This is the second in a series of posts in which I review conservative Christian New Testament scholar, Richard Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Why this particular book?
Let me give some background.
In June of 2014 I left Christianity (deconverted). I did not deconvert because I was mad at God. I did not deconvert because I was mad at my church or my pastor (as some believe). I did not deconvert because of a major crises in my life. I did not deconvert because I wanted to indulge a secret sin. I deconverted due to my exposure to evidence which convinced me that my cherished Christian belief system was based on nothing more than assumptions, hearsay, superstition, and blind, emotion-based belief (faith).
I was crushed. I had been very happy and content as a conservative Christian. However, I could no longer believe something that I now believed was false.
Many Christians scolded me for abandoning my Faith. Members of my denomination, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), told me my deconversion was due to my upbringing as a fundamentalist Baptist. Baptists and other evangelicals (including fundamentalists) told me that I had deconverted due to the false teachings of Lutheranism. Roman Catholics told me that my deconversion was due to Protestantism’s “sola scriptura”; if I had only been a devout Catholic, the Holy Mother Church and her rich traditions of interpreting Scripture would have spared me the agony of trying to interpret the Bible myself.
My former LCMS pastor shares the view that my fundamentalist Baptist upbringing caused my loss of faith. This summer, he sent me an email suggesting a list of books by Christian apologists for me to read. One of the books he suggested is a book he co-authored entitled, Making the Case for Christianity. I just finished reading this book. I was shocked by what I read. In my humble opinion, the LCMS authors of this book make bold statements of fact based on assumptions and out of date scholarship. I reviewed their book here on this blog and wrote to the six authors of the book and told them my opinion. One of them kindly responded, Dr. Adam Francisco, a professor of history at an LCMS university. Dr. Francisco suggested that my opinions were based on biased (liberal) scholarship. He challenged me to read a “paradigm shifting” new book by conservative NT scholar Richard Bauckham. I agreed and stated that not only would I read it I would review it on this blog. Dr. Francisco then agreed to add his comments below my reviews.
My review continues:
Title of Bauckham’s second chapter: Papias on the Eyewitnesses
“But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,–what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.”
—Papias of Hierapolis
Papias was a Christian bishop in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) during the early second century. Most scholars believe that he was born circa 70 AD. Bauckham seems to agree that this date is the scholarly consensus but he suggests a possible earlier date of birth, as early as 50 AD. He doesn’t give much evidence for this assertion. (Conservatives seem to always want to push the dates earlier; liberals and skeptics seem to always want to push them later. Biases, biases.) The earlier Papias was born, of course, the greater the chance that he had met an eyewitness to the life of Jesus.
Papias wrote a major work which unfortunately has been entirely lost. However, quotes from this work can be found in the writings of later Church Fathers, in particular, the writings of Eusebius in the fourth century.
It is from the writings of Papias, that many scholars believe the Church Father, Irenaeus, in the late second century, named the four Gospels. Most scholars date the writing of Papias work as circa 120-130 AD. Bauckham asserts that although Papias may have written his work in this time period, he was carefully collecting information from “reliable” sources as early as 80 AD. (Note that if most scholars are correct, that Papias was born in circa 70 AD, that would make him TEN YEARS OLD in 80 AD!) Most people are not going to buy the idea that any ten year old can carefully record accurate, detailed information. Now, of course, if Papias was born in 50 AD, then this claim is possible, but simply suggesting an earlier date of birth, as Bauckham has done, without providing strong evidence for it, is not sufficient reason, at least for me, to disagree with the consensus that Papias was born later.)
In his own writings, Eusebius states that he thought Papias was an idiot. Bauckham speculates that Eusebius was simply biased against Papias because Eusebius considered some of Papias’ beliefs to be heretical. Bauckham suggests we take Papias’ writings more seriously than he believes most modern NT scholars do for the reason that Papias lived in a time period that was in close proximity to living eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus.
Bauckham asserts that Papias was acquainted with the daughters of Philip the Evangelist (not the Apostle, but one of the Seven disciples mentioned in the Book of Acts). So this is one possible source of information (if true, it would be second hand information, not eyewitness).
Bauckham does not believe that Papias ever had direct contact with ANY eyewitness to the life of Jesus. Bauckham believes that in addition to the daughters of Philip the Evangelist, Papias had two other sources of information about Jesus and the Eleven. One source can be described in this diagram:
One of the Eleven Disciples of Jesus (now dead)—>
—>the “elders”, disciples of the Eleven (still living)
—>disciples of the elders
By these sources, Papias (at best) is receiving third hand testimony. Bauckham tries to argue that it is still second hand information since the elders were still alive. Nope. Sorry. If Papias did not speak to the elders themselves, it is third hand information.
Another source of information for Papias looks like this:
Aristion and John the Elder, disciples of Jesus (still living)—>
—>disciples of these two elders
If Bauckham is correct about these sources, Papias is receiving second hand information. But here is my question: Were Aristion and John the Elder really companions/disciples of Jesus during his lifetime? (Bauckham agrees that this John is not the same man as John the son of Zebedee, the Apostle and one of the Twelve). If these two men were companions of Jesus, and were still alive when Papias was making careful records (allegedly) in the late first century, these two men would be EXCELLENT sources of information about Jesus and his disciples. But, Papias never met either of these two men, even according to Bauckham. Papias only interviewed disciples of these two men, allegedly while the two men were still alive, teaching in cities over one hundred miles away. If Aristion and John the Elder really were companions of Jesus, the disciples of these two men would definitely have been good sources, but still, it wasn’t information…”straight from the horse’s mouth”.
So here is my question: Just because Papias refers to Aristion and John the Elder as “disciples of Jesus” were these two men really companions of Jesus; witnesses of his life; his crucifixion; and his (alleged) resurrection appearances, as Dr. Bauckham seems to believe? I don’t know that other scholars say about this. I will have to study this issue and will leave my findings in the comment section below. If any reader (or Dr. Francisco) has information on this issue, please leave a comment below.
Read part 3 here.
6 thoughts on “A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 2”
Here is what Pope Benedict says about John the Elder:
In Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, Pope Benedict writes:
This information is very remarkable indeed: When combined with related pieces of evidence, it suggests that in Ephesus there was something like a Johannine school, which traced its origins to Jesus’ favorite disciple himself, but in which a certain “Presbyter John” presided as the ultimate authority. This “presbyter” John appears as the sender and author of the Second and Third Letters of John (in each case in the first verse of the first chapter) simply under the title “the presbyter” (without reference to the name John).
He is evidently not the same as the Apostle, which means that here in the canonical text we encounter expressly the mysterious figure of the presbyter. He must have been closely connected with the Apostle; perhaps he had even been acquainted with Jesus himself.
After the death of the Apostle, he was identified wholly as the bearer of the latter’s heritage, and in the collective memory, the two figures were increasingly fused. At any rate, there seem to be grounds for ascribing to “Presbyter John” an essential role in the definitive shaping of the Gospel [of John], though he must always have regarded himself as the trustee of the tradition he had received from the son of Zebedee.
I entirely concur with the conclusion that Peter Stuhlmacher has drawn from the above data. He holds “that the contents of the Gospel go back to the disciple whom Jesus (especially) loved. The presbyter understood himself as his transmitter and mouthpiece” (Biblische Theologie, II, p. 206). In a similar vein Stuhlmacher cites E. Ruckstuhl and P. Dschullnigg to the effect that “the author of the Gospel of John is, as it were, the literary executor of the favorite disciple” (ibid., p. 207) [Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 1, pp. 226-227].
Gary: So it appears that Pope Benedict believes that John the Elder wrote the Second and Third Epistles of John and that he had something to do with the formation of the Gospel of John, although he obtained his material from the Apostle John. (Bauckham believes that John the Elder (not John the Apostle) wrote the Gospel of John.)
Here is a comment by James McGrath, professor of New Testament language, Butler University:
“A second-century church leader named Papias is often cited as an important early source of information regarding the church’s traditions of authorship. Unfortunately Papias’s works have not survived, so we hear from him indirectly, in quotations of others. According to Eusebius, Papias mentioned his efforts to find out what a variety of key figures, including John the apostle, said (using the past tense), and also what Aristion and John the Elder say (using the present tense). On that basis, it has been suggested (by Hengel and others) that this “John the elder” may have written the Gospel of John and the letters of John (note how the author refers to himself in 2John 1 and 3John 1). If this were the case, then the tradition that these works were written by someone named John would be correct, even if that person was not John the apostle.”
Gary: I am still not finding any scholar who says that John the Elder was a companion and witness to the life and resurrection of Jesus. What I am finding are scholars (even conservative ones) who do not believe that John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John.
So much for the claim made in “Making the Case for Christianity” that the traditional authors, including John the Apostle, wrote the Gospels.
So if we assume that Papias is correct, that Aristion and John the Elder were disciples of Jesus who witnessed Jesus’ life, his miracles, his death, and his alleged resurrection, what does Papias tell us that these men said about the Empty Tomb and the post-resurrection appearances?
Answer: We don’t know because most of Papias’ writings have been lost.
But I find it odd that later Church Fathers such as Eusebius do not seem very interested in Papias’ claim that Aristion and John the Elder were disciples/companions of Jesus. Wouldn’t that be an important fact to mention, demonstrating a direct link between the leadership of the Church and two disciples of Jesus? Why doesn’t Eusebius or any other Church Father mention the details of the Empty Tomb and the post-resurrection appearances as told by these two “eyewitnesses”? Why no comment by any Church Father that these two eyewitnesses had read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and were in agreement with these four accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?
And if these two men were eyewitnesses, and did have the opportunity to read these four Gospels, why is there no mention by any Church Father that these men pointed out any discrepancies in the four Gospels. How can the original Gospel of Mark end with the statement that the women ran away and “said nothing to anyone” compatible with Matthew, Luke, and John where the women immediately run and tell the disciples? Why didn’t these two eyewitnesses point out the discrepancy between Luke and Matthew, in which Luke says that Jesus told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until Pentecost, but Matthew has Jesus ordering them to meet him in Galilee?
To me, the complete silence of the Church Fathers regarding the “eyewitness” status of these two men AND the opportunity for them to have proof-read the Gospels suggests that they were NOT actual companions of Jesus.
“Papias wrote a major work which unfortunately has been entirely lost. ”
I wonder how many 1st-2nd c. books got lost intentionally.
“In his own writings, Eusebius states that he thought Papias was an idiot. … Eusebius considered some of Papias’ beliefs to be heretical. ”
You write” By these sources, Papias (at best) is receiving third hand testimony. Bauckham tries to argue that it is still second hand information since the elders were still alive. Nope. Sorry. If Papias did not speak to the elders themselves, it is third hand information.”
(If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,–what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord’s disciples) ~ Papias
QUESTION: COULD THE “ELDERS” BE ANDREW, PETER, JOHN, ETC., AND THOSE WHO ATTENDED ON THE ELDERS BE JOHN’S STUDENTS, EG. IGNATIUS?
John and Peter appointed bishops like Ignatius in Antioch and Clement of Rome, who both lived somewhere to 90-110 AD, right? And people like Papias who were born in 70 AD could reasonably have known those bishops, living in their generation, right?
((Just because Papias refers to Aristion and John the Elder as “disciples of Jesus” were these two men really companions of Jesus; witnesses of his life; his crucifixion; and his (alleged) resurrection appearances, as Dr. Bauckham seems to believe?))
If we take Papias at his word, it means they at least listened to Jesus teach at some point.
“John and Peter appointed bishops like Ignatius in Antioch and Clement of Rome”. Do you have a source which states that most scholars believe this or is this simply Church tradition?
“If we take Papias at his word”. That is exactly my point. From other things Papias wrote, his “word” seems not to have been very reliable.