In a perfect world, "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" by Professor Richard Baukham, Professor of New Testament Studies at St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, would be the stake that would finally kill Form Criticism's century plus long view of New Testament origins and authorship. It has been the contention of Form Criticism that the Gospels are not the accounts of eyewitnesses to Jesus' ministry, or accounts by those who heard directly from such witnesses. Form Criticism has maintained that the Gospels are nothing more than folklore and the process by which they became what we now possess is no different from the development of mythology or folk tales. Form Critics envision a process of the original Gospels being reshaped by each generation for its own needs. The changes were the result of communities retelling the Gospels with no controlling authority making sure each retelling remained true to the original. Form Critics believe that the Gospels we now have resulted from several centuries of retelling and that if one can remove layer after successive layer of Gospel retelling that occurred over the centuries, one can discover the true Gospel, as it was first told. The Gospels, according to Form Critics, were the product of Oral Tradition and were not written down during the lifetimes of the original witnesses to Jesus' ministry. "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" demonstrates that the overwhelming evidence indicates that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses to Jesus. The Synoptics were the result of the witness of the original twelve disciples, John was written by an eyewitness, and those accounts of personal encounters with Jesus by named individuals originated from those named in those accounts. Baukham fashions his argument from a wide array of sources and disciplines. The Scripture references to the Gospels being written in the lifetime of the disciples is overwhelming. The list of names that appear in the New Testament, when compared to the list of all known names of Jews living in Israel before and centuries after Jesus lived on Earth, makes it plain that the Gospels were not folk tales retold over time. Baukham provides the reader with studies in Folklore which demonstrate that the model of Folklore's development over time does not conform to what the original Form Critics, such as Bultman, envisioned. Folk lore did not by in large develop through uncontrolled community involvement. There were processes by which the message of Folk Tales and Myths remained true to the original form. Baukham also demonstrates that the original Church drew on the tradition of Jewish and Hellenistic Schools to preserve knowledge of history, secular and religious. Such methods included teachers certified to pass on the knowledge, students whom teachers deemed worthy to be entrusted with such knowledge and who could memorize vast amounts of information. Paul received just such an education; as Baukham points out, Scripture makes it clear that even Paul had to learn from Peter and other Apostles in Jerusalem. Baukham also points out that the Form Critics ignore the role of Jerusalem in guarding the purity of the Gospel message. While most of Baukhams evidence is irrefutable, some of his evidence is not as strong. Baukham points to a literary device he calls an "inclusio" to prove the authorship of Mark and John. In Mark, Peter's name is the first of the disciples to appear, and the last to be mentioned. This phenomenon, which Baukham calls an inclusio, shows that Peter is the source Mark used when compiling the Gospel. While this is an intelligent theory, even Baukham admits that it is speculation on his part. There are no examples of this literary device in other documents of the same time period, though a few appear later. In John, the Beloved Disciple, named John, appears before Peter and after Peters last appearance, indicating that this disciple has greater credentials to expound the message of John's Gospel than Peter does. Baukham believes that the author of John, John's Epistles, and Revelation, were not written by John Son of Zebedee, but by another John, the Beloved Disciple. I found the language of his case quite speculative. Yet dispite my disagreements with some of Baukham's arguments, I can do nothing but heartily endorse this book, which is one of the most important works in New Testament study to appear in many a year. It is amazing that while the methods and conclusions of the Form Critics have been refuted convincingly by Baukham and earlier scholars, many New Testament scholars still cling to Form Criticism. Why? Some think that if it could be demonstrated that the Gospels changed over the centuries before they reached their final form, the commands in the Gospels we now have can be disregarded. Others seem to be addicted to the idea of the Gospels developing in the same manner as folklore. Others are simply brain dead.
Professor Baukham is a Fellow of the British Acadamy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a member of the Doctrine Commission of the church of England.
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony" was originally published by Eerdmans.
To read my reviews of "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" on my study blog, click here and scroll down.