Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 3

"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

I have been teaching through the book of Acts recently and have noticed a common trend from Luke. The author has a tendency to name people who play little to no role in the narrative. I am not alone in noticing that and scholars and readers alike have struggled in understanding why Luke does this. Some characters in the Gospels and in Acts who play a major role are not named whereas some rather minute characters are. Why is that? My theory has been that Luke, and the other writers with him, are identifying for us their witnesses. It is a simple device for the reader to know who Luke interviewed and where he is getting his information.

In the third chapter of his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Dr. Richard Bauckham notes the apparent inexplicable approach to names the Evangelists follow. He writes:
It is easy to see that certain categories of people fall mostly into one or the other group. Public persons, that is, those who would have been known apart from the story of Jesus (John the Baptist, Herod, Herodias, Caiaphas, Pilate, presumably Barabbas) are usually named. The  beneficiaries in stories of Jesus' healings and exorcisms are usually unnamed. Persons who encounter Jesus on one occasion and do not become disciples are usually unnamed. Some of the unnamed persons are so insignificant in the narratives that we would not normally expect them to be named. Disciples of Jesus, including the Twelve, are usually named. These categories are readily intelligible. One would expect that the names of Jesus would be remembered in the traditions and that public persons would also appear by name, while the names of people who were healed or encountered Jesus on one occasion might not even have been known to those who first told the stories and would not seem to present any good reason for being remembered. (39-40)
Certainly there appears to be no real pattern among the Gospel writers. However, Bauckham argues that this strange approach to names tells us something about the origin of the content. The named individuals are not only eyewitnesses, but also faithful followers of Jesus at the time of the writing. He writes:
There is one phenomenon in the Gospels that has never been satisfactorily explained. It concerns names. Many characters in the Gospels are unnamed, but others are named. I want to suggest now the possibility that many of these named characters were eyewitnesses who not only originated the traditions to which their names are attached but also continued to tell these stories as authoritative guarantors of their traditions. In some cases the Evangelists may well have known them. (39)
To defend this thesis, Bauckham survey's three examples: The Women at the Cross and the Tomb, Simon of Cyrene and His Sons, and the Recipients of Healings. For our purposes, I want us to consider the account in Mark 15:21 regarding the man who carried the cross of Jesus, Simon of Cyrene, and why Mark strangely names for us his two sons.

We should note first the text. Each Synoptic names Simon of Cyrene but only Mark names his two sons - Alexander and Rufus. Simon's two sons are found nowhere in the narrative and we do not know for sure if they were present and witnessed their father. This is a uniquely Marcan issue. Bauckham writes:
Nor is it really plausible that Mark names the sons merely because they were known to his readers. Mark is far from prodigal with names. The reference to Alexander and Rufus certainly does presuppose that Mark expected many of his readers to know them, in person or by reputation, as almost all commentators have agreed, but this cannot in itself explain why they are named. There does not seem to be a good reason available other than that Mark is appealing to Simon's eyewitness testimony, known in the early Christian movement not from his own firsthand account but through his sons. Perhaps Simon himself did not, like his sons, join the movement, or perhaps he died in the early years, while his sons remained well-known figures, telling their father’s story of the crucifixion of Jesus. (52)
Mark, then, is identifying for his readers his sources. It is possibly true that Simon's two sons are members of the church in Rome where Mark might be writing, but ultimately Mark is being transparent for the reader identifying, at the worst, two individuals who heard this story directly from Simon himself.

In short, like with Papias in chapter two of Bauckham's book, the claims made by the Gospel writers are not legendary myths, but based on eyewitness testimony. And if the original readers doubted them, they could always ask those mentioned by name in the Gospels themselves.

All of this reminds me of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

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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