Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Papius on the Eyewitnesses

I have finished chapter two of Baukham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony." The chapter was entitled "Papias on the Eyewitnesses." Papius was a collector of accounts of Christ's ministry. There is some dispute when he lived, but Baukham makes a convincing case for Papius being a third generation Christian, two generations behind Christ's original Apostles. Most of what Papius wrote has been lost to us; what we do know is contained in Eusebius's "Ecclesiastical History."

A quote from Papius, in Eusebius, leads us into the chapter's subject matter: "For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice." Those who apply Form-Criticism to the Bible interpret this passage to mean that Papius preferred oral tradition arising from the memory of a community instead of what was written in the Gospels when it came to researching Christ's ministry. Baukham disagrees. He maintains that Papius was stating his preference for eye witness testimony of those who either actually witnessed Christ's works and teachings, or those who learned directly from those eye witnesses.

Baukham cites a work that distinguishes between oral tradition and oral history. Oral tradition, Baukham states, is a body of recollected material arising from collective or community memory. It does not involve the transmission of information from individual to individual. The material is developed over several generations. Some scholars, such as James Dunn hold that this view best explains the development of the New Testament. Oral History, on the other hand, is the gathering of information from participants, eyewitnesses, or from those who were given the information from these eyewitnesses. That is what Baukham says is what Papius preferred. In his case, Papius preferred the accounts of two teachers who were original disciples of Jesus: Ariston and John the Elder. These two teachers taught others, who then transmitted what these original disciples witnessed to others. By transmitting the teaching of these two to Papius, Papius was given a direct link to the ministry of Jesus. Papius preferred what he learned in this way to any of the various written sources that existed and were utilized in writing the Gospels. Luke mentions these materials in Luke 1:2 . Unlike Dunn, Baukham believes that Papius and the writers of three of the Gospels were contemporaries, and that the Gospel writers, especially Luke, utilized the same methods to ascertain the true history of Christ's ministry: relying either on eyewitnesses or from those who were taught by eyewitnesses, such as the Apostles.

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