Early Christian Origins: Studies in Honor of Harold R. Willoughby

By Allen Wikgren | Go to book overview

II
JESUS AS THEOLOGIAN

Albert Barnett EMORY UNIVERSITY

Authentic knowledge of the career and message of Jesus depends almost entirely on the canonical Gospels. These Gospels incorporate approximately everything about Jesus which the first-century church regarded as important. The character of the tradition they enshrine requires critical evaluation as the initial step in any discussion of what Jesus taught. Accordingly, the present essay oil "Jesus as Theologian" is prefaced by a statement of the author's judgment of the validity of the gospel record.

The Fourth Gospel was the culmination of the gospel-making process. To regard it, however, as of the same character as the Synoptics is misleading and essentially fallacious. It is more than an advanced form of the process out of which all four canonical Gospels emerged. It is essentially a new employment of the gospel form, and as such must be distinguished from the three earlier illustrations of that form.

The authors of all four Gospels were missionary preachers, evangelists rather than biographers. what they wrote was a form of preachinq, not history for its own sake. The Synoptics do not differ from the Fourth Gospel in this respect. The stimulation and support of faith was their common objective. The Synoptics resemble one another and differ from the Fourth Gospel, however, in that they were compilations of materials from older written sources, which in turn were crystallizations of oral tradition that had achieved a considerable degree of fixity during the twenty years immediately following the Crucifixion.

The Fourth Evangelist metamorphosed instead of reproducing the tradition. He meditated profoundly on older materials and in the Gospel he presented his own formulations of meaning rather

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