Historical Criticism and the Gospels

Christianity is a historical religion in the sense that its claims rest on events that took place in the past. Christ’s actions of redemption, as portrayed in the Gospels, speak of God incarnate residing here in the physical world (Bebbington, 1990, p. 320). This is portrayed as a historical event of antiquity. Laying claim to such a historical backdrop; the Gospels are therefore subject to historical criticism.

Hasel (1993) suggests historical reconstruction and theological interpretation still remains a methodological problem for NT theology (p. 136). Indeed a religion based upon particular historical events would today lose all respect and credibility if it did not subject them to critical scrutiny. Historical research now constitutes an important part of the “interface” which theology must always cultivate between Christian faith and the rational endeavours of the day (Morgan, 1981, p. 42).

“The earliest roots of historical criticism reach back into the Renaissance and Reformation. The expectation emerged that the Bible should be read like any other piece of ancient literature. This meant understanding a work in its historical context.” (Bock ,2002, p.154). The approach, however, is not limited to any one way of analysing the text but employs many methods that try to answer the standard who, where, why and to whom of interpretation. (Haynes, 1982, p.35).

Contemporary Theories

The literary and historical analysis of the Synoptic Gospels has pursued four major paths –source criticism, form criticism, tradition criticism and redaction/composition criticism. All are interrelated and all designed to aid in the reconstruction of the ministry of Jesus and in identifying the particular contributions of the Gospel evangelists. The task is quite as open as ever since both the quest of the “historical” Jesus and the analysis of the texts remain contested and unresolved (Ellis, 1991, p.26).

The new and often radical views of this century concerning the history of the…

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