Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 6

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 1
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 2
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 3
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapters 4-5
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 6

Multiple witnesses to a crime is a great asset when piecing together what happened, but even better is a strong, single eyewitness present during the entire spree. Because each witness observes and interprets differently, a single eyewitness present from beginning to end makes the case for the prosecution much stronger. The same is true with the Gospels and the story they tell.

In his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony, Dr. Richard Bauckham has presented clear evidence in defense of his thesis, expressed in the subtitle, that the Gospels are not the by-products of oral traditions or man's theological interpretation, but of first-person eyewitnesses and close associates of the events. In previous chapters, Bauckham highlighted the use of names in Judaism and how it relates to the Gospels themselves. He argued, among other things, that the  names provided serve as the authors way of identifying their sources. It is clear, then, that the Gospels utilize and name living eyewitnesses in their narratives. Yet was there anyone there from beginning to end?

Before answering that question, we must determine what we mean by the beginning and end of the story of Jesus. Two Gospels - Matthew and Luke - begin with accounts of Jesus' birth. The Gospel of John begins on the deep end of the theological pool. Mark, on the other hand, begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. Thus when searching for a common source "from the beginning" (to use Bauckham's phrase) in each Gospel, the author suggests we offer a broad scope of the Jesus story. Bauckham suggests the story of Jesus begins with John the Baptist and . . . ends with the resurrection appearances (114). Thus, in this chapter, Bauckham highlights all four Gospels and shows how all but one utilizes a single, or in one instance multiple, eyewitness from beginning (as defined by Bauckham) to the end.

First, there is Luke. There is no doubt that the writer of the third Gospel is the easiest to discuss for he tells us from the beginning that he has such a witness. His preface reads as follows (taken from NASB):
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
Bauckham notes in response to Luke the sheer volume of what could be said, even as it relates to the subject matter at hand. Yet especially important to him is Luke's assertion that the eyewitnesses had been present throughout the events from the appropriate commencement of the author's history onward (119). This is most clearly seen in verse 2 where the claim is explicitly made.[1] Bauckham ultimately concludes:
The point in Luke's preface is that, just as the scope of the eyewitness testimony was comprehensive, covering the whole story Luke's Gospel had to tell ("from the beginning"), so Luke's thorough familiarity with and understanding of this testimony were equally comprehensive. Luke can tell the story "from the beginning" because he is familiar with the traditions of those who were eyewitnesses "from the beginning." It seems that the principle of eyewitness testimony "from the beginning" was remarkably important for the way that the traditions about Jesus were transmitted and understood in early Christianity. (124)
Who were the eyewitnesses of Luke? Bauckham argues that it is in fact the women. It is a distinctive feature of Luke's story of Jesus that he places a heavier emphasis on a much wider group of itinerant disciples in addition to the Twelve (129). The women in Luke's Gospel are introduced early while Jesus is in Galilee and they are named. Though they, at least in Luke's account, are not present at the ministry of John the Baptist, they do come close to doing so and continue to follow Jesus through the end of Luke's Gospel.

Mark's primary witness is Peter, a subject he picks up on in chapter 7. For our purposes here, Bauckham shows how Peter serves as a type of inclusio of Mark's Gospel. Peter is the first disciple named immediately following the outset of Jesus' ministry (124). Mark mentions Peter, relative to the length of the Gospels (125), more than any other writer. Not only is Peter mentioned explicitly at the beginning, but also at the end following the resurrection.[2]

John utilizes the Beloved Disciple whose identity will be discussed later in the book. Matthew, however, does not follow this pattern. Matthew, himself, is not converted until later in Jesus' ministry and so is not an eyewitness for the first eight chapters of his own Gospel. Bauckham notes that Matthew alone seems not concerned to claim the authority of any specific eyewitnesses (132). Ultimately, however,
. . . three of the four Gospels evidently work quite deliberately with the idea that a Gospel, since it tells the whole story of Jesus, must embody the testimony of witnesses who were participants in the story from beginning to end - from the time of John the Baptist's ministry to the time of the resurrection appearances. These three gospels all use the literary device of the inclusio of eyewitness testimony in order to indicate the main eyewitness source of their story. This does not, of course, exclude the appropriation also of material from other eyewitnesses, and we shall see that these Gospels also do that. (131)
To further prove his point that historians at this time utilized one main eyewitness, Bauckham highlights two ancient narratives similar to the Gospels that do the same. I will not explore these here. Instead, here is his conclusion of the matter:
But however much weight should be given to these parallels outside the Gospels, the data within the Gospels is itself adequate to attest the convention as one that the Gospel writers deliberately deployed. Especially important in establishing the inclusio of eyewitness testimony is the way in which Luke an John seem clearly to have recognized Mark's use of the device an to have adapted it to their own narrative and purposes. . . .

Thus, contrary to first impressions, with which most Gospels scholars have been content, the Gospels do have their own literary ways of indicating their eyewitness sources. If it be asked why these are not more obvious and explicit in our eyes, we should note that most ancient readers or hearers of these works, unlike scholars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, would have expected them to have eyewitness sources, and that those readers or hearers to whom the identity of the eyewitnesses was important would have been alert tot he indications the Gospels actually provide. (146, 147)
Ultimately, what Bauckham presents here is an important point. Three of the Gospels identify at least one key witness who can verify virtually every detail in their Gospel from the ministry of John the Baptist to the resurrection appearances. The Gospels, then, are not written accounts of stories passed down through multiple generations, but accounts verified by multiple witnesses and by at least one common witness to all the events.

[1] In regards to Luke's passion narrative and why Bauckham suggests that the "from the beginning" claims means the ministry of John the Baptist, he writes:
We may compare the fact that Luke's narrative based on the accounts of those who were eyewitnesses "from the beginning" properly begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, but that he also has a kind of historical prologue narrating the birth and youth of John and Jesus. It is not plausible . . . that the "beginning" to which Luke refers is the events of chs. 1-2 of his Gospel and that the "eyewitnesses" include the characters in these preliminary stories. Rather Luke abides by the starting point for the history of Jesus that in his time was generally agreed and which the oral testimony of the eyewitnesses observed, but added a preliminary account of events that would give his main story an appropriate background and context. (121-122)

[2] The author also notes the influence of Peter in forming Luke's Gospel as well. It is clear that Luke's either used Mark or a Marcan source. Therefore we shouldn't be surprised at the Petrine influence.

For more:
"The Historical Jesus": A Lecture by Ben Witherington
"The Story of Jesus" Documentary
We've All Heard This Before: "Zealot" and the Same Search For the Missing Jesus  
12 Proofs of Jesus' Deity From the Synoptic Gospels
Ravi Zacharias' 12 Arguments For the Historicity of the Resurrection
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
"Raised With Christ" by Adrian Warnock: A Review
NT Wright: Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?
"The Jesus Inquest" by Charles Foster: A Review
"The Case for Easter"
"The Case For the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
The Quest For the Historical Satan: The Entire Series  
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