Gospel Tradition Formation – Vincent Taylor (Part 2 of 2)

50-65 AD

The second period (50-65 AD) evidences attempts “to gather the scattered elements of the tradition into groups.”  (175)

This early in the development of the church, one must wonder what the main reasons were for beginning to collect and catalog the Jesus stories.  Taylor believes that his was done topically rather than chronologically with a view to Christian instruction and apologetic, with the Pronouncement Stories given the most attention.  (175)  I believe Taylor to be correct in stating that “apologetic” and “instructional” reasons must have been at the forefront.  However, I also believe there to be other reasons as well, Gospel writing for one, and use in the meetings of the church second.  Taylor proposes:

“Could not these stories be arranged in such a way as to promote instruction, and to serve the ends of attack and defence in the face of hostile Jewish criticisms?  In isolation the stories had proved to be valuable; might they not be still more effective in combination?”  (176)

I see his point as plausible, but perhaps this rationale is too aggressive, taking a strong apologetic stance in the face of debate or persecution and minimizing other more practical reasons.

It is the vision of a practical community assemblage of stories into which a Gospel narrative would be formed by a writer among the community that Taylor suggests reveals “like purpose in the pre-Gospel period, the results of which Mark took over and embodied in his work.”  (176)  The focus, then would not be what did the community need that necessitated Mark to write as he did, but how was the community using the Jesus stories that allowed Mark to fashion his literary narrative alongside the use of the oral tradition.  So, Taylor rightly points out that “for all its originality, Mark was not a work begun de novo, but a composition which gathered into itself earlier attempts to serve religious and apologetic needs.”  (180)

Too often, perhaps, we read the gospels with an authorial view similar to that of the epistles, as if Mark sat down to compose the first Gospel on his own much like we see that Paul may have done or like a modern-day author composes a book.  Yet, one of the most important things to take away from a study of the Gospel tradition formation would be that this was a collective work…a communal work.  The Gospel writers had material to use that was both theologically consistent and practically effective because it was maintained by early Christians as they met and shared their faith in Christ and life with Christ with one another.  Perhaps the takeaway hermeneutical principle here is less attention to authorial intent and literary analysis and a more purposeful study of what the early churches held dear and why.

Finally for this period, Taylor believes that the “sayings collections” were the source of Q.

“Although Q was the work of an individual, it was rooted in the life of primitive Christianity, and its fortunes must have reflected the circumstances of its origins: it changed, as it was bound to change, because it was the responsive to the life it fed…The simplest and most natural view is that Q began as a sayings-source pure and simple…Q was an innovation prompted by the needs of catechetical instruction.”  (182)

I find this short collection of quotes problematic on a number of fronts.

  1. How is Q believed to be the work of an individual?
  2. Why do we have no physical evidence for Q?
  3. When did the churches actually begin catechesis,which appears to be later than 50-65 AD, how can we be certain that Q was used?

That said, it does make sense that somewhere among the churches, someone was writing and gathering sayings and stories about Jesus, but I see no legitimate reason to classify them as a single source document.

65-100 AD

According to Taylor, the third period (65-100 AD) consisted of Gospel compilation, during which time “on a much larger scale, the Evangelists carried forward the work of those who first grouped Pronouncement-Stories and expanded Q.”  (185)  Personally, I believe a pre-65 AD date for Mark is most probable.  Whatever Mark’s sources, most likely he had quite a bit of first hand knowledge of material from Peter.  Here, Taylor writes with a more definitive tone:

“The Petrine stories and a knowledge of the progress of events derived from Peter, supplied him with an outline into which he inserted single stories and small collections of primitive material in such a way as to show how Jesus, the Messiah, came to His Passion and His Cross.  The links with earlier stages are unmistakable.  Mark is not a skilled writer; and the developments of his Story is due, not so much to his editorial powers and doctrinal ideas, as to the tradition he knew and the special advantages he enjoyed.”  (187)

So, we see that Taylor supposes that much of Mark’s genius comes from sources outside himself, specifically Petrine material, oral tradition, and perhaps even other written traditions/compilations.  Again, we revisit the idea of a consistent storyline and recall of events sufficient enough to be crafted into a narrative that the church received and confirmed.  While it may be true that Mark pulled from other written documents such as Thomas and Q, one must answer the question that begs an answer: Why was Mark so eagerly received by the church, but other sources such as Thomas were found to be less appealing?  I believe we can easily conclude that perhaps Mark simply provided the most accurate rendition of the historical facts, which resulted in a robust transmission of the Gospel among the churches.  To me, this makes the best sense given the evidence.

Finally, Taylor closes with the following:

“Far from losing the idea of Inspiration, we are led to see that the Spirit of God must have been at work upon a grander scale, not coercing men or using them as blind instruments, but elevating their minds to perceive, to transmit, and to interpret the best elements in the tradition.  Literature has no books which can justly be compared with the Gospels, which indeed come from men, but in the last analysis are the gift of God, seals of His grace and sacraments of His love.”  (189)

Perhaps the simplest and best answer regarding Gospel tradition formation is that God himself was involved in the process to ensure that the truth was preserved.  I would agree with Taylor, the evidence presented only strengthens the idea of divine inspiration and in no way diminishes it.  It is in the formation of the Gospel traditions that I see both a high view of the Gospel accounts (and therefore the scriptures as a whole) as well as a high view of the church dynamically and spiritually preserving the truth about Jesus Christ.

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One thought on “Gospel Tradition Formation – Vincent Taylor (Part 2 of 2)

  1. Dr.Cruz says:

    These facts are in debt and should be perused with more scrutinous eyes. A time consumption that at the moment I do not have available. My apologies… but I will take the time out to view your scholarly work in our near distant future and hope to be enlightened by your findings. Thank you for your contribution in the quest for truth and knowledge.

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