Book Review (part 11: From gospel to Gospel) – ‘Neither Jew nor Greek’ by James D.G. Dunn

This is the eleventh segment of my recap/review of Dunn’s newest volume Neither Jew nor GreekHaving been distracted with responding to some of the early reviews of my own new book in addition to having to grade final exams/submit grades has placed myblogging on the back burner for awhile, so I apologize about the delays in regard to this ongoing series.

4gospels_writersI have chosen to recap much larger sections of the book (otherwise this will be a two year endeavor).  In this segment I will cover chapter forty-one, which is entitled ‘From gospel to Gospel.’ Dunn begins by reviewing the conclusions established in the first volume of these three-part series, Jesus Remembered. In particular, Dunn notes how it was the impact that Jesus left upon his earliest followers which is the oft-neglected piece of data in explaining the origins of early Christianity. He notes that gospel message preached by the apostles eventually transitioned into the creation and composition of Gospels, i.e., the literary documents recounting the life, teachings, deed, and passion of Jesus Christ.

Dunn observes that the origin of the noun euangelion was derived from the LXX of Isa. 52:7 and 61:1. Paul himself draws upon Isa. 52:7 in Rom. 10.15, and additionally uses the noun to refer to Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom. 1:1-3; cf. 2 Tim. 2:8), his glory (2 Cor. 4:4), and his death and resurrection. Other evidence, such as Luke’s insistence that Isaiah 61 was used by Jesus to describe his own mission and the natural question which would be posed by those baptized into Christ strongly suggests that the life, teachings, and deeds of Jesus would have been discussed in early Christian circles from an very early stage. Dunn argues that even Paul would have regarded certain aspects of Jesus’ life and mission as integral to the gospel message itself.

The Gospel of Mark seems to be structured around what many scholars have described as a ‘passion narrative with an extended introduction,’ as there are many pointers throughout the story which point forward to Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, Mark 1:1 indicates that the entire message contained within his document is gospel. One note by Dunn is worth citing at this point,

[t]he gospel of Jesus’ passion was the central but not only part of the Gospel of the mission of the Galilean who proclaimed and lived out his message of the kingdom of God.

Matthew and Luke both draw upon Mark for not only his content but also the structure of a passion narrative with an extended introduction. Within the communities associated with Matthew and Luke it seems that Jesus’ teachings was valued as itself ‘gospel’ (and part of their Gospel). Furthermore, the incorporation of Q demonstrates that these teachings of Jesus were valued to the point of assimilating them into the structure already established by Mark (and his depiction of the gospel).

John, which shows no dependence upon any of its Synoptic counterparts, nevertheless appears as a similar passion narrative with an extended introduction. Furthermore, John uses pointers within his narrative to look forward and anticipate Jesus’ passion. Dunn notes that John could have placed the emphasis on aspects such as Jesus’ ability to reveal God and the mysteries of heaven or Jesus bringing the secret meaning of human existence. Others took that approach to John, but he himself chose to stress primarily the execution and resurrection of Jesus (and regularly uses the term “glory” to denotes these two emphases.

By the second century, Justin Martyr and others had already begun to regard the term ‘Gospel’ with the four canonical documents. With this understanding, Justin would be strongly suspicious of any other claims to the title ‘Gospel’ which did not line up with what Mark and co. had established. How this played out in the early church’s rejection of other documents is a question with Dunn plans on returning to address later in the book.

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