Beyond the Myth/History Binary Approach to the Gospels (Gupta)

Beyond the Myth/History Binary Approach to the Gospels (Gupta) September 13, 2014

Ralph-P-MartinIn two of the courses I am teaching, we are wrestling with questions about what the Gospels are and how they relate to history. In one course (introduction to Gospels) we delved into the history of discussion of the question about genre. In the other course (Christology of the NT) we talked about the insightful Wright/Hays debacle (SBL review session of Seeking the Identity of Jesus) where it eventually became apparent that both scholars value “theological story” and “history” but disagree on the starting point and the appropriate balance.

Still, scholars today tend to be silo-ed into camps that focus either on Gospels as literature (where matters of historicity are sometimes forsaken) or Gospels as history (where the tendency is sometimes to defend its historicity in a rigid manner). It was refreshing, then, for me to have sat down in the library and randomly stumbled upon Ralph Martin’s 1986 Mark: Evangelist and Theologian. Writing largely before the “theological interpretation of Scripture” revolution and just after Culpepper’s ground-breaking Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (1983), Martin presents an insightful perspective at a major transition point from historical study to literary-theological study.

“Mark is at once evangelist and theologian. If we may, for the sake of argument, separate these distinctive roles in which he is cast, we may say that as evangelist he is concerned to set out the evidence that Jesus was an empirical figure of history, and his putting together of traditions to do with the early life of Jesus has a design to set him firmly on Palestinian soil as teacher and man. In his capacity as theologian Mark wishes to convey the teaching that he is also none other than the church’s Lord who, looked at from the evangelist’s standpoint, is now exalted and worthy of the highest honours. It is faith which glimpses the true worthiness of Jesus and appreciates his true stature…[Mark] sees the human Jesus as a figure who is both man and more-than-man since what he was incognito and known only to the percipient faith in the days of his flesh has become plainly visible since his enthronement, and is the accepted article of the church’s confession” (Ralph Martin, Storyteller, 139).

Martin proposes an evangelist(/historian)+theologian double-identity that is somehow both paradoxical and yet also sensible given the challenge of the person of Jesus himself, remembered and worshipped.

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