Doubt can creep up or hit us hard and fast. What can we do when we feel like we’re losing our faith?
An example of form criticism
This is a side bar to the article “The Pope and the quest for the historical Jesus (part1).”
New quest scholarship is founded on an attempt to reconstruct the exact words of Jesus. Using form criticism to compare the Gospels with one another, they attempt to reconstruct which sayings of Jesus could most reliably have originated with him and what the exact wording was.
For example, compare this famous utterance from the Synoptic Gospels. Words that are identical in Greek are in bold:
|Mark 2:22||Matthew 9:17||Luke 5:37-38|
|And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.||Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.||And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.|
The three versions of this saying are similar but not identical. Generally speaking, scholars accept the shortest saying as most likely to be authentic (writers being more likely to add material than subtract it). All things being equal, scholars also privilege the wording that is most identical between two or more Gospels. If all three witnesses differ, Mark’s wording is preferred, because his is the oldest gospel, and Matthew and Luke probably had access to it. As this illustrates, new quest scholarship is founded on an attempt to reconstruct the exact words of Jesus.
But regardless of the wording, did Jesus say it? Here things become muddy. According to form-critical analysis, this utterance was probably uttered by Jesus. It matches the style, especially the acute ambiguity, of many of Jesus’ authentic aphorisms. But in Mark’s story, Jesus makes this comment when the Pharisees question why his disciples are not fasting. They do not question Jesus’ own failure to fast, which seems odd. Thus, form-critics conclude that the story has been either crafted or adapted to address the concerns of early Christians — to follow the Jewish law or not. So, the utterance may well be original to Jesus, but the context in which Mark places it is in question.
— Dr. William Tooman