New Testament Survey: Gospels - Lesson 5

Presuppositions and Results

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.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Gospels
Lesson 5
Watching Now
Presuppositions and Results

Form Criticism

Part 2

I. Presuppositions OF FORM CRITICISM(part 2)

A. Presupposition #5 - The material of the tradition has no biographical, chronological, or geographical value.

B. Presupposition #6 - The original form of the tradition may be recovered and its history traced, before being written down, by discovering the laws of tradition.

C. Presupposition #7 - The eyewitnesses had little influence over the tradition.


II. Arguments Against Radical Form Criticism

A. One would expect that the church would have produced material addressing some of the great problems they faced early on.

B. We should not minimize the ability of first-century believers to memorize.

C. Eyewitnesses had a preserving effect upon the traditions.

D. Leadership was centralized in Jerusalem.

E. We find a high view of tradition in the New Testament.

F. The church is faithful in passing on material.


III. Results of Form Criticism

A. The Gospels are not objective, historical biographies of the life of Jesus.

1. Gospels are the truth, but they are not neutral, otherwise they wouldn't be evangelists.

2. Not historical in the sense of the word that they deal with the miraculous.

3. Not biographical since they omit large portions of Jesus' life.

B. The Gospels were preserved for their religious value.

C. Because these are not objective biographies, rather these are predominantly independent stories, this helps us understand the work of the Evangelist better.

  • 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

Let’s open with a word of prayer.

We rejoice our father for the joy we have in being able to come before you. Not through some priest not through some other person, but directly in the name of Jesus Christ, we have access. And we are even so bold as to call you Abba, Father. Because through Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness. And we have been born into your family. We rejoice in the salvation that is ours. We rejoice that you have given us your word to guide us and direct us. Now, teach us more about it. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.


We’ve been talking about how before the Gospels were written, they existed in a church during a period where much of the Gospel materials were being passed on by word of mouth, orally. We don’t want to think there was a period that was everything was strictly oral. And that after that, it was strictly written. But there were overlaps during these periods. But, primarily, the period before Mark, we think of as an oral period. And we looked at several presuppositions: One that there was an oral period; Secondly, that they tended to be memories (these individual traditions) tend to be memorized as individual units and passed on this way; Thirdly, that they can be classified into form – some can be more easily than others; And then, fourthly, what caused the church to preserve these stories was that those that were particularly valuable for them.

For instance, what did you do when you were a Jewish Christian, and you didn’t feel the same about kosher foods any longer? And that a Jewish person said to you what happened Abraham? You’re no longer kosher; you’re eating forbidden things. And then wouldn’t it be helpful to say something like well the Lord, Jesus, told us that it’s not what goes into a man’s stomach that defiles him, but what comes out of his heart; That it is out of the heart that all sorts of evils come. And so that would be a story that would help you to understand the freedom you had to eat anything set before you. So those that were valuable were preserved. The peanut butter story got lost until I discovered it a few years ago.


Now, another presupposition is that the traditions essentially had no interest in chronology or biography or geography. Now here we have an insight that many of the stories don’t have an interest in geography or things like this made into a universal rule. Now it’s true that sometimes the stories have no close connection with anything that proceeds. They are isolated. But there are also stories that have certain connections.

Turn with me to page 40 in your synopsis. Here we have an incident that takes place in the city of Capernaum. “And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.” There’s no reason to deny that this story was during the oral period associated with the city of Capernaum. Some people, the more radical critics to argue their case, would say they later added city names like this, but there are too many city names that are added like this.

Turn to page 123. Mark 5:01 says, “They came to the other side of the sea to the country of the Gerasenes.” And you’ll notice there’s an 'n' there. Some have Gergazines- some say Gaterines. The fact is no one knows what this place is. Now, if you simply created names of cities and threw them in, you’d expect they’d be pretty well-known cities. You’d say they came to Tiberius. Or they came to Jericho. Or they came to Shechem. You don’t put in a place name that no one seems to know. The very ambiguity of this argues that it must be part of the tradition.

Turn to page 145. Now here’s an example of a story that doesn’t have any intimate tie. For instance, Mark 8:01, “in those days there came a great crowd that had gathered. And they had nothing to eat.” In other words, once in the ministry of Jesus, a great crowd had gathered about Jesus, and they didn’t have any food. Now, what is that tied to? The ministry of Jesus? But when and where, and who cares about when and where? Do you have to know this was a Tuesday? I have some inside information here; it doesn’t matter. Do you need to know it was rainy that day? Or that they were five miles southeast of Bethsaida? The story makes sense all by itself. It doesn’t have to have that, but what do you do when you go to page 148, and now you find a place name here. “And they came to Bethsaida.”

Some of these places have names associated with it, and there’s every reason to believe that this was part of the tradition. When you come to Peter’s confession, on page 149, this takes place in verse 27 of Mark 8 in the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Now, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. And the place designation is Caesarea Philippi. Where do you read about Caesarea Philippi? Well, you read about it in Mark 8:27 and Matthew 16:13, that’s all; that’s the only place you find it. You don’t find this anywhere in the early history of the church. Now, why do they name Caesarea Philippi as the place? May I be so naïve as to suggest that’s probably where it happened?

If you were making up a place, and say let- let’s put a place designation to this. Oh, I could do a better job than that. Caesarea Philippi? I’d say this, “and as Jesus and the disciples entered into Jerusalem they came into the temple and as they walked in the temple Jesus said to the disciples, ‘who do men say that I am?’ and they said, ‘you are the Messiah.’” Now that’s a classy story. In the temple, in Jerusalem, that’s where the confession should be made. Caesarea Philippi? But you know it doesn’t look like they made up stories like this. They had these associations with it- already in the stories. So, here you have an idea that every time you find something chronological or alike that it was made up. Not likely. Some stories do have places. Some have a designation of chronology and geography.

Turn to page 153. This is the story of the transfiguration. It’s hard to conceive of it ever circulating as an isolated story. How do you say a story like this, once, after six days, Jesus took with him, Peter and James? Six days after what? A designation like that ties it with something. And here you have that story beginning this story this way. So you have to understand the transfiguration and what took place in Caesarea Philippi having taken place at the same time or closely related.

Sometimes there may be interests in geographical or chronological ties as well. If you look at, for instance, Mark 14:51. Turn to page 300; there’s this really strange incident that people try to explain somehow and say that this is not historical. This is a figurative experience of some sort. So, on the Mount of Olives in the garden of Gethsemane, we read that after Jesus is arrested at the very bottom of page 300, line 70, following Mark, “and they all forsake him and fled. And a young man followed him with nothing but a linen cloth about his body, and they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” Now, if you say this is not a historical incident, you have to say why do they- story like this?

What would be the meaning of such a story? And there have been attempts to try to find meaning in this. And the very attempts show it must be a real incident or something like that. Most of the older interpreters of Mark thought this is probably a biographical incident in which Mark himself is relating something in which he is present. But to try to find meaning in,? Well, maybe my mother would say something at present, 'Bobby that all goes to show wherever you go, you better have clean underwear on.' You never know what might happen.

But it looks like a biographical tidbit that the writer may have placed in there at that time. One last one: Turn to page 313. In Mark 15:21 you have a little reference, “and they led him, Jesus, out to crucify him, and they compelled a pass by Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus to carry the cross.” In other words, the writer of Mark is telling his readers, 'by the way, the man who carried the cross of Jesus was the father of Alexander and Rufus.' They must know who Alexander and Rufus would be. They say it was Alexander and Rufus’ father. Who did that? And so you have another kind of historical and biographical reference that way. What you have then in this presupposition is a general rule that much of the material, maybe most of it, has little such geographical ties or chronological ties or things like that. But you can’t make that into a universal rule. Sometimes they do. And we just have to accept that.


Now, another presupposition that form critics have made is that what you should do, and what you can do, is figure out what the rules of passing on such traditions should be. And the early form critics were Germans and what they did was to note how German folk stories in the 12th to 13th centuries, as they were being passed on primarily orally at this time, developed and later on when they wrote down to see the kinds of things that they tended to add. And so they said, ahh the way oral tradition develops.

There are certain rules by which you can figure out oral tradition will progress. And now that we have those oral traditions in Mark, we can reverse the rules and go back to their purest form. And they would come out with some rules like names tend to be added to people so that originally had an anonymous person, later he is named. Let’s give him the name Malkus or something like that. If you had an ear being cut off, later on, it tends to be a specific ear, the right ear, or something. Those are later additions. Now, these rules developed out of watching the oral growth of German literature over centuries. And they also observed how the Gospels, later on, were quoted and copied in other apocryphal Gospels and alike. The rules developed in seeing how oral traditions develop over centuries. How many centuries do you have between the resurrection of Jesus and Mark? Not many, do you? You have a period of decades. And so that has become questionable.

And a man by the name of E.D. Sanders- E.P. Sanders wrote a work, “The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition,” he’s written some other works on Paul, very influential. And he pointed out that if you look and follow the Gospels and if you say Matthew and Luke use Mark, sometimes a person who is named in Mark is unnamed in Matthew. Sometimes a person who is unnamed in Mark is named in Matthew. In other words, sometimes, names are added looks like by the later writings, sometimes they are omitted. Now what kind of a general rule do you have? The general rule is that sometimes names are added, and sometimes names are omitted. The general is that sometimes the details become more specific, and sometimes they become less specific. Well, these are not rules. And so the whole question of whether you can read back and say an earlier form of the tradition in this oral period would have been like is very much debatable at the present time.


Now I have a list here a 7th presupposition, which is very seldom mentioned. Generally, nothing is ever said about it. And that is that the eyewitnesses had little influence over the tradition. The eyewitnesses had little influence on the passing on of the tradition. For the radical form critics Vincent Taylor, tongue in cheek, said, “it looks like when they talk about this oral tradition being passed on, the eyewitnesses went to heaven with Jesus at the ascension.” The reason is they never referred to the eyewitnesses. And the question you have to ask is, during this oral period, what did the eyewitnesses do? The more radical of the form critics never discuss that. And so as far as Taylor said, well, you know, they just kind of disappeared. But I eye witness testimony is very important for the early church. What’s the first event that happens after Jesus ascends to heaven in the book of Acts? Not Pentecost. It’s the selection of the replacement for Judas. There’s one requirement. Does he have to be a great preacher? Does he have to be bilingual? Nothing like that. What’s the requirement?

He had to be an eye witness from the beginning. So there’s an importance that you’re the writings of the New Testament place on this. And when we’re all through with some- form critics and we are going to go back to Luke 1:01 to 4. Where Luke, who writes 1900 years or so nearer to what happened than form critics and people today. He argues that the Gospel tradition who are being passed on by those who were the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. So right at the forefront of all this, we have, according to Luke, the eyewitnesses. So, I think, the radical form critics error by omitting and essentially denying the impact of the eyewitnesses in this regard.


For some people, form criticism is negative. Form criticism is simply the study of the Gospel traditions during the oral period. There is nothing negative, nothing positive about it. It’s just neutral. It’s the presuppositions that people bring with them that will determine if it’s positive or negative. Just because a thief uses a knife to kill someone that doesn’t mean all knives are bad. I had major back surgery years ago that allowed me to walk. I love that knife. Good thing. But in the hands of a thief, a knife can be an instrument of terror and murder. So form criticism is a neutral thing. It’s how you use it. Now, some people say that during this oral period, the material was radically changed by the church, not the disciples, but anonymous people. It’s easier to blame anonymous people than to blame Peter, Andrew, James, John and the others.


Now, I think there are several arguments against us. First of all, if that were true, it’s strange that, if the church were making up materials to help service their religion that the most important area that they ever had to face, they never made anything up to about it. I mean, the one thing that the church struggles with. In the history of the early church, is going to wrestle with the issue, what about Joe Gentile who wants to become a Christian? Does Joe have to become a Jew to become a Christian? What is that? That’s silly, of course not. Well, you know, you are talking about it in the Gentile world of church of Christianity. What happens if everybody who’s ever a Christian was a Jew? And now you want to join this Jewish group of Christians. Do you have to become a Jew as well? Well, they struggle over that. The struggle is evident in the book of Acts and the experience of the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile because the church council in Acts 15 that wrestles with that question.

The book of Galatians chapter 2 deals with that council in which Paul is wrestling with the issue that Galatians Christians who were Gentiles are being told by certain Jewish Christians that if you don’t become a Jew, you can’t become a Christian. You have to be circumcised. Well, if that’s such a big struggle and the church is making up stuff to help it out by putting it out on the lips of Jesus, how come we never read anything about circumcision from Jesus? Wouldn’t it have been easy to answer the whole problem? And says does a Gentile have to be circumcised, and John says hold on I’ll be right back I have to get my computer. And here’s what Jesus said, “there is a time coming were neither circumcision nor uncircumcision will be of any matter, only faith working through love.” See, Jesus said that. It is solved. They never quote Jesus on anything like this, because the traditions are sacred to them. They don’t make up traditions simply to fulfill particular needs. There are issues with church polity that are discussed, and no sayings of Jesus involved. The issue of tongues, spiritual gifts, (those kinds of things) is sayings of Jesus they made up to cover those things. The fact is we have to be aware that they had great regard and reverence toward this.


Another thing that you have to keep in mind is that our abilities to memorize materials should never be read back into the first century. You and I can’t memorize a lick. We don’t have to. Knowledge today is not dependent on memorization. It’s dependent on filing and being able to retrieve information. Well, you can’t file and retrieve information back in the first century. If you don’t have it memorized you don’t have it. And so memorization is taught. And people learn to memorize, and it’s interesting the children today. Well, they can memorize pretty- pretty well when they are young, but as they get older, they lose that ability. And it’s the bait do you lose the ability because the memory muscle in your brain atrophies because you don’t use it? Or is it that there is so much other information coming in that it is being pushed aside. Regardless, children can memorize, and we can’t. If you develop that over years and decades it can become a very, very good tool.

There were in the time of Jesus, for instance, rabbis who memorized the whole Old Testament by heart. How many of you know a chapter of the Bible by heart, leaving Psalm 23 or Psalm 100 out. There is some, okay. I had memorized two chapters one. Isaiah 53, and I still know two or three of the verses; First John 5 and I even know a couple of those, too. But you could have a rabbi in Jesus' day come here and say, “And what would you like my children? A little Deuteronomy? Is Isaiah nice? Jeremiah? The Psalms? Do you want to hear Leviticus?” And he could spew out the whole Old Testament to you word for word.


Now, I know it’s true, but I don’t believe it. What I mean by that is I can’t contemplate it. But it’s true. They do. I know today I’ve been reading of people who have memorized the whole Koran. The word for word. And the interesting thing is they don’t know Arabic. You can do those things. So, memorization of these materials is not like our game of telephone, where I give you something, and you pass it on. Over here, we have something. We play it back. First of all, the materials that are memorized are shaped and forms easy to memorize. Parables are a lot easier to memorize than five, six verses of Paul’s argument in Romans. In the same way, poetry is easy to memorize. A lot of Jesus’ teaching is in poetry. So it comes already in an early form. You give it to people who can memorize. And they memorize, and then it doesn’t go to number 20 and come back, and it comes over here, and Peter, Andrew, John, and James say how does that- no it goes this way. And you have the control of the eyewitnesses over this. So what we have here is a carefully controlled passing on of oral tradition. It’s not a free-for-all in any sense of the word.


Another thing is that you have to realize that there is a leadership in the church. It’s not everybody does their own thing. There’s leadership, the circle of the apostles in-in Jerusalem, and alike.


The New Testament also has a very high few of tradition. We kind of think there are certain traditions we have to preserve. Paul, in Romans 6:17, doesn’t talk about our being entrusted with tradition. He says the tradition has been entrusted with us. We have been handed over to it. Now that’s a few traditions. When Paul talks to the Corinthians about divorce, he says, “Now I’m telling you this, but it’s not me, it’s the Lord.” And then he quotes a saying of Jesus on divorce.


In the next verses, he says, “Now I’m telling you, not the Lord.” Now he’s not saying I’m not inspired. He’s not saying this is- no- of less value then proceeds. He is simply saying look Jesus commented on this aspect of a divorce. He never said anything here, but I’ll tell you. And it’s equally weighting to-to be obeyed. But notice the distinction. Paul doesn’t simply say well; I’ll just make up one and say the Lord said that. He says Jesus didn’t say this, but I’ll tell you about this. Now that kind of an attitude and reverence to the word on divorce saying of Jesus is by one who calls himself an apostle. Now, if that the reverence Paul shows to the teachings of Jesus, do you think Herman the plumber in Antioch is going to have less reverence for this? Or more even? So we have this great respect for this. We also have passages of scripture, which must indicate that the church is very, very faithful in passing on this material.

Turn to page 262, for a minute. At the top of page 262, you have number 293 the time of the coming of the the parable of the fig tree. And here you have the parable of the fig tree. And then in verse 32, listen to these words, “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the father.”

Years ago I had a colleague and we were teaching in Minnesota. The colleague came to me and said, “one of my students in the class said that you said in class that Jesus did not know the day when he would return.” And I said yeah, I quoted Mark 20:32 where he says, “of that day and hour no one knows, not the son or the angels in heaven, but only the father.” And he said, “yeah, but he- he meant in his human nature, he didn’t know that, but as the Son of God, he knew that.” That’s not what it says. It says no one- no human person knows the angels don’t know the son doesn’t know, but only the father. And he says, “well, he was speaking from the perspective of his humanity at that point.” Now, my- my Christology develops this way. What’s clear in the Bible is the basis for the unclear. Now that verse is about as clear. That verse is about as clear as I think it can get that Jesus said he didn’t know. How being divine and human, how that all works together, how him emptying himself and taking the form of a servant how all that works out. I don’t know all of that. But the one thing I do know that seems fairly clear is that he said he didn’t know. My friend said no, he did know. Now his theology didn’t permit this.

Alright. Now. Do you think anybody in the early church would make up a saying like this? Remember the apocryphal Gospels how they treat Jesus? They tend to amplify the deity. His supernatural nature. Here’s a saying that talks about him not knowing. This has to go back to Jesus. I don’t think anybody in the church would have made up a saying like this. The odd- The tendency of the church is the very opposite of this kind of thing. Does that make sense? What does that mean? It means that the church is faithful in passing on the traditions. Even if they have difficulties.

Let’s look at another passage that has difficulty. Page 217, Mark 10 verse 18, 17 begins, “and as he, Jesus, was setting out on his journey a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, ‘good teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ and Jesus said to him, ‘why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’” Do you think anybody in the early church would have made up that saying? Do you think my colleague would ever have made up a saying like that? Or the former one about Jesus being ignorant? No, the tendency is just the opposite way. What this reveals is the faithfulness of the church in passing on traditions even when they were difficult. Because Jesus said these things and our job is not to change them, but to pass them on faithfully.

When we go to the rest of the New Testament, what are the titles for Jesus that are most favored in the church? When you read Acts to Revelation, and you have Jesus, what do you expect after that? What are your favorite titles of Jesus?

Woman 1: Christ.

Christ. Okay, Jesus Christ, sure. Lots of that. What other titles?

Woman 2: Lord.

Lord. Christ. What else? Son of God. Alright. There’re several others. But if you read, the Lord Jesus Christ has a couple of them right there, and you think of Son of God and so forth. Now, if you go to the Gospels what is the favorite title of all?

Son of Man. Son of Man is found four times in Acts to Revelation. Once in the sense that Jesus used it. On the other hand, the titles of Jesus that are not found frequently in the Gospels ,are titles Christ and Lord. Now they’re there, but not to the extent they are found in Acts to Revelation. Now how does one explain that? Is the church making up the Gospel materials? Would you not expect that the Gospel materials would refer to Jesus in the same way as they do in Acts through Revelation? In other words, the titles most prominent in the Gospels would be Christ, Lord, Son of God, and alike. But that’s not what we find. We find the title Son of Man. Now the exciting thing is the Son of Man is not found in the rest of the New Testament. It’s a title that the early church, apparently, did not understand really well and chose after the resurrection of Jesus to use other titles instead.

Now if you have the church reading back into the Gospel traditions their theology, in this instance there Christology, you expect Lord, Christ the Son of God all the time. You don’t find that. Instead, you see the title Son of Man. I think you can only explain that one way. And that is that Jesus' favorite self-designation was the Son of Man, and the church is faithful in reproducing that title on the lips of Jesus. It doesn’t read into it the titles that the church chooses and prefers later on. I think you have to say this reveals as faithfulness in the oral period when the church is passing on the traditions of Jesus. Yes, they believed Jesus is the Christ. They believe he is the Lord. But this saying talks about him as the Son of Man, and that’s the way they passed it on. I think it argues very strongly for very faithful transmission of this material.


Now let me go on and talk about a summary of what we can learn from form criticism. I think this discussion of form criticism is very helpful for us. I think it tells us that our Gospels are not objective, historical biographies. No. I’m going to qualify that. So please don’t just hear only that. Would anybody say that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are objective? Neutral, objective lives of Jesus. If you love Jesus, can you be neutral? Can you be objective?


I Remember when my best friend from college was telling me that he was about to get married. And he said- oh okay, when’s it going to be. and he said- well, tell me about her. He said, 'she’s a beautiful woman'. I said, 'oh.' That’s not very objective from a man who’s about to marry a woman to say she’s very beautiful. But he said something that made me believe. Yeah, she was the second runner up in Miss America last year. Well, then probably not very unattractive.

To be telling the truth doesn’t mean you’re objective. It means you are very fond of this truth. So our Gospels are not objective in this sense. But they’re true. They’re the truth, but they’re not objective. They’re not neutral. If you thin Matthew, Mark, and Luke are neutral they’re not Evangelists, are they? So they’re not objective.

Now the second one, they’re not historical. Okay, we have to understand what people mean now by historical. Historical could mean several things. In the context of this discussion among form critics, historical means non-supernatural. They live by the rules that history does not allow for the supernatural. And, therefore, since the supernatural is found all through the Gospels, these are not- quote-unquote- “historical.” They’re supernatural works. I think it’s a dumb way of defining history, but if that’s the way you’re using it, alright, okay. Quotes around historical.

Now the next thing is they are not biographical. Well, Mark’s Gospel begins with the baptism of Jesus. Do you ever write a biography- read a biography that starts 30 plus years after birth? There’s nothing here about the grandparents of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s parents. You don’t even have the birth of Jesus in Mark. And you can say well the birth of Jesus appears in Matthew and Luke, but Matthew goes from the birth to the baptism, 30 years later. Luke has one incident, 12 years old, then the baptism. It’s not a normal biography in any sense of the term because we’re omitting all sorts of aspects of life- and when you usually write a biography you talk about the formative influences of a person’s life. Talk about the childhood, the training, the schooling, and none of that is talked about in the Gospels. The Gospels are not biographies in our traditional sense. And when we get to the material after the baptism and temptation we’re not exactly sure what order a lot of this material fits. So in that sense, we are not dealing with either objective or historical biographies.


Now another thing is that they are preserved for their religious value. Okay, so we can read them asking the question, why was this preserved? What religious need did it meet? And what needs it can meet as well. And another thing it also helps us with because they’re not objective biographies, when we talk about a story of Jesus many times, I think, it’s irrelevant what precedes and follows it. It’s a story that all it needs is the background of the life of Jesus. Unless there is a specific, close tie between this event and what is preceded you don’t have to worry about it.

Sometimes people have thought of them as chronologies. And all sorts of problems develop. For example, a man by the name of [Foreign name Oseander], in the late 1500s, very devout, had a rigid view of inspiration that everything in the Gospels was strict chronologies.

He was troubled by a number of things. One of the things he was troubled with was in the Gospel of Mark Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee from the east, goes immediately to the home of Jairus and raises his daughter from the dead. But in Matthew, it doesn’t occur that way.

In Matthew, what happens is that Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee and he heals two people- that- two individuals. Two separate- you know- one after the other. Two separate stories. And then he goes to Jairus’ house and raises his daughter from the dead. That troubled Oleander. And so he resolved it this way. What happened? Well, just as Mark said, Jesus came immediately to the home of Jairus raised his daughter from the dead. However, as he was healing two other people, she died again, and he had to go back a second time. Just like Matthew says and so Jairus’ daughter is explained as having been raised twice from the dead.

Another example, in the Gospel of Mark, you have Jesus being arrested. Peter follows. Then you have a trial. Then you have Peter’s denial. And then you have the end of the trial.

In Luke, you have Jesus arrested. Peter follows. He denies the Lord three times, like in the other account. And then you have the trial and the rest of the trial.

So the way he resolved that is saying that what happened is exactly the way Luke said it and immediately after Jesus was arrested, Peter denied the Lord three times. Then, during the trial, he denied the Lord another three times. You have six denials.

Well, the writers of the Gospels are not interested in giving you a minute by minute chronology. What happened in Luke’s telling of the story, Luke said, why should I interrupt what’s going on here and go back and forth from the trial back to Peter and the trial back to Peter again. Let me tell you while I’m at it what happened with Peter. Peter denied the Lord. Now, let’s go on with the trial. And he finishes it. This makes perfectly good sense. But if you press it chronologically, you have six denials and things of this nature.


I think form criticism tells us that’s not the way the Gospel materials were written. That’s not the way they were passed on. They tended to be passed on as individual units. Sometimes there are ties chronologically. Sometimes there are not. The Gospel writers are not writing chronological biographies in this way.

Well, let’s look then, one more time, at Luke 1. Page 1 in your synopsis. Now that we’ve gone through all this material there’s what Luke says here, conform to what we’ve been discussing in class. Luke writes- page 1- “In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us. The things which have been accomplished among us involve Jesus’ life and deeds” and so forth, teachings and alike. Others have written; Luke is not the first person. He’s saying, 'I’m not the first person who has written it. Others have done that.' Now before these people wrote and could compile these narratives, he says, just as they, the things have been accomplished among us the deeds and teachings of Jesus, were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and ministers of the word. The word delivered is a technical term used to describe the passing on of tradition.

First Corinthians 11, “for I delivered to you what I also received.” On that of the night in which Jesus was betrayed he took bread, and when he blessed it, he broke it. He’s passing on a tradition of the Lord’s Supper, which he received. For he delivered to you and all that. Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he on the third day he rose from the dead and so forth and so on.

I First Corinthians 15:03 and following another tradition being passed on. You have here those who delivered to us these traditions, and he mentioned them as eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. That’s a single group. Those who are eyewitnesses and ministers, not the eyewitnesses and the ministers. One Greek article connecting the two nouns, indicating it’s a single group being understood. The eyewitnesses and ministers of the word for some time passed, having looked at these things. To write an orderly account, a few most excellent eyewitnesses. Then he goes on that this orderly account that he writes to them. And by the way, that orderly probably means logically orderly, more than chronologically orderly. There are some examples of that I give in the text. He does this that you [foreign word]may know the truth concerning the things in which you have been informed. [Foreign word] has been taught things orally.

Luke says I’m writing this so you may know those things that you’ve been taught are true. So, Luke conforms with the oral traditions [foreign word] has been taught. But notice you have Jesus, who is the one who accomplished these things among us, you have the eyewitnesses and ministers of the word who deliver the traditions you have others who write; some before Luke and now Luke. You have what we will talk about in the next class as three [foreign word], three situations in life. You need some German to throw out to tell mom and dad you’re learning a great deal about theology here. You’re learning about Jesus, one situation. You’re learning about the oral period, the second situation. You’re learning about the Evangelists- Luke, Matthew, Mark, the third situation. So when we talk about three settings in life, you can study in the Gospel: the situation of Jesus, the situation of the oral period, the situation of the church. And if you want you can read to learn about the first, the second or the third. Either of those is possible. We’ll talk next week about how to investigate the third situation.