The Story of Jesus Won't Stay Still

By Gallant, Sara | The Christian Science Monitor, July 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Story of Jesus Won't Stay Still


Gallant, Sara, The Christian Science Monitor


A HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM By David Dungan Doubleday

526 pp., $39.95

Caught between fundamentalists who claim the Gospels are a factual record dictated by God and Jesus Seminar radicals who treat these stories as cultural myths, many thoughtful Christians are eager for reliable information about Jesus that resonates with their heart and mind. In answering this need, David Dungan, professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee, provides an engaging history of the controversies surrounding "the synoptic problem," the apparent contradictions among the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life. Dungan covers the entire history of Bible study and not just its modern era, giving him an exceptionally broad perspective. He considers four fundamental components to the debate: *Which Gospels should we use? *Which text of the normative Gospels is most accurate? *How were the Gospels composed? *How do we interpret them? Consensus on the Gospels continues to shift, and Dungan shows how these questions have transformed the debate. He also explores the cultural, political, economic, and technological presuppositions ever-shaping Bible interpretation. Origen of Caesarea (185-253), the first towering figure in Bible study, was convinced that the Scriptures has both a literal and a spiritual meaning. To him, the literal discrepancies were of little import compared to the spiritual harmony produced by the authors' elevated thought. Dungan feels Origen's approach is virtually extinct, a claim open to challenge. Augustine, bishop of Hippo (354-430), came into prominence after Christianity had become the favored religion of the Roman Empire and church councils had closed the canon. This father of literalists insisted that he had worked out the harmony of the Gospels on the literal level. The force of his presentations closed debate for a thousand years. Tracing the development of Bible translation provides an exciting history of its complex development. We learn, for instance, of the race to publish the first printed New Testament in Greek. …

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