Testimony invites trust.
As we continued our study, our skeptic friend tried to accept Bauckham’s proposal that the chain of transmission was shorter than what many skeptics have thought. “Designated persons in each Pauline community knew the Jesus traditions through a chain of only two links between themselves and Jesus himself, namely Paul and the Jerusalem apostles.” So, although people typically think of the Gospels as just writings collected by people who heard some tales of Jesus, they were actually purposefully composed by those who heard their information from specific sources who only got them from those who were witness to Christ.
He proposes that this isn’t a collection of stories that were passed down through generations and then assembled long after the Christianity movement started, but recordings of accounts that were given very early. “The early Christian movement was interested in the genuinely past history of Jesus because they regarded it as religiously relevant.” Because the movement was centered on a historical person and historical events that happened in their lifetime, they immediately set about talking about it and continued to, not only as a community but with genuine authorities who were present with Jesus. The Gospels are linked to the primary sources.
Bauckham continually reminds us that “committing to memory is a deliberate and skilled act, comparable to recording words in a notebook.” Our friend got the point, but still had trouble believing it was that easy. Moreso, our friend believed that the bias of wanting the stories to be true or to embellish them with more amazing happenings would influence the retelling. But the Gospels resemble one another so well, it was hard for us to believe that anything other than strict memorization could have produced it. Ancient people would have been used to it, like when Jesus says “verily, verily.” The Gospel itself has calls to remember specifically what Jesus taught. Our author also cites other cultures in which memorization can easily be carried so long as the accounts and proverbs are repeated often, which they would have been in the Christian community.
So what about the differences in these otherwise harmonious Gospels? Buckram gives us various explanations:
- Jesus probably worded some of his teachings differently on different occasions
- Sometimes the wording difference is due to Greek/Aramaic translation
- Sometimes the oral repetition would be slightly different depending on context
- Sometimes explanations are added to oral retellings, yet compatible with them
- Gospel writers themselves would have to make changes to weave pieces of the narrative together.
We agreed with the author that memorization served the early Christian movement well enough to preserve the traditions faithfully. Our skeptical friend remained skeptical, still unsure about the truthfulness of the author’s claims.
Our last post concludes this study reflection.