Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 10-11

"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
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 10-11

Every chapter of Dr. Bauckham's book unfolds the evidence for his basic thesis that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus (240). Admittedly, this theory is not accepted by most New Testament scholars, but Bauckham thus far has made a persuasive argument. One key issue in discussing the text of the New Testament regards oral transmission and form criticism. Bauckham dedicates three chapters to the subject. We will discuss the first two in this post here. His basic argument is as follows:
The main purpose of this chapter and the next is to consider the implications of putting the eyewitnesses back into the picture, not merely as the original sources of gospel traditions, but as people who remained accessible sources and authoritative guarantors of their own testimony throughout the period between Jesus and the writing of the Gospels. (241)
He begins with, and dedicates his first chapter to, form criticism. He asserts early on that nearly all . . . early form critics have by now been convincingly refuted (242). Later he adds, the arguments of the form critics no longer hold water (249). What follows, then, is a detailed survey that is difficult to follow even with those familiar with some of the issues. Bauckham criticizes some of the major voices in form criticism and concludes with more modern and acceptable versions of it. Chapter 10, in essence, introduces the reader to what follows in chapters 11 and 12.

In chapter 11, Bauckham discusses oral tradition and how it is transmitted in more detail. I will not rehearse it all here as it is a comparably lengthier chapter. Instead, I want to highlight some of what Bauckham says about the Apostle Paul. He begins by asserting that We have unequivocal evidence, in Paul's letters, that the early Christian movements did practice the formal transmission of transmission (264). The two key texts are 1 Corinthians 11 regarding the Lord's Supper and 1 Corinthians 15 regarding the resurrection.

First, where did Paul receive his oral tradition? Bauckham highlight's Paul's story in Galatians where he visits Peter (and briefly James) and spent two weeks with the leading Apostle. He then adds, We should rather presume that Paul was becoming thoroughly informed of the Jesus traditions as formulated by the twelve, learning them from the leader of the Twelve, Peter (266).

The part that stuck out most to me regarding Paul's discussion of the Eucharist and Luke's telling of it. Remember that both the Gospel of Luke and the first Epistle to the Corinthians are two very different literary genre's. First Corinthians is didactic while Luke is narrative, yet the two, Bauckham shows, is eerily similar.
[Paul] must have known it as a unit of Jesus tradition, perhaps already part of a passion narrative; it is the only such unit that Paul ever quotes explicitly and at length. He cites it in a form that is close to the Lukan version (Luke 22:19-20) and that diverges generally in the same way as Luke's from the version in Mark and Matthew (Mark 14:22-24; Matt 26:26-28). Paul's version is verbally so close to Luke's that, since literary dependence in either direction is very unlikely, Paul must be dependent either on a written text or, more likely, an oral text that has been quite closely memorized. (267)
 Being that 1 Corinthians predates Luke by decades, this is extremely significant. Bauckham writes:
Paul cites the Jesus tradition, not a liturgical text, and so he provides perhaps our earliest evidence of narratives about Jesus transmitted in a way that involved, while not wholly verbatim reproduction, certainly a considerable degree of precise memorization. (268)
I find this, not only fascinating, but significant. Though there are clear differences, and Bauckham deals with the variations among the Synoptic Gospels in great detail, the similarity and at times verbatim transmission between the two strongly suggests the influence of a strong oral traditions early in Christianity. This should not surprise us being that much of the 1st century, both the Jewish and Gentile world, was oral. This does not mean it was not a written culture (Bauckham shows how common notebooks were used and even Paul mentions his in 2 Timothy 4).

Ultimately, Bauckham traces these Jesus traditions to the original eyewitnesses. In the case of Paul, it seems likely the details of the Last Supper later recorded by Luke (and the other Synoptic Gospel) originated with Peter who was present. Thus this tradition was passed on to Paul who passed it on in written form in his letter to the Corinthians and later recorded by Luke who himself admits he spoke to eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4).

In the end, this is a fascinating subject. Though it is easy to get lost in the weeds (which is why I limited this article to one small aspect of it), Bauckham makes a persuasive argument. The stories of Christ that passed originally orally did not develop later and thus are more legendary (which leads to the conclusion that the Gospels are mostly myth), rather oral transmission in the Christian world began very early on and traced its telling to the actual eyewitnesses. Add to this that the Gospel writers (each writing well within a century of the events) name their eyewitnesses (like Blind Bartimeus, Simon of Cyrene, and others) we have strong reason to believe that the Gospels record what actually happened and not myth.

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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