A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 11

Chapter 11:  “Transmitting the Jesus Traditions”

“We have unequivocal evidence, in Paul’s letters, that the early Christian movement did practice the formal transmission of tradition.  By “formal” here I mean that there were specific practices employed to ensure that tradition was faithfully handed on from a qualified traditioner to others.  The evidence is found in Paul’s use of the technical terms for handing on a tradition (“paradidomi”, I Cor 11:1, 3; Gal 1:9; Col 2:6; I Tess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6, corresponding to Hebrew “qibbel”).  These Greek words were used for formal transmission of tradition in the Hellenistic schools and so would have been familiar in this sense to Paul’s Gentile readers.”  p. 264

Gary:  I do not speak Greek or Hebrew, so I will have to take Bauckham’s word that these words only mean the formal handing on of a tradition.

“Paul uses this terminology to refer to a variety of kinds of tradition that he communicated to his churches when he established them.  These certainly include “kerygmatic summaries” of the gospel story and message (for which the best evidence is 1 Cor 15:1-8), ethical instruction, instructions for the ordering of the community and its worship, and also Jesus traditions (for which the best evidence is 1 Cor 11:23-25).  …While this need not entail verbatim memorization, it does entail some process of teaching and learning so that what is communicated will be retained.  Moreover, it is clear that the traditions Paul envisages require an authorized tradent to teach them, such as he considered himself to be.”  p. 265

Gary:  What “Jesus traditions” (plural) is Bauckham talking about?  I can think of only ONE tradition, the Words of Institution for the Lord’s Supper.  Here is the passage:

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for[a] you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  I Cor 11:23-25

Note from whom Paul says he received this tradition:  Jesus himself!  Bauckham makes a convoluted argument that what Paul really means is that he received this Jesus tradition from Jesus through the Twelve…but that isn’t what Paul says, is it?

Now, what about Bauckham’s claim that “the traditions Paul envisages require an authorized tradent to teach them”?  Bauckham wants us to believe that Paul handed off each of his “Jesus traditions” to one single person, in each church, entrusting him or her with the responsibility of keeping that tradition intact.  This is a key claim for Bauckham.  He will build his case for the reliability of the Gospels based on this claim, assuming that the authors of the Gospels would have also formally passed on their Gospels to individual “tradents” who would then be responsible for passing on the Gospel to another tradent, and so on, until the time when these Gospels were written down.

What evidence does Bauckham have for this claim that Paul selected a “tradent” in every church he established to accurately maintain the “Jesus traditions” that Paul had “formally” received and was “formally”passing on?  Here is what Bauckham says:

“…it is therefore important to note that there is sufficient evidence of this terminology in early Christian literature outside of the Pauline letters to show that it was not peculiar to Paul or solely derived from Paul’s usage (Jude 3; Luke 1:2; Acts 16:4; Didache 4:13; Barnabas 19:11).  The terminology is of considerable importance, for to “hand on” a tradition is not just to tell it or speak it and to “receive” a tradition is not just to hear it.  Rather, handing on a tradition “means that one hands over something to somebody so that the latter possesses it,” while receiving a tradition “means that one receives something so that one possesses it.” (Bauckham lists B. Gerhardsson as his source for these statements)  p. 265

Bauckham: “They [these Greek and Hebrew words for “handing on” a tradition] also appeared in Jewish Greek usage (Josephus), corresponding to what we find in Hebrew in later rabbinic literature.”  p. 265

Gary:  Can Bauckham conclude as probable fact, based on the above information, that the original eyewitnesses to the events in the life and death of Jesus formally handed on their “Jesus traditions” to individual “tradents”, who then maintained the accuracy of these traditions until they were finally written down in the second half of the first century?  I don’t think so.  It is simply conjecture.  Could it have happened?  Yes.  Did it happen?  We don’t know.

Bauckham:  “From whom did Paul receive traditions [namely, the list of eyewitnesses listed in First Corinthians chapter 15]?”

“…We should rather presume that Paul was becoming thoroughly informed of the Jesus traditions as formulated by the Twelve, learning them from the leader of the Twelve, Peter.”  p.266

Gary:  Conjecture.  No where in First Corinthians chapter 15 or anywhere else does Paul state that he received the eyewitness list given in this chapter from Peter or any of the Twelve.  Bauckham is assuming that because Paul spent two weeks with Peter in Jerusalem early in his apostleship that it was then that Paul learned of this list.  Is it possible?  Yes.  Should we assume it as fact?  No.

Bauckham goes on to explain how Paul had received “the Gospel message” directly from Jesus in the Arabian desert, but… “what he [Paul] lacked, however, was detail about the words and deeds of Jesus, and he may have come to see the need for this during his period of mission in Nabatea (Arabia).”

Gary:  So let me get this straight:  Paul spent an extended period of time in the Arabian desert receiving direct revelations from the resurrected Jesus himself, Creator God of heaven and earth…but…Paul still had to go and get the details from Peter???  Jesus was not capable of informing Paul of the details???

Good grief.

Here are some quotes from Bauckham in this chapter that demonstrate the massive quantity of conjecture upon which he builds his argument for the reliability of the Christian New Testament:

“…the intermediaries are surely the Jerusalem church.  …it is inconceivable that Paul would have relied on less direct means of access to the traditions.”  p. 268

“…is quite consistent with the probability that he [Paul] also transmitted the traditions to a few designated persons in each community…”  p. 270

“The rather important result is that designated person 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.”  p. 270

Gary:  Wow!  What chutzpa!  Bauckham assumes, without any proof, that Paul handed on the Jesus traditions to individual persons in the individual churches for the maintenance of their accuracy.  He assumes that Peter gave Paul these Jesus traditions during Paul’s two week stay with Peter in Jerusalem as described in the Epistle to the Galatians.  And then, Voila!  The “tradents” of all these Jesus traditions, in each individual church which Paul established,  maintained the same level of accuracy in the story that Bauckham assumes that Peter and Paul maintained, passing on these accurately maintained Jesus traditions until they were finally written down in the Gospels!

Conjecture, upon conjecture, upon conjecture!

And the conjecture continues, “Paul himself learned such traditions from Peter by a formal process of learning, and he probably transmitted them by a similar process of formal learning, not merely to the communities he founded as a whole, but also, with special attention, to persons designated as teachers within each community.”  p. 271

Good grief.  Are you telling me that an “unlearned”, peasant fisherman (Peter) passed on information about Jesus in a “formal process of learning”, similar to the process used by later rabbis???

Baseless (and silly) conjecture!

“…when Paul claims his own apostleship despite its anomalous character (vv. 9-11), he asserts the unanimity between himself and the other apostles on the key matters he has just rehearsed (v. 11).  This unanimity existed because he had received the tradition in question from the Jerusalem apostles.” p. 266

Gary:  Conjecture.  No evidence given for this claim.  Paul never says from whom he received the “Early Creed” of First Corinthians 15.  To say that he received it from the Twelve is blatant conjecture.

Bauckham continues:  “…It is very notable that in Galatians, even in the context of Paul’s strong concern to maintain the independence of his apostleship from Jerusalem, he admits that three years after his call to be an apostle he did visit Jerusalem and spent two weeks with Peter (Gal. 1:18).  Two weeks of conversation with Peter (for he states that he saw none of the other apostles except James: v. 19) is a lot of conversation.  As C.H. Dodd memorably put it, “we may presume they did not spend all the time talking about the weather.”  We should rather presume that Paul was becoming thoroughly informed of the Jesus traditions as formulated by the Twelve, learning them from the leader of the Twelve. Peter.” p. 266

Gary:  It was Paul’s two week visit with Peter that served as the last thread to which I desperately clung to prevent losing my Christian faith.  I said to myself, “If Paul spent two weeks with Peter, then they must have traded ‘Resurrection Stories’.”  Peter would have told Paul what the resurrected body of Jesus looked like and Paul would have told Peter of his experience on the Damascus Road.  Peter would have been able to confirm that the resurrected man Paul claimed to have seen on the Damascus Road was the same resurrected man that he had seen the very day of the Resurrection.  Peter would have verified that Paul was not an imposter or a raving-mad, loon.  Peter would have told Paul about the virgin birth, the three wise men coming to Bethlehem to greet the newborn king, the slaying of the Innocents of Bethlehem, the escape to Egypt, details of the many miracles Jesus performed, the exact details of the Last Supper, the Arrest in Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, the Empty Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, the earthquake that shook dead people out of their tombs, the post-resurrection appearances, and of course the Ascension.

But these are assumptions, dear Reader!  Assumptions.  We have no idea what Peter and Paul discussed because Paul doesn’t tell us.

Bauckham is assuming the veracity and historicity of the stories in the four Gospels!  He is assuming that Peter and Paul knew these same stories as historical facts.  However, based solely on the information Paul gives us in his epistles, the only personal details he knew about Jesus was that he was born of a woman, was a descendent of King David, was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day to be seen by number of eyewitnesses as listed in First Corinthians 15.  Paul also repeats the Words of Institution of the Lord’s Supper.  But that is pretty much it, folks.  So for all we know, dear Reader, the persons listed as eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus in chapter 15 of First Corinthians only saw what Paul says he saw on the Damascus Road, as described in Acts chapter 26:  a talking bright light, in a “heavenly vision”…and that’s it!

Paul and Peter may have spent two weeks talking about bright lights and other misperceptions of natural phenomena!  We have zero proof that Paul and Peter discussed a visible, resurrected, broiled-fish eating, body.

Bauckham:  “…Paul transmitted traditions to each Christian community as a whole and expected the whole community to recall them when he alludes to them is quite consistent with the probability that he also transmitted the traditions to a few designated persons in each community, people with the skill and gifts necessary for preserving the traditions and for being a resource for the traditions that belonged to the community as a whole.” p. 270

Gary:  Conjecture.  No evidence.

Bauckham continues:  “…The rather important result is that 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.” p. 270

Gary:  Blatant, baseless assumptions and conjecture!

Bauckham:  “Paul himself learned such traditions from Peter by a formal process of learning and he probably transmitted them by a similar process of formal learning, not merely to the communities he founded as a whole, but also, with special attention, to person designated as teachers with each community.”

Gary:  Wow.  Just…wow.  Bauckham assumes that the stories about Jesus in the Gospels are historically accurate.  He assumes Peter told Paul the same stories about Jesus as described in the four Gospels (books which were not written until both of these men were dead).  Bauckham then has the audacity to assume that Paul learned these traditions in a “formal” process from Peter, and then assumes that Paul “formally” taught these stories to individuals in all the churches he had established…all based on ZERO evidence!

In the remainder of chapter 11, Bauckham goes into great detail about the research of scholars Jan Vansina and Kenneth Baily regarding oral traditions.

Bauckham states, “…what is important for our present purposes is that oral societies treat historical tales and historical accounts differently and in such a way that the latter are preserved more faithfully. In the latter case there is an intention to preserve faithfully, which is lacking in the former.  This distinction between tales and accounts refutes all claims that Gospel scholars, from the form critics onward, have made to the effect that early Christians, in the treansmission of Jesus traditions, would not have made any distinction between the past time of the history of Jesus and their own present because oral societies and their tradtions do not make such distinctions.” p. 273

Gary:  Vansina and Baily may be able to accurately describe the habits of oral societies such as those in Arab nomadic tribes today, but can we be certain that these same habits existed two thousand years ago among Jewish Christians in first century Palestine??  Isn’t that an awfully big assumption?

Bauckham:  “…Luke’s Gospel cannot have been available to Paul and Luke shows no acquaintance with Paul’s letters.”

Gary:  Wow.  What does that say for the claim made by the authors of  “Making the Case for Christianity” that Luke, the companion of Paul, wrote the Book of Acts prior to 65 CE!

Bauckham:  “In short, memorization was a mechanism of control that preserved the Jesus traditions as faithfully as the early Christian movement required.” p. 287

Gary:  Conjecture.  No evidence provided that the disciples of Jesus memorized Jesus’ sayings and then taught their followers to do the same.  And notice the caveat at the end, “as required”.  Maybe the early Church wasn’t concerned about historical accuracy, just theological accuracy, therefore it did not matter if during the repetition of a particular story about Jesus the storyteller added new historical details–as long as–the theological concepts remained constant.

Bauckham:  “…notebooks were in quite widespread use in the ancient world (2 Tim 4:13 refers to parchment notebooks Paul carried on his travels).  It seems more probable than not that early Christians used them.”  p.288

Gary:  Conjecture.  Why not just say, “It is possible that early Christians used notebooks”? Why state that it is probable that they did?”  And isn’t Second Timothy considered by most scholars to not have been written by Paul, but rather written by someone pretending to be Paul?  Why should we trust the historical accuracy of a liar and a forger?

Bauckham:  “We can be fairly confident that some quite sophisticated scribal activity, in the form of intensive work on expounding the biblical prophecies with reference to Jesus and his followers, akin to the learned commentaries produced by the Qumarn community, went on at a very early date, presumably in the Jerusalem church, whence its influence can be seen throughout the New Testament writings.” p. 289

Gary:  Conjecture.  Is there any evidence of Christian scribes at work in Jerusalem prior to the writing of the Gospels?  If so, present it.  Stop the conjecture, Mr. Bauckham.  You are deceiving lay Christians with your stringing together of multiple assumptions.

Think about this, dear Reader.  Mr. Bauckham wants us to believe that the Apostle Peter dictated individual stories about Jesus to his traveling companion, John Mark, and, that John Mark was very careful not to add or omit any details given to him by Peter, all based on the statements of a second century church bishop in Asia Minor named Papias…as found in quotes attributed to him by another church bishop, Eusebius…writing two hundred years later.  Bauckham wants us to trust Papias (and Eusebius’ quotes of Papias) and wants us to believe that the disciples of Jesus were “more probably than not” walking around with notebooks in their back pockets, accurately recording every word that Jesus said!

Good grief.

So, if Bauckham is right, Peter wrote down exactly what he heard Jesus say, in his pocket notebook.  Years later he dictated these individual stories, from his notebook, to John Mark, who accurately wrote them down, translating Peter’s dictation into Greek, creating the Gospel of Mark which is in our Bibles today.  And, we can be certain that this information is accurate, because oral cultures such as that of early Jewish Christians followed very strict rules for maintaining the accuracy of oral traditions, including memorizing stories word for word, if we are to believe Bauckham’s assumption that the rules oral societies today reflect the rules of one specific oral culture 2,000 years ago.

Yet, with all this “evidence” for the accurate maintenance of the oral traditions of early Christianity…John Mark fails to record the virgin birth, the Wise Men coming from the East, the star of Bethlehem, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Escape to Egypt, the guards at Jesus’ Tomb, dead saints being shaken out of their graves, the multiple post-resurrection appearances, and the Ascension!

Are we really to believe that John Mark accompanied the Apostle Peter for years but never heard Peter mention these stories in his sermons?  Are we really to believe that Peter ended his “dictations” with John Mark with the women fleeing the Empty Tomb and “telling no one” out of fear as the original Gospel of Mark ends?

“Oh but the birth narrative, the resurrection appearances, and the Ascension were not part of John Mark’ theme!” Christian apologists will explain.  “That is why these stories do not appear in the Gospel of Mark.”

Theme???  I thought John Mark was simply taking down Peter’s dictations?  I thought that John Mark omitted nothing that Peter had preached?  Yet you, Mr. Christian apologist, are now trying to “harmonize” this discrepancy by turning John Mark into a theme writer!

Good grief.

Isn’t it much more likely, dear Reader, that the many stories in Matthew that are nowhere to be found in Mark are the result of Matthew’s embellishments to Mark’s story?  Again, isn’t it possible that the early Christians were more concerned about the message and evangelization than they were keeping the historical details accurate?  The evidence certainly suggests so.  Mr. Bauckham needs to stop the desperate grasping at straws.






One thought on “A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 11

  1. Goodness, Mr Bauckham’s wurk isn’t quite the fanfer.
    Galatians: 1.12: Paul swers:
    For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it (οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐγὼ παρὰ ἀνθρώπου παρέλαβον αὐτό οὔτε ἐδιδάχθην); for neither at the hand of man did I myself receive it or was taught it.


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