Form Criticism

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  • Form Criticism and the New Testament
    • What is Form Criticism?
      • A process of classifying the New Testament books according to their genre
      • Process was invented by 3 German scholars
        • Schmidt, Dibelius and Bultmann
      • the movement "proposed to investigate the stage of oral tradition...(and to) study the Gospel material as it was current in the detached pieces before the parts were collected and incorporated in written documents" - Collins
    • Method
      • Stephen H. Travis argues there are 4 accepted truths that form critics work under
        • 1. The synoptics are folk literature rather than classical work and therefore the evangelists are "only to the smallest extent authors", they are editors and collectors
        • 2. There was an oral period between Jesus' ministry and the writing of the Gospels
        • 3. During the oral period, there were a number of different traditions about Jesus which were used as needed depending on the context of the preacher
        • 4. Units of tradition assumed particular forms according to the function which they performed. Stories about Jesus acquired different forms according to their Sitz im Leben
      • Dibelius argued for 5 different classifications
        • 1.Paradigms - "Brief episodes which culminate in an authoritative saying of Jesus, or something in a statement about the reaction of onlookers"
        • 2. Tales - stories of Jesus' miracles. then subdivided into healings, exorcisms and nature miracles
        • 3. Legends - recollects the so-called 'legends of the saints'
        • 4. Myths - supernatural is seen to be breaking through into the natural world (baptism, temptation and transfiguration)
        • 5. Exhortations - teaching material
    • Implications for the New Testament reader
      • It is widely critiqued
      • "we do not know as much as we would like about the earliest Christian communities which transmitted the gospel traditions... reconstruction of the kind of traditions they needed must be tentative" - Stanton
      • Positives of Form Criticism
        • The critical movement has shed considerable light on the period between AD30-50 which in turn has increased our understanding of the NT
        • It reaffirms that what was recorded in NT was recorded because "it was useful for worship, preaching, teaching or some other situation" - Travis


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