The Church Fathers and Study of the Gospels

5:50 AM I’m glad to see that the Gospel of Mark is being discussed on several blogs these days. The latest hubbub seems to have to do with something called Mark’s “community.” However, the elephant in the room, it seems to me, is the absence of any discussion of the church fathers. Of course, a full account of the patristic testimony would fill several volumes. I have made a partial case for Mark’s Sitz im Leben in my book Why Four Gospels? Sadly, the patristic evidence is today hardly known in New Testament scholarship, although everyone claims to regard it with a certain respect. The average person doesn’t have a clue because he or she hasn’t done the reading. Such investigation would raise questions too complex — and perhaps too uncomfortable — for the sort of subjective and superficial overview one finds in the typical New Testament Introduction. I myself was ill-taught in this respect while in seminary. Not once were we asked to crack open a patristic tome, and thus I was ill prepared for vigorous debate on the subject. I don’t mean to imply that students of the Gospels know absolutely nothing about the fathers. Certain New Testament scholars were famous for their knowledge (e.g., William Farmer). To become familiar with the field would ask a lot of your average student of the Gospels. In the eyes of some, I suppose, any interaction with the fathers is a subversive menace to the status quo. Those who (like myself) hold to somewhat traditional views of authorship and provenance are sometimes subjected to ad hominem innuendo (“Why Dave, you must be a Catholic!”). Merely questioning the consensus opinio can get you into hot water from the establishment. None of this is challenged front and center by the mainstream academy. Thus protected from all the evidence, many of our students have bought into what I consider to be a highly defective product. To call this merely a “bias” against the fathers is to understate the belligerent emotionality one sometimes encounters. The grain of truth which is the Markan Priority Hypothesis should not mean that we accept the theory without questioning it (the existence of “Q” alone should cause one to pause).

So let the discussion continue and expand. It certainly will in my New Testament classes, where students are exposed to the Mark-Q Hypothesis, Mark Without Q, the Two Gospel Hypothesis, and even the position espoused by their professor (the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis) — testing and thinking and pondering before coming to a conclusion, their own conclusion. Enough of this, however. I’ve got to get to campus for grading and for two commencement services. Heartiest congratulations to all of our graduates and especially to my doctoral student Alex Stewart as well as my pastor Jason Evans who also will be receiving his doctoral hood today. Well done, one and all.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

External Evidence and the Synoptic Problem

2:36 PM I continue to be fascinated by the synoptic problem. My book Why Four Gospels? examines different elements that play an essential role in resolving this question.

My position is based on two foundational pillars: the external evidence provided by the earliest fathers that Matthew was the first of the canonical Gospels, and the internal evidence that suggests Mark is a conflation of Matthew and Luke (Orchard called this the “zigzagging effect”). I have yet to see a refutation of the external evidence. Most scholars reject the patristic testimony as being of little or no value for source-critical research. Since the internal evidence can never be probative (it can never prove anything about the sequence or interrelationships of the Gospels), it would seem that Gospel scholars would be all the more willing to take the external evidence into account. Whatever option is ultimately preferred, the internal evidence ought to be supplemented by considerations about the empirical circumstances under which the traditions about Jesus were developed in the earliest church. It may be that future generations of New Testament students will perform this task. If they don’t, I predict very little progress in this great area of research. I would dare to hope that my re-examination of the leading church fathers will offer some helpful suggestions for the next generation of scholars.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)