The Gospels for All Christians: 
Rethinking the Gospel Audiences
.
Edited by Richard Bauckham.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. 220 pp.

Review by Dr Aquila Lee

As it is stated clearly at the outset, this book aims “to challenge and refute the current consensus in Gospels scholarship which assumes that each of the Gospels was written for a specific church or group of churches: the so-called Matthean community, Markan community, Lukan community, and Johannine community” (p.1).

The book consists of an introduction and seven chapters written by six New Testament scholars, all from British universities. Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies in the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, penned the introduction and the first and fifth chapters. The first chapter entitled “For Whom Were Gospels Written?” is an expanded version of his lecture delivered originally at the British New Testament Conference in 1995. Bauckham raises a question which has never been discussed in print so far: Were the Gospels written for a specific Christian audience or for a general Christian audience? He presents the main arguments of the book thus:

since all the evidence we have for the early Christian movement shows it to have been a network of communities in constant, close communication with each other, and since all the evidence we have for early Christian leaders (the kind of people who might have written Gospels) shows them to have been typically people who traveled widely and worked in more than one community at different times, the outlook and concerns of neither the early Christian communities nor their teachers would have been locally confined. Both had a strong, lively, and informed sense of participation in a worldwide movement (p.3).

Bauckham also criticizes the current consensus’s “attempt to treat Gospels hermeneutically as though they were Pauline epistles” (p.27). Not only is there the difference of genre between the two, but the function of both writings was “to communicate widely with readers unable to be present at its author’s oral teaching” (p.29). As concluding remarks Bauckham concludes that (1) “to give the so-called Matthean, Markan, Lukan, and Johannine communities a key hermeneutical role in the interpretation of the Gospels is wholly mistaken” and (2) the implications of his study are not just to broaden the scope of the implied audience of the Gospels, to decontexualize the Gospels or to underestimate the diversity of the Gospels, but that the audience was an open category, that the historical context is not the evangelist’s community, and that it still leaves open many issues on the diversity of the Gospels.

The following chapters presuppose the argument put forward by Bauckham and explore in more detail particular areas of discussion and implications. The chapter by Michael B. Thompson entitled “The Holy Internet: Communication Between Churches in the First Christian Generation” provides not only interesting information about communication between churches, especially their motivation, means, and frequency of contact, but also important evidence that the Gospels were not written “for a select few,” but “with an eye to their dissemination” (p.70). Loveday Alexander (“Ancient Book Production and the Circulation of the Gospels”) sets the issue of the circulation of Gospels in the context of the production and circulation of books in general in the Greco-Roman world and shows that the early Christian movement was led by “a group that used books intensively and professionally from very early on in its existence” with “robust and vigorous intercommunity connections” (p.85).

Richard Burridge (“About People, by People, for People: Gospel Genre and Audiences”), taking up the argument of his previous book that the genre of the Gospels is that of ancient biography, argues that they are not about community ideas or problems but a person. Thus it is more profitable to recognize that certain types of people the evangelists had in mind are more analogous to our modern concept of “target audience” or “market niche” than the notion of a specific community as the intended audience (p.143). A particular evangelist might have a category of Christians especially in mind, but they would be a category to be found throughout the churches, not a specific community.

In his second chapter (“John for Readers of Mark”) Bauckham sets aside the source-critical question of John’s possible dependence on Mark and asks the question whether John expected his readers to know Mark. He then attempts to make “a strong case for the view that the Fourth Gospel was written, not for a Johannine community, but for general circulation among the churches in which Mark’s Gospel was already being widely read” (p.171). To do so he uses two of John’s parenthetical explanations, 3:24 and 11:2. Stephen Barton (“Can We Identify the Gospel Audiences?”) returns to the issue of reconstructing the Gospel communities and the strategies employed to do so and suggests that more fruitful for Gospel studies is to use social-scientific methods to illuminate the world portrayed within the Gospel text rather than merely reconstructing a community behind it. The chapter by Francis Watson (“Toward a Literal Reading of the Gospels”) focuses more on theological issues. Using Marxsen’s book on Mark as an example he criticizes “an allegorical reading strategy . . . that systematically downplays and circumvents the literal sense of the text” (p.210) and shows that this reading strategy is not theologically neutral but owes much from Bultmann’s privileging the presence of the Word.

Despite convincing arguments, the main thesis of the book may still be disputed or ignored by many NT scholars who have built their research upon the current consensus. However, this is truly groundbreaking work and I recommend it to the readers of BTW who are interested in getting into one of the fundamental issues in the study of the Gospels.

CHAPEL NOTES

Chapel on 8 December was taken by Mr Samuel Ratnam who is working toward the DipCS and will be graduating soon. He shared from Matthew 9:35-38 on the topic “Agriculture and Missions” and highlighted the following:

  • Size of Farming Community in Asia

  • Its Worldview and Social Conditions

  • Common Problems in Farming

  • Biblical Holism for Agriculture

Chapel Speaker on 15 December was Mr Bernard Chaing.

Christmas at BGST. Come and join us on 22 December, 12 noon - 12.45pm. Our Dean, Dr Quek Swee Hwa, will be sharing with us the Christmas message and also show slides on the recent Bible Lands Study Tour of Greece & Israel.

NEWS BITS

1. With immediate effect, our new address is 31 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088454
Tel: 62276815; Fax: 62276816. Email addresses remain unchanged.

2. Renovation work at the Library is still in progress but you are welcome to drop in and use the library facilities. Please note that our OPAC  has malfunctioned and we are working hard to fix the problem.

Courses commencing in 1 Semester 2005

 Term 1

¨       Tent module: Understanding Culture (starting 4 Jan). Facilitator: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

¨       CO101, 3 credits. The Counsellor as a Person: Self-Awareness & Maturity in Christ (starting 5 Jan). Lecturer: Mr Yam Keng Mun.

¨       BG111, 3 credits, video class. New Testament Greek I (starting 8 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

¨       BG214, 1.5 credits. New Testament Greek: Basic Research Tools & Methods (starting 8 Jan).   Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

¨       BG211, 3 credits, video class. Greek Exegesis I (starting 8 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.

¨       BH220, 1.5 credits. Hebrew Reading (starting  17 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

¨       OT102, 3 credits. Old Testament Foundations II (starting 20 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

¨       NT101, 3 credits.  New Testament Foundations I (starting 24 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

¨       CE355, 1.5 credits.    Child Development & Ministry Formation (starting 25 Jan). Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

¨       CM102, 3 credits. Homiletics (starting 4 Feb). Lecturer: Rev Edmund Chan. Tutor: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

¨       Tent module: Religions of Asia (starting 1 Mar). Facilitator: Dr Violet James. (This can be taken for BGST 1.5 credits with additional requirements).

¨       CH101, 3 credits, video class. Introduction to Church History (dates will be announced later). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa. (This is a required course for MDiv students).

¨       At228, 1.5 credits. The Christian Portrayal of Evil (dates will be announced later). Lecturer: Dr Quek Swee Hwa.


Term 2

¨       OT354, 1.5 credits. Ruth & Esther (starting 21 Mar). Lecturer: Dr Philip Satterthwaite.

¨       CE255, 1.5 credits.  Learning the Craft of Teaching (starting 22 Mar). Lecturer: Dr Ng Peh Cheng.

¨       NT216, 1.5 credits. The Parables of Jesus (starting 1 Apr). Lecturer: Dr Aquila Lee.

¨       Tent module: Theology of Work (starting 3 May). Facilitator: Rev John Ting.

¨       MM101, 3 credits, video class. Vocation, Work & Ministry (starting 6 May). Lecturer: Prof. Paul Stevens. Tutor: Dr John Lim. This is a required course for MCS and MDiv students.

¨       CO233, 1.5 credits. Counselling Skills: Dealing with Pre-marital Counselling 
(starting 18 May). Lecturer: Mr Song Cheng Hock.

 Intensive courses by Dr Douglas Milne

¨       TS211, 3 credits. Theological Foundations I. Dates: 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, 20 Jan (7.30-10.30pm); 8 & 15 (2.30-5.30pm). This is a required course for MCS and MDiv students.

¨       TS265, 1.5 credits. New Testament Ethics. Dates: 5, 7, 10, 12 Jan (7.30-10.30pm)

¨       TS270, 1.5 credits. Bioethics. Dates: 14, 17, 19, 21 Jan (7.30-10.30pm)

A Blessed Birthday to…

Mrs Ang Tiong Keng  13/12
Mr Clive Lim  14/12
Ms Caroline Anne Marsh  14/12
Mr Lawrence Yam  15/12
Mdm Joyce Tan  16/12
Mr Ian Chng  16/12
Mr Edwin Chua  17/12

Ms Patsy Lim  17/12
Mr Royston Koh  17/12
Ms Elaine Ng  18/12
Mr Teo Chee Khiang  18/12
Ms April Sim  19/12
Mr Chua Mun Kiong  19/12

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