Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 2

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 1
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 2 

In chapter two of his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Dr. Richard Bauckham turns his attention to an important early church writer whose fragmentary words will play an important role in his argument: Papias. First, some information on him:
Papias was bishop of Hierapolis, a city in the Lycus valley in the Roman province of Asia, not far from Laodicea and Colossae. He completed his major work, Exposition of the Logia of the Lord, in five books, sometime near the beginning of the second century, but sadly it has not survived. . . . As it is, we have no more than two dozen fragments surviving as quotations in later writers. (12)
He later adds the following biographical information:
Papias belonged, roughly speaking, to the third Christian generation, and therefore to a generation that had been in touch with the first Christian generation, the generation of the apostles. he was personally acquainted with the daughters of Philip the evangelist, the Philip who was one of the Seven  . . . This Philip spent the last years of his life in Hierapolis, and two of his daughters, who were well known as prophets (Acts 21:8-9), also lived out the rest of their lives there, unmarried. Perhaps Papias knew Philip himself in his childhood, but it was from Philip's daughters that he learned some stories about the apostles (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.9). (13)
Why is Papias so important? Just a cursory look at the book's table of contents shows that he is central to Bauckham's argument that the Gospels are testimonies from eye witnesses many of whom are named for us. To begin, a discussion on when Papias lived and wrote is important. Though I will not trace the at times hard to follow argument as to the exact dating of his writings here, let the above information suffice: Papias was a third generation believer who had access to some of the eyewitnesses of the events in the life and ministry of Jesus. As a result, his information is closer to the original event than most writings outside of the New Testament canon.

Another reason he is important regards his approach to history. One of the fragments we possess from Papias is his prologue which mirrors that of Luke. It reads as follows (as written and translated by Bauckham):
I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you [singular] everything I learned carefully in the past from the elders and noted down well, for the truth of which I vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else’s commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who has been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders – [that is,] what [according to the elders] Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas, or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying. For I did not think the information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.” (15-16)
The rest of the chapter is dominated by an exegesis, if you will, of this prologue. I will highlight only some of the discussion. First, Papias' approach to history mirrors that of Roman historians (and Jewish historians like Josephus) of the time. It was believed that personal testimony was better than oral tradition and written records. The reason is obvious: eyewitnesses were there and thus their testimony is more reliable. This is what he means by "a living and surviving voice." Bauckham writes, Papias is not speaking metaphorically of the "voice" of oral tradition, as many scholars have supposed. He speaks quite literally of the voice of an informant - someone who has personal memories of the words and deeds of Jesus and who is still alive (27).

Secondly, Papias names his witnesses. Bauckham puts them into four categories: (1) those who "had been in attendance with the elders," i.e. people who had been present at their teaching (2) the elders themselves; (3) the Lord's disciples, consisting of Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, and others; (4) Aristion and John the Elder, who are also called "the Lord's disciples" (16). It is here that the author goes into a long academic discussion on these four categories, what they mean, and why he believers these are four categories and not just two or three.

Thirdly, it is clear that Papias was at least aware of Matthew and Mark and strikingly similarities between his writings and the Gospel of John.
  • The order of the disciples' names in Papias is similar (though not exactly) that of John 1:40-44 and 21:2. 
  • Papias and John prefer discple over apostle.
  • Papias speaks of "the truth" like John (see John 14:6 especially).
  • Bauckham suggests Papias' "a living and surviving voice" may recall John 21 regarding how long the Beloved disciple would live.

In all, we should note the importance of Papias. He, like the Gospels, wrote down the testimonies of original witnesses and those who knew them personally. More could be said regarding Papias, and Bauckham explores more in later chapters, His point here is to say that outside of the Gospels, Papias is an important witnesses who informs us a lot regarding the content and claims of the Gospels. So in providing his main thesis, that the Gospels are eyewitness testimonies, Bauckham utilizes an important early church writer to make his case. If what Papias writes about Jesus corresponds to the story and theology of the Gospels, then the Gospels can and ought to be trusted. Plus, Papias' use of Matthew, Mark, and John only makes the case for the Gospel's even stronger.

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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