Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gospel Communities?

I blogged earlier this week about Richard Bauckham, who, as I suspected was not a big fan of scholars who put much stock in viewing the communities of the Gospels as the limited main audience of the first four books of the NT. This was first confirmed to me by Nick Norelli in a comment he posted on my blog, suggesting that I read The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences, edited by none other than Bauckham himself. It just so happened that a chapter of it was assigned for class anyway, titled "For Whom Were the Gospels Written?" by Bauckham, and in it, Bauckham makes some pretty strong arguments against reading too much into the Gospel communities being the only audience in a limited, specific way. Here's one paragraph that I thought was very good:

[This is following his paragraph about the debate on the genre of the Gospels]

"However, the full force of the difference of genre will come home to us only if we add a second consideration. We need to ask, about both an apostolic letter and a Gospel, the question: Why should anyone write it?—by which I mean: Why should anyone put this down in writing? In the case of 1 Corinthians, for example, the answer is clear: Paul could not or preferred not to visit Corinth. Paul seems only to have written anything when distance required him to communicate in writing what he would otherwise have spoken orally to one of his churches. It was distance that required writing, whereas orality sufficed for presence. So the more Gospels scholarship envisages the Gospels in terms approximating to a Pauline letter, addressing the specific situation of one community, the more odd it seems that the evangelist is supposed to be writing for the community in which he lives. An evangelist writing his Gospel is like Paul writing 1 Corinthians while permanently resident in Corinth. Paul did not do this, so why should Matthew or the other evangelists have done so? Anyone who wrote a Gospel must have had the opportunity of teaching his community orally. Indeed, most Gospels scholars assume that he frequently did so. He could retell and reinterpret the community's Gospel traditions so as to address his community's situation by means of them in this oral context. Why should he go to the considerable trouble of writing a Gospel for a community to which he was regularly preaching? Indeed, why should he go to such trouble to freeze in writing his response to a specific local situation which was liable to change and to which he could respond much more flexibly and therefore appropriately in oral preaching?

This was a very persuasive argument to me, and since this is only one chapter of the book, I'm hoping to delve further into this issue as the semester goes on.

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