Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bauckham - The Canonicity of the Four Gospels

I just read a cracker of an article by Richard Bauckham on "The Canonicity of the Four Gospels" (and the lack there-of for the 'gnostic gospels). Here is part of what Bauckham has to say:
"What we have in the four Gospels, in my view, is good access to the apostolic testimony about Jesus. I stress the term testimony. The eyewitnesses from whom these Gospels derive were not disinterested observers. They were involved participants in the events they later recalled and narrated. They were committed believers in the Jesus whose story they told. They and the Gospel writers were thoughtful interpreters of the significance of that story for human salvation. As we have noticed, all too briefly, they interpreted that significance very differently from the way the Gnostic Gospels do. But let me make two important points about this form of history – what I’m calling apostolic testimony. First, as we have seen, history matters to this testimony, as it does not for the Gnostic Gospels. It matters for the apostolic testimony that Jesus was a real participant in real history, and therefore it matters that the accounts are well based on the way the eyewitnesses told the story. The history is interpreted, of course, but it is history that it is interpreted. Secondly, the testimony of the eyewitnesses was in fact the kind of testimony that was valued by ancient historians – that of involved participants, people who could convey something of the reality of the events from the inside. It’s the kind of testimony we need if we are to grasp anything of the meaning of events as exceptional as those of which the four Gospels tell. We cannot and don’t have to polarize fact and meaning. The four Gospels give us at the same time both the most reliable access we have to what happened in the history of Jesus and also the meaning that those who were closest to Jesus and the events perceived in them when they found them to be life-changing revelation of God.

This inseparable combination of fact and meaning, history and interpretation that we have in the four Gospels qualifies them for the authority that these Gospels came to have for the mainstream church of the second and later centuries. Appropriately they came to be regarded as both the best access we have to the history of Jesus and the normative understanding of the significance of that history for Christian faith."
I love the way Bauckham concludes this paper:
"I guess the question comes down to: is there a real Jesus, a Jesus who lived in first-century Palestine as well as being alive and accessible to believers today, and does it matter what sort of God this Jesus revealed? If the answers are yes, then I think we have to face the same unavoidable decision that the early church had to make between the Jesus of the four Gospels and his God, and the very different Jesus of the Gnostic Gospels and his god." - The Canonicity of the Four Gospels
Now to use this for my AnCon seminar.

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