I though it would be a good idea to spell out why I treat the Gospel records and snippets imbedded in the other New Testament documents as genuine eye witness accounts. For many of my readers this is a non-issue, but for those that have studied the New Testament at all there is a bias towards seeing the Gospels as emerging documents of faith from within an early church for whom Jesus was a distant figure, used simply to add weight and authority to a particular community/authors spiritual and moral musings. Of course this process requires adequate time for enough distance to appear between the historic event and witnesses, and the re-told version with all its supernatural embellishments… it would embarrassing if someone stood up to say “sorry thst’s not what happened, I was there”. So form-critical scholarship likes dates for the writing of the Gospels to be as late as possible and the authors to have been anonymous hiding behind a famous name from a previous generation.

This tendency, to assume late Gospels and multiple invisible layers before the version we have, the tends to be a mild inclination in real believers but it shares the same assumption with the more militantly de-constructive views of professional Jesus’ critics. But in fact many of the shared assumptions of the form critical movement are demonstrably wrong, (for more see the work of Richard Bauckham or this interview) .When “form criticism” was first proposed as a means to understanding the Gospel’s it drew into the Theological tool-kit implements from other disciplines, the analysis of literary forms in European folk tales had more to do with anthropology, behavioral psychology and sociology but was now being applied as cutting-edge science to Theology. Perhaps assuming the Gospel was so fantastic it had to be a folk tale, this seemed appropriate.  Unsurprisingly people who analyse  the Gospel’s these ways often end up concluding that it was itself a fairy-story based on a lost history.

Anyway, as is often the case, within their core subjects the techniques of form-criticism where disproven, found to be inadequate or superseded, but they went on being used in Biblical studies without being properly critiqued/modified themselves.

As the years went by scholars often had revise their estimates for when the Gospels where first written downwards as results from new work made their late datings impossible, in 2015 a piece of Mark’s Gospel was recovered from an Egyptian burial mask that was itself made prior to 90AD, and a scrap of John’s Gospel has been dated to a similar period.Today, the majority scholarly view puts the gospels as written around 40 years after Jesus’ death and those that have done a full review of the evidence go even earlier whether Liberal like J.A.T Robinson or Evangelical like John Wenham.


More recently the re-analysis of the Gospels in the light of developments in studying ancient historical biography have shown that the Gospels so precisely match the statistical markers of the genre that it becomes increasingly hard to claim they are not or to hold on to the assumptions that underlie form-critical approaches without totally ignoring the new evidence, which is exactly what many who have given their lives to the old approach do do!

So when teaching through the Gospel’s it is important to ask the question “who is seeing this happen?” and “how has that shaped how the story has come to use?” . What is interesting is that I have found the stories take on new life when you present what we can know about the real people involved in the events.

Christen Forster

Christen Forster is widely recognised as an original Bible teacher who brings people into a love of and confidence in scripture.

Christen has planted churches, been a youth worker, mission administrator and church leaders. The author of several books, Christen is now an itinerant minister, helping churches to step into a more deliberately spiritual experience of the Christian life while at the same time firmly rooting their practice in scripture.

© 2000 - 2024 Christen Forster
Christen Forster

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