I shared previously how I won a copy of Michael Birds book, The Gospel of The Lord. It arrived in the mail the other day in perfect condition and I must say its a solid read. Bird presents his argument as to how the church came to write the Gospels in 6 chapters. In them he discusses issues in how they went from an oral form to being written. The purpose and preservation of the Jesus tradition. The formulation of the Jesus tradition. The Synoptic problem and the Johannine Question. The Genre and Goal of the Gospels. And the Fourfold Gospel of Jesus.
In his first chapter Bird critiques Howard Clark Kee (p.16) and those like him, for trying to drive a wedge between the message of the Gospels and the message of Paul. He rightly scoffs at this false dichotomy, noting that both speak of the purpose of Christ within Israels redemptive agent and the saving work of his death and resurrection. While I have only read a couple of chapters so far; I was disappointed in Bird’s discourse on the Synoptic Gospels that he didn’t explore and connect Paul with Luke.
Luke was a long term travelling and ministry companion of Paul. It’s a fair assumption to make that Luke and Paul influenced each other in their writings and theological thought. To force a wedge between the two is to discount their mutual theological influence within the sociological framework of their companionship. Considering Bird’s self acknowledged leaning towards Pauline theology, I believe this is a weakness and oversight in his Synoptic discussions.
Overall he provides a meaty work. He has scoped the wide variety and flavor of Gospel scholarship and notes the failure of the Jesus Seminar in their quest to find the historical Jesus outside of the Gospels. He has created a few challenges for myself to once again work through about the source documents of the Gospels. Personally I am not convinced that there are source documents – rather, there were source people, or living documents for want of a better framework, that were eventually recorded. For example, the fast action of Mark, denotes that this gospel was a sermon that had been written down. There is no reason to believe that Mathew was the same source from a teacher. And we likewise know that Luke was carefully written by the doctor, and we know he had access to the original Apostles as well as Paul and so in my mind, its likely his source was the very witness’s of Christ themselves.
I will admit I haven’t finished reading this chapter and so I may have jumped the gun and that Bird very well may have discussed this issue. I am under no obligation to give this book a positive review. I do commend it to you as a worthwhile addition to your library and a resource in understanding how the Gospels came to be. And intend to blog more as I continue to read through it.