The Nature of the Gospels
The gospels are seen as the developing traditions of early Christian communities.
~ Marcus Borg
The gospels are seen as:
- The developing traditions of early Christian communities
- A layered tradition containing two voices
The developing traditions of early Christian communities
- In contrast to gospels as divine products
- In contrast to gospels as straightforward historical reports
- They contain history, interpretation, and symbolism
A layered tradition containing two voices
Early material goes back to Jesus himself and may be understood as the voice of Jesus.
Later material is the product of the community and may be understood as the voice of the community.
The quest for the historical Jesus involves trying to get back to the earliest layers of the developing tradition.
The public ministry of Jesus was extraordinarily brief, only 1-4 years.
It is remarkable how much about Jesus is remembered given his very short ministry.
It is also a limitation on what we can say about Jesus.
Understanding the nature of the gospels is foundational to understanding this portrait of Jesus. This understanding grows out of the last 200 years of biblical scholarship.
How the Jesus Seminar applies this understanding
The work of the Jesus Seminar on the traditions attributed to Jesus illustrates this layered understanding.
The sayings and deeds of Jesus, as published in The Five Gospels and The Acts of Jesus, are printed in four colors which represent scholarly consensus on whose voice or which layer the scholars think the material comes from.
Red: quite close to voice of Jesus / early material
Pink: somewhat close to the voice of Jesus / early material
Gray: large undecided category which needs further study
Black: voice of the community / later material
Questions to ponder...
How would you apply this understanding of the nature of the Gospels?
One of the sayings attributed to Jesus is:
When someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well. When someone takes away your coat, don't prevent that person from taking your shirt along with it.
(Luke 6:29, Scholars Version)
Do you think this is the voice of Jesus or the voice of the community? Why do you draw that conclusion?
In what ways does this saying or your conclusions about it affect how you live your life?
A short introduction and comparison chart to understand how Marcus Borg uses these terms