D Disciple Response

It is at this point that we can draw further upon the insights of postmodern literary criticism — that the meaning of a text is in some sense the product of a creative encounter between text and reader. For though the point being made is usually with regard to the present-day reader's reception of literary texts, it actually applies also to the tradition process itself which lies behind the Synoptic Gospels. Here Gadamer's concept of the Wirkungsgeschichte of a text or tradition is also to the point, since it applies also to the moment in which the tradition was self created. There is in fact no gap to be bridged between a Jesus historically conceived and the subsequent tradition which has effected consciousness; all we

104. Cf. particularly E. Trocme, Jesus and His Contemporaries (London: SCM, 1973): 'the setting in which the miracle stories originated and were handed down for a time is not a Christian one, but must be sought in ... the village society of north-eastern Galilee or the area immediately surrounding Lake Tiberias. Story-tellers at markets and during winter evenings found a ready audience for narratives with no literary pretensions, but too sensational to leave a popular audience unmoved. . . . We owe to him [Mark] the introduction of these narratives into a Christian setting' (104). The point is elaborated by G. Theissen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 97-112; see also his stimulating novellistic treatment, The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form (London: SCM, 1987).

have is disciples effected by Jesus and the disciples thus 'effected' expressing their 'effection' by formulating the tradition which effects. The traditions which lie behind the Gospels (for the moment we will leave aside the question of what proportion of these traditions) began from the various encounters between Jesus and those who by virtue of these encounters became disciples. The earliest traditions are the product of disciple-response. There is not an objectified meaning to be uncovered by stripping away the accretions of disciple faith. The tradition itself in its earliest form is in a crucially important sense the creation of faith; or to be more precise, it is the product of the encounters between Jesus and the ones who became his disciples. The hearing and witnessing of the first disciples was already a hermeneutical act, already caught in the hermeneutical circle. The twenty-first-century exegetes and interpreters do not begin the hermeneu-tical dialogue; they continue a dialogue which began in the initial formation of the tradition.106

The point for us now, therefore, is that the saying or account attests the impact made by Jesus.107 But that does not enable us to get behind that impact to a Jesus who might have been heard otherwise. For the original impulse behind these records was, to put the point more accurately, sayings of Jesus as heard and received, and actions of Jesus as witnessed and retained in the memory (both parts of each phrase being important). We have to add in both cases, and as reflected on thereafter, of course. However, what we have in these traditions is not just the end-product of that reflection. It is rather the faith-creating word/event,

105. Cf. observation that the phenomenon of distance and difference refers not simply to the modern reading of an ancient text: 'The distance is given at the beginning. It is the very first distance between the hearer and the witness of the event' ('Preface to Bultmann' 56).

106. Watson seems to think only in terms of a significance seen retrospectively (Text and Truth 52-53).

107. For want of a better way of describing it, in what follows I speak of the 'impact' of Jesus. Similarly P. Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997) speaks of 'the percussive impact of Jesus the Teacher' (56, 102, 127); cf. his Jesus and the Rise ofEarly Christianity oh. 2. Patterson emphasises '(the original) impression' made by Jesus, the 'experience' 'created' by Jesus in his disciples (The God of Jesus 10, 46-50, 53-54, 56-58, 87, 90, 113, 118, 130-31); he cites Willi Marxsen, 'Christian faith began with the event of being moved by Jesus' (56, n. 1). We should also recall that form-critical analysis of the Jesus tradition was predicated on the assumption that the tradition was retained as live tradition, precisely in that the tradition continued to influence and shape the lives of the earliest disciples and communities. It is more or less self-evident that teaching like Matt. 6.47-49 and Mark 8.34-38 must have made a faith-creating impact on those who passed on the teaching. There are obvious links in all this to the hermeneutical conception of language as event ('language-event'); for discussion see Thiselton, Two Horizons 335-56; and on 'speech-act' theory, New Horizons 283-312, 361-68.

as itself a force shaping faith and as retained and rehearsed by the faith thus created and being created. In other words, the Jesus tradition gives immediate access not to a dispassionately recorded word or deed, nor only to the end product (the faith of the 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s), but also to the process between the two, to the tradition which began with the initial impact of Jesus' word or deed and which continued to influence intermediate retellers of the tradition until crystallized in Mark's or Matthew's or Luke's account.108 In short, we must take seriously the character of the tradition as disciple-response, and the depth of the tradition as well as its final form.109

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