A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 12

Review of chapter 12:

Bauckham:  “Of crucial importance for our whole argument in this book is the role of individual authors and tradents of Jesus traditions.  We have suggested that the traditions were originated and formulated by named eyewitnesses, in whose name they were transmitted and who remained the living and active guarantors of the traditions.  In local Christian communities which did not include eyewitnesses among their members, there would probably be recognized teachers who functioned as authorized tradents of the traditions they had received from the eyewitnesses either directly or through very few (authorized) intermediaries.”  p. 290  (bolding, Gary’s)

Gary:  The two words that I have bolded in this paragraph are very important, as Bauckham provides little if any evidence to support his theory.  We have no proof that the persons named in the Gospels served as guarantors of the accuracy of the story in which they are mentioned and transmitted these stories to the authors of the Gospels, or that they passed on their story to a succession of authorized “tradents” who then submitted these stories to the authors of the Gospels.  We have no proof that the early Christians appointed individual “tradents” in each church to maintain the accuracy of the “Jesus traditions”.  These are the creative inventions of Mr. Bauckham.

And here are more assumptions and hypotheticals from Mr. Bauckham:

“Of course, the Synoptic Gospel writers would have known the oral traditions that were doubtless frequently rehearsed in  whatever Christian communities (by no means necessarily only one for each author) they were familiar with, but they would most likely also have herard eyewitnesses themselves reherse their own traditions on many occasions, in these same communities or eslehwere.    They would know that the traditions as trassmitted by authorized tradents in communities which had no eyewitnesses as members themselves referred back to the eyewitnesses as their authority.”  p. 292

Gary:  Many scholars believe that the first gospel written, the Gospel of Mark, was possibly written in Rome.  How many eyewitnesses came to Rome?  Answer:  We don’t know.  We can’t even be certain that Peter ever came to Rome.  And what proof do we have that the anonymous author of the Gospel of Mark “heard eyewitnesses rehearse their own traditions on many occasions”?  Answer:  None.

Bauckham:  “We have argued that the transmission of the Jesus tradition was controlled by memorization and perhaps also by writing, though the latter would probably not make a substantial difference to this control ensured in any case by memorization.” p.293

Gary:  Blatant speculation.  We have zero proof that the early Christians memorized the individual stories of Jesus found in the Synoptic Gospels.  Yes, they seem to have had the Early Creed as mentioned by Paul in First Corinthians 15 and the Words of Institution as mentioned elsewhere in the writings of Paul, but we have no proof that the Birth Narrative, the Parables, the Healing Stories, etc., were preserved by memorization or by appointing “tradents” in each church to maintain the accuracy of the original eyewitnesses’ accounts.  This is pure speculation on Bauckham’s part.

Bauckham:  “Finally, we should recall also that, though he wrote at a later date, the time about which Papias was writing in this fragment must have been around the time that Matthew, Luke, and John were writing their Gospels.” p. 294

Gary:  Most scholars believe that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written in the 80’s CE.  Most historians believe that Papias was born circa 70 CE.  So for Bauckham’s claim to be true, the majority of scholars must be wrong about the year of Papias birth, or, Papias was “carefully” recording eyewitness testimony at the tender age of TEN!  Silly.  Bauckham’s entire argument is held together by so many assumptions, conjecture, and desperate attempts at stretching the unlikely and improbable to likely and probable, such as in this example.

Bauckham:  “Papia’s notion of tradition transmitted from named eyewitnesses through other individual teachers is common to patristic writers thereafter.  A passage from Irenaeus’ “Letter to Florinus” (part of which was quoted in chapter above) is of special interest because, like Papais, Irenaeus here offers personal testimony.  Writing in the 190’s, he is reproaching Florinus, a Valentinian teacher, for his views: 

These opinions, Florinus, to say no more, are not of sound judgment; these opinions are not in harmony with the Church, and involve those who adopt them in the greatest impiety; these opinions are not even the heretics outside the Church ever dared to espouse openly; these opinions the elders before us, who also were disciples of the apostles, did not hand down to you.  For when I was still a boy I saw you in lower Asia in the company of Polycarp, faring brilliantly in the imperial court and trying to secure his favour.  For I distinctly recall the events of that time better than those of recent years (for what we learn in childhood keeps pace with the growing mind and becomes part of it), so that I can tell the very place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit as he discoursed, his goings out and his comings in, the character of his life, his bodily appearance, the discourses he would address to the multitude, how he would tell of his conversations with John and with the others who had seen the Lord, how he would relate their words from memory; and what the things were which he had heard from them concerning the Lord, his mighty works and his teaching, Polycarp, as having received them from the eyewitnesses (autopton) of the life of the Logos, would declare altogether in accordance with the scriptures.  To these things I used to listen diligently even then, by the mercy of God which was upon me, noting them down not on papyrus but in my heart (apud Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 5.20.4-7).

Bauckham continues:  “Some scholars have been dubious about how far Irenaeus’s vivid memories of his boyhood may be trusted.  But he is right about the clarity of early memories in later life.”  p. 295

Gary:  I find it bizarre that Bauckham uses Irenaeus’ above statement to support his idea that the Jesus Stories were faithfully passed down from eyewitnesses, to “tradents” who maintained the accuracy of these stories by memorizing them, to finally pass them intact to the authors of the Gospels.  Bauckham is asking us to believe that Ireneaus, as a child, correctly remembered the teachings and statements of Polycarp, an alleged disciple of one of the disciples.  Anyone who has ever had children knows how faulty their memories can be.  How do we know that Ireneaus’ recollection of his childhood memories wasn’t influenced by the later writings of Papias, whose reliability even Eusebius questioned?  But notice something else:  Florinus seems to have been older than Irenaeus as Irenaeus says about Florinus, “[you were] faring brilliantly in the imperial court and trying to secure his [Polycarp’s] favour.”  If Florinus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of one of the Apostles, how is it that Florinus came to believe teachings that were false and non-apostolic (in Irenaeus’ view)?  So much for the Story remaining intact!  For all we know, it was Florinus who had the correct version of the teachings of the apostles and not Irenaeus…a child.  How can anyone be sure that it wasn’t the Gnostics and other “heretics” who taught the correct version of apostolic teachings…but lost the “early Christian civil wars”…to the proto-orthodox/catholics???

On the next page, Bauckham goes on to provide evidence for just such a possibility!

Bauckham:  “…his [Irenaeus’] Gnostic opponents also claimed their own lines of named individuals through whom the esoteric teaching of the apostles had reached them.  James was supposed to have passed on what was revealed to him by Jesus to Addai, who wrote it down and transmitted it to others (2 Apocalypse of James 36:15-25).  Basilides was said to have received this teaching from Glaucias, a personal disciple of Peter, while Valentinus claimed to have received his tradition from Theudas, a disciple of Paul (Clement of Alexandria, “Stromateis 7.106.4).  p. 296

Gary:  So it seems that at least a couple of sects of early Christianity were claiming that their teaching had apostolic authority and claiming to possess a chain of “formal” transmission.  But Bauckham wants to convince us that we can be certain that the proto-orthodox/catholic chain of transmission was correct and everyone else was wrong.  Why should we believe this??

And here is evidence of the conservative Christian belief (conspiracy theory) that scholars who reject orthodox Christian claims regarding the reliability of the Gospels (and therefore the Resurrection story) are biased:

Bauckham:  “Compared with the prominence of named individuals in the New Testament itself, form criticism represented a rather strange depersonalization of early Christianity that still exercises an unconscious influence on New Testament scholars.”  p. 297

Gary:  Is Bauckham a psychiatrist?  Can he point to a study that demonstrates the veracity of this claim?  In a linked footnote he lists B. Gerhardsson’s “Reliability of the Gospel Tradition” but that’s it.

Gary:  And now more conjecture from Bauckham:

“The reason for supposing Barnabas and Silas/Silvanus to have been eyewitnesses is that Paul evidently considered then apostles (Barnabas:  I Cor 9:6; Silvanus: I Thess 1:1 with 2:7).  Paul’s use of “apostles” entails that they were commissioned by the risen Christ in a resurrection appearance (cf. I Cor 9:1; 15:7).  This in turn makes it likely that they had been disciples of Jesus during his ministry, but we cannot know this for certain.”  p. 298, footnote 19

Gary:  This is the first time I have heard a scholar say that when Paul used the term “apostle” that he was referring to someone who had been commissioned in a resurrection appearance by Jesus.  Wow.  Bauckham makes this statement as if it is accepted fact.

More conjecture:

“In the case of John’s Gospel, 21:23 is important in showing that the Beloved Disciple—ostensibly, at least, the author (21:24)—was an identifiable figure, someone about whom a rumor could circulate, at least in some circles.  Although he remains anonymous with the Gospel, its first readers must have known his name.”  p. 301

Gary:  Maybe, maybe not.

“The case of Matthew is more complex….[the] definite, albeit quite small, emphasis on the character Matthew within the Gospel [that Matthew is identified as “the tax collector”] cannot be unconnected with the other relevant fact:  that the title of the Gospel associates it with Matthew (“according to Matthew”) in a way that, while it may not necessarily indicate authorship as such, certainly treats the apostle Matthew as in some way this Gospel’s source.”  page 301

Gary:  What???  Talk about grasping at straws!

Bauckham:  “Whether or not any of these original titles [of the Gospels] originate from the authors themselves, the need for titles that distinguished one Gospel from another would arise as soon as any Christian community had copies of more than one in its library and was reading more than one in its worship meetings.  For the former purpose, it would have been necessary to identify books externally, when, for example, they were places side-by-side on a shelf.  For this purpose a short title with the authors name would be written either on the outside of the scroll or on a papyrus or parchment tag that hung down when the scroll was placed horizontally on a shelf.”  p.  303

Gary:  Blatant speculation!  There is no proof that the earliest copies of the Gospels sat around in first century churches with tags on them identifying the authors!

Bauckham:  “Again the universality of these ascriptions of authorship and the fact that they seem never to have been disputed indicate that they became established usage as soon as the Gospels were circulating.

…Where the names of relatively minor characters are given in the Gospels, the reason is usually that the tradition to which the name is attached derived from that person.  In all three Synoptic Gospels, the explanation of the care with which the list of the Twelve has been preserved and recorded is that they were known to be the official body of eyewitnesses who had formulated a body of traditions on which the three Synoptic Gospels depend.

…These arguments show not simply that, as a matter of fact, the traditions in the Gospels have eyewitness sources but, very importantly, that the Gospels themselves indicate their own eyewitness sources.  Once we recognize these ways in which the gospels indicate their sources, we can see that they pass on traditions not in the name of the anonymous collective but in the name of the specific eyewitnesses who were responsible for these traditions.”  p. 304-305

Gary:  Conjecture upon conjecture.

Bauckham:  “So the Gospels were written over the period, from the death of Peter to that of the Beloved Disciple, when the eyewitnesses were ceasing to be available.”  p. 310

Gary:  Conjecture.


6 thoughts on “A Review of Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”; discussion with Historian Adam Francisco, Part 12

  1. We don’t have any contemporary documents from Jesus’ lifetime. Whatever documents Pilate or the Romans made about Jesus’ trial have been lost, unfortunately. Also, Jesus and John the Baptist were speakers rather than writers.

    The only people who come to mind who heard Jesus directly or participated in the events of the gospels and maybe wrote anything about it were:
    Matthew, John, Peter, James, Thomas (gospel of Thomas), Mark (in case he was a youth in Jerusalem and knew Jesus as traditions say), Matthias (Traditions of Matthias), Bartholomew (“Gospel” or “Questions of”)
    The natural lifetimes of the first generation of adult eyewitnesses fully lasts from c. 20 AD (as “adult” 13 y.o.s) to 140 AD (as 120 y.o.s), but this range does not best reflect their generation. The Church leaders Peter and James died c.63-70 AD, although John lived for decades afterwards, to maybe 100 AD.

    After them, we only have those who could have heard from those who experienced the events (hearsay & circumstantial evidence). These include:
    Luke (Lucias of Cyrene?), Barnabas (or the author of his epistle), Clement of Rome, Paul, Ignatius of Antioch, Hermas (author of “Shepherd”), Flavius Josephus (37 – c.100 AD; wrote in c. 93 AD), Mar Saba (wrote c.80-200 AD)
    As well as the writers Polycarp (51/69-155 AD), Papias (70-163), Quadratus of Athens (-129), Aristides of Athens (-134), Basilides, Suetonius, Pliny, Tacitus, in case any of them in their younger or middle years (eg. 30) met participants of the gospel events like John, other disciples, or others (esp. in Jerusalem or Galilee) who interacted with or saw Jesus. Realistically speaking, anything written after c.170 AD is not going to be by someone who interacted with participants of the gospel events.

    So Luke, Clement, and Ignatius of Antioch (c.36-108 AD) realistically could interview John and others who claimed to see the newly-resurrected Jesus, and then write about it. Likewise, it’s theoretically feasible for Papias (30 y.o. in 100 AD) to have heard from John as Papias’ student Ireneaus claimed.

    As time goes on after that, the connection gets weaker. So Justin Martyr, 15 y.o. in 115 AD, would have to rely on interviews made by others for his own information about what happened.


    1. Even when we aren’t dealing with writings by direct witnesses of Jesus, the first c. writings still have value, because they show the kind of writings that the Christian community of the 1st. c. (the disciple’s usual generation) was putting out or that people in the disciple’s generation were saying regarding Christianity.


        1. Only possible “eyewitness testimony” we have is by:
          Matthew, John, Peter, James, Thomas (gospel of Thomas), Mark (in case he was a youth in Jerusalem and knew Jesus as traditions say), Matthias (Traditions of Matthias), Bartholomew (“Gospel” or “Questions of”), Paul (bc he claimed legitimate visions of Jesus). I guess the gospels of Mary and Judas could technically/theoretically be eyewitness accounts too. Writings by Pilate or Nicodemus about Jesus…. is just stretching things too much.


  2. I don’t like it how earlier in his book that you are reviewing he claimed that all scholars or the consensus of scholars was X when in fact it was only all conservative (Protestant?) Christian scholars. When your normal audience thinks of “scholars”, they don’t just think of conservative (Protestant?) Christians. Such a definition would be like you are in a cult and you can only respect your cult’s literature.

    My brother said years ago he read Will. Lane Craig’s apologetics where he wrote the same thing, that all scholars teach X on an Apologetics question, whereas in reality scholars (ie academics who researched the topic) have different views. My brother found it surprising or disturbing, maybe even actually disillusioning like it really hurts the apologetics’ case when they do this.



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