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July 1977 · Vol. 6 No. 3 · pp. 57–59 

Response to Devon H. Wiens

Response to “Interpreting the Gospels” by Devon H. Wiens 6/3 (1977): 50–57.

Jacob Thielmann

Responding positively to this paper, I concur that the “purpose for writing the Gospels comprised both historical and theological facets.” The Gospels are concerned with historical truth. The fruitfulness of historical research for Christian thought has been demonstrated. It is no longer necessary for theologians to apologize for the “subjective” results of historical research in biblical material.

A number of statements in Devon’s paper need further elucidation. Since this paper was presented at a hermeneutical conference, I am at a loss to find hermeneutical principles which were employed in establishing that “the blind man also becomes every reader, who is being {58} asked to consider the claim of Jesus.” Furthermore, how do “the twelve typify the church which in its sufferings for Jesus’ sake desperately needs to hear the Word of serenity?” Certainly, the application might be true, but does the text suggest what Devon is saying? Is there an undue stress on the theological or the confessional truth to the neglect of the historical?

To really come to terms with the question of What are the Gospels, one will need to go beyond the Redaction critic who begins with the Gospel writer and ends with the proclamation, which he calls Gospels. The Redaction critic says that there are Gospel proclamations. However, the Gospels themselves imply and communicate four records of the one and the same Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I agree that it is possible to combine the methodology of higher criticism with hermeneutical principles in search of a true understanding of the basic issues of the Gospels. The three areas of debate and discussion coming from the Gospels are as follows:

1. The Son of Man Applying the hermeneutical principles, we would ask: Does this title originate with Jesus, or did the early Christian community attribute this name to Him? Does the name refer to Jesus or to a person distinct and other than Jesus? Is this title authentic?

2. The Son of God To a large extent we seek to answer the query: Was Jesus of Nazareth really the Son of God? According to form critics, the Son of God statements are indeed the prejudiced, or falsified, statements of the church and not the actual words of Jesus. If this is so, can we trust any other passage?

3. The Resurrection Marxsen, who coined “redaction” criticism, is not interested in learning what really happened and where it happened. History and geography need to be excluded, for we need to learn how the evangelist puts this Gospel account together. However, historical and confessional statements in the Gospel do not appear in isolation from each other. Rather, there are historical and confessional dimensions in the same statement. Paul asserts in 1 Cor. 15 that if the resurrection did not occur in historical time and space, then our faith is invalid. There is no reference to Jesus of Nazareth which does not assume the crucifixion and resurrection. Likewise, there is no theoretical discussion of the meaning of the resurrection apart from the reference to Jesus of Nazareth. This relationship between the historical and confessional perspectives constitutes the point of departure for the interpretation of the Gospel.

A major objection to the methodology of the redaction critic is the subjectivity which he displays. He determines whether the names, places, and time references in the Gospel are subservient to the theological themes of the evangelist. {59}

No one questions the fact that themes are developed. The point of the matter is whether these names and places are factual. Though the Gospels are not presenting a complete biography of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, they are nevertheless rooted in history. They relate the words and works of Jesus as spoken and performed in actual historical setting. Really, the redaction critic wants to conform the thinking of the Gospel writer to his own critical thinking. This obviously cannot be! The writers, as Peter puts it, were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Summarizing my response to this paper, I present the following points for consideration.

1. There is enough external and internal evidence for the validity and authenticity of the Gospels. We do not need to continuously question the authority of the Gospels.

2. Although we need to acquaint ourselves with higher criticism, we must be cautious and recognize its weaknesses.

3. We need to plead for a new understanding of the Bible which relies completely in the interpreting power of the Holy Spirit. Today’s challenge is to rediscover the Bible as both the normative embodiment of the revelatory words and acts of God in the history of salvation, and as the witness of people’s response to God in faith or of their regrettable response in disobedience.

We are called upon to take up our Bible and not to do socio-religious studies or to allow other academic disciplines to judge the Scriptures. The Scripture is man’s standard; man must stand in awe and reverence before the author of this book (1 Cor. 2:15, 16).

4. We all need a hermeneutical key which gives us access to a consistent understanding. Although important, nobody is touched or overwhelmed by having identified the literary species of a biblical text. Rather, as Peter Beyerhaus says: “the decisive act of understanding takes place at the moment that authority which is speaking in and through the text meets something within me which is already predisposed to be spoken to by this authority.”

Jacob Thielmann is an instructor in Bible and Theology at Columbia Bible Institute, Clearbrook, British Columbia.

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