Friday, September 7, 2007

This is why I love this guy

Dr. Black has written an article on his blog concerning two of my favorite things in New Testament/Early Christian studies: The Synoptic Problem and the Fathers! Could I ask for anything more? I think Dr. Black is touching on an issue that carries over into all NT studies (as I've stated before), that the Fathers are important for the study of the NT.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Black holds to a Protestant canon so far as I know, while still placing emphasis on patristic study.

Josh McManaway said...

Yes, I know. I went to Southeastern for 3 years (where Dr. Black teaches). His point is that internal evidence very rarely leads to a definitive answer when it comes to textual/source/redaction criticism, so the Fathers provide an important view into the stream of Tradition for these various things.

Quixie said...


Surfing around, I came upon your blog and have enjoyed perusing it. Thanks for posting the link to the article by Dr. Black. Unfortunately, he provides no comment link, so I guess this is as good a place to comment as any.

While I see the point that Black is trying to make, I think a solution is not as clear cut as accepting the patristic writings at face value. This would be problematic for various reasons. Each instance in which a patristic writer mentions the chronology or provenance of the gospels (and lord knows there aren't that many) has to be considered separately. I don't intend to do that here, but I'd like to bring up one particular example, if I may (and i choose it for no other reason than I just had a discussion about it yesterday with a friend, so it's still fresh in my mind):

Eusebius quoting Clement of Alexandria:
"And again in the same books, Clement states a tradition of the very earliest presbyters about the order of the gospels; and it had this form. He used to say that the first written of the gospels were those having the genealogies..."

It's interesting to me that , in his chronological listing, he lumps Matthew and Luke together ? (" . . . the first written of the gospels were those having the genealogies . . .")

It's peculiar to me that he doesn't tell us which of those two was the first gospel written. What purports to be a chronological list is not a chronological list at all, in fact.
Very peculiar.
It suggests to me that maybe Clement (or the prespbyters he cites) maybe has no idea which book came first and was maybe listing them in a way that was not favoring either Matthew or Luke. We all know Matthew's gospel would eventually gain favor as a model for the liturgical and hiearchical structure of future communities of Christians (i.e. - the Roman variety of the cult, by virtue of being the most organized, was the only one that could hope to last, and it has always echoed Matthew most, at least liturgically ) but back in Clement's day, Rome didn't have such a slam-dunk monopoly on Christendom as we tend to think. (I follow Bauer's basic thesis here) After all, those were the days of Marcionite influence. Many commentarors believe that the gospel that Marcion used was a slightly modified edition of Luke's gospel. Makes one wonder if the vagueness with which Clement chronologically lists the gospels is related to this rising Marcionite influence in the eastern provinces. It's something to ponder, at any rate.

The four canonical gospels were just beginning to be seen as a kind of divine quartet at this time (Iraneus was just kid then - and the muratonian canon was still to come). By the time Clement and Marcion and Justin and the rest of the boys were writing, nobody really knew their order . . . . before they were taken as a unitary quartet, most people had been converted by one or another of the gospels, read to them in Greek. They had no idea which of the four, finally compiled into the quartet we all know and love, came first.

In other words, people before then were converted by "the Gospel". A chronological order for them was not necessary at that point. To my eyes, Clement was wrong about the order he listed them chronologically (although, as I pointed out before, he doesn't really chronologically list them anyway), as is very easily demonstrable using modern historiographical methodology. This, once again, suggests to me that he probably had no idea when these books were written. Perhaps, being pressed to make a pronouncement on the matter as one of the eminent Christians of his day, he was taking a guess that Mark was an abbreviation of Matthew, which he favored as THE liturgical gospel (as Rome always has).

Moreover, I think it is not correct to insist "that internal evidence very rarely leads to a definitive answer when it comes to textual/source/redaction criticism" as the above comment contends. If you are looking for "definitive answers", you are in the wrong field of study. I think that the reason that Marcan priority has been almost universally accepted by the academic community is because the evidence IS that persuasive. Of all the arguments for marcan priority, the one that convinced me of its veracity is Mark's copious use of the device known as "chiasmi" (some people call them "Marcan sandwiches") to wrap around his pericopes throughout his gospel. It's one of his most distinguishing literary devices.

That's the smoking gun for me. Matthean priority does not even begin to explain these to me. Markan priority simply makes more sense . . . . rationally, historically, logically, etc. It's no surprise that it is almost universally accepted, even by the most conservative of scholars.

Simply put, any theory that says that Mark's gospel is a condensation of Matthew needs to account for these devices. None has done this to my satisfaction thus far, and I sincerely doubt that any can.

Anyway, I've probably gone on too long already . . .

peace be with you


Josh McManaway said...

Hey Quixie,

Thanks so much for the comment. That was great! I'm not looking for definitive answers like mathematicians do, but I do think Patristics may have some value in studying the synoptic problem as internal evidence leads us in so many different directions. For instance, Markan priority has a lot of evidence in its favor, but then there are things which seem to go against it (which is why E.P. Sanders calls the theory 'untenable'!). So, I dig bringing in Patristics to see if the fathers can help us out a bit.

Quixie said...

I have read Sanders' work and I know the esteem with which he is viewed by the scholarly community (and rightly so), but, if he used the word "untenable" (i.e. indefensible) to refer to Markan priority theories, then he simply overstated his case, as happens from time to time in the course of a writer's exposition. The fact is that, if Markan priority is untenable, and it is by far the theory with the least holes in it (which is why, as I suggested earlier, it has garnered almost universal acceptance, even from conservatives), then NONE of the theories formulated to chronologically date the gospels is tenable:
not the Farrer, nor the Griesbach and nor the Augustinian models.