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Catholic Culture Overview

The MOST Theological Collection: The Consciousness of Christ

"Appendix: Form Criticism - 3. Technique"


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For information on the actual application of form criticism, we will consult Bultmann's Study of the Synoptic Gospels. Although it was written some forty years ago (second edition, 1930), the Torch Book Edition of 1962 carries a freshly written preface by Bultmann himself.1 By this means we know he still accepted what he had written earlier, for the preface is limited to (a) listing new works that appeared in the interval, (b) the admission that now he knows the evangelists were really artistic authors.

The procedure is not at all difficult to understand. Let us first get an overview, and then comment on each step. To facilitate the matter, we will insert numbers: (1) Begin by trying to separate two things: the traditional material which existed before the Gospels were written, from the editorial work of the evangelists. (2) Study how Matthew and Luke worked, using Mark and Q. (Many scholars imagine there must have been a document-Q-which Matthew and Luke used when they did not use Mark, but still agree). (3) Notice that Mark himself worked in a similar way. (4) Therefore, assume that a similar pattern held in the tradition before Mark.2 (5) Confirm this by noting how the later church worked, especially in the apocrypha. (6) Get added help for the study of tradition by examining the literary forms that were at hand at that time, and by noting that since these forms tended to resist change, editors were at work where there is change. Notice also the life situation in the church that led to the use of each form (Sitz-im-Leben).(7) Add also a study of how primitive literature in general develops. (8) Finally, classify each Gospel passage under one of the major forms and subdivisions. (9) Conclude that (a) the evangelists created the whole setting of the Gospel stories, not knowing times or places,3 (b) and in many cases without even krowing what the sayings meant-but giving them a definite meaning by the choice of setting in which to report them. (c) As a result, it is clear that the Gospels are not historical.

Step 1

Of course we agree that much of the Gospel story existed as short units. However, there is a vexing problem already in the first step, for it supposes we can draw demarcation lines between the units. But there are no objective criteria for that, and the judgment of the critics is seriously marred by the long list of their prejudices.

To illustrate the problem, let us consider Mark 8:29-33, the confession of Peter. This is one of the most important passages bearing on the question of what Jesus consciously knew.

R. H. Fuller divides the passage into the following units.4 First, Jesus asks: Who do you apostles say that I am? Peter replies: You are the Messiah. Second, Jesus commands silence on that point. Third, Jesus predicts His Passion and Peter objects. Fourth, Jesus turns on Peter: Get behind me, satan!

The critics leave the first unit as it is, but say the second was invented by the Church and appropriated by Mark in his Messianic secret theme. The third unit, the Passion prediction and Peter's reaction is, they think, also a creation by the Church. So, after eliminating units two and three, we read the real account, they claim: Jesus asks the disciples who they say He is. Peter replies: You are the Messiah. Jesus angrily rejects the title: Get behind me satan! Splendid apologetics for a seventeenth century anti-papist.

Obviously we ought to examine the evidence for eliminating units two and three.

Wilhelm Wrede contended that Jesus never claimed He was the Messiah.5 Rather, the Church, finding it embarrassing that He had never said so, invented the tale that He had really said He was, but insisted on keeping it secret. Wrede has two chief arguments and some lesser ones.

As the first of his arguments, Wrede says that Jesus' command to observe silence after working miracles makes no sense. He proposes as the clearest case the instance after Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:43): "Here first and foremost the story of Jairus's daughter is very clear...a prohibition by Jesus would be completely without point and...from the historical standpoint it is senseless. "6 for everyone would have to know soon that she was raised. The command therefore must be unhistorical, and, accordingly, faked by the church and incorporated by Mark into his Gospel. Wrede adds that the situation is much the same with other cures: a leper (Mk 1:43-44); a deaf mute (7:36); a blind man (8:23-26), and so on.

Does Wrede's theory hold under analysis? First, he admits that part of the basis for his rejection is that "historical research...does not recognize miracles in the strict sense."7 Here we have the same gullibly unscientific, unsupported prejudice we found in Bultmann. Second, he says the command to silence makes no sense because no one would keep the secret. There was, however, a real point in the commands. In the case of the daughter of Jairus, if the father would hold off for a short while, Jesus could make an exit. That would be sufficient for His immediate purpose. He wanted to avoid being virtually seized by an emotional crowd and hailed as king Messiah. He knew well that the fickle ardor of the crowd would subside in a few days-recall the Palm Sunday Hosannas which changed within the week to "Crucify Him!" In the case of the leper, Mk 1:45 records how Jesus could no longer openly enter cities at that time and place because of the acclaim. In curing the deaf mute, Jesus took him aside, away from the crowd (Mk 7:33).

Thirdly, any good author who writes fiction knows enough to avoid the implausible. All admit Mark was an artistic writer. Surely he would know enough to omit fictional, unhistorical incidents if they were implausible. Why not just slip them, if he was merely dealing in fiction? But if, as the case is, he was reporting facts that were true, though strange, he would report things that might seem hard to accept. He would report them simply because they were factual. In other words, the very difficulty proper to the account is an argument in favor of the writer reporting historical truth. We might allude to the generally accepted principle of preferring the "more difficult reading" in textual criticism, i.e., if the text of one manuscript is obscure, while the same text in another is clear, that of the former is more likely to be authentic; the assumption is that a copyist might change a difficult reading to an easier one when not able to understand it. But the reverse, changing a clear reading to an obscure one, is hardly likely.

The second argument proposed by Wrede concerns the command to observe silence after the transfiguration (Mk 9:9): "A relatively little-heeded passage provides us with the key to this approach [the Messianic secret]. For me at least it has undoubtedly been the proper starting-point for getting to know this whole series of ideas, and to this extent I regard it as one of the most important sayings written down by Mark. It is the command Jesus gives after the Transfiguration, 9:9...."8 He notes Jesus told them to keep it secret, "until the Son of man should have risen from the dead." So, Wrede continues, "From this saying it is deduced that the Transfiguration is regarded as a sort of anticipation or preview of the resurrection.... The true meaning...would, however, have been discernible only after the resurrection." He then continues: "If the meaning...was to be discerned only later then it seems more or less harmless if people heard about it earlier." Therefore, according to Wrede, since the prohibition makes little sense, it must be unhistorical.

Wrede has missed a distinction, as he and the critics often do, and in doing so has jumped beyond the evidence. The point of the transfiguration was not just to foretell the resurrection; rather, it revealed partially aspects of the true nature of Jesus, and did so in a way that could be understood at once, before the resurrection. Even dull Peter got it for the moment (Mk 9:5): "Let us make three booths." He wanted to stay on permanently in that delightful revelation. People in general would, by this revelation, have found out more than what Jesus wished to reveal of His true nature at that time. After the resurrection there would be ample opportunity to proclaim His glory, and Jesus imposed the obligation to spread the good news. But before the resurrection He did not want His glory known. Hence the prohibition makes excellent sense.9

Unit three is rejected because of the form critics' view that the passion predictions are unhistorical. Chiefly three reasons are advanced for this claim, which we will take up in turn. First, the critics argue that the predictions gave detailed knowledge of the passion and resurrection. Yet, these events came as a surprise to the disciples.

We reply: The Gospels record how the disciples were slow to understand, even dull. It is not likely that the community would have regarded them as such unless it were true. Further, it is said that a genius at times will fail to catch on. Teachers, for example, often find that students will not read instructions, printed in large type, at the top of examination forms; instead they will ask for the information already before their very eyes. Even after Jeremiah had proved himself a true prophet in foretelling the disaster that befell Jerusalem, some survivors came to him and asked him to consult the Lord on what they should do; when he gave them the answer, they called him a liar, and did the opposite of what God commanded (Jer 42-43). As already noted, N. Perrin, who was not a dull Galilean fisherman but a university professor, claimed that the evidence "forced" him to consider the Gospel accounts unreliable; actually nothing at all forced him. R. Bultmann cites copiously from Scripture to support his claims-most of them are invalid. There are many cases of incredible slowness in the history of the sciences, e.g., when Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis (1817-65) discovered the cause of puerperal fever, men of science forced him into an insane asylum. The trouble was that the discovery of Semmelweis clashed with the existing beliefs of the medical men of his day. So they did not accept the evidence even when experimental proof glared at them. Similarly, the predictions of Jesus that He, the wonderworker and Messiah, should suffer so dreadfully clashed with the mind-set of the disciples. Moreover, the disciples panicked at the time of Christ's arrest, and in panic one forgets everything.

Teilhard de Chardin showed a similar puzzling inability to grasp things. He painted a glorious picture of the splendid condition of the human race just before the return of Christ at the end. He could not, it seems, fit into that framework some shockingly clear descriptions of the same period found in Scripture, so he ignored, and even contradicted them. For example, in Lk 18:8 Jesus foretold: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?" St. Paul in 2 Thes 2:3 told his people that the end could not come until there had been a great apostasy. Similarly, 2 Tim 3:1-5 warned: "In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it." Jesus Himself also warned, in Mt 24:12: "Because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold."

Another instance: Galen, a second century Greek physician and authority on anatomy, so dominated the beliefs of later investigators that many times in later centuries discoveries made by dissection that contradicted Galen were disregarded. In fact Fabricius, the anatomy professor of William Harvey (who discovered the circulation of the blood), missed the import of some of his own findings about human veins, since they did not agree with Galen.

There is a specially forceful case of this inability to see things that clash with an established pattern of thought reported by St. Paul in 1 Cor 8-10. In 10:27-29 Paul supposes a Christian goes out to eat, and when seated, another Christian says the meat on the table had been sacrificed to idols. Paul says that in itself it is all right to eat such meat, outside of pagan rituals, but that if there is danger of scandal, one should abstain. But, why does not Paul say instead that they should just tell the worried Christian that he, Paul, says it is all right to eat? Because Paul knows that sort of mentality, and knows that such a person will not be able to grasp that it is all right. So, if he eats, it will be in bad conscience.

Second, the critics argue that the passion prophecies are not found in Q, and consequently must be later. The argument is defective in two ways. First, belief in Q rests on the Two Source Theory; a theory based on a theory makes it a compound-not a proven proposition. In fact current studies are undermining its whole fabric. Second, even if we tentatively accept the theory about Q, the critics' argument is the argument from silence, a flimsy and inconclusive type of argument, especially when we have no tangible and certain means of knowing the precise text of Q. Also, all admit that Matthew and Luke each contain passages wholly independent of hypothetic Q.

Third, our critics also claim that the Passion predictions come from a different set of Son of Man sayings, sayings that have nothing in common with the sayings about the glorious or apocalyptic Son of Man suggested by Dan 7:13. Furthermore, (a) these predictions are structurally integrated by Mark in a way other sayings are not; according to Toedt this shows they are artificial, not historical; (b) the other Son of Man texts refer to the transcendent Son of Man far removed from suffering- accordingly, there was need to add on the Servant of Yahweh and the glorious Son of Man themes, which was done only after the resurrection; (c) in Lk 12:8 Jesus clearly distinguishes between Himself and the future Son of Man.

Our reply? (a) Opinions of scholars as to which Son of Man sayings are authentic vary from book to book, and even within the pages of the same book. Surely, nothing is proved by structural integration or its absence. Without the need of special artistry from Mark, things could have just happened that way, that is, there is no reason why predictions could not have been made at major points in the public life of Jesus.

(b) Nothing proves that Jesus Himself could not have joined the two ideas, Suffering Servant and Son of Man, in His own utterances. Ordinary Jews of His day knew about the atoning power of the death of a just man and its relation to Is 53.10 And Jesus spoke of His own atonement in language reminiscent of Is 53:11-12, as recorded in Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28.

(c) The claim that Jesus distinguishes, in Lk 12:8, between Himself and the future Son of Man does not stand up. First, Jesus often used "Son of Man" to refer to Himself in His earthly career, such as in Lk 9:58, "Foxes have their holes and the birds of the sky nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Even more importantly, the critics have failed to explain away certain connections. In Mt 13:36-41, the explanation of the parable of the tares, Jesus makes clear that He Himself is the Son of Man who sows the good seed. Even Toedt admits this though, with no attempt at proof, he dismisses it as editorial work by Matthew.11 But then in the same passage (Mt 13:41) we find that the eschatological Son of Man who will collect all scandals from His kingdom is the same Jesus, as Toedt admits. Here, then, there is a clear connection, an identification of Jesus as both currently present and as the eschatological Son of Man. Bultmann weakly says12 that, "most of all it is the absence from the interpretation of a specific point, viz., the exhortation to patience" that shows it is merely the creation of Matthew. Hardly a proof!

In Lk 17:24-25 and 21:8 we find equated the suffering Son of Man and the eschatological Son of Man: "Many will come in my name saying, 'I am he!' .... The "my name" clearly refers to Jesus. But He is also the Son of Man who is first to suffer many things. Toedt thinks he has a decisive way to break the connection here:

...the following fact speaks decisively against his view [Kummel's, who defended the text as reliable early tradition]. Luke 17:24 is taken over form Q. Matt. 24:27, the parallel passage to Luke 17:24, is not followed by a reference to the suffering Son of Man. Since no saying on the suffering Son of Man occur in Q, we may be sure that Luke did not find 17:25 in Q. Luke 17:26f and 17:28f, however, are again taken over from Q. Thus 17:25 appears to be an interpolation into sayings which had been taken over.13

Such reasoning depends on an inference in relation to Q-and even if the inference were conclusive (which it is not), the very existence of Q is questionable, tied in as it is with the Two Source Theory.

It is evident, then, that there exist no good arguments to prevent us from saying that Lk 9:58 shows that Jesus is the earthly Son of Man, that Mt 13:36-41 equates the earthly and the eschatological Son of Man, and that Lk 17:24 equates the suffering and the eschatological Son of Man-thus identifying all three phases of the Son of Man's activity with Jesus Himself. We have shown to be weak and unconvincing the arguments that units two and three were "created" (faked) by the Church. There is no reason to say that the incident did not happen as narrated by Mark.

What of the details added in Matthew's account of the same event, i.e., the longer title Peter gave Jesus (Mt 16:16), "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God," and the praise Jesus accorded to Peter and the promise of primacy (Mt 16:17-19)? Matthew was the only synoptic author who would have been present. he could have decided to report fully, whereas Mark, obtaining his information from Peter (as the early external witnesses insist) and secondary sources, opted for what he wrote. Commentators have suggested modesty on the part of Peter, or community slowness in realizing the import of Jesus' words (in line with Peter's recorded slowness, as well as the fact that history indeed shows a gradual development in the Church's appreciation and understanding of this key passage). Also Mark strongly emphasizes the slowness of the Apostles to understand, and so might be less inclined to report Peter's confession (though to say Christ is "Son of God" would not have necessarily meant divinity, as the expression was generally understood then). Interestingly, Professors Albright and Mann, though not Catholic, clearly recognized the grant of real authority to Peter here.14

Could the added details in Matthew be retrojected from another scene after Easter? It is not impossible, but neither is there good reason for the claim. On the contrary, the Synoptic genre makes that quite unlikely. Surely the data in Mark cannot be retrojected. If Peter after Easter had merely confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, it would have been ridiculous, for it was then so evident He was immeasurably more.

Step 2

We next turn to an examination of how Matthew and Luke worked. Bultmann thinks Matthew worked by using Q to fill in scenes from Mark. Here, as constantly, he is presupposing the Two Source Theory is proved. But we have seen it is very flimsy indeed. However, let us examine the first two passages Bultmann uses to prove his point.15

First, we are to compare Mt 10:1,7-15 with Mk 6:7-13. He thinks Matthew has taken the scene describing the sending out of the disciples from Mark, and has filled it in with matter from Q. We first notice that the alleged fill-ins are very general in character: heal the sick and preach. The longest is Mt 10:7-8. Are these verses really from Q? If so, there should be no parallel in Mark,16 but a close parallel in Luke, so close that we would be led to say Matthew and Luke used the common source Q, but Mark did not. In general, Luke 9:1-6 is parallel to Matthew, but if we look for the part that should be close to Mt 10:7-8 we find only the brief verse 2, "Then he sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick." These words are not so close to Mt 10:7-8 that we would be obliged to say they had a common source. Mt has: "Preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand,' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay." This is hardly substantive enough to assure us of an outside common source, Q.

We could also look in chapter 10 of Luke. There Jesus is also described as sending out disciples, but in general that chapter does not parallel closely the passage in Matthew. The lines that would correspond to Mt 10:7-8 (the lines that could be considered as possibly from Q) occur in Lk 10:8, "Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you." There are no similar words in Matthew. Luke continues: "Heal the sick in it and say to them, 'the kingdom of God has come near to you."' These words are hardly so close that we would have to say Matthew and Luke used a common source, Q. Some writers have proposed that there is a "variant" in Q here; that, however, defeats the whole argument, namely, the very reason for postulating a Q is the presence of wordings in Matthew and Luke that are so close they must have had a common source other than Mark. If someone thinks Luke really is close enough to make us suppose a common source here, then we reply: there is just as good a reason to say Mk 6:12 is parallel. But then the lines examined could not be from Q, since the very means of determining what is Q is the fact that the matter is lacking in Mark.

We are forced to conclude that Bultmann has failed in his first example to prove that Matthew used Q to fill in scenes from Mark. For the words in question are clearly not from Q.

In the next example, Bultmann thinks Mt 18:1-5 has filled in Mk 9:33-35 from Q. But again, the chief enlargement in Matthew occurs with verses 3-4. These verses are lacking in Luke, who presumably did not find them in Q. The other matter is present in Mark, hence not from Q.

Bultmann further thinks Luke worked by creating new scenes out of typical material; as an example Bultmann suggests the banquet scene in Lk 11:37-54 (compare Mt 15:1-9 and Mk 7:1-9).

Even if Luke did create the scene, we would have no evidence against reliability. But the literary genre of the Synoptics makes it unlikely that he actually did. Further, Matthew and Mark make the Pharisees come from Jerusalem, while Luke speaks of a single Pharisee, privately, at a dinner. The Pharisee makes an attack about the omission of ceremonial washing, a sore spot, one that opponents would regard as a good argument against Jesus; they would be likely to bring it up on more than one occasion. Hence, it IS not at all clear that Luke is describing the same incident as Matthew and Mark.

Did Luke draw on Q here? Only at verse 39b do we have matter that could be Q. But the dissimilarities with Matthew are so great that we are far from being obliged to believe it must be Q. For Matthew is sometimes fuller, sometimes less full than Luke. And the sequence of presentation is substantially different, for no discernible reason. To make Matthew parallel to Luke, we would have to move to a different chapter of Matthew (chapter 23), and put the verses in the following order: 25-26, 23, 6-7, 27-28, 4, 29-32, 34-36, 13. Certainly there is no proof here of a common source (even for one who believes in Q), and accordingly Bultmann has offered no proof for his supposition about the way Luke worked.

Bultmann's second example concerns Luke 14:15-24 (cf. Mt 22:1-4; Mark lacks a parallel). But again, the parallels are far from being close enough to require one to see a common source, Q. In Matthew, the parable is about a wedding feast given by a king for his son; in Luke, it is just a dinner, with no mention of a wedding or a king. In Luke, the guests make poor excuses but they do no harm to the messengers. Then the master sends out to get just any guests. But in Matthew, the first group do not make excuses. Then a second set of messengers go, and meet with excuses, insults, death. Not so in Luke. In Matthew the king responds by sending an army to destroy the city, but there is nothing of the sort in Luke. Only after that destruction does the king in Matthew send out for guests, any and all; he finds one without a wedding garment, and throws him out; again, there is no such incident in Luke. Really, what the critics seem to have forgotten is the very obvious fact that Jesus was a traveling speaker. Traveling speakers often re-use material with different audiences, and also, often make variations at different times for various reasons. So the most natural explanation is that Jesus told similar, not identical, parables on several occasions. It is all too often presumed that there was absolutely no repetition in the words and actions of Jesus. What common sense and history take for granted, the critics are often unaware of.

Step 3

Bultmann tells his followers that Mark worked in a way similar to Matthew and Luke.17 (That is like a house built of cards, since he really never did demonstrate how Matthew and Luke worked.) For the sake of argument, we will look at the first two of his examples from Mark.

He first calls attention to Mark 3:9, a passage in which he asks us to think Jesus entered into a boat to speak. Actually, the Greek text does not make clear whether Jesus did or did not step into the boat. He told them hina ploiarion proskartere, which means He directed that a boat be ready. We cannot tell if He did or did not actually use it. Things should not remain uncomplicated, so Bultmann adds: "The motive of Jesus' withdrawing into the transformed by Mark from 4:1 where it belonged with the traditional material, to 3:9, where it stands in a totally unorganic relation." However, he did not notice that there is an organic reason for the boat, the same one as in 4:1, i.e., the press of the crowds.18 So again, he has failed to show the working pattern of Mark.

In the second example from Mark (9:36) Bultmann claims that we can easily see "that the motive of Jesus with the children has been carried back from 10:16, where it belongs to the older tradition, to 9:36, where it remains a superfluous touch."19 A closer look reveals he has done no better this time. In 10:16 Jesus blesses children the apostles wanted to keep away from Him, and uses a child to inculcate the need for humility. In 9:36, after the apostles had wrangled over who was greater, Jesus also used a child to teach the need of a humble childlike attitude. We wonder too how we should suppose Mark to be so dull as not to see that he had "carried back" something that was "superfluous"-while siding with the critics who today consider Mark a superb artist!

Step 420

Quite confident that he has proved how Matthew and Luke worked, and also how Mark worked-though he has failed on both points-Bultmann asks us to assume that the unnamed persons who dealt with the Gospel tradition prior to the evangelists worked in the same way.21 No reply is needed. It is a totally unfounded assumption to suppose that because some persons have worked in one way, others before them have "gone and done likewise."

Step 5

A further quote from Bultmann: "One may...test his skill by studying the manner in which the evangelic material was handed down in the later church, especially in the apocryphal gospels."22 We are honestly puzzled by Bultmann's claim that the way of working shown in the apocrypha is the same as that in the canonical Gospels! It does not take much study to notice sharp differences, e.g., the apocrypha abound with miracles worked by the infant Jesus or Jesus as a boy. The real Gospels are much more sober. They show Him working no marvel until He was about 30 years old, and then his fellow townspeople were astounded to see how one they had considered very ordinary was so special.

Step 6

Bultmann thinks that the forms of primitive literature are "more or less fixed...[and] have their own laws of style."23 Where variations appear, an editor has been tinkering. The principle is basically sound. There existed such forms, and their study sheds light. The trouble, however, begins when Bultmann attempts to deal with them practically and concretely. The forms that are most likely to be historical, says he, are the apothegms, i.e., short, important sayings, with a minimum of setting (the setting presently becomes unimportant). These apothegms of Bultmann correspond to the "paradigms" of Dibelius, the other illustrious pioneer critic. Dibelius finds only eight out of eighteen paradigms to be pure in form.24

The life situation in the Church (Sitz-im-Leben) and the choice of the particular forms interlocked with one another: the situation called for a form, and the form chosen would fit the situation. What more precisely constituted the Sitz-im-Leben? Bultmann tells how the controversy dialogues arose "in the apologetic and polemic of the Palestinian Church.... It is quite inappropriate to call these passages paradigms, i.e., examples of preaching as Dibelius does. "25 But Dibelius says the Sitz-im-Leben was preaching for missionary purposes. The divergence, then, between these two great pioneers is considerable, and it shows the absence of objectivity, which Bultmann explicitly admitted in regard to the controversy dialogues.26

It is illuminating to take a concrete passage and compare the comments on it by our two great critics. For example, Bultmann says that Mark 2:1-12 (cure and forgiveness of a paralytic) is a controversy saying.27 Dibelius, on the contrary asserts that "such passages cannot be described as disputes."28 Bultmann says the purpose was to enable the Church to trace its right to forgive sins back to Jesus. Dibelius says the only point is the reality of the forgiveness. Bultmann, oddly, says that verses 5b-10 are a secondary interpolation, for the faith "of the paralytic and his friends, which is demonstrated so clearly in vv. 3f and is verified by Jesus in v. 5a disappears in vv. 5b-10." The problem is in Bultmann's lack of distinctions. At first, faith appears only in the lame man and his bearers. Later, bystanders (hardly including the scribes) come to faith. There is really no hint that the paralytic, after being cured, could no longer believe.

(In passing it is interesting to note that although many today think that verse 10 is an editorial insertion by Mark, and not part of the words of Jesus, even so, Jesus clearly presents the cure as a proof of forgiveness. Both Bultmann and Dibelius agree. The latter says: "That Jesus should, by the healing, confirm the forgiveness of sins, corresponds to Jewish views of the connection between sin and illness." And Bultmann writes: "It has manifestly arisen from the dispute about the forgive sins, a right which is to be attested by the power to heal miraculously.")

Step 7

Another topic treated by Bultmann concerns the laws operative in the development of popular narratives.29 Two species are distinguished: (a) the original form presents only short, simple pictures, individual scenes simply described, covering a brief period of time, usually with just two speakers, and with crowds of people serving as backdrop. (b) When the narratives are retold, the "details are subject to the control of fancy and are usually made more explicit and definite."

His first observation, that such narratives are commonly short and simple, with few speakers, is quite correct-provided the story teller is a genius. More often persons who attempt to recount an event will interrupt the sequence with boring, distracting asides, will add needless details, and will all too often leave a hazy picture. A skilled storyteller, ancient or modern, does produce as Bultmann says. But how many such geniuses are in your local community church? Are we to presume an abundance of such in the churches of ancient Syria and Palestine?

As to his second claim, that the accounts when passed on become longer and have details added by fancy, that too admits elements of fancy. First, Bultmann points to Mark 9:14-29.30 Here Mark is much longer than the parallel in Lk 9:37-42. Further, Mark 6:32-44 is more detailed than its parallels, Mt 14:13-21 and Lk 9:10-17. Similarly, Mk 5:21-43 is fuller than the parallels in Mt 9:17-26 and Lk 8:40-56. Also, as Buchanan has observed, the Targums which repeat Old Testament passages are not always smoother or more ornate.31 And, as English teachers have often noticed, students' papers tend to be shorter and less literary than the sources they use!

Are details added by fancy? Leslie R. Keylock studied this matter by examining a large number of parallels.32 He found that Luke is more precise than Mark 47 times, but less precise 37 times. Matthew is more precise than Mark 58 times, but less precise 54 times. This hardly adds up to a "law" of increasing detail added by fancy.

Step 8

Finally, we are advised to classify each Gospel passage under one of the major forms and their subdivisions.33 The two chief major forms are the Sayings and the Narratives. Sayings include apothegms and dominical sayings. The apothegms are brief sayings of some importance, and here the background matters little. Apothegms include controversy dialogues, scholastic dialogues (with sincere inquirers), and biographical sayings (apothegms are about the same as the paradigms of Dibelius).

Bultmann proposes that the Gospel apothegms probably originated in Jewish communities, when a counter-question was used to answer a question (a rabbinic trait), or in Greek communities, when we find such patterns as "when he was asked by..." or, "once he observed how..." (similar forms are detected in secular Greek literature).

The use of a counter-question to reply to a question is indeed a special form, though not so unique as to be restricted to the Jewish-Christian church. The forms cited to show Greek origin are much too loose and non-distinctive to prove anything. An example:

The passage in Luke xvii, 20-21 is formulated in this manner: 'And when he was demanded of the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, 'The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation....' It may accordingly be concluded that these two accounts [this and Lk. 6:5, in one MS] were first formulated in the Hellenistic Church.34

But we fear Bultmann has failed again to notice points to the contrary; the text quoted does indeed have the form some Greek texts have, but that is hardly very distinctive. He should have noted a phrase that really is distinctive: "he answered them and said." Here we have a thoroughly Hebrew idiom. Hence if we wanted to play the game (it would be no more than a guess), we would classify the form of this text as stemming from a Jewish community.

In this connection Bultmann tries at times to distinguish the origin of the narrative framework from that of "- saying itself. Thus he points out how the setting in Mk 2:15ff was supplied later: "This is indicated by the wholly unmotivated, and literally impossible, appearance of Pharisaic scribes at a dinner attended by publicans, and further by the remarkable fact that it is the disciples who are questioned and Jesus who replies. "35 Has the learned critic forgotten that banquet places often were open to non-guests?36 There was also plenty of motivation: the Pharisees were constantly seeking opportunities to attack Jesus. Relative to their questioning the disciples, "Why does your master eat with publicans and sinners?," their query was an obvious dig aimed at Jesus. Naturally, He answered an objection really made against Himself.

Dominical sayings are of lesser moment than apothegms. They include proverbs, which present Jesus as a wisdom teacher; prophetic and apocalyptic sayings, which proclaim the arrival of the kingdom and call to repentance; and laws together with community regulations. Bultmann stresses how many of these derive their meaning only from the immediate context, not from the judgment of Jesus. In regard to the sayings, for instance, about salt and light, he claims that "These examples show that the interpretations of the evangelists are experiments, now and then no doubt quite correct, but at any rate, providing no guarantee of the original meaning."37 In these passages, however, the problem is not that of meaning. Mt 5:13-15 tells how the disciples must illumine the world and keep it from corruption. If they fail, what else is there? Mk 4:21 brings out the aspect that the disciples are the light of the world-much the same thought, under a different image. Lk 11:33 probably means that Jesus is the light, but He also sends out disciples to be light. Lk 14:34-35 teaches that the disciples must be the salt of the world. Bultmann reminds his readers of how they had to sacrifice all to be so. Quite right: sacrificing all is an aspect of being the salt that preserves the world from corruption. There is one more text about salt, Mk 9:49-50. It is presented in such a way that we cannot be sure of the sense. Nevertheless, there is no proof of any substantial difference in meaning. Even if there were, traveling teachers commonly repeat themselves; and they are apt to vary the implication of their phraseology in adapting it to different crowds and different purposes.38

Even if we conceded all of Bultmann's claims about dominical sayings, it would still be true that none of the variations in these sayings is of major import. The facts we need to establish a basis for faith remain firm and reliable.39

The second major category of "forms" in the Gospels revolves about narratives; these include miracle stories, historical stories, and legends.

As disciples of Bultmann, many critics regard the miracle stories as formed mostly by the Hellenistic church because of an alleged parallel to pagan-Greek miracle stories. Bultmann himself lists the chief characteristics common to both the pagan and the Gospel stories (we have subdivided and grouped them to facilitate comment): a) the grave condition of the patient, with perhaps mention of failures by doctors; the healer imposes hands and utters the healing word; the bystanders cry out in wonder as the one healed shows that he is healed; b) the healing word is often in an unknown tongue; and no one is present, for there is a feeling that the acts of a divinity should not be seen.40

Actually group (a) is just a list of practically inescapable generalities. How could one recount the cure without including at least most of these elements? The second group (b) does have some special features. First, the healing word is often in an unknown tongue. That is true of the pagan stories. But in the Gospels foreign words or phrases are seldom used, and when they are, they are not really foreign but Aramaic, the most common language of the land at the time, and they are always translated in the Gospel. Second, Bultmann stresses the absence of witnesses. That may be true in the pagan narrations, but in the Gospels the miracles most often are done in the presence of crowds; at other times at least some witnesses are present.

Bultmann, of course, would fail to notice the really significant points of difference. In the Hellenic stories there are few exorcisms, in the Gospels there are many. In the Greek accounts curious and sometimes indecent details occur; the wonder-workers are usually skilled in medicine or magic, amorous or vengeful, they are highly motivated by money and by the urge to prove their power, contrary to the Gospels. Further, in the Hellenic reports there exists no spiritual significance for the miracles performed, while in the Gospel pattern they are signs of supernatural realities. In the pagan Greek literature, miracles normally happen while the patient is asleep in a temple (incubation), but never so in the Gospels. In the Hellenic stories there is much gibberish and incantation-nothing of the kind in the Gospels.41 So there are far more differences than there are parallels. Most of the parallels concern points that are inevitable in any account of a cure. Further, even extensive parallels would not prove that the Gospel miracles are borrowed from the Greek stories, apart from the fact that many of the latter are later than the Gospels anyway.42

The real truth is easy to see: Bultmann, as noted in chapter one, made up his mind in advance that there are and can be no miracles. Naturally, he must try desperately to explain what he meets in the Gospels. So we find him making the profound observation: "I do not think it possible to separate historical stories from legends...."43 His proof is as good as in instances already treated.

It was necessary for us to review the principles and function of form criticism in order to know what weight it should be given in our examination of the Scriptural evidence on the consciousness of Jesus. We can see that it does make certain contributions to our study; we become more aware of the process by which our Gospel accounts developed. Form criticism shows us that at times we may or even should divide the text into relatively small units, a procedure which may suggest possible solutions to given problems. (For example, in Mk 13:30 we gain a possible answer to a difficulty in chapter three.) In its policy pronouncement on the topic, the Pontifical Biblical Commission details the contributions made by form criticism, while warning of the many underlying prejudices and the abuses that it may occasion.44

On the negative side, we have seen that form criticism never strictly proves anything whatsoever, since it depends exclusively on internal evidence. Such evidence by its very nature is capable of demonstrating points only in very special circumstances, such as if an ancient document reports a total eclipse of the sun that an astronomer centuries later can date.

Sadly, the critics seem quite unaware of the inconclusive nature of internal evidence; are they so busy ignoring the large body of strong, objective, external evidence?45 Take this admission of Professor Bultmann, for instance: "Naturally enough, our judgement will not be made in terms of objective criteria, but will depend on taste and discrimination."46

Are we to depend on his "taste?" Over and over again he has proved that his taste or judgment is extremely poor. He showed it in the long list of prejudices that we reviewed in appendix, chapter 1; he proved it again in the immediate presuppositions or bases of form criticism as we saw in chapter 2 of this appendix; for the most part they do not stand up. He proved it all over again in his presentation of the actual technique of form criticism, which we just reviewed. We scrutinized several of the primary examples he gives to support each step in the process and found he made serious errors at almost every step. Should we now admit that inconclusive, internal evidence, propped up by defective judgment proves his theorizing?

Yet, after such a performance, the critics keep telling us that the burden of proof is on those who accept the Gospels, i.e., we are to presume the biblical account as wrong or unreliable unless we can prove the contrary.47 We can accept that challenge.

On the negative side, we have already shown how the critics have demonstrated nothing against the Gospels and how they have rendered their own judgments seriously defective and their technique inconclusive. In particular we saw that those powerful arguments, which Perrin says "forced" him to reject the reliability of the Gospels, are worthless.

On the positive side, we pointed out in the introduction to this book how the first Christians and the Gospel writers were supremely concerned with facts, and that out of this life situation (Sitz-im-Leben) arose the genre of the Synoptics which intends to report facts as a basis for faith in an easily distinguishable theological framework. We also answered numerous objections that are proposed against this position.

We recall too what many have forgotten, that we do not need to prove a multitude of details to establish the grounds for faith. If, by using the Gospels merely as ancient documents whose genre and reliability has been established, we can be selective, namely, that Jesus claimed to be a messenger from God; that He proved His claim chiefly by miracles worked in such a way that they served as a support for His claim; that He gathered disciples, and an inner circle upon which he enjoined the duty of continuing His teaching; and that He promised providential protection to that Church-if we focus upon these few points (not much more than Bultmann'sDass48), then we not only may believe, but if we are reasonable, we must believe the teachings of that Church. That Church can then add assurance on many credal tenets, e.g., that Jesus was not only God's messenger, but was God Himself. That Church is able to decide the correct meaning of any point in the words and works of Jesus.

It is necessary, after all, to consider the possibility that many Scripture scholars are going through a period strikingly parallel to that experienced by classical scholars in the early nineteenth century, when the grammatical-critical school (e.g., Hermann, Beker, Lachmann, Ritschl) cherished a scissors-and-paste textual criticism. For purely subjective reasons or whims, they would move blocks of lines from one place to another, "restoring" the text.49 Incidentally, they too were influenced by a subjectivistic German philosopher, Emmanual Kant.50

But the classicists have now outgrown their folly and today they laugh at it. We pray a similar blessing for so many exegetes who now fall for the excesses of form criticism. In fact, a scholar who does not do so is apt to be labeled a non-scholar.51 That was part of the reason for a scathing review of Albright's and Mann's commentary on St. Matthew.52 At the end of the selected bibliography, they were so bold as to add:

Considering the volume of recent publication in German, or in translation from the German, some surprise may be expressed that so little of it is mentioned here or in the body of the commentary. The fact is that during the past fifty years a steadily increasing proportion of German NT scholarship has been devoted to 'existentialist' and related types of exegesis, which almost wholly disregard the canons of historical judgment accepted as a matter of course in other historical fields.53

Have the post-Bultmannians done better? As already noted, they have made rather little substantial change except to substitute the later Heidegger for the earlier Heidegger, which is to exchange one unfortunate bias for another.

What of the redaction critics? We venture to say they have more of real value to offer than the form critics. We are thinking, for example, of Lane's commentary on Mark.54 But even at best, redaction criticism too must labor under the limitations imposed by the fact that it has only internal, and therefore purely subjective, evidence with which to work. G. W. Buchanan gives us a good illustration:

Whatever his bases, Talbert set out to show that these words were redactional by citing other instances in which he also judged some of the words to be redactional:... synago for example, is [according to Talbert] redactional in Matt. 22:34. The reason for judging this to be redactional is not given, but it happens to occur in Matthew and not in its Marcan parallel. To presume that its absence in Mark makes it redactional in Matthew is circular reasoning. This is especially true of a word that occurs 22 additional times in Matthew, where Talbert could find no signs of redaction.55

Finally, the redaction critics tend to attribute too much artistry and ingenuity to the evangelists, in strange, but predictable contrast to the early view of form critics who did not consider them true authors at all.

Even those scholars who oppose the excesses of form criticism and want to defend the reliability of the Gospels are often quite timid and concede too much, without valid reasons, to the critics.56

But there are signs of a return to more sane practices. In a volume written to honor the fiftieth birthday of Norman Perrin, one of the contributors, Amos Wilder, dared to say: "There is good reason to think these categories and assumptions [of form criticism and redaction criticism] are being questioned today.... It may be that the tools and focus of observation associated with modern literary method have not been fully suited to what these writings have to say...any too rigorous linking of redactional criticism with form criticism may even handicap the task" of exegesis.57 Similarly, the noted Protestant form critic, R. H. Fuller, chided R. Brown in his review of Brown's The Birth of the Messiah, saying: "It is ironic that just at the time when the limitations of the historical critical method are being discovered in Protestantism, Roman Catholic scholars should be bent on pursuing that method so relentlessly."58

Genuine study of the problem by means of multiple literary genres is quite different. Here we have a most valuable and indispensable technique. It provides us with ways of treating problems that baffled scholars for centuries and forced them to fall back on sheer faith that somehow things had to be all right. Ironically, now that we can so easily and solidly defend the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, many who are well qualified to do so have opted, for no valid reason, in favor of charging multiple errors. The proper use of literary genre as an exegetical technique also helps immensely in avoiding the fantasies of fundamentalism. The conclusion follows inevitably: neither the form critics nor any similar group have proved any specific point against the truthfulness of the Gospel account. We are well aware that our position may win instant, even unexamined rejection from certain quarters. But we will be happy to be bracketed, though at a distance, with the great W. F. Albright59 who, in the above citation, chose to disregard those who "almost wholly disregard the canons of historical judgment accepted as a matter of course in other historical fields." For, contrary to the prevailing form critical view, the Gospels remain a thoroughly reliable source for the facts concerning Jesus. We must take into legitimate account the genre and the possibility of some retrojection as well as the increased clarity due to the light of post-Easter understanding. But having made careful provision for these and other factors, we find a thoroughly dependable work, one which deserve the charism of inerrancy as traditionally accorded it by the Catholic Church.


1 R. Bultmann and K. Kunds in Form Criticism, tr. F.C. Grant, Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Row, New York, 1966: "The Study of the Synoptic Gospels."
2 For the sale of logic and clarity we are inverting the sequence of Bultmann's steps 4 and 5.
3 Bultmann prematurely inserts this conclusion in his step 3.
4 R. H. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1965, 109.
5 W. Wrede, The Messianic Secret, tr. J. C. C. Greig, James Clarke Co., Cambridge and London, 1971 (from 3d ed.) esp. 89, 52.
6 Ibid. 50-51.
7 Ibid. 50.
8 Ibid. 67.
9 Wrede's lesser arguments are chiefly these: (1) the demons are salt to have known He was Messiah; this is unhistorical p. 50. Reply: Wrede rejects a priori anything supernatural. (2) There was public recognition of Jesus as Messiah even before Peter's confession. Reply: They were, except for a few spiritually discerning souls, making reasonable inferences. Jesus did not want to support popular (erroneous) messianism or occasion emotional demonstrations. (3) Some miracles were done in public, others Jesus tried to keep secret Reply: we do not know the chronological sequence, and other factors too. He may have kept certain activities quiet and changed His method later. (4) The parables, in fact all His doctrine was supposed to be secret; this is ridiculous. Reply: Mk. 4:1ff presents Jesus as using parables after the charge He had a devil in 3:22-30. Even with parables, some would get the message (cf. Mk. 4:34; and Mt. 11:25—children get it, the educated do not) while the ill-disposed would be hardened in their incredulity.
10 Cf. A. Buchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century, Ktav, New York, 1967. J. Jeremias New Testament Theology, tr. John Bowden, Charles Scribner's Sons New York, 1971, 286-88
11 H. E. Todt, The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition, tr. D. M. Barton, Westminster, Philadelphia, 1965, 72.
12 HST 187.
13 Todt 107.
14 W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, Matthew, in Anchor Bible 26, Doubleday, Garden City, New York 1971, 195-98, and Peter F. Ellis Matthew, His Mind and His Message, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1974, 126-34.
15 SSG 26-27.
16 Critics sometimes say something found in Q can also be found in Mark, but this holds only where they think (without objective criteria—purely subjectively) the text of Mt. and Lk. is clearly "more original." Such is not the case in the examples presently being examined.
17 SSG 27-28.
18 In regard to the sequence of events in this passage: Mk 3:10 speaks of Jesus healing. The Greek is etherapeusen, an aorist. It could be rendered by a pluperfect; cf. M. Zerwick, Graecitas Biblica, ed. 4, Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome 1960 Art. 290.
19 SSG 27-28.
20 We have here inverted steps 4 and 5 from Bultmann's order, for the sale of logical sequence and clarity.
21 SSG 29-30.
22 Ibid.
23 SSG 28, 30.
24 M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel, tr. B. L. Woolf, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, (revised second edition), 43.
25 HST 40-41.
26 HST 47.
27 HST 14-15.
28 Dibelius, op. cit., 66-69.
29 SSG 32, 34-35.
30 SSG 32.
31 G. W. Buchanan, "Has the Griesbach Hypothesis been Falsified?" in JBL 93 (1974) 551.
32 Leslie R. Keylock, "Bultmann's Law of Increasing Distinctness" in Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation, ed. G. F. Hawthorne, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975, pp. 196-210. Cf. also E. P. Sanders, The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition, Cambridge, 1969.
33 SSG 36-63.
34 SSG 42.
35 SSG 43.
36 Cf. Severiano del Paramo, "Evangelio de San Mateo" p. 114, on Mt. 9:11, in La Sagrada Escritura, Nuevo Testamento 1, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, Madrid, 1961.
37 SSG 47.
38 SSG 46-47. Also compares Mt. 5:25-26 with Lk, 12:57-59 and says that "Agree with shine the way" is an admonition to reconciliation" while in Luke "they become a parable of warning." But Luke is not in the form of a parable. JBC 11, 146 says that in Luke, "The verses contain little more than sound advice." At most, in Mt. there is a general principle, while in U. there is perhaps a more specific implication.
39 See pp 33-34 above.
40 SSG 37-39.
41 The above comparisons are made in documented detail in Laurence J. McGinley, "Hellenic Analogies and the Typical Healing Narrative" in Theological Studies 4 (1943) 385-419. Cf. also TDNT III, 205-13.
42 Cf. D. J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant, in Analecta Biblica 21, Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, 1963, 58: " should be an axiom of form study that similar situations call forth similar responses, and thus formal similarity hardly proves a causal nexus between similar manifestations in different cultures."
43 HST 245.
44 Instructio de Historica Evangeliorum Veritate, April 21, 1964, Latin-English text can be seen in CBQ 26 (1964) 299-312.
45 See Appendix: pp 192-194 above.
46 HST 47.
47 Cf. N. Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus. Harper and Row, New York, 1967, 39.
48 Cf. R. Bultmann, Das Verhaltnis der urchristlichen Christus botschaft zum historischen Jesus, Winter, Heidelberg, 1962.
49 An example of this can be easily seen in the Loeb Classical Library edition of Aratus.
50 It is interesting to note that Aristotelian scholars are taking a second look at the use of internal evidence for dating the works of Aristotle. As Grene shows, on such evidence we could get the following circular order for some of his works: 1. on philosophy; 2. physics II; 3. Metaphysics Alpha; 4. on philosophy. See M. Grene, A Portrait of Aristotle, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1963, 26.
51 Cf. R. E. Brown, Biblical Reflections on Crises Facing the Church, Paulist Press, New York, 1975; table on p. 22.
52 In CBQ (Oct. 1972) 481-85.
53 Op. cit. p. cxcviii. (italics mine).
54 W. L. Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, in New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grant Rapids, Michigan, 1974.
55 Art. cit. 553.
56 E.g., G. N. Stanton, Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 27, Cambridge University Press, London, 1974. C. Leslie Mitton Jesus: The Fact Behind the Faith, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1974. On p. 44 Mitton, commenting on Mk. 4:40, cites Mark's report that Jesus said, "Why are you such cowards? Have you no faith even now?", and adds, "Matthew omits the words altogether...." Yet Mt. 8:26 has: "Why are you cowards (Greek deiloi, the same word used by Mark), you of little faith (oligopistoi)?"
57 Amos Wilder comments on "Norman Perrin, What is Redaction Criticism:" in Christology and a Modern Pilgrimage, A Discussion with Norman Perrin, ed. Hans Dieter Betz, Society of Biblical Literature, Missoula, Montana, 1974, 91-92.
58 Reginald H. Fuller, review of R. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, in CBQ 40 (1978) 120. Similarly, Paul J. Achtemeier and Gene M. Tucker, in their assessment of "Biblical Studies: The State of the Discipline" (Council on the Study of Religion Bulletin, vol. 11, #3, p 73) write: "...we are at a turning point concerning our fundamental methodologies for interpreting biblical texts. To call the situation a 'crisis' may be a bit too melodramatic, but it is obvious that the historical-critical under fire from many directions. From without, there is new life from the old enemies of critical inquiry.... More decisive, however, for the future of biblical scholarship are the rumblings within the ranks....Walter Wink (The Bible in Human Transformation) created a minor flap with his assertion that historical biblical criticism is bankrupt.... evidence...can be seen in the numerous publications in biblical studies calling themselves structuralism, literary criticism, rhetorical criticism, linguistic analysis, and even psychoanalytic exegesis, to name just a few." In a similar way, the Documentary Theory in the Old Testament is meeting with numerous and serious attacks. R. Rendtorff. in "Pentateuchal Studies on the Move" in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 3 (1976) 45 wrote: "...there is [sic] clearly signs of great unanimity in the abandonment of the view of the development of the Pentateuch that has been hitherto held...." Bruce Vawter, in On Genesis, Doubleday, N.Y. 1977, 16 wrote: "The judgments and reservations of these scholars must certainly be respected, and they do forbid us from pretending to a consensus that no longer exists."
59 Since his death, some of Albright's positions have been attacked, with some success. Yet he remains a great in the field, and his judgment on those who disregard the normal canons of historical judgment will always be valid.

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