G The Diversity of Faith

Another aspect of postmodern criticism should not be ignored, namely the pluralism endemic to the recognition that readers respond differently to texts and so produce multiple meanings. Applied to the beginnings of the Jesus tradition, that insight reminds us that Jesus would have impacted variously on different individ-uals.118 Or in terms of the present discussion, there would have been diversity of faith from the very first.119 That is not, or should not be, a problem. For the evidence of the Synoptic tradition is of a homogeneity of impression made by Jesus on those who first created and then transmitted that tradition. As with the claim

Wellhausen already expressed the presupposition which became characteristic of the form-critical approach to the gospel tradition: 'Without this later influence (Nachwirkung) in the community we can visualize nothing of the religious personality of Jesus. It always appears only in a reflection (Reflex), broken (gebrochen) by the medium of the Christian faith' (Einleitung my emphasis).

118, On the diversity of discipleship/disciple response to Jesus see further below, chapter 13.

119. 'Theological diversity in primitive Christianity is not a secondary phenomenon but a primary one' (Kloppenborg, 'Sayings Gospel Q' 320).

that the historical text as historical text provides parameters for the meanings to be read out from it so the overall homogeneity of the Synoptic tradition points to the consistency of the impact made by Jesus as attested by that tradition. To put it another way, it is the consistency of disciple-response which gives the tradition its consistency.120 At the same time it is important to remember, given the diversity (and fissiparity) of subsequent Christianity, that the circle of discipleship was not uniform from the beginning and that a diversity of responses could be and was contained within the homogeneity of the overall response, within the discipleship which gave rise in due course to the earliest churches. If Jesus was always the unifying factor, and disciple-faith in him, it was a unity embracing and holding together a diversity of faith responses from the first.

But were there not other responses which fell short of discipleship, or which understood discipleship differently, or which stopped short of Good Friday and Easter? There are certainly hints of such in our traditions,121 and neo-Liberalism wants to find evidence of such in the Gospel of Thomas and other documents. Whether such claims can be sustained by the evidence of these sources is an issue which we have still to discuss.122 But it is already clear that the disciple-response which created the Synoptic tradition and from which stream Christianity emerged is that with which we primarily have to do.123 Whatever we may think regarding Gnostic Christianity as a legitimate (or otherwise) response to Jesus, the fact is that Q was not retained within mainstream Christianity except as integrated with the Gospel format initiated by Mark, and Thomas was rejected by the emerging great Church. The very concern of some scholars to justify use of the Gospel of Thomas by seeking to demonstrate its consistency with a stripped-down Synoptic tradition is actually a backhanded recognition of the normativeness of the Synoptic tradition. So while we will want to be alert to the likely (and possibly uncomfortable) breadth of the diversity of the earliest faith-response to Jesus, it will inevitably be the Synoptic tradition which commands our primary attention. And our first concern will be to trace the early outlines of the principal thoroughfare which led through Good Friday and Easter, the first stirrings of Christianity in the making.

120. Cf. Dodd: 'The first three gospels offer a body of sayings on the whole so consistent, so coherent, and withal so distinctive in manner, style and content, that no reasonable critic should doubt, whatever reservations he may have about individual sayings, that we here reflected the thought of a single, unique teacher' (Founder 21-22); Schillebeeckx: 'this pluralism which at rock bottom is "held together" by Jesus as he lived on earth and was apprehended by other people' (Jesus 51).

123. The relevance and importance of John's Gospel for our task is more disputed; see further below, ยง7.7.

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