A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 10

Chapter 10:  Models of Oral Tradition

“The argument of this book–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship.  As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels].  No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.”  p. 240

Gary:  Let me repeat the first sentence of Richard Bauckham’s above statement:

The argument of this book–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship.”

  Now how does this statement compare to statements by the authors of “Making the Case for Christianity”?:

“The assertion of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is, of course, presented in the New Testament materials.  Elsewhere in this volume the case for the total reliability of those primary source documents has been made and the case for the reliability of the canonical Gospels as primary source documents, and the solidity of those materials (i.e., what we have is what the writers wrote and that they had every means, motive, and opportunity to get the facts right) is simply beyond serious dispute…”  Craig Parton, coauthor

So conservative Christian New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham admits that “almost all” recent scholarship holds that the Gospels are NOT primary source documents, yet the authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” tell us that not only are the Gospels primary source documents but that their reliability is simply “beyond serious dispute”!

Beyond serious dispute??

How can anyone say such a thing when one of the most respected, conservative Christian New Testament scholars on the planet says that almost all of current scholarship holds just the opposite position!

And then look at this claim by one of the authors of “Making the Case for Christianity”:

“Thanks to Papias, we can say with confidence that Matthew and Mark wrote the Gospels attributed to them.”  -Mark Pierson, coauthor

Wow!  Even Bauckham states in his book that the evidence indicates that the Apostle Matthew did not write the Gospel named for him!  How in the world can the authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” claim that a near unanimous consensus exists (“beyond serious dispute”) on the traditional authorship of the Gospels when not even top conservative Christian scholars hold this position??

The authors of “Making the Case for Christianity” have either relied on outdated scholarship for their claims or they are purposefully misstating the current state of New Testament scholarship in order to deceive their naïve lay readership!

The remainder of this chapter of Bauckham’s book is a critique of the Form Critics.  Bauckham prefers the views of NT scholar Kenneth Baily regarding the transmission of oral traditions in oral cultures.  Baily studied the habits of Middle Eastern Arabs and their pattern of maintaining oral traditions and assumes that rules used in modern Arab tribal settings is comparable to the telling of oral traditions in first century Jewish Palestine.  But how can we know this?

Another assumption.

Baily provides an example of how information can be passed in an oral culture with this example:  “A story of three people killed in a bread line in front of a bakery by a random shell quickly became a story of 300 people massacred in cold blood when the account was retold by angry compatriots of the victims.”

If the oral story-telling in modern Arab cultures is similar to first century Jewish story telling, as Baily and Bauckham seem to believe, then who is to say that this isn’t exactly what happened when one of the disciples had a vivid dream of Jesus coming back from the dead to visit him?  Within no time at all, the story was that Jesus had appeared to the entire Eleven.   And in just a few more days, weeks, or months, the disciples were poking their fingers in Jesus’ wounds.  And sometime later, there is a story of Jesus cooking a fish breakfast on the Sea of Tiberius!

And forty years later, in circa 70 AD, people started writing down these embellished rumors/stories… And we are asked to believe based on assumptions and very weak evidence that these ancient peoples never added any significant embellishments to this incredible, supernatural tale.

Come on, folks.



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