The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church wrote
the story of Jesus
Michael F. Bird
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT870
HOW did the Gospels come to be? What kind of literature are
they? How do they relate to the ongoing Christian discourse about
God? "Why would anyone write a 'Jesus book' like these, how did
they compile and compose them, and why were there four Jesus books
and not others accepted as canonical by the ancient church?"
In this volume of questions, with its significant dedication to
Bishop Tom Wright, the Australian scholar Michael Bird offers
comprehensive answers, although not necessarily the last word. His
is a lively and fresh view of the evidence, backed up by scholarly
detail, but essentially endorsing a fairly conservative position.
He hopes for a resurgence in Gospel studies, and a quest for the
historical Jesus, in the face of a dominance of Pauline
In six chapters, Bird discusses the move from Jesus to the
Gospels, the purpose and preservation of the Jesus tradition, the
formation of that tradition, the "literary genetics" of the Gospels
(the Synoptics and John), the genre and goal of the Gospels, and
finally the fourfold gospel. Each chapter is accompanied by its own
"Excursus" (in a smaller fount), which discusses research issues
that have arisen along the way. These include the meaning of the
Greek term for Gospel, the apparent "failure of Form Criticism",
the possibility of "other" Gospels, and citations and other
evidence from the Church Fathers.
This agenda covers virtually the full range of Gospel studies
(no mean achievement in fewer than 350 pages plus bibliography and
indices). In many ways, the most difficult case to prove
conclusively is that of a seamless transition between Jesus's
preaching (the Good News) and the gospel of the Early Church. Here
can be no wedge between the gospels of Jesus and of the Church, as
in the dictum "Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and the Church
proclaimed Jesus." The teaching of Jesus has practical application
to the Church; Jesus is celebrated as the founder of the movement;
and he is essential to its self-definition.
But most controversial, in this "theory of tradition process",
is the claim that the ministry of the historical Jesus is the
all-important content and context that makes sense of Christ's
death and resurrection. Is Paul sufficiently concerned about the
detail of a biography of Jesus to substantiate this claim?
Dr Court is Hon. Senior Research Fellow in Biblical Studies
at the University of Kent at Canterbury.