St. Mark's Gospel was not written till some thirty or forty years after the Lord's resurrection.
During that period, C. AD 33 to 65‑70, many apostles and other eyewitnesses were alive and the hope of the Parousia was intense.
When death began to remove the apostles and their contemporaries and when the hope of the Second Coming was deferred until the hearts of many grew sick, as the denunciations in Jude and 2 Peter indicate, the necessity for written accounts of Jesus' sayings and deeds was seen to be urgent.
Only written Gospels also could satisfy the liturgical needs of the community.
During this 'tunnel period' of one generation, some sayings of Jesus were written down, such as Q, but the tradition of the Good News was mainly oral.
Can we think of Mark as the product of this period of life and thought in the early Church?
Can we conceive it as the end of the process of oral tradition, rather than as the beginning of a literary movement that produced the Four and the Apocryphal Gospels?
Can we go behind the literary sources of the synoptic critic to study the pre‑literary forms of the Gospel tradition, to classify them and to set them in the context of the life of the Church?
An affirmative answer to these questions was given by a school of Form‑critics
(Form‑historians' would be a more literal translation)
who appeared in Germany after the war of 1914‑18, many of whom worked at first independently one of another.
They included the following authors whose works are noted:
K. L. Schmidt, Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesu (1919);
R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (2nd ed., 1931);
M. Dibelius, Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliums (1919), translated by B. L. Woolf, From Tradition to Gospel (1934). Bultmann published a summary of his views in the Journal of Religion, vi, 1926, pp. 337 ff.
Valuable introductions and criticisms of the new method are to be found in B. S. Easton's The Gospel before the Gospels (1928) and Christ in the Gospels (1930);
W. K. L. Clarke's New Testament Problems (1929), pp. 18‑30;
M. Goguel's article in the Revue de l'histoire des religions, xciv, 1926, pp. 114‑60;
V. Taylor's The Formation of the Gospel Tradition (1933);
W. Manson's Jesus the Messiah (1943), pp. 20‑32;
F. C. Grant's Form Criticism (1934);
E. B. Redlich's Form Criticism, its value and limitations (1939);
E. Scott's The Validity of the Gospel Record (1938);
L. J. McGinley's Form‑criticism of the Synoptic Healing Narratives (1944).
The theory did not go without its critics in Germany, notably E. Fascher in his Die formgeschichtliche Methode (1924), but a sympathetic approach to Form‑criticism was made in England by R. H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels (1934); the same writer championed the Form‑critics in reply to F. J. Badcock's attack, Expository Times, liii, 1941, pp. 16 ff. by an article (ibid., pp. 51 ff.) which he reprinted with certain admissions as ch. viii of his The Gospel Message of St. Mark (1950).
On the Form‑critics' view the tradition of the Good News did not rest during the 'tunnel period' with
an isolated individual like St. Peter but was the work of the Church composed of communities scattered about the Mediterranean
world and enjoying a common life of Christian worship, missionary enterprise, and polemical activity.
The stories about Jesus were told and retold many times, before they reached St. Mark or other evangelists, by missionary preachers, teachers, exorcists, and miracle‑workers, all of whom left a mark on the mould of the tradition.
For Dibelius 'in the beginning was the sermon'.
The needs of the community determined the choice of the material eventually written down and its form.
The folk‑lore of any primitive community has certain marked traits so that the separate stories embodied in folk‑lore tradition can be classified and 'rules' can be formulated about them.
The originally separate stories found in the Gospels respond to similar treatment.
So the Form‑critics tried to fix attention on the primary elements of the synoptic Gospels, the units of speeches and narrative, and to apply to them the 'laws' of Form‑criticism, seeing those units in their 'situation in life', the Sitz im Leben not of Jesus but of the community.
In their approach to the study of the small sections of Mark the Form‑critics were largely indebted to
Gunkel's' treatment of the stories in Genesis [Handkommentar zum A.T., 1910, and Das Marchen im A.T.,
Many stories there may have been the products of popular tradition orally transmitted from one generation to another, perhaps around the well or the city gate or, the camp fireside or the family hearth.
A rule about such traditions appears to be that a cycle of legends is less primitive than the separate story, which serves as the basic unit.
Each unit has its particular colouring so that if two stories are combined the colours are blurred.
In a primitive unit the actors are few and the action is short, vivid, and direct.
The unit is apt to end with an oral generalization or to include a striking saying which would be easily remembered and for which the framework of the story may serve simply as the scaffolding.
It was not difficult for Schmidt to show that the stories in Mark up to but not including the Passion narrative, which was welded into a unity in the crucible of missionary preaching according to most Form‑critics except Bultmann, fall into separate sections, as a glance at a Greek Synopsis would show.
Each section has usually a short, rather vague introduction such as καὶ, καί, εὐθύς;
Matthew and Luke allowed themselves great freedom in altering Mark's notes of time and place connecting stories together.
On the Form‑critics' view the outline of events and the connecting links are not so old or so reliable as the stories themselves.
The episodes did not have any strict chronological connexion originally, the links between, them being due to the Evangelist, whose setting of them was due to the community's soteriological motives in presenting the Gospel.
Where they occur in Mark the connecting links of time or place were liable to textual corruption and Matthew and Luke present often a different order of events from Mark's.
Often one word or saying of Jesus suggested another similar one and so the evangelist placed them side-by-side.
He was responsible for threading on to strings the pearls that had long been polished ‑or marred? ‑ by passing through the hands not of an eyewitness of the ministry of Jesus but of many to whom the interests of the community of Christians were paramount.
The immediate effect of Form‑critical thought was to undermine the value of the chronology of Mark and
to make students refuse to treat it any more than John as in any sense a biography.
The source‑critics had hoped to recover the 'plain biography' of the 'Jesus of History';
today it is generally admitted that it is impossible to write a 'life of Christ' for 'Strictly speaking, no framework, no outline is present in Mark'. [Schmidt, op. cit., p. 90. cf. T. W. Manson, 'Is it possible to write a life of Christ?', Ex. T. liii, 1941, pp. 248‑51.]
The two best‑known classifications of Gospel material are those of Dibelius:
(a) Paradigms, which correspond roughly to Bultmann's Apophthegmata or V. Taylor's Pronouncementstories, and
(b) Novellen or Miracle‑tales.
(a) A paradigm is a small section based on the apostolic kerygma and including a striking saying of Jesus.
Later the evangelist grouped together such paradigms to form part of his Gospel.
However, Dibelius maintains that only eight 'pure' paradigms are discernible in Mark, ii.1‑12, 18‑22, 23‑28, iii.1‑6, 31‑35, x.13‑16, .13-17, and xiv.3‑9 while there are eight others also, less 'pure', i.23‑28, ii.13‑17, vi.1‑6, x.17‑22, 35‑45, 46‑52, xi.15‑18, .18‑27.
The heart of each paradigm was a saying of Jesus, 'which will usually imply a principle of universal application, and in it is to be found the purpose of the story, the framework being needed to give the occasion when the utterance was spoken, and the motive which called it forth'.
[R. H. Lightfoot, History and Interpretation in the Gospels, p. 46.]
A paradigm is rounded off with a formula; the unit is concise; biographical details are almost entirely absent, the story being told for the sake of the saying that it enshrines.
(b) 'Novelle' was Dibelius's name for a miracle‑story.
He discerns nine in the first nine chapters of Mark; i.40‑45, iv.35‑41, v.1‑20, 21‑43, vi.35‑44, 45‑52, vii.32‑37, viii.22‑26, ix.14‑29.
Unlike the paradigms the Novellen are full of details, often apparently otiose.
For example, Matthew and Luke omit many of Mark's superfluous details in the story of the Gerasene demoniac, Mk.v.1‑20. Jesus the Wonder‑worker replaces Jesus the Teacher, say the Form‑critics.
The Gospel Novellen are told in the same way as the pagan miracle‑tales.
According to Bultmann all the limelight is shed on Jesus; the private sentiments of the victim before and after his cure are not revealed; he exhibits a 'Wunderglaube' towards Jesus.
The Novellen conclude with a note of fear, awe, and amazement.
The origin of some Novellen may lie in paradigms that have been reshaped, e.g. Lk.i.10‑17, while that of others may lie in a desire to employ extraneous motifs or to remodel pagan stories.
Bultmann, writes [Journal of Religion, vi, 1926, pp. 347 ff.]:
'Since we know a great many miracle‑stories, we can make a careful comparative study of the miracle‑stories found in the Gospels.
We then discover that the Gospel stories have exactly the same style as the Hellenistic miracle‑stories. Accounts of miraculous healing run as follows: first, the condition of the sick person is depicted in such a fashion as to enhance the magnitude of the miracle.
In this connection it is frequently said that the sickness had lasted a long time.
Occasionally it is stated that many physicians had attempted in vain to cure the sick person.
Sometimes the terrible and dangerous character of the sickness is emphasised.
All these traits are found in the Synoptic narratives just as they also appear in the stories that are told concerning the pagan miracle‑worker Apollonius of Tyana.
After the introductory description of the illness comes the account of the healing itself.
The Hellenistic miracle‑stories often tell of unusual manipulations by the miracle‑worker; the Gospel accounts, however, seldom mention this trait (Mk.vii.33, viii.23).
The Gospels, however, do retain other typical items.
They narrate that the Saviour came near to the sick person‑perhaps close to his bed that he laid his hands upon the patient and took him by the hand and then uttered a wonder‑working word.
Following a custom also characteristic of pagan miracle‑stories, the narratives of healing in the Gospels occasionally reproduce this wonderworking word in a foreign tongue, as for example 'Talitha cumi' (Mk.v.41) and 'Ephphatha' (Mk.vii.34).
Another typical trait appears when it is sometimes said that no one was permitted to see the actual working of the miracle (Mk vii. 33 and viii.23).
The close of the miracle‑story depicts the consequence of the miracle, frequently describing the astonishment or the terror or the approval of those who witnessed the miraculous event.
In other cases the close of the narrative shows the one who is healed demonstrating by some appropriate action that he is entirely cured.'
Bultmann's treatment of the sayings of Jesus may be considered next.
His classification of them is as follows:
(a) Logia or Wisdom sayings like those of the Old Testament. Many Jewish proverbial sayings were attributed to Jesus.
and Apocalyptic sayings whose burden was, 'The Kingdom is coming', 'Repent'.
Whereas 'some prophetic utterances which we read in the Synoptic Gospels may have originated in the Christian community', these being predominantly in the style of Jewish apocalypse, yet 'one can detect here with some probability genuine words of Jesus, for there can be no doubt that Jesus appeared as prophet and announcer of the Kingdom of God'. [Ibid., p. 358.]
and Community rules. Here, too, Bultmann is cautious.
He accepts some precepts like those about purification and divorce, almsgiving, prayer and fasting, and especially the great antitheses in Matt. v ('It was said by them of old time . . . . But I say unto you . . .').
But he warns us that we find associated with these utterances others which can be regarded only as regulations for the community, disciplinary rules and regulations for missionary activity.
'These last can have originated only in the Christian community itself.'
in the first person singular. Bultmann considers only a few of these to be authentic.
Indeed, a study of the wording of the Isis aretalogy published by W. L. Knox [J.T.S. xxxviii, 1937, pp. 230 ff.] and reflection upon the presence in the Fourth Gospel of only a few parables but of many sayings in the first person singular attributed to Jesus may lead to agreement with Bultmann that not all such sayings in the Gospels are genuine.
(e) Parables and parabolic sayings. Although Bultmann doubts whether more than about forty sayings of Jesus go back to Him, he is willing to accept the authenticity of some in this category, chiefly those of an ethical and eschatological character.
This is not the place to describe in detail other classifications of Gospel material by Form‑critics, such as 'Mythus' ("'Myth" means those deeds or words which are reported as from a divinity rather than from a teacher") [H. J. Cadbury, Harvard Theol. Rev., xvi, 1923, p. 83.], or 'Paranese' (to Dibelius the Gospel in its original sense was not kerygmatic but paraenetic, as though it were good advice, not good news!).
Bultmann believed that we can neither write a 'life of Jesus' nor present an accurate picture of His
'Even in regard to the question of His Messianic consciousness, we seem compelled to admit ignorance.'
This seems a needlessly sceptical conclusion on a par with the closing paragraph of R. H. Lightfoot's 'History and Interpretation in the Gospels', p. 225,
'It seems, then, that the form of the earthly no less than of the heavenly Christ is for the most part hidden from us.
For all the inestimable value of the gospels, they yield us little more than a whisper of his voice; we trace in them but the outskirts of his ways.'
The same writer, however, in a footnote [The Gospel Message of St. Mark, 1950, p. 103; cf. Ex. T., Nov. 1941.]to a revised article originally championing Form‑critical methods against F. J. Badcock's [Ibid., Oct. 1941, pp. 16 ff.] attack on them has tried to explain away the obvious meaning of the above quotation on the ground that he was (mis) quoting Job xxvi.14.
He admits now that 'it will be readily seen how liable the [Form‑critics'] method is to exaggeration and abuse' but he does not criticize it.
The following criticisms of the method are a selection from many that can be made:
(1) The uncertainty of exact classification.
Form‑critics are often arbitrary in their selection of 'Forms' to which a particular section of the Gospel is attributed.
As M. Goguel [Revue de l'histoire des religions, xciv, 1926, pp. 114‑60.] has said,
'It does not appear in the name of what principle it can be maintained that such a section as could be used for preaching is not to be used at the same time for instruction, for controversy, for mission‑work, and perhaps also quite simply to satisfy pious imagination and curiosity'.
To illustrate Goguel's point L. J. McGinley's words [Op. cit., p. 21.]may be quoted,
'Neither Bultmann nor Dibelius will admit as Sitz im Leben for any of the categories of Gospel‑form what Kohler terms "das biographische Interesse".
Interest in the person of Jesus, a desire to know the life of Jesus‑these are assigned no part in that life of the primitive Christians who formed the Gospel!'
(2) The Community‑myth.
Form‑critics have kept in mind the 'setting in the life' of the Church but not of Jesus.
After 1918 German Protestantism rediscovered the importance of the 'community'.
Acts, however, and the Pauline epistles do not reflect or narrate more than a small fraction of the history of the early Church.
Can one argue from the little known to the less?
Just as political theories assumed in different ages within society to be valid have reacted on the various Christian doctrines of the Atonement, so, it may be suggested, one of the reasons for the rise of the Form‑critical school was that it came into being when politically eminent personalities were at a discount in Germany and when 'the community' became endowed with that mystic quality which befogged the minds of many Germans who paved the way for the emergence of the totalitarian state, in which the individual was nothing, and the community was everything.
But communities do not create sayings of the kind found in the Gospels.
'It is quite impossible', writes W. Manson [Jesus the Messiah, p. 27.], 'with Form‑criticism to rule out the influence over the community of commanding personalities, apostles and others who had a share in its life' ‑ to say nothing of the influence of Jesus Himself.
So, too, McGinley [op. cit., p. 7.] writes,
'The theory of the collective origin of the synoptic tradition would suppose that there arose almost spontaneously an intense faith in the divinity of a crucified Jew, a complete and sublime system of dogma and morals, an organized cult life ‑ all without the dominant personal influence of Jesus or even Paul...
Such a supposition contradicts everything we know of the primitive communities.'
Form critics write as though the original eye‑witnesses were all caught up to heaven at the Ascension and the Christian Church were put to live on a desert island.
Dr. Lightfoot [The Gospel Message of St. Mark, pp. 80 ff.] writes as if St. Mark never put the natural question to St. Peter, 'Did you see the Risen Lord?' [Lk.xxiv.34, 1 Cor.xv.5.] but derived from obscure members of the community a sense of numinous awe producing a 'dramatic aposciopesis' [W. L. Knox, Harvard Theol. Rev. xxxv, 1942, pp. 13‑23.] after Mark xvi. 8 'unique in ancient literature of the narrative type.'
But the Good News produced the community, not vice versa.
(3) The folk‑lore analogy is dubious.
As W. Manson says,
'It is an exceedingly dubious analogy which is chosen when the rise and development of the early Christian tradition is explained in terms of processes which have worked in the folkliterature of primitive peoples or in early Hebrew saga.'
The period that divides Jesus' Resurrection from the date of Mark's composition is little more than one generation.
Dibelius sought for an analogy and found it in the Apophthegmata Patrum, though the tradition about the desert Fathers took not thirty or forty years to form but about one hundred.
It is not unusual for men even of slight intellectual ability to recall and relate clearly important events occurring thirty‑five years previously.
(4) Form‑critics neglect the tradition of Jesus' actual words.
They make insufficient allowance for the existence of an authentic tradition of Christ's ipsissima verba, carefully preserved, as 1 Cor.vii.10, 12, 25, xv.3‑11 reveal.
It was a Jewish custom to memorize a Rabbi's teaching [A good pupil was like 'a plastered cistern that loses not a drop' (Mishna, Aboth, ii. 8).]. If there is any truth in C. F. Burney's [The Poetry of our Lord (1925); cf. V. Taylor, The Formation of the Gospel Tradition, pp. 88‑100 and E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (1946), pp. 396 ff., 442‑58, 462‑4.] theory, much of our Lord's teaching goes back readily into Aramaic poetical form, easily memorized.
(5) Form‑critics have invariably overstepped the limits of their method
in passing judgement consciously or not upon the contents of the units of the Gospels.
Theirs is a literary, not historical, instrument, as Fascher observed. If, for example, one sets out to tell a story in a popular way about a wonderful cure, one would inevitably adopt a form like that of the Gospel miracles, though embellished with more 'scientific' terms.
Parallels can be found in the advertisement columns of popular newspapers proclaiming the benefits of a panacea.
The fact that letters from previous victims or patients now cured 'miraculously' have much the same form as Bultmann discerns in pagan and Christian miracle‑stories can prove nothing for or against the historicity of the cures themselves.
The Form‑critic has usually built upon preconceived hypotheses, for instance, that Jesus was primarily a preacher of ethics and eschatology, whom His followers made into a cult‑hero, a wonder‑worker, and a divine being.
'Whenever Bultmann denies the historic worth of a passage because of the supernatural content, he has ceased to be a Form‑critic or even an historian evaluating sources.
He is in the realm of philosophy and his criticisms have no value in the study of the Gospel text. [McGinley, op. cit, p. 71.]'
Similarly the Form‑critical assumption may be challenged that early Christians constantly quoted Christ's word or example as the 'authority by which conduct was to be regulated and controversies determined'.
As Badcock [op. cit, p. 18.] says, the whole of the rest of the New Testament outside the Gospels would seem to show that knowledge of them was not in mind.
Furthermore, it may be noticed that when Form‑critical preconceptions clash with the 'assured results' of Synoptic criticism, the latter are neglected.
(6) If there were any truth in the main contention of the Form‑critics,
the burning problems of the early Church would be reflected in the Gospels
or the common practices of the Church would be recorded as having been discussed and determined by Jesus.
As Easton [The Gospel before the Gospels (1928).] has shown, this is not what we find.
The Gospels are remarkably free from references to such questions as the terms on which to include Gentile converts within the community or to such practices as that of Christians speaking with tongues under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; cf. Acts ii, 1 Cor., xiv. The references to the Holy Spirit attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels are remarkably few.
The treatment of Christ's words during the oral period of transmission was conservative.
(7) The underestimate of the Marcan outline.
The Form critics inherited a German theory of the worthlessness of Mark as history. Wrede [Das Alessiasgeheimnis (1901); contrast A. E. J. Rawlinson, St. Mark, pp. 258‑62.] thought that Mark's historicity was illusory; that the evangelist himself was responsible for the context and setting of sayings and narratives; that the separate incidents which Mark connected were in the main historical; but that Jesus was not believed to be Messiah until after the Resurrection; and that Mark's theory that Jesus was recognized as Messiah at Caesarea Philippi [W. Manson, Jesus the Messiah, 1943; cf. A. E. J. Rawlinson, The New Testament Doctrine of the Christ, pp. 27‑52.] had no foundation in fact; and that Mark riveted his theory of the Messianic consciousness of Jesus upon his material.
This theory was held to account for the injunctions to silence given by Jesus after His miraculous healings, Mk.v.19 being exceptional.
This view has had profound influence upon German critics, [Cf. H. Ebeling, 'Das Messiasgeheimnis', Beihefte zur Zeitschriftf. d. neutest. Wissenschaft, xix, 1939; cf.W. H. Cadman, The Last Journey of Jesus, 1923, ch. iv.] such as Wellhausen [St. Mark, 2nd ed., 1903.].
Not only does the theory overlook the cumulative evidence that Jesus knew Himself to be in His own sense of the term Messiah, but it also begs the question why the vision of the Risen Lord or the belief that He was risen should have led the disciples to the remarkable conclusion that He was the Messiah, unless He had already prepared them for such a faith during His ministry.
The theory also fails to recognize an outline of the Galilean ministry in Mark, forming a framework into which the separate pictures of Jesus and His disciples were set.
But, as C. H. Dodd [Ex. T. xliii, 1931, 396‑400.] has shown, this outline can be found in Mk.i.14‑15, 21‑22, 39; ii.13; iii.7b‑19; vi.7, 12‑13, 30.
Put together, these passages form a structure. Dodd [The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments.] has proved that a summary outline of Christ's life is almost certain to have formed part of the Church's early kerygma; cf. Acts x.37‑41; i.23‑31. If the tradition of the contents of 'units' could be handed on, so could the main outline of Jesus' ministry with some regard to its topographical and chronological setting. [Cf. B. Redlich, Form‑criticism, p. 71.]
To split up the Gospel records into minute parts and to treat them as Kleinliteratur and then to assume on the basis of the transmission of anecdotes that the topographical and chronological links in Mark are all equally worthless is to argue in a circle.
A careful examination of the topography of Mark, made by C. C. McCown,[Journal of Biblical Literature, li, 1932, pp. 109 ff. and ix, 1941, pp. 1‑25.] has shown the value of some but not all such links; in Mk.i.1‑vi.29 Schmidt may be right and the links be worth very little; in vi. 30‑ix. 1 the journey related may be the construction of the evangelist; in ix.2‑xi.11 we have a consistent story of Jesus' movements which is 'entirely reasonable'; in xi.12‑xvi.8 we find nothing inconsistent, Mark being far more trustworthy here than Luke.
McCown concludes, 'Fiction, fact and truth‑all three are to be found in the geographical data in the Gospels, not fiction alone as Schmidt seems to suggest and as other Formgeschichtler walking in goose‑step after him boldly declare.
There is much of fiction especially in Luke, but in Mark much of fact. [Op. cit., p. 24.]
Dodd thinks that St. Mark had at his disposal three kinds of material, '
(a) isolated material without any connection;
(b) more complex material including Pericopae strung on an itinerary or connected by unity of theme;
(c) the outline to the ministry designed to introduce the Passion story'.
He points out that if this was so, St. Mark was likely to have been embarrassed by two facts;
first, that his outline was far too meagre to provide a setting for all the detailed narratives at his disposal;
secondly, that some materials came to him already grouped in ways which cut across a truly chronological order.
(See on Mark's sources, pp. 67 ff.) 'St. Mark's natural inclination', he says, 'would be to compromise between a topological and a chronological order.
When the outline gave a clue to the setting of a narrative, he used it; when he took over more complex material already arranged, he allowed its order to stand, relating perhaps only its opening to what seemed the most suitable point in the outline, e.g. ii.1‑12.
Otherwise he was guided by topical considerations or by what he felt to be chronological requirements.'
On the whole, as Dodd says, there is good reason to believe that in broad lines the Marcan order does represent a genuine succession of events within which movement and development can be found.
With this verdict F. C. Burkitt would have agreed (Jesus Christ: an historical outline, 1932).
Or as H. L. Goudge [The Church of England and Reunion (1938), p. 204.] wrote:
'Form‑criticism has little to teach us if we are familiar with the Old Testament.
That the purpose of the Gospels is a practical and devotional purpose, not primarily an historical one; that different forms of narrative are employed, which we may distinguish if we can do so; that strict chronological arrangement is absent; and that the narrative of the divine redemption has a place which is all its own‑to say this is simply to say that the New Torah resembles the Old.
Again, to say that the basis of the Synoptic Gospels lies in oral tradition is to say what is equally true of the Old Torah, and should never have been denied: Form‑criticism is a return to Westcott.
But unhappily our chief Form‑critics seem to have little idea of the Church or of the Ministry: and so they confuse the guarded tradition of the Church with the floating tradition of primitive peoples.
To guard the tradition was one of the first duties of the Christian Ministry, as it had been of the Jewish.
The Lord by His teaching and training took care that they should be able to perform it...
St. Mark and St. Luke were in the closest association with the Apostles; and it is absurd to treat their narratives as if they had just been disinterred from the sands of Egypt and as if we knew nothing of their origin but what we can gather by our critical acumen.'
It may not be going too far to apply to Form‑critical views mutatis mutandis what John Drinkwater, [English Poetry, p. 78.]wrote about our ballads:
'We need have nothing to do with the fantastic notion that they [the ballads] were by some unexplained process communal productions.
A poem must be written by a poet, and that is all there is about it.
These poems, surviving as they did from generation to generation by oral tradition alone, doubtless underwent many modifications in the process, but that has nothing to do with the question, which with rational people cannot be a question at all.
No Gospel section passed through such a long period of
oral tradition as did any genuine ballad.
B. H. Streeter (Cambridge Ancient History xl, 1936, p. 260, n. 1; cf. C. J. Cadoux, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, xxxix, 1945‑6, pp. 269‑85.), a far from conservative critic, who did not discuss Form‑criticism in his Four Gospels gave the following verdict on Form‑critics' work:
'These endeavours are often suggestive; but in the opinion of the writer, they are always precarious and sometimes perverse.'