Patristic Counter-Evidence to the Claim that ‘The Gospels Were Written for All Christians’

New Testament Studies 12/2004; 51(01):36 - 79. DOI: 10.1017/S0028688505000032


Richard Bauckham has called on scholars to abandon the reading strategy of redaction criticism that had risen to prominence especially in the 1960s, and return to the way the gospels had always been understood before that - as having been written 'for all Christians'. The present essay resituates this debate as actually yet another instance of a very old and enduring hermeneutical problem in the exegesis of Christian literature: the relationship between the particularity and universality of the gospels. Study of patristic gospel exegesis reveals no author who says the gospels were written 'for all Christians', and, even more importantly, shows that early Christian readers - through evangelist biographies, localizing narratives, audience request traditions, and heresiological accounts of the composition of individual gospels, as well as in their theological reflections on the fourfold gospel - engaged in a sustained and deliberate dialectic between the local and universal audiences of the gospels which defies any simple dichotomy between 'specific' and 'indefinite' readers.

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    ABSTRACT: The theme of "mission" has long been recognized as one of the fundamental interests of the author of the First Gospel. Rather than focusing on one particular question, such as the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, the role of Gentiles in Matthew's community, or the missionary task of the church, the paper will survey and analyze three areas in which "mission" is a relevant concept in the First Gospel: Matthew's narrative, the historical context of Matthew and his Gospel, and Matthew's theology. An investigation of the theme of "mission" in the Gospel of Matthew, it is hermeneutically problematic to ignore any of these three areas. The Gospel of Matthew is a narrative, in the first century C.E. mission was not just a concept but a historical reality, and both Matthew's Gospel and mission represent theological convictions. An analysis of relevant narrative, theological, and historical perspectives suggests that the author of the First Gospel wrote as a theologian who had an intense interest in the universal mission of the church, that he had perhaps personal experience of missionary activity leading people to faith in Jesus Christ and establishing churches, and that he also wrote as a historian who knew that Jesus focused his proclamation of the dawn of God's kingdom on Israel rather than on Gentiles.

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    ABSTRACT: For the last few decades the growing assumption has been that a community exists behind each of the four canonical Gospels. Elaborate reconstructions and reading techniques have been employed to draw out the characteristics of these communities, with the assumption that if we can see ‘behind the text’, we could better interpret the text itself. Recently the scholarly reconstruction of the communities behind the Gospels has been challenged by The Gospels for All Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences, edited by Richard Bauckham. Since the publication of The Gospels for All Christians, several discussions have begun concerning the nature of the Gospel communities, as well as the overall methods for reading the Gospels. This article attempts to place the Gospel community debate in the current discussion and direct it toward future resolve.
    Currents in Biblical Research 10/2004; 3(1):60-85. DOI:10.1177/1476993X0400300104
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