You are on page 1of 17


Jurnal for the Study of

the New Testament
G ospels before 2014, . 37(2) 185-200
T ^A uthor(s) 2 1 4
N orm ati vization: A Critique Reprints and permissions:
sagepu co.u o
of Francis W atson*s Gospel DOI: 10.1177/0142064X14557604
Writing SAGE

Richard Bauckham

A b stra ct
^extended review Francis ^'Vatson, Gospel Writing, engages critica/ with som e of
the major argnments of h e h o o<, including W atson's case against Q and for Fukes use
of Matthew, his claim that the Gospel o f Thomas preserves a very early genre of gospel
writing, his argument that the Gospel ofjohn is dependent on the Egerton Gospel, and his
account of the process (normativization) that produced the canon of the four gospels
Flis work is criticized generally for neglecting the wider literary con text of the gospels
in ancient Jewish and Graeco-Roman literature.

Gospels, apocryphal gospels, canon, Gospel o f Thomas, Egerton Gospel, Q

F rancis ; 0 Gospel Writing ( ) ) I S an important and arlnniable hook. I

wish to state drat enrplratically at the outset because much oftliis review will be
highly critical. Usually 1 would judge a book of tins length (665 pp.) to be too
long, but this orre certainly is not. It Is wide ranging but coheres closely around
a strong, overall thesis to wlhclt every part contributes significantly. It is lucidly
rvrltten and often a rlellglrt to read. It is nil 01'original insights and provocative
tlronglrts. It tur ns mtnry a topic around anl invites us to see It quite differently
anrl, even we are unpersuaded, that will have made a permanent difference to

C o r r e s p o n d i n g author:
Richard Bauckham , A rc h w ay C o u rt, C am b rid g e CB3 , UK.
Email: rjb @ st-a n d re w .u k

D ow n loaded from jn t.sag e p u b .c o m b y A m erican T heological Library A ssociation on M ay 13, 2 0 1 5

186 Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

we see . Above all, is lull o f energetic argument and focused intelli-

gence. 1 have learned a 0 from and have h a d 0 work h a rd 0 disagree whir it.
Moreover, 1 am sympathetic (as doubtless not all reviewers will be) to his project
of combining hstorcd, hermeneutical and theological approaches in what Ire
calls historically informed theological hermeneutics (p. 9).
Watson intends a paradigm change the way in which we consider how gos-
pels originated ( relate to each other. Standard accounts are limited to the
canonical gospels and to the first century (both artificial limits). A canonical per-
spective (his subtitle) does not m eanjust reading the canonical gospels as a four-
fold collection; it means investigating the history o f the reception o f the Jesus
tradition fiom the earliest period (so far as this is accessible) through a process
ofinterpretation and reinterpretation that does not listipguish canonical and nom
canonical gospels, up to the sea-change that occurred with canonization (irr
Watsons terminology noriuatirrzatioA). Before that stage all gospels must be
interpreted irr relation to each other, without regard to their later canonical or
non-canonical status. After that stage, theological lr^um eutcs works with a
new creation, tire fourfold gospel, which requires the four to be interpreted in
relation to each other and only in relation to each other.
Along the way this project involves detailed treatments ofnrany relevant top-
ics, invariably in original ways that cry out ' 'detailed discussion and valua-
tion. Since I do not have space to comment on all, 1 shall select specific topics for
comment, with no implication that they are more important than others.

Against Q
Watsons book could have been subtftled How to dispense -/// Q and get >
theology right a! the same time. A remarkable amount o f tire discussion actually
revolves around Q. This is because Watson sees the Q hypothesis and its success
as the central plank irr the dismantling of tire canon (of the fourfold gospel) irr
modem gospels scholarship, the history ofwhiclr, tro Reinrarus to Harnaek, Ire
relates in some detail in Chapter 2. This account of the history o f the Synoptic
?roblem is designed to climax in Ham acks view o fQ as the earliest and most
reliable source for the historical Jesus, preferable to Mark, giving us Jesus
unadulterated by the theological interpretations of Jesus that pervade the New
Testament. The Q hypothesis therefore represents for Watson the overarching
theological error o f modem study o f tire gospels: its quest, pursued by means of
source criticism, for tire uninterpreterl Jesus behind the gospels. Watson, while
not abjuring source criticism, wishes to create a new framework that, instead of
working backwards to tire m ost original form of tire gospel tradition, traces
rather the forward movement o f the tradition, the process o f the reception of
Jesus and the written interpretations o f lrinr, culminating in tire fortuation o f the
canon, hr this new framework, source criticisrtr takes its place, not as a means of

ownloadedfrom by America Thelgical Library Assciatin c May 15, 2015

Bauckham 87

moving backwards, but, through observation oi'the way an author (such as Luke
or 1110 )interprets his sources, as a means of tracing the forward movement of
constant reinterpretation ofthe Jesus tradition. Removing Q from the account of
gospel origins becomes almost a symbol of tins reversal of herm ^eutical
One cannot deny that l-larnacks view o f Q is persistent, but it is sonrecvlnh
misleading to end tire story with him. The landscape of gospels criticism was
tramd'orirrerl after Hamack by fonn criticism, whose effect was to separate Jesus
even I'rom Q by a grill'01'Oi'al transmission of traditions. This effectively meant
that the quest, ifit was to be viable at all, c o t: l not proceed simply by identifying
reliable early sources. Every individual unit o fth e tradition had to be assessed
separately !;/ means o fth e I'anrous criteria oi'autlieiitich}. Mere presence In Q
did not guarantee the authenticity 01'a saying. An i n te r e s t ^ feature ofW atsons
own account o f gospel origins is that he minimizes the Importance o f oral tradi-
lion at least in the sense that he thinks tire oral and the written co-existed and
Interacted all along. While abolishing Q, he fills tire period before Mark instead
with early Sa.yhrgs LTdlectioiis.
Watson is well aware that a source-critical hypothesis cannot be refirted by
theological argnnrent. The strength ofthe Q hypothesis lies in its claim to be the
most adequate explanation of fire literary relationship beLveen Matthew and
Lrfice. So Watson nrust refute it in those terms and put apother Irypotlresis in its
place. In (Iris book he has become probably, al'ter Mark Goodacre, the foremost
contemporary proponent ofthe Farrer hypothesis, rvlticlt he calls the /./IV/hypoth-
esis. et fire source-critical and the theological remain ftrsed. Gliapters ami 4,
wlriclr contain his refutation o f the Q hypothesis and Iris account 01' Irow Luke
Interpreted Maltlrew, designed to make the L/M hypothesis plausible, are laced
with cominreirts suggesting that if one resists his interpretation ofnruch ip Lukes
Gospel as highly creative Interpretation ol'Mat therc, this wifi be because one falls
to assess this positively as a I'eatrne o fth e traditions own, ongoing dymamic, in
cvlncli (he can go so Ihr as to say) Jesus was continually reinterpreting lrinrself.
While it is not my putpose to defend Q, it seems to me that Watson has given
unwarranted importance irr Iris programme to dispensing with Q and the acconr-
!ranynrg hypothesis ol'Lukair creativity in interpreting Matthew. I do not see rvliy,
should one judge the Q hypothesis to be the nrost plausible explanation ofthe data
ofthe Synoptic Problem, orre CO cel not Integrate Q into a framework like Watsons.
Q would be an early Interpr^atioir of Jesus (does anyone still seriously believe it
gives us Jesus uninterpreted, as Wrhsons rhetoric so ol'ten imputes?), and one
could observe the lyarrnulc of ongoing iherpretatioir in the cvays that Matthew
and Luke receive and interpret Q. Conversely, one could accept tire ./M hypoth-
esis merely as a way o f dismissing Luke as airy kind of source for knowing about
the historical Jesus. The backward and forward movements, with their respective
theological 1'reiglrt, are both possible with or without Q.

wnladedfrm jn t.sag e p u b .c o m b y A m erican Thelgcal Library A ssociation M ay 1^, 2 0 1 5

Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

Watsons case against Q is based onw lrat he calls coincidences between

Matthew and Luke for which Q does not account. For example, both have
extended birth narratives including annunciation stories and genealogies. 1 have
read more persuasive cases against Q.1A general weakness that I see in Watsons
book is his almost complete failure to refer to any literature other than gospels,
hisisteiit as Ire is that the canonical gospels should not be studied in isolation
I'rom other gospels, he nevertheless treats gospel literature as ail isolated held of
study. For example, he takes 110 account whatever of the now widely accepted
view that the canonical gospels (and some o f the 11011-ca fit the generic
category o f Graeco-Roman biography (bios). In such a work it was standard to
begin with an account ofthe subjects ancestry, bii'tli and early life, often uichid-
iiig omens or prophecies o f Iris triture greatness. To tirse familiar with such
works, Mark must have seemed deficient in this respect. It would not be surpris-
ing if two writers, engaged in expanding Mark, should independently seek to
remedy this deficiency, ri'huke had access to a traditional genealogy ofthe firm-
ily of Jesus (as I have argued at length his genealogy is2), It would be Iiatrmil for
him to include it. M atthews genealogy fulfils a quite different function as fire
introduction to his gospel, resuming the history of Isi'acl, with its messianic
promise, and connecting the story 01 ' Jesus with it.
The birth and infancy stories in both gospels are, ofcourse, saturated with Old
Testament allusions, U1C'hiding, in M atthews case, analogies to the birtir and
infancy o f Moses, and, Lukes case, to fire birtli of Sanruel. Stories of the
annunciation o f key figures before their birth are to be fourni in the Old
J'estanrent, developed and ruultiplied in later Jewish literature. In Genesis Isaacs
nanre is announced before his bii'tli (which is also miraculous); in Pseudo-Philos
Biblical Antiquities this privilege is extended to Sanrson and Sanruel. hr such a
literary context, it does not seem to me very surprising that both Matthew and
Luke should tell such a stoiy aborit Jesus. When we put these gospels in their
wider literary contexts, both Graeco-Roman and Jewish, the coincidences look
much less remarkable.
Nor slmi. I Raymond Browns ai'gunrent that the coincidences derive fiom
shared tradition with historical origins be liq^rragerl on the theological grounds
that it values history over interpretation (as it is by Watson). Brown does not
devalue the unerpretatioiis of Matthew and Luke, but sees them as nrtei'preta-
tioirs o f some genuine historical data. This is how Watson himself sees sonre
other parts of tire gospel narratives. He just opts to see the birtir narratives as pure
interpretation (of what?). But this point ilhistrates lrow Watsons theological
approach mingles with more purely literary and historical argunrents against Q.

t. The one that I find most persuasive is Goodaere 2002: ehapter 9.

2. Bauckliam 1990: chapter 7.

D ow n loaded from jn t.sag e p u b .c o m b y A m erican T heological Library A ssociation on M ay 13, 2 0 1 5

Bauckham 189

teo, be
there said
obvious replacement theory to explain tire relationship between Matthew !
eect Q (but not Markanpriority) are perhaps divided Luke. Those into those
whose primary reason is that Q is not itself plausible and tirse whose primary
reason is that they ) persuasive the case for fuke's use of Matthew. Mark
acre is orre o f tire latter
T. am
dow not hich!
Watson falls, but his
overall argument certainly requires that readers he as persuaded of Lukes exteiv
sive rewriting 01'Matthew as <are of tire case against Q. Alter all, tire latter is in
itself !3 a !natter of identifying sources the backward rnve!ncnt towards the
gn!al-hereas moreit or is Lukes use of Matthew that o!re observes the
dy!ra!nic of reinteqrretation at work. Tlris also means : Watson cannot aiTord 0
over considering whether other alternatives to Q might he plausible. They <
could offer very different 1 !! ! !! of dre ^' of tradition across the
<0^ ,Gospels.
' One might, for example, conclude that Luke, as well as Matthew
wrote !rot only to interpret what others had already written. but also to incorporate
additional traditions ahout .lesus. Tlris is aspect oftlre ongoing production
ofgospels that Watson rarely mentions, preferring to stress the ,>
// ' nature of
the tradition (as though the mustard seed ol'early Sayings Collections grew of itself
into tire great tree oftlre gospels, canonical .)other
Watson 1 drat other alternatives to Q are possible, hut opts to show at
-length that Lukes Gospel can he explained as a result ofL ukes creative engage
meitt the texts o f Matthew M ark of a simple and intelligible
compositional procedure (p. I (. What he means a simple conmositronal
procedure is, 1 think, that Lukes use o f Matthew is governed some has
-principles which explain the result (pp. 215-16), hut it must he said drat the pro
cess of applying those principles ,his actual composition 01' his gospel seems
r this account, very complicated. What !0 s account,missing apartfromfrom!
the reasonable suggestion that Luke used a notebook to collect sayings
M atthews Sermon )( the Mount that he wanted to reserve for later use170 (p(,.
is consideration ol'arcim ]^positional practices, including the practicalities
o f using a ar!ety of sources and the wa^s i!r which ancient writers reproduced
sources. The im portant 0 o f Gerald owning (198da; 1980b 1988 ;;
and Robert ['ronhacker^)20112005) ;000;( do not appear m Watsons (
bibliography. Here, as too ode!r elsewhere, Watson engages with the gospels
including ( ' 0 ' ones) as though the texts o f tire gospels themselves 1
,were all the evidence we !reed for understanding their composition. O f course
his is how study oftlre Synoptic Trohle!n has usually proceeded, hut it is coming
to he seen as inadequate. 1 rot suggesting that the process Watson attributes!
to Luke is implausihle, merely that it he useful to set it the context of

wnladedfrm j t.sagepub.c m b y America Thelgical Library A ssociation M ay 13, 2 0 1 5

190 Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

other evidence ol'liow ancient authors, especially those practising some of

historiography, proceeded.
Watson does pay soine attention, though not enough, to Lukes preface as
indicative of what Luke thought he was doing ill his gospel. W hat Watson
deduces from it (taking tlie m any to he Mark and Matthew) is tliat Luke, like
?apias, thought M arks Gospel was disordered, and M atthews 110 improvement
in this respect. So Lnke intended to adjudicate the differences of order between
Matlheco and Mark and put everything in the correct chronological order.
(Watson takes it for granted that kathexis means 110 more tlian chronological
order. Lie could llave learned hom avirl M oessners important articles [1999;
2002] tliat relate Lukes preface to ancient historiographical ]nucples that it
also refers to beginning and ending the stor> at tlie right points for it to make
good sense. The aim is something more like a plot tlian a mere chronological
sequence.) As far as M arks material goes, Luke appears to do tills largely by
restoring M arks own order, radier than following Matthews reordering ot'Mark.
So 1 do not see 110W Lukes treatment 0 1 ' Mark bears at the notion licit lie tliouglit
Mark had got events in the wrong chronological order. In relation to Matthew,
getting his material in the right order involves, for example, removing 13 pas-
sages Iron! Matthews Sermon 011 the Mount and distributing them at later points
in his narrative. But how Id Luke possibly have thought lie knew where these
passages really belonged in a chronological sequence? I am open to suggestions
ofreasons that Luke might have had that would not seem good reasons to us, but
1 (hid it impossible to think 01'any sort ofreasons tilth Luke could have had for
thinking he could get the chronology right ill thisw ay, In other cases, Watson
shows Luke extracting noii-k/larkaii material I'rom Markan contexts ill which
Matthew has put it and then reproducing it ill something like Mtittlieivs sequence
ill the context o f uniquely Lukan material. Conceivably (Watson does not say
this) Luke here thinks he is restoring tlie order o f material ill k/lattlieivs non-
M arkan source (i.e. lie is reconstructing Ql). Ill any case, Watsons lull account
ol'lioiv Lnke proceeds in reordering lion-k'lai'kaii material tiom Matthew into his
own sequence is very complicated, and it leaves me baffled as to 110W Lukes
alleged pursuit of chronological order can explain it. 1 have to say it again: Llow
could Luke possibly have thought lie knew that this was the proper order?
(?erhaps, after all, lie interviewed the eyeivitnesses! Now that would be taking
the prel'ace really seriously.)
B.H. Streeter famously opined that a Luke who reordered Mattlieiv as the L/M
hypothesis requires would be a crank. Every proponent 01'tills hypothesis aims
to refflte the charge. Maybe I have not properly appreciated Watsons presenta-
tioii ofLuke, but by tlie end ofC hapter 4 W atsons Luke seemed to me an eccen-
trie pedant, obsessed with mere chronological sequence, and determining it by
some idiosyncratic method uiil'atliomable to anyone else. But I know this cannot

wnladedfrm by America Thelgical Library A ssociation M ay 13, 2015


be Watsons intention because he is holding Luke up as his prime example ofthe

traditions owr dynamic towards constant reinterpretation.

Thom as
dire longest chapter in the book is called Thomas versus Q (Chapter , This
title may surprise because the Gospel o f Thomas has often been considered evi-
dence in favour o fQ . Generically, Thomas is (to use Watsons teriiriirology)
Sayings Collection (SC), the only extant example 1 'tills kind o f collection of
Jesus traditions. Since Q is also supposed to be a sayings gospel, Thomas at least
shows that such gospels existed. Watson, however, argues that Thomas and Q are
actually quite dissimilar in genre, since Thomas a collection of individual say-
ings (or at least small units) each prefaced by Jesus said. This is an important
observation, with which 1 readily concur. (In my view tire strongest argument
against Q is generic: it is neither a narrative gospel nor a mere collection of say-
ings, but has an implied, but partial, narrative sequence and sayings combined
into discourses.) So rather than supporting Q, Thomas can, ill a certain sense,
replace Q at the heart of the so-called synoptic problem (p. 284), since,
although Watson does not claim that Thomas as we have it necessarily pre-dates
the Synoptics or airy of them, it is a later exemplar of an archaic genre, the
primitive L'liristiair Sayings Collection (p. 221). On the basis of Thomas, we can
postulate early (written) SCs, wlriclr were used by Mark and Mattl1c',. These can
then fill tire gap left by Q as a bridge between the earliest Palestinian traditions
and tire narrative gospels that we have. argunrent id work even if Thomas
were no more tlrair a later exemplar ol'trn arclrnic genre, but Watson tlrnrks there
are sayings in Thomas that fins gospel has probably preserved in an earlier forirr
than tlrelr Synoptic parallels, so that at least an early version of Thomas may well
be very early. If so, this would considerably strengthen tire argument l'or suppos-
ing that the format o f Thomas (Jesus said + small unit ofteaclring) goes back to
an early period.
Perhaps because, in any case, 1 find the idea o f early written collections of
sayings ofJesus quite plausible, 1 ) . found Watsons argument in this chap-
ter also plausible. But on closer study, the argument seenrs to me to fidl apart. I
have the advantage of profiting fiom two book on '!'la/mas published in 2012,3
too late to be adequately reflected in Watsons work.4 These books, by Simon
Gatlrercole and Mark Goodacre, argue in different but complementary ways for
the substantial dependence of Thomas on tire Synoptic Gospels. Together they
make a very strong case. Gatbercole argues that, even if one does postulate a

3. Gathercole 2012; Goodacre 2012.

4. makes a few references to Garhercoles work, bur has not taken on board its full

ownloadedfrom by American Theological Library Association on May 15, 2015

192 Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

series of stages of development for Thomas, dependence on tire Synoptics is

present at every stage (2012: 221-23). dire view that Thomas was an unstable,
shifting and developing collection o f sayings, 1 1 C01nm0:l> claimed, is
based on ver> little evidence. There are differences betrvcen Greek Thomas and
Coptic Thomas, but t)re> are minor. Where Greek Thomas is extant, Coptic
Thomas does not add or subtract whole sayings. Watsons rather enthusiastic
adoption o f arguments that Thomas preserves sayings in pr^Syiioptic fomrs
(pp. 233-3444 -242 )is surprising in view o f the fact that he disallowed such
arguments in the preceding chapter, when applied to Matthew and Luke (pp. 159-
63). There it was a case t'rejecting air influential argument for Q: that in double
tradition passages it is sometimes Matthew, sometimes hrike who preserves the
earlier form 01'a saying. He seems to be playing by lil'I'ei'eirt rules when it comes
to replacing Q with Thomas.
But my problems with Chapter 5 are not confined to the question o f Thomas's
dependence on the Synoptics. They begin in tire long section that Watson devotes
to '! ^ -nosticizuig Thomas (pp. 221-49). most o f which compares Thomas
with the Apocryphon ofJohn, in order to show that Thomas differs in its interpre-
tation of the early chapters o f Genesis and does not presuppose the typically
Gnostic idea of the Demiurge. He concludes that extracted from its secondary
literary context [in a Nag Hanrnradi codex alongside the Apocryphon / ,//],
Thomas worfld seem to have far more in common with the synoptic gospels than
with the Apocryphon (p. 249). But there are other gospels ftom Nag Hanrnradi
tbat do not presuppose the Gnostic Demiurge, such as the Dialogue / the
Saviour, rnrl arguably Thomas has more in common with these than it does with
the Synoptic Gospels. W hether we call tbem 'Gnostic or not is beside the point;
Careful scholars who 10 not classft'y Thomas as Gnostic do find in Thomas a
worldview and a theology very different from tirse o f the Synoptic Gospels,
t'lns is relevant to Watsons argument because Ire proceeds as though his asser-
flon that Thomas has more in common with tire Synoptics than with the
Apocryphon o fJo h n exempts him ftom having to consider whether Thomas's
reception o f sayings o f Jesus is governed by its distinctive Lihristology and
soteriology and whether, in fact, it is these that have determined the creation o fa
gospel made up purely of individual sayings attributed to Jesus, a genre ofwlrich
Watson admits it is the only surviving example.
Watson does offer other evidence that SCs like Thomas existed, at least in the
early second century. He compares the format of Thomas (Jesus said small
unit o f teaching) with t ire way sayings of Jesus are quoted irr 2 / /, mostly
as individual sayings introduced by the Lord said/says. While admitting that
some oftlrese could come ftom Matthew, Ire thinks tire citation formula indicates
that the author ot'2 Clement drew them ftom a s c like Thomas. But it could just
as weft be that this is a standard way of citing a saying o f Jesus, whatever its
source. (Incidentally, Watson ignores the lil'1'erence between Jesus said in

wnluadedfrum by America Thelgical Library Assciatin c May 13, 2015

Bauckham 193

Thomas and the Lord said 2 [ Clement, but the torii'ier is required by Jesus
saying to Thonras, I am not your M aster [(O S . Thom. 13], an expression ofthe
notion that Jesus and his select disciples are etuuately equal.) Watson also
claims the Gospel o fth e Egyptians as a s c , but we know nothing about it apart
from the frw quotations in Clement o f Alexandria, all ofwlrlclr come from an
extended dialogue between Jesus and Salome. Tire Gospel o fth e Egyptians was
most likely a dialogue gospel, like several ofthe gospels from Nag Hammadi, a
quite different genre from Thomas.
There may well have beeil early SCs, but I do not tlnuk we can know that hom
Thomas or learn from Thomas what they were like. Since Thomas can take say-
mgs out ofnarrative contexts in the Synoptics or compress that narrative context
rather incoherently (e.g., (O S . Thorn. 100), it has probably taken sayings from
narrative contexts in other gospels too. Thomas may well be a compilation of
sayings drawn from a variety o f sources, none of them SCs. Thomas had no
interest in narratives about Jesus, since it is in finding the true niterpretahon of
Jesus esoteric sayings tbat salvation lies.The upshot of Watsons wbole aru-
nrent in this chapter is that SCs like '/'/ .were the sources ofsayings ofJesus
in Mark and Matthew. But cvliat Iras he gained by substituting for (,) other, suspi-
ciously Q-like sources? It is doubtless important that he does not allow Tuke
access to them, but, since he thinks SCs were still available to 2 Clement and
Polycarp, is it not actually rather likely that Luke afro knew one or more of
them? They might be fire source ofsayings traditions peculiar to Luke or even of
Lukan versions of double tradition sayings where Luke not very close to
Matthew. W hy not? Perhaps it is because it would spoil the elegant simplicity of
Watsons solution to tbe Synoptic Problem, or because it might detract from the
creativity o fL u k es work.
Another dilTerence between Q and Watson's SCs is tlrat there can be ! 'Cl'it-
ical e d i t io n ol'them (p. 284). But Watson him self reconstructs an s c containing
eight identifiable Items from which Mark produced his ch. 4 (p. 283). By dis-
pensuig with Q, Watson has not barred the road back to a more original Jesus
behind the gospels. Be has slmpty opened other avenues that nray have to be
rather mora speculative than even the critical edition o fQ , but, if Iris ai'gunreiits
prevail, there will likely be no lack o f scholars prepared to risk travelling those

Egerton Gospel
hr Chapter 6 Watson argues that tbe unknown gospel, of which four substantial
fragments are known in Papyrus Egerton 2, so far I'rom being dependent 01! Join!

These arguments presuppose Watsons v ie w (Luke was dependent on Matthew, a view I

do not myself share.

D ow n loaded from jn t.sag e p u b .c o m b y A m erican T heological Library A ssociation on M ay 13, 2 0 1 5

194 Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

ami file Synoptics, as has usually been thought, is actually a source that the author
of the Gospel 01'John used. []hypothesizing how John used and interpreted it,
Watson builds an argument related to tire changing circumstances of gospel
communities/ Nre argument is nigenlom, but 1 think can be conclusively
refuted simply by observing the usage ofw ords and phrases that are identical in
the parallel passages ot/lolin and the Egerton Gospel. I will give examples here
only from the first verse in the Egerton Gospel that has a parallel in John:

G E g erA 4 /

[ ] 0 5 ' !5 [] []1
] 1

Search the scriptures, in w hich you think to have life It is they that bear w itness
about me.

John 5.39:

,' , ' , !
! ! !

] search the scriptures because you think in them to have eternal life. A n d it is they
that bear w itness about me.

Comments on word usage:

(1) The verb occurs in the gospels only in Jolur (twice), elsewhere
in the NT 1'our times. In both occurrences in Jolm (5.39; 7.52) it refers to
searching the Scriptures ( implicit in 7.52). 11'tills were tlie only usage tliat
loohs cl1a!acte!'!st c of Jolm, he could liavc adopted it from his source.
(2) Tire verb occurs llms: Matthew 1; hr!l<e 1; Jolm 33; Acts II;
Paul 8; Hcbrervs 8; Joliairirlire epistles 10; Pevehh!on 4. The phrase
occurs 19 times in Jolm, once in 1 Jolm (5.9), and
nowhere else ill tire NT. ot'tlie occurrences In Jolm, 8 are
. That Jolm should have borrowed this highly characteristic usage
Iron! the Egerton Gospel is extremely improbable.

6. He has evidently repudiated his partieipaticn in the volnnie The Gospels fo r All christiatis
(Bauekhani [ed.] 1 (which argued against the view that each gospel was written for its
own community .
7. This is how Watson labets this verse.
8. Watson translates this as imperative, hut it could he indicative, as in John.

wnladedfrm by America Thelgical Library Assciatin May 13, 2015

Bauckham 195

(3) The phrase ( orw ithout ) oeeni's once III Mattirew

(19.16, 1 ), 14 Pines n John (6 wifaofa , 8 wtilr
), 4 times in 1 Jolnr ( 2 whfarut , 2 wtilr ) ami
nowhere else in the NT. That John should I1ae borrowed this usage riom
the Egerton Gospel is, again, extremely improbable. Watson argues that in
the context in tire Egerton Gospel hi'e is more appropriate tiran eternal
life, which the Johannine parallel has, because nowhere ill the Pentateuch
is there a promise o f eternal life, whereas life echoes Deut. 30.15-19.
But life and eternal life are np^'lrairgeable in .lolnr, as tlrey also are in
all three Synoptic Gospels, as well as in ?aril and in Jewish usage. If a
specific reference to Deut. 30 is intended, there is no rhlTicritiy ur suppos-
lirg that IlfiT there has been interpreted as eternal life.

This evidence that the Egerton Gospel is the borrower seems to me compelling,
and it comes from only one ersel
Watson also argues tlrat the Egerioir Gospels narrative of the Irealurg of a
leper, wlticlr is parallel to M k 1.40-45, is independent ot Mark; If the Egerton
Gospel is dependent oil .lolnr, it would be rather surprising for this passage to be
independent o f Mark. But I need only point out that, among 1 close verbal
parallels with Mark, is a tell-tale occurrence ol'tlie adverb (immediately),
ofw hich Marl is famously lonrl. Be uses it 42 times, whereas Matthew uses it ?
times (in every case derived tiom Mark), Luke once, Jolm 3 times. Acts once. In
tlie Egerton Gospel it occurs fa a sentence that is as a 1 parallel to Mark and
which is an example ('Marks typical usage precisely whil reference to the beal-
ing in miracle stories (c f 2.12; 5.29, 42; 7.35; 10.52). It is surely incredible
either tbat tins is coincirleiital or tbat Mark learned this characteristic usage tiom
fire Egerton Gospel. Watson makes ! mention 01'tins feature of tire texts, but
confidently declares tbat tire passage in the Egei'toir Gospel sborS few fair}
signs of dependence on the synoptic versions (p. 324). But New Il'any is not
good enough for his case. Ee 1r just one word ( ) would be decisive irr tins
Instance (even if there were no others).
In my view, the Egei'ton Gospel is significant in a 1 different ray from
Watsons proposal about if It is one ofseveral second-century gospels or gospel-
like texts that create new gospel narratives that draw, more or less creatively, on
tire Synoptics and Jolm. Another is the Gospel / '? , while the Longer Ending
o f Mark, tbongb not a complete gospel, is somewhat similar, as is the Epistle /
the Apostles to the extent tbat it has gos]rel-bl<e content. None of these is inter-
ester! irr esoteric teachings of Jesus, like most o f the Nag Ehimmarli Gospels.
They show that it was still possible, as Watson contends, to write new gospels
tliat extend and interpret tiren predecessors, but they also show that the forir gos-
pels they depend on had a status that required them to draw on all four, hr this

wnladedfrm by America Thelgical Library Assciatin May 13, 2015

196 Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

respect they parallel Tatians Diatessaron. A chapter on this phenom enonwould

have greatly enhanced Watsons book.

Gospels before No r ma t zat on

It is central to W atsons argument that a distinction bepeen canonical and non-
canonical gospels can be made only retrospecbvel>- l'r o m tire perspective o f
Trorrrrativization, as he calls the collective decision made by the churches to
consider four, and only four, gospels uthenhc. He does not mean merely the
virtually tautologous point that before that decision a !!fonction between
canonical and noil-canonical was not made. He means that there is nothing
about the gospels in our Hew Testament that enables us to distinguish them
from other gospels, oubtless those who over time privileged the I'our gospels
and excluded others had their reasons, but they are unknown to us. He rightly
recognizes tliat tire process was a grassroots one, made at tire local level across
the Christian world, and so we cannot simply take Irenaeuss reasons for delim-
ting gospels to four to be the reasons tliat determined the nornrativization of
trese four. Nevertheless, [renaeuss reasons (to some extent reliected also else-
where, such as in the ^hmitornrii canon) are not likely to have been purely
Tor Irenaeus it was plainly important that gospels be apostolic, which meant
written by those who carried apostolic authority or by others (such as Mark or
Luke) who were close to the apostolic circle. As is quite clear from Irenaeuss
well-known statement about tire origins o f the gospels, this entailed a chrono-
logical li mit. O f course, this was not the distinction between the first and second
centuries and Watson nray be right that, although we all know tlrat there was no
such temporal division in antiquity, it exercises a subliminal influence on our
thinking. But there was a cforoiiologlcal entailed by the criterion ol'apos-
tolicity: the end ofthe apostolic generation, ofwlronr the author oftlre Gospel of
John was believed to be a very I011g-Ivel member. The distinction between the
first generation, the generation o f eyewitnesses and apostles, and subsequent
generations is quite widely reflected in early Christian literature, and it is a nris-
take to leave it out ofthe process of Trorrrrativization. The very widely respected
work, the Shepherd o f Hennas, is disqualified by tire author o fth e Muratorian
canon, for iro other reason than that it was written too late. It continued to be read
and valued, but it was written too late to beconre part oftlre canon. O f course,
being written thin the period o fth e apostolic generation was not a sufficient
qualification for nomratlvlt} but it was a necessary one.
Watson argues that we cannot distinguish the four gospels as apostolic I'rom
the others that are not, because other gospels were also ascribed to apostolic
figures. But the fact tltat they were is itself evidence that apostohclty was consid-
ered necessary for a gospel to be acceptable, long before there was a question of

wnladedfrm by America Thelgical Library Assciatin May 1^, 2015

Bauckham 197

strictly clehinftlng gospels. Despite Watsons arguments, there is still a good case
to he made for the view that tire 11011-ca 11011cal gospels we krrow were attributed
to apostles in imitation of the already prestigious gospels that were eventually
rrorrnatlvlzecT. For Thomas, saying 13 is good evidence. Watson quite ol'ton
asserts that gospels were originally a 11011>11rous and only acquired names (the
Gospel according to X ) some time in the second century. But, for example, it is
inconceivable that a work dedicated to a named troll (as Thcophihis must he,
despite suggestions that the name is symbolic) was ever anonymous. The gospels
were no more anonymous than a very large number ofw orks of Graeco-Roman
literature that do not name their author within their text, but have titles that do
name their author attached to them. Watson points to tire 1'act that Justin, for
example, ^though Ire talks about tire memoirs 01 ' the apostles, quotes words of
Jesus simply as words of Jesus or as what the gospel says, without needing to
attribute them to a named gospel. But this simply means that tire most important
thing about them was that they were words of Jesus, not that Justin attached no
importance at all to tire specific attributions o f the gospels be knew. Early
Ghrlstlarr writers often quote the Old Testament as what Scripture says what
God says. This does not mean that they attached no importance to the attrlbu-
tions to Moses, Isaiah and so forth. From other allusions ft is clear that they did.
I do not disagree with W atsons view that we should study the canonical gos-
pels irr relation to the noncano 1ncft gospels, hr fact, 1 argued as nruclr m yself
already in 1985 (Bauckham 1985: 369-403). As historians we cannot presuppose
a difference, 'fhere probably were other gospels or gospel-like writings written
in the sanre period as the four gospels, i.e. before c. 100, but simply as a matter
o f historical judginent ft does not seem to me that any o f the non-cr 1101ncrl gos-
pels that we have belong to tins category (We do have gospel traditions that do
not reflect the canonical gospels in writings ftom around the end o f tire first een-
tury: the Ascension o f Isaiah, Ignatius, Fapias.) But !!oil-canonical gospels crrn
illuminate the canonical gospels in various ways, and a history of gospel writing
ftom the first to the third century at least would be important in its own right.
From this point of view I would not want to limit the gospels to those that Watson
privileges. It is notable that, apart ftom Thomas, gospels ftom Nag Hammadi
scarcely appear in his book.
The impression Watson mostly gives is that, in the second century, all gospels
were on an equal footing. Eventually, however. Ire states 1 bel'ore Irenaeus tire
four gospels were widely known and it is unlikely that gospels excluded ftom
the four [fronr the time oflrenaeus nevareis] were equally well-known (p. 612).
Be gives this question 01 ' the extent o f circulation an important role irr deternrin-
ing which gospels were eventually selected for nornrativization. In nry view,
the evidence is stronger than he allows that, at least around the middle of the
second century, the four gospels were those widely used ill the churches and oth-
ers were confined either to limited geographical areas or to very particular

wnladedfrm by America Thelgical Library Assciatin May 13, 2015

Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

Christian groups. I tliiiik that there is a stage before normativization that Watson
does not identify sufficiently clearly. The key factor is that any church had to
make decisions on which gospels could he read in worship rinrl used as authorta-
five for teaching in worship, This could leave tire status of other gospels
undefined, and initially, ofcourse, such decisions could be provisional and could
be changed (as in the church ofRhossus with regard to the Gospel ofPeter). But
these are the decisions that would eventually lead to nonnativization. As early
as we have sufficient evidence to gauge what was happening, it looks as though
the four gospels were the ones that in most places were treated as suitable for use
in worship.
The occasional use o f other gospels by Christian writers is not necessarily
evidence to the contrary. Wlren Clement o f Alexandria speaks o f the four
Gospels handed down to u s, he probably means that these are the four generally
accepted for use in worship. As ail intellectual and very learned scholar, wlro
quotes from a very wide range o f literature (pagan, iew ish and Christian),
Clement himself is interested in sayings of Jesus attested elsecvliere and may
treat them as authentic, but that does not mean that the Gospel o fth e Egyptians,
for example, was authorized for use in churches that Ire knew. As well as com-
mentarles on all the books recognized as canonical by Eusebius, Clement wrote
commentaries oil the Epistle o f Barnabas and the Apocalypse / '? , which
were used in worship in some churches and probably came close to normativ-
zation, but he did not write commentaries on any gospels other than the four.

Gospel G enre, History and Theology

It is rather astonishing to find that a big book aliorit the gospels, published ip 2 0 1h
does not have Richard Buri'irlges influential book, What are the Gospels? (2004) in
its bibliography. As far as I have noticed, Watson never raises the question ofthe
genre of narrative gospels, except in passing with reference to Lukes preface, where
he does not seem to tliink tire matter significant (p. 122). (In the case of Thomas,
however, he does discuss genre.) This seems to he another instance this treatment
of gospels as an isolated plrenonrenon that does not need to be related to any other
literature. He treats narrative gospels as though they were a unique genre, which is
perhaps what he thinks. But if so he needs to ai'gue this case against fire now domi-
liant view tliat the gospels are some sort olhiHoriograpliy, most plausibly biogra-
pilles in fire Graeco-Roman sense. Moreover, the earlier ones are contemporary
Instoiy, written rvithh living memory of the events, the sort of Instoiy people
expected to be closely based on eyewitness testimony. What Lukes preface says
about the eyervitiiesses needs to be understood in the liglit ofthe role ofthe eyewit-
nesses ip historiographical practice. Instead of discussing g:enre (which what
determines what readers expect ofwlrat they read), Watson makes apodictic state-
lrrents like: the accurate recording ofbiographical details plays only a limiter! role

wnladedfrm jn t.sag e p u b .c o m b y A m erican Thelgcal Library A ssociation on M ay 15, 2 0 1 5

Bauckham 199

whltto the comprehensive truth-claim the gospels seek to articulate (p. 63). Of
course, historiography entails interpretation (fact tnl interpretation coinlrere in all
historiography), and tire uniqueness tire writers of tire gospels attribute to Jesus
undoubtedly nrrikes a difference to tire way they tell Iris story. Moreover, anctom
reception ofhistoriography did not expect tire smrre kind ol'accrirac} that we expect
of academic lristory. But, ridged by the conventions oflristoriography accepted at
the time, contemporary lristory in particular was expected to be well based on evi-
dence. freedom of interpretation had its limits, but whether the canonical gospels
respect those limits is, in Watsons eyes, not a matter that should or need concern us.
Watson clearly prefers theology to genre. The reason we should not be concerned
about historicity in the gospels is that the living Jesus (tire term Watsoir quotes from
the prologue of the Gospel ofThomasl [p. 310]) speaks in tire tradition and in the
gospels. My problem with this theological claim is that Watson asserts it I'mqtientiy
but never explains develops it. It simply intervenes like a bolt from the blue when-
ever we might othercvise feel concerned about how generative tlie tradition or liorv
creative an evangelist cordel be without losing toriclr with the 'rieslr-1;nrl-lrloorl real-
ity (an expression Watson also uses [p. 605]) of tire historical figure of Jesus. But
surely we can and should distinguish between gospels that narrate a story set in the
past, adopting a literary genre appropriate to that intention, and gospels (like most of
the Nag blamnradi Gospels, lirclnclmg /7 . )'for u lriclr past lristory is of no con-
cenr and the living Jesus peaks without reference to it? Watson does alJii'nr the
importance ofpast lristory for the narrative gospels, but he does not see it as a crite-
iron that coiild rlistingnislr betcveen gospels. chiming tlrat the living Jesus speaks
in (some?) gospels, do we not need to insist tlrat tire living Jesus also really lived the
story the narrative gospels tell? That story is the criterion oflns living Identity, and so
the Iristouognipfrcal genre oftlre narrative gospels and tire limits it sets to freedonr
ofinterp relation Is notjtist ofliterary but oftheological importance.
Thus Watsons theological claim a Iront the tradition as Jesus own self-corn-
mumcation seenrs to me too little integrated with the historical and literary mall-
ties o f gospels. His thesis that, apart from noan^tlc'izatlon , whose rationale is
inaccessible to us, we have no criteria by which to distinguish between gospels,
no way of judging whether they are faithful to the flesh-and-blood reality of
Jesus not, deprives the slogan the living Jesus speaks 01'any real theological
significance. It hovers with benign lack of'cliscrmrniatioii over everything any-
one made ol'Jesus prior to . . . . . . wlrerr, Ire^ presto, it becomes rigor-
ously discriminatory, but not for any reason that we can discern.

R eferen ces
Bauckliain, Richard
1985 The Study of Gospel Traditions outside the Canonical Gospels: tr>>bltns and
Prospects, in David Wenhani (ed.), 5 / '': The Jesus Tradition
' the Gospels (Shemeld: JSTPrs): 369-403.

D ow n loaded from jn t.sag e p u b .c o m b y A m erican T heological Library A ssociation on M ay 15, 2 0 1 5

200 Journal for the Study o f th e N e w T esta m e n t 3 7 (2 )

1990 Jude and the Relatives ofJesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark).
Bauckhanr, Richard (ed.)
1998 The Gospelsfor AU Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (Grand Rapids,
Ml: Eerdmans).
Burridge, Richard A.
2004 What Are the Gospels? A Comparison with Graeco-Roman Biography (2nd edn;
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Derrenbacker, Robert A.
2005 Ancient Compositional Practices and the Synoptic Problem (BETL, 186; Leuven:
Leuven University Press/Peeters).
^ 11 The External and Psychological Conditions under which the Synoptic Gospels
Were Written: Ancient Compositional Practices and tit Synoptic Problem in
Eoster, Gregory, Kloppenborg and Verheyden 2011: 435-57.
Downing, E. Gerald
1980a Redaction Criticism: Josephus Antiquities and the Synoptic Problem, I, JS N T 8 :
1980b Redaction Criticism: Josephus Antiquities and the Synoptic Problem, II, JSNT

1988 *Compositional Conventions and the Synoptic Problem, JBL 107: 69-85;
reprinted with an appendedNote in Downing 2000: 152-73.
2000 Doing Things with Words in the First Christian Century (JSNTSup, 200; Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press).
2011 Writers Use and Abuse o f Written Sources, in Foster, Gregoiy, Kloppenborg
and Verheyden 2011: 523-48.
Foster, Paul, Andrew Gregoiy, John s. Kloppenborg and Jozef Verheyden (eds.)
2011 New Studies in the Synoptic Probleny. Oxford Conference, April 2008: Essays in
Honour o f Christopher M. Tuckett (BETL, 239; Leuven: Peeters).
Gathercole, Simon j.
2012 The Composition / the Gospel / Thomas: Original Language and Influences
(SNTSMS, 151; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Goodaere, Mark
2002 The Case against : Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem (Har-
risburg, PA: Trinity Press International).
2012 Thomas and the Gospels: The Case fo r Thomass Familiarity with the Synoptics
(Grand Rapids, Ml: Eerdmans).
Moessner, David p.
1999 The Appeal and Power o f Poetics (Luke 1:1-4): Lukes Superior Credentials
( ), Narrative Sequence () , and Finnness o f Under-
standing ( a) for the Reader, in David p. Moessner (ed.), Jesus and the
Heritage oflsrael (Elarrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International): 84-123.
2002 Dionysius's Narrative Arrangement ( 0 K0 u0 pa) as the Hermeneutical Key to
Lukes Re-Vision o f the Many, in A lf Cliristopherson, Carsten Claussen, Jrg
Eroy and Bruce Longenecker (eds.), Paul, Luke and the Graeco-Roman World:
Essays in Honour o f Alexander j. M. Wedderbum (JSNTSup, 217; Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press64 -149: .
Watson, Francis
2013 Gospel Writing: A Canonical Persvective (Grand Rapids Ml: Eerdmansi.
D ow n loaded frorrT b y A m erican T heological Library A sso c ia tio n e n M ay 13, 2 0 1 5

Copyright and Use:

As an ATLAS user, you may priut, dow nload, or send artieles for individual use
according to fair use as defined by U.S. and international eopyright law and as
otherwise authorized under your respective ATT,AS subscriber agreement.

No eontent may be copied or emailed to multiple sites or publicly posted without the
copyright holder(s) express written permission. Any use, decompiling,
reproduction, or distribution of this journal in excess of fair use provisions may be a
violation of copyright law.

This journal is made available to you through the ATLAS eollection with permission
from the eopyright holder(s). The eopyright holder for an entire issue ajourna!
typieally is the journal owner, who also may own the copyright in each article. However,
for certain articles, tbe author o fth e article may maintain the copyright in the article.
Please contact the copyright holder(s) to request permission to use an article or specific
work for any use covered by the fair use provisions o f tbe copyright laws or covered
by your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. For information regarding the
copyright hoider(s), please refer to the copyright iaformatioa in the journal, if available,
or contact ATLA to request contact information for the copyright holder(s).

About ATLAS:

The ATLA Serials (ATLAS) collection contains electronic versions of previously

published religion and theology journals reproduced with permission. The ATLAS
collection is owned and managed by the American Theological Library Association
(ATLA) and received initia funding from Liiiy Endowment !).

The design and final form ofthis electronic document is the property o fthe American
Theological Library Association.