Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 9

"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
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 7
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 8
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 9


A few weeks ago, I criticized Dr. Bauckham's limited approach to his argument that Peter lie behind the Gospel of Mark. In chapter 7 of his book "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses," Bauckman defends Petrine influence behind Mark but does so based on internal evidence forcing him to make arguments that were hard to grasp and at times hard to follow. I suggested Bauckham utilize external evidence in addition to his argument. Clearly, I had not read chapter 9 yet.

In this chapter, Bauckham returns to Papias, an early church writer he introduced in chapter 2, to argue that Mark's Gospel is as much Peter's.[1] The quotation from Papias, quoted by Eusebius, is as follows:
We must now add to his [Papias's] statements quoted above about Mark, the author of the Gospel, which has been set forth in these words:
The Elder used to say:  Mark, in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter [hermeneutes], wrote down accurately as many things as he [Peter?] recalled from memory — though not in an ordered form [ou mentoi taxei] — of the things either said or done by the Lord.  For he [Mark] neither heard the Lord nor accompanied him, but later, as I said, [he heard and accompanied] Peter, who used to give his teachings in the form of chreiai, but had no intention of providing an ordered arrangement [suntaxin] of the logia of the Lord.  Consequently Mark did nothing wrong when he wrote down some individual items just as he [Peter?] related them from memory.  For he made it his one concern not to omit anything he had heard or to falsify anything.
This, then, is the account given by Papias about Mark.  But about Matthew the following was said:
Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement [sunetaxato] in the Hebrew language [hebraidi dialecto], but each person interpreted them as best he could.
Strikingly, this is the same passage I highlighted in my previous post. Nonetheless, the significance of this quotation is first, What Papias says here about the Gospel of Mark is the earliest explicit occurrence of the claim that Peter's teaching lies behind this Gospel (203). Yet in spite of that, Papias' assertion about Peter's influence behind Mark has become widely regarded as historically worthless (203) since the 20th century for multiple reasons. However, Bauckham puts forth a strong case, much of which he introduced in chapter 2, of why we should take Papias seriously again and the assertion that Papias makes.

So what does Papias say exactly about Peter and Mark's Gospel? First, The whole paragraph seems designed to assert that Mark reproduced in his Gospel exactly what he heard Peter say (205). Bauckham suggests, based on his interpretation of the above quotation, that Mark is in fact Peter's translator. What this means is significant.
. . . Papias may be envisaging that Peter and Mark sat down together to make a written record of the traditions of Jesus' words and deeds as Peter was in the habit of reciting them. Mark translated and wrote as Peter spoke. (207)
Throughout the chapter, Bauckham makes the same assertion making it key to his argument about Mark's Gospel. The two men, Peter and Mark, worked together on this Gospel. Peter dictated, if you will, while Mark composed the Gospel. This explains, at least to Papias, why Mark's content is out of order and pithy.
This is exactly Papias's concern: Mark's approach is praiseworthy because he puts readers into direct touch with Peter's oral teaching. By do more than translate Mark puts readers in touch with a primary source, Peter's eyewitness testimony, instead of constituting a secondary source that distances readers further from the events. (208-209)
If Papias is trustworthy, and Bauckham makes a forceful argument as to why he is, then the Gospel of Mark would be as good a historical source as one could get in the period after all eyewitnesses had died (210).

Mark's Gospel, then, is likened to a memoir or a reminiscences (212). However, Papias was not the only to make this assertion. Bauckham highlights Justin Martyr's assertion that the gospels were "reminiscences" of the apostolic eyewitnesses, and in the case of Mark's Gospel the "reminiscences" of Peter (213).

In addition to Justin Martyr, Bauckham points to other evidences that Mark Gospel can easily be considered Peter's Gospel. One fascinating assertion comes from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. Saying 13 reads (not Bauckham's translation):
Jesus said to his disciples: Compare me, tell me whom I am like.
Simon Peter said to him: You are like a righteous angel.
Matthew said to him: You are like a wise philosopher.
Thomas said to him: Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like.  . . .
You can read the rest of Saying 13 here. Bauckham asserts that this passage compares Peter's and Matthew's characterizations of Jesus with Thomas's appreciation of the ineffable nature of Jesus, and regards the former as lacking insight and misleading. But why are Peter and Matthew selected for this role (236)? Bauckham suggests the Gnostic writer is comparing not Matthew and Peter the persons, but Matthew and Peter the Gospels equating Peter with the Gospel of Matthew. Although I find this an intriguing thought (you will have to read the chapter to follow his argument more fully), I am not yet convinced of it.

In the end, however, if Bauckham and Papias is right, then Mark's Gospel is, from beginning to end, an eyewitness testimony from the leading disciple among the Twelve. Mark's Gospel, then, is the story of Jesus told by the Apostle Peter. That is not insignificant.

This assertion becomes more credible given all that Bauckham has said about Mark thus far. Internal evidence suggests Petrine influence. External influence suggests Petrine dictation. Furthermore, three of the four Gospels (including Mark) include at least one eyewitness from the beginning of the story (defined as the ministry of John the Baptist) to the end. Mark's eyewitness is Peter.

If all of this is true, then the Gospel of Mark is not the result of decades of oral traditions. Nor is it legendary. Instead, it is the testimony of Peter who was there "from the beginning" and thus must be trusted. Add to this the influence Mark has on Matthew and Luke (and maybe even John), and the other Gospels gain even more credibility.


[1] Chapter 9 highlights what Papias has to say about Matthew, Mark, and John. For the sake of space, I will focus exclusively on Mark. The chapter itself is dominated by Mark anyways.


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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