THE BIRTH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT by C. F. D. Moule, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. First published A & C Black Ltd 1962. This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2013.


P52-1 P52-2

HOME | Acknowledgments | Contents | Abbreviations | Chs: 1.Introductory | 2.The church at worship | 3.The church explains itself: (1) stages of self awareness | 4. ... (2) the use of the jewish scriptures | 5. ... (3) the gospels and acts | 6. ... (4) the reign of christ | 7.The church under attack | 8.Building the superstructure and consolidating | 9.Variety and uniformity in the church | 10.Collecting and sifting the documents | 11.Conclusion | Excursis 1.Translation greek and original greek in matthew | ... 2. Luke and the pastoral epistles | ... 3. πιστὸς ὁ λὁγος | ... 4.The priority of mark.


OF all to whom I am consciously indebted (and this is a very large number) I must specially express my gratitude to Dr Henry Chadwick, who first suggested that I should write a book to go in his series, and whose frequent readings of drafts and patient help have rescued me from many mistakes and considerably enriched the material. All the errors that still remain, both of commission and omission, are in spite of his labours. Gratitude is due, further, to Mr G. M. Styler for kindly contributing an excursus. I must also thank very warmly the two typists who did the bulk of the transcription (often from very difficult manuscripts), Mrs A. N. Thompson and Mrs A. de Q. Robin, Mrs Milne, who brought order and clarity to several heavily corrected and altered sheets of notes, and the publisher and printer who have shown much courtesy and skill.

Apart from many relevant publications which I have no doubt overlooked, a good deal of important material has come to hand too late for even a reference. I must ask the authors of all such works for their indulgence if they have not been consulted.

Biblical quotations, with a few exceptions, are for the Old Testament from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946 and 1952 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and for the New Testament from The New English Bible by permission of the copyright owners and publishers, the Oxford and Cambridge University Presses.







  1. Translation Greek and Original Greek in Matthew
  2. Luke and the Pastoral Epistles
  3. πιστὸς ὁ λὁγος
  4. The Priority of Mark (by G. M. Styler)




Ang.Theol.Rev. Anglican Theological Review (Evanston, Ill.).
B.J.R.L. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (Manchester).
Bibl.Zeitschr. Biblische Zeitschrift (Paderborn).
CD 'Damascus' Document or 'Zadokite Fragments' (from the Cairo Geniza; ed. C. Rabin, The Zadokite Documents, 2.1958).
Canad.Journ.of Theol. Canadian Journal of Theology (Toronto).
Cath.Bib.Quarterly Catholic Biblical Quarterly (Washington).
E.T. Expository Times (Edinburgh).
H.T.R. Harvard Theological Review (Cambridge, Mass.).
I.C.C. International Critical Commentary.
I.L.N.T. ]. Moffatt, Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament (3.1918).
J.B.L. Journal of Biblical Literature (Philadelphia).
J.N.T.S.  Journal called New Testament Studies (Cambridge).
J.R.S. Journal of Roman Studies (London).
J.T.S. Journal of Theological Studies (Oxford).
M.T. Massoretic Text.
N.E.B.  The New English Bible (1961).
Nov.T. Novum Testamentum (Leiden).
par. pars.  parallel(s).
Proc.Brit.Acad. Proceedings of the British Academy (Oxford).
1QS  (i.e. Serek hayyahad, the Rule of the Community from cave 1 at Qumran) Manual of Discipline (Eng. trans. and notes, W. H. Brownlee, 1951).
R.B.  Revue Biblique (Jerusalem).
R.G.G. Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (2.1927-1932; 3.1957-).
Rev.d' de Philos. Revue d'Histoire et de Philosophic religieuses (Paris).
Rev.Qum. Revue de Qumran (Paris).
S.-B.   H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (1922-28).
S.N.T.S.  Studiorum Novi Testament! Societas (Bulletins i-iii, 1950-52, Oxford; preceding J.N.T.S.).
Stevenson   J. Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents illustrative of the History of the Church to A.D. 337 (1957).
T.B. The Babylonian Talmud (Eng. trans. by I. Epstein, incomplete, Soncino Press, 1935).
T.J. The Jerusalem Talmud (ed. Krotoschin, 1866).
T.und U. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der alt-christlichen Literatur (1882 ff.).
T.W.N.T. Theologisches Wörterbuch sum Neuen Testament (ed. G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, 1933-).
Test. Testaments of the Twelve Partriarchs (ed. R. H. Charles, 1908); Benj.= Benjamin, etc.
Th. Zeitschr. Theologische Zeitschrift (Basel).
Theol. Literaturz. Theologische Literaturzeitung (Leipzig).
W.-H.   B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek (editio maior, 2 vols., text and introduction, 1881 ; editio minor, text only, 1896).
Z.N.T.W. Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft (Berlin).
Z.Th.K. Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche (Tubingen).




THE character and purpose of this book need explanation. It does not set out to be an introduction to the New Testament in the ordinarily accepted sense of the word, for it attempts no systematic investigation of the authorship, date, and composition of each writing. Already there are sufficient works on these lines. Yet neither is it primarily a theology of the New Testament, although in fact a number of theological issues will come up for discussion. What it tries to do is to investigate the circumstances which led to the making of the New Testament. It is concerned with the birth of Christian scripture – or, still more, with its antenatal period.

The steady pressure of biblical research has fortunately brought about an atmosphere in which it is much easier than it used to be to remember the living community, and there is less danger now of imagining a study-table procedure [To speak of 'study-tables' literally in the New Testament period, and indeed, until as late as perhaps the eighth century, would, incidentally, be an anachronism even in connexion with scholarly study. B. M. Metzger has recently enquired further into the curious fact (already noted by others before him) that writing at a table seems to have been a comparatively late development. The scribes of antiquity either stood (for relatively brief notes), or sat on a stool or bench, or even on the ground, and rested their material on their knees. See B. M. Metzger, 'The Furniture of the Scriptorium at Qumran', Rev. Qum. i. 4 (1959), 509-515; and 'When did Scribes begin to use Writing Desks?', Akten des XI. internationalen Byzantinisten-Kongresses, 1958 (Munich, 1960), 355 ff.; and, cited there, such earlier authorities as Theodor Uirt, Die Buchrolle in der Kunst (1907); W. Sanday (ed.). Studies in the Synoptic Problem by Members of the University of Oxford (1911), 16 ff.; A. Dain, Les Manuscrits (1949), 22; Jaroslav Cerny, Paper and Books in Ancient Egypt (1952), 14; T. C. Skeat, 'The Use of Dictation in Ancient Book-Production', Proc. Brit. Acad. 42 (1956), 138.] and mere 'scissors-and-paste' methods behind those vivid and practical documents. Indeed, there are already many books dealing with the life and worship of the early Christian communities in which the New Testament took shape. [In addition to the literature on 'form criticism', n. 3 below, the books on worship in New Testament times are relevant; see p. 11, n. 1, below.] But there still remains, it seems, a place for an attempt, within the compass of a single book of reasonable size, [M. Albertz, Die Botschaft des Neuen Testaments (4 vols., 1947-57) is magnificent but bulky.] to bring together, in a composite picture, the main features of the complex circumstances from which, under the guidance of God, there emerged, first a number of separate units of material, and then eventually the process which collected some of it into Christian scriptures, while much else was left aside or even repudiated.

This book looks at the New Testament in the light thrown on the earliest days of the Christian Church by such techniques as that of 'form criticism' [This is the term generally used in English for the German die formigeschichtliche Methode, the method (of critical investigation) which proceeds by reconstructing the history of the forms assumed by each unit of tradition as it passes from mouth to mouth and place to place. Among introductions to the method and discussion of its scope and limitations see B. S. Easton, The Gospel before the Gospels (about 1928); V. Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (1933; 2.1953); R. H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (Bampton Lectures, 1935); The Gospel Message of St Mark (1950), 98 S.; M. Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel (Eng. trans., 1934, of Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums, 1919); A Fresh Approach to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature (Eng. version, 1936); R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition ('1931); H. Riesenfeld, The Gospel Tradition and its Beginnings (1957, also in the report of the Oxford 'Four Gospels' Congress, Studio Evangelica (T. und U. 73), 1959, and in The Gospels Reconsidered, Blackwell, 1960); C. F. D. Moule in Lond. Quarterly and Holborn Review (April 1958), 87 ff.; 0. Cullmann, ' UnzeitgemSsse Bemerkungen zum "historischen Jesus" der Bultmannschule', from the Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Berlin, 1960; B. Gerhardsson, Memory and Manuscript (1961).] (although by no means all the standard findings of form criticism are here accepted); and it attempts to place in their setting in life and thought the processes which led up to the writing of early Christian books and the beginnings of the process of the selection from among them of what we call the scriptures of the New Testament. This will take us into many fields of language, history, and theology where many mistakes are sure to be made, many factors overlooked, many false guesses offered. But it will have been worth while if it leads readers back again to the New Testament with an imagination more alive to the questions that need to be asked – and especially the questions that actually were asked in those early days and from which the New Testament took its genesis.

Two or three things at least may surprise the reader. One is that, while the general approach is that represented by 'form criticism', the conclusions are often more conservative than is typical of that approach. The Acts, in particular, is treated with more credence (some would say credulity) than by many scholars. This is not (consciously, at least) in the interests of any conservatism as such. It is because the Acts, taken at its face value, seems to me in the main coherent and in keeping with the rest of the evidence.

It may be surprising, secondly, that in the course of this enquiry, so little is said about evangelism. But although evangelism is absolutely inseparable from the life of the Church (when it is alive), it did not directly generate very much early Christian literature. In those days, before books could be very readily reproduced in quantity, literature was less prominent as a medium of propaganda than it is today. The initial kerygma or proclamation was spoken: when it came to be expanded into a written Gospel, it seems to have become explanatory rather than (primarily) evangelistic. If there are exceptions, these are perhaps the Gospels of Luke and John, which were possibly meant for non-Christian readers.

Once again, the paucity of allusions to the whole world of Hellenic thought and religion will seem to some readers to be a grave distortion of the picture. But I find myself among those who detect the minimum of such influence in the New Testament, as far as basic themes are concerned; and, where it leaves its mark, it seems to me to be more often by way of recoil from it than acceptance of it. This is not to deny that there are numerous borrowings of words and phrases and even ideas from the Hellenic world, but these are on a level shallower than that of the basic themes. The substance is usually Hebraic, even when the terms are Hellenic – except when (as is often the case) something quite original to Christianity is presented, which can be traced neither to Jew nor Greek, as such, but simply to Christ. [But, in any case, J. Barr's The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961) constitutes a very important warning against sweeping classifications of concepts as 'Greek' or 'Hebrew'.]

One further remark must be made at this point, by way of anticipating surprise. Much of the ground covered or implied in this book has been deeply studied already and there are many monographs on certain aspects of it. It seemed, therefore, a waste of time to attempt to retell the whole story in equal detail. Some aspects, on the other hand, have hitherto been comparatively neglected; and there are certain suggestions and guesses (some of them perhaps new) which seemed worth putting forward tentatively. As a result, the proportions are uneven, less space being devoted to the well studied and well documented aspects than to the less familiar.

This introductory chapter offers one or two examples of the kind of question that must be asked. The last chapter will sum up the findings and also some of the questions that remain unanswered. In between the two, come sections portraying the Church from various angles: at worship, explaining itself, defending itself, building itself up, manifesting its different local characteristics, searching for authority. Each angle of view helps us towards an understanding of the genesis of various component parts of the New Testament or of the whole of the collection: for none of it was an academic exercise – it was simply the response of the Spirit of God within the Church to the challenges of its environment and history.

Take, now, by way of illustrating the problems confronting us, a couple of typical phenomena – two new genres of literature offered by the New Testament. First, the 'Gospel'. Imagine (if possible) that an otherwise educated person of our own day, with absolutely no knowledge of Christianity or its literature, were suddenly presented with St Mark's Gospel. What would he make of it? He would quickly recognize that it was quite unlike any other genre of writing known to him. It is concerned with Jesus of Nazareth, yet there is no description of his personal appearance, practically no attempt to date the action, only the barest indications of its place. It starts with no family history or background, it presents little ordered sequence of events. It springs straight into what it describes as good news, εὐαγγέλιον, and points to the coming of John as the fulfilment of a certain passage in the Old Testament. From this jumping-off point it goes on, through a series of brief, loosely linked paragraphs describing the activity, or (more rarely) the sayings, of Jesus, to a proportionately very long account of his arrest, trial, and execution; and at the point where the tomb is found empty it seems to end abruptly – for the few verses which follow are patently from a later hand and constitute a summary of the traditions about the sequel.

This is certainly not biography, real or fictional. Yet neither is it an ethical or moralistic writing. It has no real parallels before it. It is the first extant specimen of a new genre: it is what we have learnt to call 'a Gospel', although the term εὐαγγέλιον is used by Mark himself not for his book but for its contents. [For the significance of the word, see W. Schneemelcher's ed. of E. Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen (3.1959), and A. D. Nock's criticisms in J.T.S., n.s., xi. (1960), 64 f., where he doubts whether the noun εὐαγγέλιον can rightly be called a distinctively sacral term, or whether its use by Christians is in rivalry to the (very different) εὐαγγέλια of the Caesar-cult. See also the interesting note in Überlieferung und Auslegung im Matthäus-Evangelium, G. Bornkamm, G. Barth, and H. J. Held (1960), 47 n.2.] How did it ever come to be written, and why? Part of the answer is becoming clearer than it used to be. In the first place, what may be called the Gospel 'form* or 'shape' can be traced back behind this Gospel book, and evidently arose out of an effort to put into a few words an explanation of what Christians had heard and seen and what had brought them to their present convictions.

The reason why they belonged together as a distinct community was that they had been through certain events, about the significance of which they shared a common conviction, and that they believed themselves charged to bear witness to them. And this is how their witness ran:

A certain Jew named Jesus had, during his lifetime, been marked out as God's special representative by supreme goodness, and by exceptional deeds of power, such as the healing and the rescue of those who were in the grip of evil, and by his exceptionally powerful words. He had been cruelly put to death by Gentiles at the instigation of his fellow-Jews. But God had brought him back to life. All this was in fact in line with God's plan for his People as it may be traced in the Jewish Scriptures. Thus it is clear that Jesus is God's supreme Agent for the rescue of his People from evil and for the fulfilment of his purpose in the world. And this constitutes a challenge to you who hear to trust him and give him your allegiance, and be baptized into membership in him.

This is at once less and much more than mere narrative: it is a declaration of conviction about the significance of a few events. And St Mark's Gospel is a filling out of this brief framework of declaration (short of the last two clauses) with some circumstantial detail: it is the story of God fulfilling and bringing to a climax in Jesus the age-long destiny of his People. Thus a hitherto unknown genre of writing seems to have sprung from the explanatory elaboration and expansion of a very early, very spontaneous, spoken proclamation. Substantially, it is neither biography nor moral exhortation, it is neither history nor ethics. It springs straight from Christian witness: it is the elaboration of a herald's announcement. So beautiful an early Christian writing as the Epistle to Diognetus (to be found among 'The Apostolic Fathers') serves, by way of contrast, to throw into relief this strangely different type of book. The Epistle to Diognetus is a gracious little statement about God's generous love to man and about Christian qualities. It is not a Gospel.

But although so new and unprecedented, the Christian proclamation is nothing if not rooted in the antecedent life of Judaism. Although it constituted a direct indictment of the Jews for sentencing their King to death, it was, in the same breath, paradoxically good news for them. For the crime of Judaism – so it declared – had unwittingly led to the placing of the coping-stone on the structure of God's salvation-plan for Israel. The stone rejected by the expert masons turned out to have come into its own, through that very process of rejection, as the most vital member of the building. And Israel's salvation lay in admitting the crime, and entering, through repentance and baptism, into union with this Jesus, who was the divinely anointed King of Israel, the Lord of Glory. However, St Mark's Gospel stops short of that last step. It represents an elaboration only of the Christian proclamation – the statement of fact and conviction which precedes and leads up to that final appeal to repent and be baptized.

There is no evidence that any complete Gospel existed before St Mark's; but before he set to work there were probably sheets of papyrus already circulating on which were written, in Aramaic (and possibly Hebrew) or in Greek, anecdotes or sayings such as eventually went into his composition. Several phenomena point in this direction. There are traces in Mark of the use of various sources – perhaps one which called the apostles 'the Twelve', [E. Meyer, Ursprung und Anfänge des Christentums, i (1924), 133 ff.] perhaps another identical with a sayings-collection or group of collections drawn upon also by Matthew and Luke; [For 'Q' in Mark, see (e.g.) B. H. Streeter in Studies in the Synoptic Problem by Members of the University of Oxford (ed. W. Sanday, 1911), 165 ff.; B. W. Bacon, The Gospel of Mark (1925), ii, n. 7.] there are traces, even earlier, in some of the epistles, of traditions (whether written or oral) of the sayings of Jesus and possibly of some incidents from his life; [See pp. 144 ff. below.] and the arguments already framed in Rom. ix-xi can be paralleled from the subsequently written Gospels. [J. Munck, Christus und Israel: eine Auslegung van Röm. 9-11 (1956), 32.] At all events traditions containing what we know as evangelic material can be certainly discerned in the background, before ever our extant Gospels took shape. But not an entire Gospel: Mark's seems to be the first example of that. After Mark, however, a large number of others came to be written, as well as collections of sayings of Jesus. Many of these other writings have been lost, and we know of them, if at all, only by name or through brief quotations in other writers. Of others, besides the other canonical Gospels, we have fragments or even almost complete copies. Only recently a Coptic sayings-collection has been retrieved.

But the only ones besides Mark which were ultimately retained by the general consensus of Christians throughout the world were Matthew, Luke, and John. For some years the traditions of Jesus seem to have flowed in many more or less parallel channels; but in the end these four Gospels emerged above the welter – or possibly were in fact the only complete Gospels ever to take shape. Their mutual relations, as is well known, are the subject of close study and controversy. It is remarkable that only two of the four bear apostolic names, while the other two bear the names of individuals who were not apostles. In these latter cases one might have expected at least the authority of communities rather than of non-apostolic individuals; but there it is. And in any case, all these attributions are traditional: none of the Gospels explicitly carries an author's name within it (though Jn xxi. 24, a note indicating the author, is now part of the Gospel).

Meanwhile (and this brings us to our other new genre, the New Testament epistle), before even Mark was written, and at the stage when the Good News was being proclaimed almost exclusively by word of mouth, leading evangelists like Paul of Tarsus found occasion to write letters of advice and exhortation to the communities they had founded. No Christian letter has so far been conclusively dated earlier than the earliest datable Pauline letter; and it is possible that it was Paul who brought this other new genre of Christian literature into existence – for a new genre it is. The literary letter, such as Cicero's, and the incidental papyrus letter of antiquity (at least in the forms it assumed in Egypt) are well known; but never before had the world seen anything quite like these very long letters almost wholly concerned not with personal details but with matters of Christian doctrine and conduct, introduced by and ending with new and distinctively Christian formulae of greeting and farewell. Even the few letters contained within Old Testament scripture are not comparable with these.

The Pauline letters, whether or not absolutely the pioneers of their type, were certainly followed by others, and even by homilies artificially cast in epistolary form. Some of Paul's, and some by other writers, were evidently treasured by the recipient communities, and eventually came to be collected – how, is an obscure and fascinating question (see below, pp. 199 ff.) – and ranked alongside the Gospels as recognized Christian literature: 'the Gospel' and 'the Apostle' stood side by side, somewhat as 'the Law' and 'the Prophets' of the Hebrew scriptures. The New Testament letters reflect an enormously interesting variety of situations, in face of which, once again, one is compelled to ask Why? – Why did this problem or that present itself, and why did St Paul and the communities he represented give this answer and not that? Why did the early Church break out from the conservatism of Jewish ritual requirements? What controlled the decisions reached regarding the relations of Christians with pagans?

In addition to the Gospels and Epistles, there are the Acts and the Apocalypse; and behind much of the New Testament there lie, no doubt, earlier and more fragmentary documents – component pieces, absorbed and transformed so as to be usually beyond assured reconstruction. The circumstances in which such i medley of writings of a new type was created and then sifted and established in authority alongside, even above, the scriptures of the Old Testament – this is our story. One of the morals of it is that the only hope of reconstructing and understanding the genesis of the Christian scriptures is in asking Why? at every turn: Why this and not that? Why such and such an omission? Why this decision and not that? This book sets out chiefly to ask 'Why?' and only by this route, if at all, to arrive ii any answers to the question 'How?'

Another of its morals, however, is the remarkable degree of unity that was achieved through all the differences and varieties. If it is asked why this happened, the only answer is that the common factor holding all together is devotion to the person of Jesus Christ – the historical Jesus acknowledged as Messiah and Lord. In the chapter on variety and uniformity in the early Church (Chapter IX), an attempt is made to do justice to the very wide range of diversity in emphasis as between different individuals and different traditions. But the rainbow spectrum thus presented is undeniably thrown by one luminary alone.Common to every writing of the New Testament, without even the exception of the Epistle of James, is devotion to Jesus Christ. Whether he is viewed as the Davidic Messiah or as the pre-existent Word of God, it is to Jesus that each writer acknowledges allegiance. All except Matthew, Mark, Titus, and the Johannine Epistles style Jesus 'Lord'; and the excepted writings all use comparable, if not even more significant terms – 'Son of God', or 'Saviour'.

If there is anything equally conspicuous that the New Testament documents possess in common besides this distinctively Christian allegiance – this common confession of the incarnate Lord – it might be that, with few exceptions, they are Jewish writings, or, without any exception, monotheistic. This only makes it the more remarkable that, strictly maintaining their monotheism and without theslightest concession in this respect to pagan thought, they all adopt this attitude of reverence for Jesus.

Some discussion will be devoted in Chapter X to the process of selection which ultimately segregated the books of the New Testament from other Christian writings, and it will be seen that an important factor was this 'Christ-centredness' – this test of devotion to Jesus as Christ and Lord. Any Christology that attempted to resolve this tension – for tension there is in any confession of the incarnation – tended to be ejected, however reverent might be its form, and even if an apostolic name were attached to it.

In a word, the apostolic proclamation about Jesus was the unifying factor; or, more deeply defined, it is to the Spirit of God himself, through Jesus Christ our Lord, that the unity-in-diversity of the New Testament is to be traced.