I resume my review of Richard Bauckham’s book with chapter 6, entitled, Eyewitnesses “from the Beginning”.
First let me say, even though I believe that the central claims of orthodox/conservative Christianity are false, I am willing to admit when a proponent of this belief system provides good evidence in support of his belief system. My review of chapter 4 of Bauckham’s book is evidence of this.
This chapter, however, will not receive such praise. In fact, in my opinion, this chapter has been inappropriately titled. This chapter should really be titled, Conjecture. Why? Bauckham goes to painfully extra-ordinary lengths to prove that Papias, writing in the early second century, was correct in stating that John Mark had written a Gospel based on the eyewitness testimony of the Apostle Peter, and, that the other Gospel authors copied Mark’s pattern of basing his story on the testimony of an eyewitness who had been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry. Here is how Bauckham opens this chapter:
“If the Gospels embody eyewitness testimony, then some at least of the eyewitnesses must have been able to testify not just to particular episodes or particular sayings of Jesus but to the whole course of Jesus’ story. Broadly the four Gospels agree on the scope of this story: it begins with John the Baptist and it ends with the resurrection appearances. (Matthew and Mark’s infancy narratives, like John’s prologue, are prologues to the story as traditionally told, and while Mark’s Gospel narrates no resurrection appearances it ends by anticipating them.)
Gary: Why must we assume that some of the eyewitness testimony (if it exists) in the Gospels comes from eyewitnesses who had witnessed the entire course of events between the baptism of John and the alleged post-resurrection appearances?
Bauckham then goes on to give what I believe to be a very weak, very drawn out, argument for his belief that the Gospels of Mark and John use a literary device which Bauckham refers to as an “inclusio” (a literary device which according to Bauckham, “most modern scholars have missed”, but a device that surely the first century audience of these authors would have noticed) to indicate the eyewitness source of their respective Gospels. According to Bauckham, an “inclusio” is the technique of subtly indicating your eyewitness source by naming him as the first and last person mentioned in your story. The Gospel of Mark names Peter as the first disciple mentioned and the last disciple mentioned. Bauckham believes that the author of Mark is signaling to his readership that the source of his Gospel is…Simon Peter.
Bauckham then points out in the Gospel of John that Peter is not the first disciple mentioned, nor is he the last disciple mentioned. The first disciple mentioned is Andrew (Peter’s brother) and an unnamed disciple who was accompanying Andrew. (Only later does Andrew go and bring Peter to Jesus.) The Gospel of John ends by Peter referring to the “Beloved Disciple”. Bauckham believes that these two disciples are one and the same and the use of this “inclusio” is hidden evidence that this disciple is the eyewitness source for this Gospel (Bauckham indicated in an earlier chapter that he believes that this disciple is none other than “John the Elder”—not to be confused with John, the Apostle, son of Zebedee—, the “disciple of Jesus” of whom Papias refers in his second century writings; the “elder” from whom Papias states he received information, via the disciples of this elder, regarding Jesus.
Sound convoluted? Well, it is.
Bottom line, Bauckham knows he has a steep hill to climb to prove that Papias was a reliable source of information, as even early Church Fathers did not think much of Papias’ intellect. And think about this: Papias wrote a FIVE volume major Christian work which no longer exists, but which seems to have been available to Eusebius in the fourth century. (We know this because our only source of Papias’ work come from quotes mentioned in the writings of Eusebius who was the Bishop of Palestine in the fourth century.) If Papias’ work contained such valuable information from some of the earliest Christians, including information on the authorship of the Gospels, as conservative Christians like to imagine, why did the Early Church not exert more effort to preserve these five books, even if they may have contained some heretical teachings as Eusebius insinuates? It wasn’t as if the fourth century was a dangerous time for Christians. This is the era of Constantine and the legalization of the Christian religion. Why did the Church let this major Christian work disappear?
My guess? It was not considered reliable information!
While reading this chapter of Bauckham’s book, this thought occurred to me: If the Gospel of Mark is based on the eyewitness testimony of Simon Peter, written down by Peter’s companion John Mark, and, the Gospel of John was written by the Beloved Disciple, John the Elder, who was one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus…why does the eyewitness testimony of Mark’s Gospel say that Jesus selected Simon Peter as the first of his disciples but the eyewitness testimony of the Gospel of John says that Jesus first selected Andrew and another, unnamed disciple??? Isn’t the selection of the first disciple by Jesus something pretty important and something that an eyewitness should get straight?
And not only is the order of the selection of the first disciple different in these two (allegedly) eye witness Gospels, but the location of the selection of the first disciple is different. Read the two accounts for yourself:
“As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” —Gospel of Mark 1:16-18
“John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[j]). 42 He brought Simon[k] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[l]).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.”
—Gospel of John, chapter 1
Gary: Wait a minute! “Mark” says that Jesus selected Peter as his first disciple and that the location of his selection was on the shores of the Sea of Galilee but “John” says that Jesus selected Andrew and an unnamed disciple as his first disciples, AND, that Andrew went and brought his brother to Jesus…AND THEN JESUS WENT TO GALILEE???
And I am asked to believe that these two stories were told by two eyewitnesses??? I don’t think so. (I’d love to hear the Christian harmonization of this doozy!)