Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Recent Developments in Redaction Criticism: From Investigation of Textual Prehistory Back to Historical-Grammatical Exegesis?

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Recent Developments in Redaction Criticism: From Investigation of Textual Prehistory Back to Historical-Grammatical Exegesis?

Article excerpt


From "scissors and paste" collectors to individual composers or theologians-thus has been the shift in scholars' perception of the role of the evangelists in the composition of the Synoptic Gospels.1 Whereas source criticism fragments the Gospels into diverse hypothetical sources and form criticism delves into the oral period behind the text, redaction criticism investigates the theological emphases of the evangelists. Yet, is the transition complete? Has the evangelists' role in composition ever been sufficiently defined, so that vigorous differentiation of redaction from tradition is possible? Or has the notion that such criticism of the text is possible been no more than an illusion? Is it not better to deal with the completed text as it stands rather than to seek to distinguish what is no longer distinguishable with confidence? Did the authors ever intend for their conveyed meanings to be divined by means of an attempt to go back to their sources? Or did they embody their meaning exclusively (and adequately) in the texts they wrote?

These are but some of the important questions involved in recent developments in redaction criticism. This study will examine these developments and offer a tentative evaluation of them. No attempt will be made to survey the history of scholarship in the field.2 The first section supplies definitions and pre-understandings necessary for entering into the discussions stirring in the discipline. The second section surveys recent developments under four subheadings: (1) methodological uncertainty in redaction criticism of Mark's Gospel; (2) abandonment of redaction criticism and its replacement by literary criticisms; (3) expansion into composition analysis; and (4) debate over redaction criticism among evangelicals. The third section puts forward tentative evaluations of the discipline and its recent developments.

In the course of this article, I will advocate the cautious adoption of composition criticism as a text-centered approach that represents a welcome return to historical-grammatical interpretation. I will contend that redaction criticism proper, which seeks to separate redaction from tradition, is fundamentally bankrupt. In addition, I will argue that redaction criticism proper and composition criticism should be recognized as two distinct disciplines.


From the outset, the reader should note that the term "redaction criticism" is frequently used to denote two different sets of activities. The two activities are: (1) "strict editorial criticism" (otherwise labeled as "redaction criticism proper" or simply "redaction criticism" below); and (2) "composition criticism" (used interchangeably with "composition analysis"). Strict editorial criticism and composition criticism differ in their treatment of their subject matter. The former looks for the evangelist's theology in the redactional text after separating out redaction from tradition by means of source and form criticism.3 The latter locates the patterns and emphases of the evangelists without systematically identifying or separating out redaction from tradition.4

Since it differs with composition criticism in seeing its subject matter as restricted to the evangelist's redactional work, strict editorial criticism necessarily requires the separation of redaction from tradition. This necessity creates a further complication: the use of different working criteria to separate out redaction from tradition frequently changes the nature of the work involved.

The range of differences in working criteria is best seen in redaction criticism on Mark. Scholars apply diverse working criteria (and accord those criteria varying weight even when they share similar criteria) to determine what belongs to tradition and redaction respectively. As C. C. Black points out, this divergence in application of working criteria stems from scholars' diverse perspective concerning: (1) "the measure of history in the Gospel of Mark"; (2) "the character of the pre-Markan tradition"; and (3) "the influence of Markan theology upon the Gospel. …

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