Bauckham, Richard. "Chapter Thirteen: The Study of Gospel Traditions Outisde the Canonical Gospels: Problems and Prospects." in Wenham, David (editor), The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984, 369-403.
Bauckham notes that the field of scholarship of Christian literature other than the canonical material has been neglected. However, he says, "there is a good deal of relevant material which is roughly contemporary with the canonical Gospels, while the material which is later is not necessarily unimportant because of its date" (Wenham [editor] 1984, 370). For this reason, he provides numerous reasons for study of "Gospel traditions outside the canonical Gospels" (Wenham [editor] 1984, 370).
There were certainly contemporaneous acounts of early Christian practices and doctrines. Luke's Gospel mentions "many" works (1:1) (Wenham [editor] 1984, 371). It is highly unlikely that the written and oral traditions would have disappeared when the canonical works were first published, or even that written records would have stopped being created at that time (Wenham [editor] 1984, 372). The Gospel tradition should be assumed to be spread freely for some time.
Study of the non-canonical works can be of value for several reasons. The non-caonical works can shed light on the way topics brought up in the canonical materials were understood at the time of composition (Wenham [editor] 1984, 375) They suggest how the Gospel traditions were applied to life.
Bauckham observes that the canonical Gospels derived their material from somewhere. Occasionally the non-canonical works point to similar sources or may tend to show a pathway which a tradition followed as it was adopted for use (Wenham [editor] 1984, 377). Bauckham develops this theme in some detail.
Reserach in this field has many interesting opportunities. However, Bauckham considers three areas of difficulty which require concentrated effort. First, it is difficult (at best) to know whether an author is making a purposeful allusion to another work (Wenham [editor] 1984, 383). Second, the quest for dependence is one which provides us with considerable difficulty. In a manner similar to identifying allusions, the scholar's judgment and predispositions play a significant role (Wenham [editor] 1984, 385). Thirdly, the interplay of orality and textuality is of greater importance than we might have assumed in the past (Wenham [editor] 1984, 385). Oral traditions are, by nature, invisible, thus they are very hard to trace. Yet they can both spring from and lead toward written records. Bauckham sees all three problems easily mixing together, creating countless challenges.
As a case study, Bauckham considers the difficulty of establishing dependence between Matthew and Ignatius (Wenham [editor] 1984, 386). He finds a common assumption that Ignatius was dependent on Matthew, but no consensus on the reasons or evidence.
Bauckham considers that the letters of Ignatius can be dated fairly reliably to about 107 (Wenham [editor] 1984, 388). Matthew's Gospel, which is normally considered to have been written in Antioch a few decades earlier, would probably have been known to Ignatius. However, Ignatius may well have known Gospel traditions before becoming familiar with Matthew (Wenham [editor] 1984, 389). His work has allusions to traditions, some of which would be used by Matthew, some of which would not (Wenham [editor] 1984, 390).
Bauckham details numerous possible scenarios of influence or dependence, all of which would need to be considered in each of the places where similarity of ideas and wording would suggest quotations or allusions (Wenham [editor] 1984, 391-392). The task can readily be seen as a monumental one. Bauckham observes that in his research he has not found authors who have studied all the possible scenarios for a passage, but that reserachers have addressed some of the possibilities of many (Wenham [editor] 1984, 393).