Community vs Author?

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Richard Bauckham Acknowledges "...the current consensus of Gospels scholarship which assumes  that each of the Gospels was written for a specific church or group  of churches: the So called Matthean Community,Markan community, Lukan community,and Johannine community." [1] He then goes on to refute this idea. He argues that the gospels were not produced for insular communities that never expected them to circulate but where produced for the Church at large and were meant to be circulated. He argues further that the consensus was based upon no argument  and no concrete evidence and he proceeds to create arguments that are so based to disprove that position.[2] I admire Bauckham and I love his major work Jesus and the Eye Witnesses,[3]  I admire Bauckham he's become my favorite scholar, He has prompted me to re-think form criticism. But I have constructed arguments for community as author, thus I will be both attacking him and defending him. Where I agree with him is the four canonical Gospels, as we have them,probably were intended for general circulation among the Church at large. Where I disagree is that I think that Gospels as a genre began as products by and for insular communities and to an extent the four Gospels  began this way.

Bauckham Leads off  the collection (the anthology The Gospels for All Christians:) with "for Whom were the Gospels Written?" He argues that the form critical assumptions viewed  Gospel communities as isolated sects cut off from each other but we know the commerce and even  the book trade of that era were robust. The churches of Jerusalem, Asia minor, Syria,and Greece were in touch with each other. They had people who traveled widely and worked in more than one community. The Gospels as a genre were too sophisticated to be limited to the interest of a small community.[4] Loveday Alexander (that is the guy;s name!) contributes "Ancient Book Production and the Circulation of the Gospel." He  argues that the Christian preference for the codices over scroll was analogous to the advent of the personal computer and this technological revolution necessitated wider circulation of the gospels,[5]

Two more arguments that I feel are even more significant than all of these. Richard Burridge "About People, By People For people Gospel Genre and Audiences."[6] He continues his previous study that has been widely accepted viewing the Gospel genre as a subset of ancient biography. "This means they must be interpreted as being about a person, not a community."[7] Bauckham's second article, "John For Readers of Mark" Trades upon similarity between Mark and John, John is quoting Mark ad expected his readers to have read Mark so there must be a wider circulation for Mark than just the Mrakan community. But Bauckham puts a more interesting spin on it.  Whereas the form critical assumption would content itself with understanding  John copied some of Mark, he asserts that John is making clear to its own readers aspects of Johannine theology because it was meant for a wider audience than just the Johannine community.[8]

There have been several major criticisms by scholars such as Philip Esler, Joel Marcus, David Sim. They are ably answered by Bauckham and his supporters, and Mike Bird call the blow by blow on that fight in a fine article, "Bauckham's The Gospel for All Christians Revisited." [9]Yet I will make my own arguments.

My contention is that the Gospel communities began as isolated communal settings sequestered amide larger urban centers. But they did not stay that way very long, The original embryonic church described in Acts sounds very isolated and sequestered: 
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. 46 And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added those being saved to them.[Acts 2:42-47]
It's obvious it didn't stay that way for long. As Luke Timothy Johnson tells us:
The evidence of the NT does not suggest that after the resurrection there was a long period of tranquil recollection and interpretation carried out under the tight control of a single stable community that , having forged the memory of Jesus into a coherent and consistent form, transmitted it to other lands, languages, and cultures. The evidence points in the opposite direction: there was not a long period of tranquility; the first community was from the beginning harassed and persecuted; the spread of the movement was carried out by many messengers and required flexible adjustment to new circumstances. The growth of a community's self -understanding and its memory of Jesus were mutually shaping influences."[10]
Even by the time of Paul (50s) we find commerce between the churches there's a lively exchange of messengers and visitors between Jerusalem,Antioch,Ephasis, even Galatia,  Corinth, and Rome. It's not only the Pauline circle that is communicating with other circles. The making of Gospels themselves, the act of writing it down implies circulation. We find the first Gospel writings mid century in the form of  Gospels and saying sources. Koester thought Paul Had a saying source, The Gospel of the Savior and Papyras Egerton 2 are apocryphal Gospels circulating prior to the advent of the canonical Gospels.[11] The canonical Gospels appear at a time when the Gospel message is expanding and the Church is spreading far and wide and it had to start reaching out beyond the original communities. 

The expansion of the church and its use of commercial networks and the book industry are not disproof of the community as author concept. We know the community as author paradigm had to come to an end eventually when the church got too big. The fact that one person would write a manuscript is contrary to the community as author ideal and spells the end of the paradigm,  although the notion lived o in the from of redactors. Philip Esler argues against the gospels  as biography on the grounds that ancient world biographies were written by, for, and about  the upper crust of society,the elate. The Gospels do not represent  an elite of society. That does contradict the open circulation attitude of Bauckham's theory.  "Bauckham refuses to accept the dichotomy of choosing between either sociological views of group dynamics or modern individualism, as if these were the only options."[12] That doesn't answer the argument. Bird thinks that writing Greek  made the gospel authors elites but they wrote Greek badly. My Greek professor used to call Mark "the illiterate one." 

Bauckham is wrong in saying that there are no arguments and evidence for community as author. The Johannine literature makes a compelling argument. It was first started by Oscar Cullman in his work The Johannine Circle [13] and is updated by Helmut Koester in Ancient Christian Gospels.[14]The  literature labeled as "Johannine" seems to point to a clearly defined set of churches that mark a community.  In Revelation we find the Seven churches of Asia minor. (EphesusSmyrna,  Pergamum, ThyatiraSardisPhiladelphia). 

My own theory, based upon Cullman's work in The Johanine Circle is that the Johanine community began with the Apostle John's Trip to the Samaritans. In fact Baultmann as well as Cullman find hints of Samaritan theology in the fourth Gospel, and there is the episode of the Samaritan woman at the well. In the times after the destruction they probably migrated again to Asia minor. There was a mass exodus from Palestine to Asia Minor. It is in the latter period represented by the Epistles and Revelation that we find the community spread among the seven churches there. Somehow by this time the leader is probably not the Apostle John but someone called "the Elder." This Elder may or may not have been the Beloved Disciple.

Cullman makes arguments about the them v us mentality of the Gospel as well as the epistles of John,[15]"They went out from us but they really did not belong to us, they would have remained with us; but their going  out showed they did not belong to us," (1 John 2:19) The larger context shows a view of it's our little group vs the world, (1 John 2:15).

Koester talks about the struggle between factions of a community which is evident the redaction of The Gospel of John,It seems heavily redacted as though the community had debated the content over and over many times.[16]  The factional content would be reinforced by the faction fight clearly underway in the Johannine Epistles. The struggle for control of a theology and faction fight implies a limited community not just general circulation, That not to say the final form of the Gospel wasn't put into general circulation. 

Moreover, Bauckham's own work in Jesus and the Eye Witnesses might actually suggest community as author. The entire effort is so centered around the charismatic  figure  of the "BD" that implies a smaller community, one that could know the BD personally, even though the point of the final statement seems to be endorsing him to a larger audience. The fact that endorsement comes from a given body of elders suggests it's one limited community trying to introduce their theology to a wider audience:  "John 21:24 "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true."

My own argument for Community as author really hinges upon the crucial and delicate moment briefly encapsulated in Acts 2:42-47 (quoted above) where the entire church was so small they all knew each other, and the proliferation to the first few communities. This is the period in which the basic outlines of the Jesus narrative were set in stone, by that I mean the actual historical events were made know by eye witnesses and it was made  clear these events embody the faith,The upshot of my argent is two fold  (1) It explains the seeming contradictions in the Resurrection accounts. The differences in Gospels being due to differences eye witnesses i each community, (2) in response to skeptics who argue that there are no eye witnesses among authors of the Gospels. Assume for the sake of argument that they are right. I am not ruling out the participation of eye witness authors but for argument's sake...if the community itself is the author and the witness the community in it's early days was full of eyewitnesses to Jesus' doings and teachings, and some even to the construction and resurrection. In terms of salvation itself all the basic we need to know according to the Gospel of Christ are ablative through the community witness to Jesus' life. Bauckham's theory,which I do not reject but I think it needs tweaking, does not negate this argument, 


[1] Richard Bauckham, The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking The Gospel Audiences. Grand Rapoids,Mochiga: William B. Eerdmans publishing company, Richard Bauckham ed., 1998, 1.

[2] Ibid

[3] Jesus and eye wt

[4] Richard Bauckham, " for whom were the  Gospels written?" opp cit. 9-48,

[5] Loveday Alexander (that is the guy;s name!) contributes "Ancient Book Production and the Circulation of the Gospel." in Bauckham, op. cit. 71..
[6] Richard Burridge "About People, By People For people Gospel Genre and Audiences." Ibid.,113.

[7] Bauckham, "Introduction," op cit, 5.

[8] Ibid.147.

[9] Mike Bird, "Bauckham's The Gospels for All Christians,Revisited,":PDF  EuroJTh (2006) 15:1,5-13 (accessed 2/15/08) 

[10] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1986, 117.  

[11] Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development.London, Oford, New Yoirk"Bloombury. 1992.

[12] Bird op cit

[13] Ocsar Cullman, The Johannine Circle. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976. no page indicated.
[14] Koester, o[ cit

[15] Cullman, op cit, 87

[16]  Koester op cit


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