In the 1980s I was part of the London Messianic Congregation, and we were putting together our pattern of readings starting with the weekly Torah portion (parasha), with a portion from the Prophets (haftarah) and a passage from the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament). But how would we select the portion from the Apostolic writings, and what criteria should we use? Other Messianic congregations had developed their own patterns, but all seemed somewhat ad hoc and random.
I went up to Birmingham to hear Michael Goulder speak. His lectures were sparkling with wit and wisdom, analysis and insight, and he proposed a very credible theory that the Gospels, especially Matthew, were composed to be read aloud alongside the weekly pattern of the cycle of weekly and festival Torah portions. Whilst some of the connections seemed a little stretched, in general I found it quite convincing, and we adopted the pattern. Here is a chart of what this might look like.
Goulder’s lectionary theories were a minority view in New Testament scholarship. As with his other theories, on the non-existence of Q (“Quelle” – the source common to the three Synoptic Gospels), the conflict between the mission of Peter to the Jewish people, and of Paul to the nations and on the development of the Psalter and of the structure of Luke, they were always an acquired taste. But they have stood the test of time and critical scrutiny, and today scholars such as Mark Goodacre have championed their validity in the light of more recent discoveries and the development of newer tools and methods for evaluating them.
For me as a young Jewish disciple of Yeshua, it was not rocket science. The Gospels were composed by Jews for Jews (and others) about the greatest Jew who ever lived, Rabbi Yeshua Ben David. It was only natural that the records of his life and teaching were compiled to reflect his fulfilment of Torah, the Festivals, and the Jewish calendar. But until Goulder expanded and make the theory known, I did not know how it could be done.
The blessing on seeing a scholar is:
Blessed are you, O LORD our God, who has apportioned of his wisdom to those who fear Him.
ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life and wisdom of Michael Goulder, his contribution to scholarship and his creative and original views. May all who read your scriptures and follow Yeshua as Messiah and Lord read diligently, study enthusiastically, and be blessed with the knowledge and fear of You that is beyond price. In our Messiah’s name we pray. Amen.
From The Times
February 11, 2010
Professor Michael Goulder: biblical scholar
Michael Goulder was Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Birmingham, well known for his creative approach to the Gospels and the Psalms and for resigning his orders as an Anglican priest not long after contributing to The Myth of God Incarnate, a celebrated collection of essays that questioned the traditional Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.
Michael Douglas Goulder was born in 1927 in London. He won a scholarship to Eton in 1940 and a major scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1946. He spent several years in Hong Kong, first with the company Jardine Matheson and then at St John’s Cathedral, where he developed an interest in the Anglican ministry. He was ordained in 1951. He returned to England and studied theology at Trinity College, Oxford, with Austin Farrer, whose biblical scholarship had a profound impact on his thinking. He would follow his teacher in arguing that the evangelists wrote with an imagination informed by Old Testament types and models, and that the hypothetical gospel source “Q” was unnecessary, against the prevailing wisdom of the day.
After serving a curacy in Salford, he was in parish ministry in Withington, Manchester, for six years. He returned to Hong Kong in 1962 as principal of Union Theological College. When he came back to England in 1966, it was as staff tutor in theology in the extramural department at the University of Birmingham, where he stayed until his retirement in 1994. He became Professor of Biblical Studies in 1991.
The position in the extramural department allowed him to teach and organise theology-related courses and events across the West Midlands. He was known as a successful teacher with a friendly, engaging style. His teaching was characterised by a stress on the importance of intellectual honesty and his love of telling a good story.
He developed his theories on the origins of the Gospels and from 1969 to 1971 he gave the Speaker’s Lectures in Oxford, arguing that Matthew was an expanded version of Mark, designed to be read around the year based on the Jewish lectionary. The lectures were later published as Midrash and Lection in Matthew (1974) which earned him an Oxford DD. Subsequent work, including The Evangelists’ Calendar (1978) and culminating in his largest and best book, Luke: A New Paradigm (1989), grew from this base, dispensing with hypothetical, lost gospel sources and arguing for the literary creativity of the evangelists.
He gained some notice as one of the contributors to The Myth of God Incarnate in 1977 and he edited the follow-up volume, Incarnation and Myth: The Debate Continued in 1979. In 1981 he resigned his orders because he no longer believed in God. The book co- authored with his friend and colleague John Hick, Why Believe in God (1983), provided an account of his journey away from faith. Although his scholarship was often coloured by a painstakingly honest, sceptical perspective, he never became an aggressive atheist, and he retained a love for the Church.
Later in his career, he developed a unitary theory of Christian origins that saw the Apostle Paul and his followers developing their theology in contradistinction from the Jerusalem Christians represented by Peter and James, Jesus’s brother. A popular presentation of the theory, A Tale of Two Missions (1994), was followed in 2001 by Paul and the Competing Mission in Corinth.
He will be remembered primarily as a New Testament scholar, but in an era of ever-increasing specialisation he was unusual in successfully crossing the boundaries and developing expertise also in the Old Testament, and especially the Psalms. He was president of the Society of Old Testament Studies (“Sots”) in 2001 and wrote seven books on the Psalms, Song of Songs and Isaiah. His work was characterised by the ability to see liturgical patterns in texts that were often treated by others in piecemeal fashion.
He was a gifted public speaker and a fine debater, with a mastery of detail and the ability to think on his feet. His sharp intellect and quick wit would give him the upper hand in debates with fellow scholars, and good humour and a mischievous streak made him a popular figure on public occasions.
His academic writing was admired for its clarity and sparkle, and his theories for their boldness and ambition. If he had only partial success in persuading others of the plausibility of his theories, he nevertheless succeeded in becoming one of the best-loved biblical scholars of his generation.
Michael Goulder was married to Clare Gardner in 1953. She and their two daughters and two sons survive him.
Professor Michael Goulder, biblical scholar, was born on May 31, 1927. He died on January 6, 2010, aged 82
From Five Stones and a Sling p28: on new theories:
“My disappointment was due in large part to my inexperience. I had
supposed that scholars were dedicated to the pursuit of truth, wherever
that might lead, and that new ideas would always be welcome. This however is only partly true. Before new ideas come, scholars have reached a
consensus, and their position as authorities depends upon their agreeing
with that consensus. Their teachers, whom they normally honoured, had
taught them the consensus; they had written their books assuming it, and
they had often helped to develop it themselves. They were not at all likely,
therefore, to think that they and their fellow experts had been wrong,
and that a new scholar, of whom they had not heard, was in a position to
put them right. But there is another problem: most scholars of the New
Testament have religious loyalties: they want the text to be orthodox, or
historical, or preachable, or relevant. So any new interpretation which
does not fulfil these conditions is not likely to be approved.”
On the Lectionary theory –
“My problem came with the general structure of Matthew’s Gospel.
It is widely accepted that the Gospel consists of a series of incidents,
mostly healings, broken by five Discourses: the Sermon on the Mount
(chs. 5–7), the Mission Discourse (ch. 10), the Harvest Parables (ch.
13), a Church Law Discourse (chs. 18–19), and the Discourse on the
End (chs. 24–25). Some scholars have suggested that Matthew had in
mind a parallel to the five books of the Law; but the fit is not good, and I
found the idea unconvincing. A solution came to me, as to Archimedes,
in my bath; in the form of another question, What did Matthew have in
mind as the purpose of his book? It can hardly have been to sell it in a
bookshop, and the general tone of the Gospel suggests that it was written
to be read aloud in church. But he couldn’t have meant all twenty-eight
chapters to be read aloud at one sitting, and an alternative occurred to
me as much more likely. The book could be divided into so many units,
to be read serially, one each Sunday. Chapter 28, Matthew’s last chapter,
the Resurrection story, could suitably be read on Easter Day. If the book
were written to be read as a cycle, his first chapters would then follow.
These consist of a series of stories, most of which he signs off with a
formula, such as, ‘All this came to pass that it might be fulfilled which
was spoken by the prophet…’: Jesus’ Birth, the Wise Men, the Flight into
Egypt, the Baptism, the Temptations, the First Disciples. After these
comes Matthew’s first Discourse, the Sermon on the Mount. Now the
coincidence here seemed very striking. Jesus was killed at Passover time;
seven weeks after Passover came the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. This
was celebrated as the occasion that Moses received the Law on Mount
Sinai; and here, seven sections after Easter, we have Jesus giving a new
version of the Law on the mountain. He says, ‘Think not that I came
to destroy the Law and Prophets; I came not to destroy but to fulfil’,
and he goes on to contrast the old Ten Commandments with ‘…but I say
unto you’. In other words Matthew appears to be providing a story to
be read out in church each Sunday, and for the Jewish festivals, there
were especially suitable discourses of Jesus. The Gospel was designed to
provide readings for the whole year.”
On Readings for the Jewish Calendar and Festivals —
“The further Discourses were also appropriate: to Jews, New Year
was a feast celebrating the Kingdom of God, and in ch. 10 there follows
Matthew’s second Discourse, the sending of the Apostles to proclaim
the coming of the Kingdom. Tabernacles was a feast celebrating the
harvest, and in ch. 13 comes the third Discourse, the Parables of the
Harvest. Between these two passages comes Jesus’ reproach of the cities
where he had preached for their failure to repent, in contrast to the men
of Nineveh who did repent at the preaching of Jonah. This would fall
ideally for Yom Kippur, the annual Fast, when Israel was to repent of its
sins, the 10th of Tishri, between New Year on the 1st and Tabernacles
from the 15th to the 22nd; the Book of Jonah is the traditional prophetic
reading for the Fast. Matthew 17 presents Jesus transfigured in light, a
suitable theme for Hanukkah, the Feast of Lights, and this then leads
on to the Fourth Discourse, chs. 18–19. Matthew 22 brings us to the
Royal Wedding Feast; one guest attends without a wedding garment,
and is cast out into outer darkness. The parable would serve well for
a Christian celebration of Purim, when King Ahasuerus gave a dinner
for his new wife Esther, and the unworthy guest Haman, who has been
plotting the liquidation of the Jewish people, is cast out and hanged on
his own gibbet. Matthew 24–25, the last Discourse, warns the Church
of the coming of its Lord at Passover. Mark gives substantially the
same discourse in ch. 13, and concludes, ‘What I say to you, I say to all,
Watch: for you know not when your Lord cometh, late or at midnight, or
cockcrow, or early’ (i.e. dawn). This follows the progress of the Passion
narrative: Jesus comes at evening for the Passover meal; after this he
takes the disciples to Gethsemane, where three times he says, ‘Could you
not watch with me one hour?’ Jesus is then arrested: Peter denies him at
cockcrow, and he is tried by Pilate at dawn. The fourth century pilgrim,
Egeria, describes the Vigil kept by the Jerusalem church on Passover
night with Gospel readings at the different locations mentioned in the
story; the church then kept Passover with an adoration of the Cross. The
Gospel divides the day into a series of watches, the trial at dawn, the
crucifixion at the third hour, darkness from the sixth hour, Jesus’ death
at the ninth hour, his burial before sundown. So much detail would be
well explained if the church was already keeping vigil through the full
day of expectation of Jesus’ coming.”