, by Paul and Barnabas or actually the first missionary journey, Barnabas and Saul, on the first missionary journey, because he would be helpful in the catechizing of people with the Jesus traditions.

He probably knew them well, hearing him in his home. Luke, not a Christian until sometime after the death of Jesus. We come across him during the first the second missionary journey of Paul, the first time we encounter him, so he’s a gentile, not a disciple in any way. With regard to John and Luke John and Matthew, we’re gonna have to talk about who wrote those books and we’ll do that one individually with each of the books.

The first thing to remember is no one’s name is on any of these gospels. They are anonymous. It’s not Paul and apostle of Jesus Christ of the Church at Corinth. It’s not like Mark, the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and follower of Luke, the physician who came to know the, nothing like that.

You have traditions at the top but it’s very unlikely that when Matthew wrote his gospel, he put at the top ‘The Gospel According to Me, St. Matthew.’ so but I think there’s great validity in those titles in the sense of being helpful but that’s not part of the inspired word of God and we’ll talk about authorship questions later.

People say if Matthew wrote this gospel and, and we’re gonna have to discuss that, by the way, because the tradition that associates Matthew with this gospel says he wrote it in the Aramaic or Hebrew language and our Matthew is not a translation from Aramaic or Hebrew and if our Matthew used [15:30] Mark, he was copying a Greek manuscript.


So there’s some questions on that. I think somewhere behind all this is Matthew but I’m not sure where and we have to hold off on that until later. Now one of the questions that comes up is if Mark is the first gospel written according to tradition around 65 or so, why were the gospels so late in being written? Why did it take some 35 years or so before a gospel such, of such was written?

There may have been other things being written as such but our first gospel, at least, in this regard. Well, there is a sense in which is long as the eye witnesses were alive, it doesn’t seem to be a great need for this and let’s face it, supposing you had this Sunday the opportunity of coming to Memorial Alumni Chapel and hearing Bob Stein read selections from the gospel of Mark or there’s some guy down at the Civic Auditorium in Louisville hi-, hi-, hi-, his name, I think it’s Kayfa or Kayfis and some call him Peter and he’s gonna tell about his personal experience with Jesus. Now where would you go this Sunday?

Now don’t answer frivolously. He’s not grading this this class. You know, I’m doing that. Uh, no, if you came to the chapel, there’d be a large note there saying, ‘I’m down that the Civic Auditorium, listening to Peter. You oughta be there.’ As long as you have the eye witness testimony, there doesn’t seem to be this great need and, needless to say, when the apostles begin to die off, you could see there’s a need in the church and people become important.

Let’s write these things down and the tradition about Mark the majority of tradition is that when Peter had died, the church urged him to recall what Peter had written down and so he did this. Another thing about not writing things down is that there is a tradition in the land of Israel the people are familiar with the passing on of oral traditions.

This is not something that all of the sudden they developed. It was part of their tradition, memorizing things, passing on oral traditions was very important, and for many people, oral tradition was sometimes more valid and more significant than being around written down. When you wrote it down, it lost some of the aura of being sacred and the like.

So it was a common thing to memorize and to pass on traditions with this. Uh, there is also in the practice of the early church the need as time developed, when the church expanded to keep control over the gospel traditions. You know, as long as the church is located in Judea, in say Galilee, you don’t need to worry about it.

You can always run back and forth from Jerusalem and so forth and have an apostle come up and help correct the new tradition you’re not aware of but what happens when you start having churches in Northern Turkey and Macedonia, start reaching out to France, Gall as it was called, and Spain?

Uh, how do you keep control of these things? Well, you need to begin writing these down, so that they become a kind of control of the gospel traditions and still, another issue is that you can see that as long as you have Jerusalem as a center there, the church is located. You can always raise questions and Paul, after every missionary journey, went back to Jerusalem and when there was a need to discuss the issue of what about Gentiles, do they have to be circumcised, there was a counsel in Jerusalem that did these things.

In AD 70, Jerusalem is destroyed and the power of the influence of the church is disbanded. Now what? There’s no longer a center. Well, you need to get, write these things down.

Years ago, there was an argument that I gave credence to that I have some problems with now and that is the idea that some people said that in the early church, they thought Jesus, return was so soon, why bother writing any of these things down and I thought, yeah, that makes sense and then I began to reflect a little, I thought, you know, those groups in our own country, for instance, that really believe that the Lord is coming immediately, their presses are red hot, I mean, they rent like crazy.

It’s not like they say it’s no time to write, let’s uh, let’s not worry about that. They were really busy writing and if you looked at the community at Qumran, which really believed they live, were living at the end times, they wrote a lot of stuff. So believing the Lord’s about to come doesn’t mean that you necessarily don’t write these things down.

It may mean you even want to write ‘em more, more, more fully and pass them on. So I don’t think the idea that the Lord’s return was immediate caused them to stop writing. I, I think that’s probably not one of the better reasons, but anyway, by the time of the 60s and so forth, these materials start to be written down and we have out written gospels.


That takes care of what we call literary criticisms – the relationship of Matthew, Mark and Luke to one another but when that was “solved,” for the next question was well, what in the world was going on before they were written down? And interestingly enough, right after World War I, three German scholars, Rudolph Bultmann K. L. Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, all wrote works dealing with this next area, which is called Form Criticism.

Form Criticism, simply put, is the study of the gospel traditions between the death of Jesus and the writing of the gospels – the oral period. What was going on during this period in the church before the gospel materials were written? And I have listed this and tried to discuss it according to a number of presuppositions, some of which we’ll agree with, some of which we will have difficulties with.


The first presupposition is that before our gospels were written, there was a period of oral tradition. Before our gospels were written down, people shared the gospel message orally. I mean, I find it very difficult to argue against this. If you argue against it, you would have to say that when Jesus was ascending [22:00] into heaven, the gospel writer said, ‘Not so fast.

We’re almost done but not yet,’ and as he disappears out of sight, now they have written gospels. No one regard you of that and you say, well, what then, did people do? Well, you talked to people about Jesus and they said well, you can tell me anything about Jesus. Tell me about this Jesus. How do you respond?

You say, ‘It’s AD 30.’ Do you say, well, not really but if you hold on for another 40 years, I’ll give you a book you can read. Well, you tell what Jesus did. You pass these words on orally and you teach them to your children orally and you pass them on and in a culture, which is very oral, this is just common place and you begin to memorize stories about Jesus and you teach your children the stories of Jesus, his teaching, you memorize things like the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, the parables of Jesus.

Uh, you go to the, you go to church and you break bread together and as you break bread, you said on the night in which Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and he bust it and he said, this is my body, broken for you, and then you go on, and you say, well, on the night in which he was betrayed and you’re celebrating the Lord’s Supper, wouldn’t, if you are had any question, would you say, what happens after this?

Then you have to tell the story about the night of his arrest, his trial, his death, his resurrection and so forth. So yes, you debate how long it was oral. You may debate about whether it was purely oral but there is a period, in the early church, where people pass on these traditions by word of mouth.


Now the second thing that the form critics have in their presupposition is that during this oral period, these stories tend to circulate as individual stories and units and this was particularly the work of K. L. Schmidt in showing that. Uh, let’s look at a couple examples of that.

Turn with me to page 42 in your synopsis here. When we have individual stories, in biblical circles, we talk about these as pericopes p-e-r-i-c-o-p-e, not pericope but pericopes. Here’s a pericope, #45, about fasting.

Notice how it begins in John in Mark, excuse me. Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting and people came and said to him. Now what is this intimately connected to. I’d say the life of Jesus but after that I don’t know. Did it take place here? There? Monday? Tuesday? Friday? Uh, before or after a certain event? Probably, in the oral period, you memorize a story like this.

Now the disciples of John the Baptist, the Pharisees used to fast and one day, it came to Jesus and they said well, why don’t your disciples fast? And you have now the story but there’s no necessary title what proceeds. You don’t have to know what proceeds to make sense of it.

It’s all pretty much an independent unit by itself. Turn to page 113. Here, you have the beginning of an incident in which Jesus teaches by the sea. Now notice how it begins. Again, he began to teach beside the sea and a very large crowd gathered about him so that he got into a boat and he sat in the sea and the whole crowd was beside the sea and the land.

He taught them. One day, Jesus was by the Sea of Galilee and there was a large crowd so he got into a boat and he taught them from the boat and he said, ‘All right, what’s that attached to?’ When you memorize that, do you memorize that this took place right after such and such?

The only thing you have to really have is sea somewhere, what took place when he was in the Sea of Galilee. Okay, but is it connected to anything else? Do you need to know that? Does it make any difference or is it all by itself a complete story? Uh, turn with me to page, to 421 page 117.

Here, you have a parable and he said to them, Jesus, if you can think of any parable and somebody said tell me a parable, wouldn’t you say, well, once Jesus said a man had two sons or there was a man going down from Jerusalem to Ju-, Judea and he fell among thieves and you tell a story of the good Samaritan.

Do you need to know anything more of that story as to exactly when and where it was told or is it complete in itself? You have a story about one day Jesus was in a house and there was such a crowd there that four people who were bringing their paralytic friend couldn’t get in, so they went up to the house and they tore open the roof and lowered it and you tell a story. When did this happen?

During the life of Jesus. Yeah, okay. Do you need to know more about that? No, the story’s complete in itself and you memorize it as an individual story. Uh, let’s look at a couple others real quickly. Uh, page 131, here you have a story about Jesus sending out the disciples. One day, Jesus told the 12, it’s called the 12 disciples and he said to ‘em, I want you to go out and preach, to go and heal and one day, he did. Uh, you go to page 141.

Now one day, the Pharisees came together and some of the scribes from Jerusalem and they saw that Jesus’ disciples ate with hands that weren’t washed and he said well why don’t they eat with washed hands and you have the story here that follows but where, when, he, he had memorized it kind of individual story.

Uh, so you, you have many of these that function individually. Page 145, A 1-10, A1 begins, in those days, during one of those days, in Jesus’ ministry, a great crowd was gathered together and they had nothing to eat and you have the story now is this feeding the 4,000.

Many of these stories tend to be individual stories that you remember and pass on by word of mouth and some of them begin to be collected not on the basis of chronology but on a similarity so you have, you tell a miracle story, so, oh, that reminds me of another miracle that Jesus did. Well, you tell a parable. Oh, let me tell you another parable.

Let me tell you, they had a argument or what we call a controversy with some place and there was another controversy with a different group and you tell that controversy story and some of these collect together.

Uh, is it reasonable to think that many of the beatitudes were set at different times and that they were brought together, because blessed are if you know another blessed are, you tend to bring the blessed are’s together and you have a collection of ‘em, and when the individual gospel writers began to write their gospels, they said, now, how, how am I gonna organize this material and he chose different reasons for doing it and so forth.


The third presupposition is that these materials can be classified according to their form and I have listed here the main three kinds of classifications by Taylor, Dibelius and Bultmann. Dibelius [29:30] referred to paradigms [novelan, perinece], legends and myths, themes and miracle story sayings, historical stories, legends.

Uh, those are prejudicial in their terminology. Taylor’s is a terminology we will use. He talks about pronouncement stories, miracle stories, sayings and parables and stories about Jesus. Now Dibelius and Bultmann say well I don’t want anybody to think we’re passing a judgment, historically, on this material when we call them legends or myths.

Well, 99 percent of the world think that there’s a historical evaluation. Stories about Jesus is neutral. If you don’t believe it, there’s still a story about Jesus. If you believe it’s still a story about Jesus, but you call it legend or myth, you kind of telling whether you believe it or not, and so for, it’s not a good neutral classification.

So we’re gonna use just the classifications of Taylor, a pronouncement story. A pronouncement story’s a story which ends with a pronouncement. The whole story builds up to the pronouncement. I’ll give you a pronouncement. You can tell me the story. Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s and now, that recalls a story about how they came to Jesus right to pay tribute to Caesar. Show me a coin who see it and Jesus see it, and so forth and so on.

Give you another one. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath. Uh, you know the story that precedes that but it was built to end in that particular way.

A pronouncement story has a particular form. It’s a story that leads to a concluding pronouncement or teaching of Jesus. Miracle stories tend to have a particular form. It has a particular form, because of the nature of the material. If you’re gonna do a healing miracle, for instance, you have to have somebody’s who’s sick.

So you have a description of the person’s sickness. Then sometimes more often than not, a reference to their faith but not always. Then you have a reference to Jesus healing and Jesus said there is a man who is lame from birth, okay.

Now you have the description and Jesus comes and he says I’ve seen their faith, Jesus said, or it may be a reference to faith. Rise, take up your bed and walk. It can’t end there. Did he rise, take up his bed and walk or did he just lay there? So you have rise, take up your bed and walk and, oft times, the sense of awe that followed. So a miracle story tends to have a kind of pattern in one way.

Saying and parables are classifications not based on form but on the content for the most part. There are some sayings that have unique forms of poetry proverbs and so forth but in general, they’re just useful categories. There’s a saying of Jesus as a parable and then there’s stories about Jesus and they can have various forms, as well. So it’s, it’s kind of a helpful handle to talk about the various materials in the gospel.

If you say this is a pronouncement story, right away, you know that it’s a story about Jesus that ends with a pronouncement. A miracle story, you expect certain things in this story. Sayings, parables, stories about Jesus, they’re helpful. One of the problems, of course, is that these are manmade classifications.

They are not divine laws that come from heaven, say every story has to fit a particular form and what’s kind of frustrating for some people is that some pronouncement stories are also healing stories and they want it to be one of the other and they say, well, originally, it must have been one or the other and that later it and history is not that neat.


You can’t always put things in nice categories. So sometimes, the categories are not sufficient. A fourth presupposition, the vital factors which gave rise to and preserve these forms are to be found in the practical interest of the Christian community. In other words, we know not, not everything Jesus said and did was recorded. Some things were recorded. Some were not. Now why? Well, let me tell you a very incident, interesting incident in my own life.

Uh, a number of years ago my wife and I were together leading a tour in Israel and we came to Qumran, looking over the Dead Sea and the group followed the tour leader but I had been there and I just thought I’d, I’d stay there a while and I kind of sat on a rock and looked over the Dead Sea as the sun was beginning to set, noticed a rock was loose and so I rolled it over and low and behold underneath, there was this urn and I looked in and I could see there’s something in there and I reached in and out came a scroll and I opened the scroll and it was a story and a story about Jesus and it was said something like this.

One day, Jesus and the disciples were walking by the Sea of Galilee and Peter said Lord we’re hungry and Jesus said to Thomas, Thomas, why didn’t you fill our skin with some water so we have something to eat. Thomas ran to the Sea of Galilee and he fell and scraped his knee. On the way back, he said to Jesus, I scraped my knee, Master and Jesus said I’m sorry to hear that.

Proceeding ahead, they found some trees and sat in the shade and there, they ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank the water that Thomas brought. Now that, that’s not found in many gospels that I know of and I just thought I would share that with you.

For some reason, it’s not recorded but I, I think we should put it in and you say, well, what a useless story. Well, yeah, it is useless, isn’t it? Probably wasn’t memorized because of that. I mean, what practical value is there in a story like that? The only practical value is when Mommy looks at Johnny and says, Johnny, eat your peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If Jesus was willing to eat peanut butter and jelly, you should be willing to eat it, as well, but there’s no value to it.

So what we have in the gospels is a collections of stories, sayings and teachings that are valuable and are passed on, because of their value. Now that means that when I read my gospels, I look at story and I ask myself, now, why was this story so valuable that it was saved and the peanut butter story wasn’t?

What need did this meet and minister to in the life of the church? And then I find that if it met that kind of need in the early church, it can meet the same need today. And there were needs, for instance, as to how do you get along with the state, an unbelieving state, and so you memorize the story about Jesus was as give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.

Om, there are other stories that are there that help in various ways and have apologetic value, show that Jesus was not a trouble maker, that both Pontius Pilate and [Heritanthropis] and all those present found no fault in him, couldn’t convince him of sin, and so you look at these various purposes as to why these individual stories were preserved. Having said that, that’s different than the radical form critics who said, who sometimes said the church made up stories to meet their religious needs.

Now most of their religious needs came about because of these stories and they minister to them, because they met, not only created the need, but they helped minister and to provide meaning in those needs.

So there’s a world of difference to say these stories were saved, because they met religious needs the church had, than to say they made ‘em up. Where did the needs come from first? They came from the tradition. And they didn’t make up a story about the Lord’s Supper because they one day decided to have a Lord’s Supper and they made up a story to justify it.

They had a Lord’s Supper because it went back to the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, but needless to say, the more you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the more you build on the tradition and remember that tradition about the Lord’s Supper as such.