Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 12

"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
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 12


For several chapters now, Dr. Richard Bauckham has been dealing with the issue of oral transmission of the Jesus tranditions. At issue is the ongoing influence of form criticism much of which, as he argued in chapters 10-11, has been debunked. Groups like the Jesus Seminar who rely so heavily on form criticism have argued that the Jesus traditions were anonymous and passed orally. As a result, when the Gospels were finally composed (usually at a later date by an anonymous writer[s]), the stories of Jesus became legendary and mythical. As Christianity evolved, so did their Jesus. Thus Jesus became God in flesh, but the original, so-called historic Jesus was but flesh and bone.

In chapter 12 of his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham tackles this issue head on. Like the other chapters dealing with form criticism and the earliest Jesus traditions, much of the discussion is technical and comprehensible only to scholars fluent in the field. His main argument is the traditions of Jesus that began as primarily oral that later found themselves in the four Gospels, were not passed along by anonymous sources but instead traced their origin and safekeeping, we could say, to the original eyewitnesses. Bauckham writes:
For the time being we wish to show that, whatever truth there may be in speaking of a collective memory in the early Christian movement, it did not prevent early Christians from treating Jesus traditions as the testimony of specific eyewitnesses. (293)
It is here he returns to Papias who serves, outside of the New Testament itself, as the main voice supporting his argument. He writes:
We may note that Papias shows no interest at all in anonymous community traditions but only in traditions formulated and transmitted by individuals; the disciples of the elders (i.e., individuals who had listened to the elders teaching and then happened to pass through Hierapolis), the elders (individual teachers in the churches of the province of Asia, doubtless known by name to Papias), and the disciples of Jesus (members of the Twelve and at least a few others). (294)
Yet it isn't just Papias who makes this argument. Bauckham also quotes Irenaeus who traces his theology to Polycarp who was a close associate to the Apostle John. Perhaps the key quote is, Polycarp, as having received them from the eyewitnesses of the life of the Logos, would declare altogether in accordance with the scriptures (295).

But for the remaining of this post, however, I want to highlight one main point Bauckham raises here. As mentioned above, the view that the Gospels are anonymous documents mostly made up of folklore remains prevalent today. At this point, Bauckham offers three main reasons for rejecting this view of both the traditions and the Gospels (300).

First, though the Synoptics are anonymous in the strict sense (nowhere do the authors identify themselves as the author) they were not first presented as works without authors (300).
The clearest case is Luke because of the dedication of the work to Theophilus (1:3), probably a patron. It is inconceivable that a work with a named dedicatee should have been anonymous. The author's name may have featured in an original title, but in any case would have been known to the dedicatee and other first readers because the author would have presented the book to the dedicatee. Of course, this in itself does not guarantee that the author was named Luke; the attribution to Luke could be later and erroneous. But we are not, at this point, concerned with establishing the real authorship of each Gospel, only with refuting the idea that the Gospels were presented and received as anonymous works whose contents would have been taken as coming from the community rather than from known authors. (301)
Secondly, from the beginning, at least as we can tell, each Gospel was associated with one specific author and that never changed. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, has always been associated with Matthew. The same is true for the other Gospels.
Throughout the early manuscript tradition, from c. 200 onward, the only titles for all four canonical Gospels are in the form "Gospel according to . . ." . . . Martin Hengel has argued persuasively, not only that the longer form was the earlier form, but also that the meaning is not "the Gospel writing written according to the tradition that derives from Mark," but "the gospel (i.e., the one and only gospel message) according to Mark's account." (302)
The Gospels were never known by any other name. The Gospel of Luke, for example, has always been associated with Luke, the companion and physician of Paul.

Finally, Baukham writes:
These two lines of argument establish that as soon as the Gospels circulated around the churches they had author's names attached to them, even though such names were not part of the text of the Gospels. (304)
Thus we must ask if these Gospels present the traditions they preserve to anonymous resources? Here Bauckham returns to the evidence he has already presented in the book. First, even the names of minor characters are given. Secondly, all three Synoptic Gospels present a remarkably similar list of the original Twelve even though some remain obscure. Finally, Mark, Luke, and John are tied closely to a single eyewitness that was present "from the beginning." In both Mark and Luke, it is Peter. In John, it is the mysterious Beloved Disciple.

The main point of all of this is to finally debunk the argument so common today in more liberal and secular circles. The Gospels are not the byproducts of anonymous oral traditions which only later were preserved, in some mysterious way, in the Gospels we now call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are instead unabashedly eyewitness documents.


 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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