Thursday, May 20, 2010

"The Intention of the Evangelists"

C. F. D. Moule wrote a very interesting piece in a collection of essays in honor of T. W. Manson in a book titled, rather plainly, New Testament Essays (Manchester University Press, 1959). I don't remember now how I became aware of the essay . . . perhaps in my research for the essay I'm writing on Paul and Matthew. While its content was not relevant to my essay's interest,  its argument is quite poignant especially in light of the discussions being had at least on this blog about the Historical Jesus. The essence of the essay is that the narratives of the four Gospels should be differentiated from the epistles of the NT because they are not strictly part of the "liturgy" of the church, but to the church's apologetic and outward evangelistic witness. Moule compares the Gospels to the narrative books of the OT:
At the time when the Gospels were being written and first used, the Church was well aware of a distinction between the "the Jesus of history" and "the Christ of faith" to use the modern cliches; and that, in so far as the Gospels were used in Christian worship at all (and we shall have to ask how far, after all, that was the case), they filled a place broadly comparable to the narrative parts of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Synagogue, as the historical background against which the interpretative writings might be read (165).
He contents that the Gospels as narratives would not have their most proper place in the context of worship, but rather in the support of the worship life of the church as its foundation story. Moule is answering the widespread view in his day that the Gospels cannot be viewed as reliable history since it was thought they represented only religious convictions and were infected beyond hope with the interpretation of the church; and thus the Gospels belong rather to liturgy and to "high theology" than to history. Their value as history was [still is] suspect. Moule admits that this dichotomy is a false one; these are not devoid of value-judgments or eccelesiastical interests. Nevertheless, he beleives that the Gospels, when read on their own terms, reveal, as it has been said, "the past of Jesus".  "The Christians knew the difference between the two--between the pre-resurrection situation and the post-resurrection situation--and that their aim was to try to tell faithfully the story of how the former led to the latter". Their intentions, where they have been discerned, constrained the Evangelists to keep embellishments and interpretive glosses to the barest minimum. Moule argued that the Gospels as narrative 
Remain in some sense distinguishable from theological deductions, form the preaching of the way of salvation, and from adoration. It is only one ingredient in worship; and its very nature demands that, so far as possible, it be kept in this distinguishable condition and not overlaid by interpretation.
One more quotation about the nature of the Gospels is significant in view of  discussion of the necessity of historical study of Jesus:
And--another point--its purpose accordingly was not only or even chiefly to be sued for worship. Still more, it was to equip Christians with a knowledge of their origins, for use in evangelism and apologetic. The real core of worship was the experience of the risen Christ within the Christian church through the participation in the Spirit [this sounds like Bonhoeffer -- forgive me I'm reading Joel Lawrence's book]. But [heres the important bit] Christians knew well that if they lost sight of the story behind that experience their worship would be like a house built on sand; and that if they preached salvation without the story of how it came they would be powerless as evangelists; and that if they could not explain how they came to stand where they did, they would be failing to give a reason for their hope.
It is the task of the church to read these narratives of Jesus historically so as not to fall into the same pit. 


Rich Griese said...
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