2013 Jesus

Session 1

Paul Foster
Simon Gathercole
Chris Keith

Panel Review and Discussion with Francis Watson of his new book, Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, UK: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2013)

That there are four canonical versions of the one gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: for, where gospels multiply, so too do apparent tensions and contradictions that may seem to undermine their truth-claims. This problem is not satisfactorily addressed either by the practice of harmonization, derived from Augustine, or by the modern scholarly displacement of the truth issue onto the imagined figure of a “historical”, uninterpreted Jesus. In both cases, gospel content is detached from canonical form. 

Gospel Writing presents the formation of the fourfold gospel as the defining moment in the reception of early gospel literature – and also of Jesus himself as the subject-matter of that literature. First articulated towards the end of the second century, the canonical decision divides the previously homogeneous field of gospel writing, superimposing the mutually exclusive categories of “canonical” and “apocryphal” on texts otherwise intimately related. In setting four of these texts alongside one another, the canon also creates a new, complex textual entity, more than and other than the sum of its parts. A canonical gospel can no longer be regarded as a definitive, self-sufficient account of its subject-matter. It must now play its part within an intricate fourfold polyphony, and its meaning and significance are thereby transformed.

In elaborating these claims, this book proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for gospel studies – one that engages fully with the available noncanonical material so as to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical.

Session 2

T. L. Brodie

Mark’s Healing of the Rooftop Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) as a Conflating and Domestication of the Paralytic and Roof Incidents in Acts (Acts 9:31-35; 10:9-43). The Need for Proto-Luke

Mark 2:1-12, mixing healing and controversy, uses the Cornelius narrative (Acts 9:31-11:18), especially its prelude (9:31-35, a healing), and its controversial message (removing unclean; forgiving sin, 10:9-43). Mark’s procedure gives precision to long-standing scholarly opinion. Mark’s adaptations vary. In adapting the healing his method is straightforward rewriting/redaction. But the controversy (rooftop vision; proclamation of forgiveness) he distils and domesticates. The heaven-related drama is reduced to the dimensions of a house. The opening of heaven above the roof becomes an opening in the roof itself. Problems of unclean/sinful are distilled into ‘Your sins are forgiven’ (Mark 2:5; cf. 1:23). The result: no longer just redaction, but transformation. The paper sets the texts in context, compares them, applies criteria for testing literary dependence, and asks how, given Luke’s use of Mark, Mark could use part of Acts—a question raising the issue of Proto-Luke. The evidence for Mark’s reworking of part of Acts is strong and clarifies Mark’s account of Jesus. 

Session 3

Stephen I. Wright (Spurgeon's College)

Performed Stories: a fruitful approach to locating the parables within Jesus’ ministry?

At certain important points in modern New Testament scholarship, interpretation of the parables of Jesus has markedly affected scholarly construals and perceptions of the historical Jesus, and vice versa (e.g. Jülicher, Jeremias). At other times, these two strands of investigation have continued along surprisingly separate paths. ‘The parables’ have been treated as a corpus on their own without being integrated into an overarching portrait of Jesus (cf. the works, over the last decade, of Hultgren, Snodgrass, Zimmermann and Blomberg), while conversely, works on the historical Jesus have often paid surprisingly little attention to the content of the parables, despite quite a high estimate being given to their historicity (cf. Crossan, Borg).

The range of understandings of the parables which can be detected in the literature, directly or indirectly, suggests the work that needs to be done. The parables are taken variously as veiled apocalyptic announcements, assertions of Christian theology, existential challenges, educational tools for political consciousness-raising, or the gnomic and perhaps inconsequential utterances of a wandering sage. I explore a way forward which (a) concentrates to begin with on the longer parables with a clear narrative shape, (b) asks how oral narrative actually works from both speaker’s and hearer’s points of view (in dialogue here with recent ‘performance’ studies, e.g. Horsley), (c) investigates the stories’ evocation of a social world as well as biblical themes, and thus (d) is in a position to relate these narrative parables intelligently to contemporary study of the historical Jesus.