Every student at our college is required to take at least one course in Religion. One of those courses is Introduction to the New Testament, which I teach every semester. As you can imagine, not everyone is excited about the subject matter and many are convinced that the class will be otherwise useless. I begin the semester with a refrain that promises, “The NT and its subject matter are all around you. You only need to pay attention.” Throughout the semester I seek for opportunities to show the relevance of the course to discussions that are continually going on in the public sphere (including politics, sports, social commentary, etc.). To that end, I open class every Friday with a video of some kind in which Jesus or some element of the NT figures prominently. Today I began with Will Ferrell’s well-known prayer as “Ricky Bobby” In Talladega Nights (see below). For many this scene is simply humorous, but I pointed out that it can be viewed as a fairly profound theological statement. One of the more common tendencies throughout the history of Christianity has been to craft Jesus into a specific image according to a set of lenses. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did it. So did the church fathers steeped in Greek philosophy, as did the Reformers, as we do today, and on and on. I found that this opens up some interesting discussion and sets the table for the lecture (which today was on the Gospel of Luke). Take a moment to watch this scene again (or for the first time) and witness for yourself the various images of Jesus that can be present at one dinner table.
I am currently reading Martin Luther’s Shorter or Small Catechism and we will be discussing it in class next week. I found it very interesting! At the end of the catechism, Luther offers a series of questions a Christian might ask – and then he answers them. The last question is this:
What should you do if you are not aware of this need [of the Sacrament of the Altar = Bread and Wine] and have no hunger or thirst for the Sacrament? Note his kind of cheeky response below!
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his
body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and
murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the
Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.
Last week there was some discussion about Q over at the Jesus Blog (here, here, and here), including a poll where readers could vote on the existence of Q. (Maybe those guys are more influenced by the Jesus Seminar than they want to admit!) 🙂 I was already thinking about Q as I was in the middle of discussing it in my class on Jesus and the Gospels, but their reflections got me thinking about it a little more.
I have been reading Benedict Viviano’s little volume, What Are They Saying About Q? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2013), which I picked up at SBL back in November. It provides a pretty decent coverage and focuses on the reception of Q along geographic lines (Germany, Britain, North America) and among Roman Catholic and Protestant interpreters of the NT. When you’re in the middle of academic discussions that have become second nature to you, you can occasionally become desensitized to some of the oddities in our profession. While I no longer give it a second thought, my students were astonished to find that the study of a hypothetical document could have its own label (viz., “Q studies”) and generate not only books like Viviano’s but numerous volumes claiming to provide us with a definitive look into the earliest Christian proclamation. (See here, here, and here, for just a few examples.) Those who study in our field realize that the study of Q is its own cottage industry, but when I stepped away for a moment and tried to see things through the eyes of my students I was able to understand how strange it seems that so much scholarly energy is devoted to performing redaction-critical maneuvers on a purely hypothetical text. Against that backdrop my students do seem to have a point.
Several other thoughts about Q emerged this week as a result of our an earlier class session. On Monday of this week my class had the privilege of hearing from Dr. Mark Goodacre via video conference on the subject of Q skepticism. It was a treat for all of us. Mark is probably the most well-known skeptic of Q at the moment, and though my class had read his articles and listened to his podcasts on the subject, it was good for them to hear from him directly. Two things in particular stood out for me. One was an argument Mark made toward the end of the session–one I hadn’t heard him make previously. The last point on his handout argued that “agreement between Matthew and Luke is too close for Q.” In other words, the double tradition material is often so close (upwards of 20 words verbatim in some cases!) to have been generated by a shared work. Apparently he will be expanding on this observation in a forthcoming article. I look forward to reading his detailed argument.
The second thing that stood out to me from that class session came as a result of a question one of my students asked (I’m paraphrasing): “Why can’t we say, Mark, then Luke, then Matthew?” Mark’s answer, as best I remember, was that, at least in print, this position had not been advocated as seriously as other positions. My reaction was, “Really? Is there still ground to cover in the search for Synoptic origins? Are there really avenues that haven’t been thoroughly explored?”
For the record, I have, up until recently, been an advocate of some form of Q, but I have become more and more skeptical over the past two years. And….full disclosure: I voted “no” in the Jesus Blog poll.