Richard Bauckham on the Historicity of the Gospels

Richard Bauckham, Professor of New Testament Studies and Bishop Wardlaw Professor, St Andrews, who has authored, co-authored or edited 23 books on New Testament Studies, is apparently working on a new book about the Historicity of the Gospels which will be entitled Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. He recently gave a lecture on the Historicity of the Gospels which the author of the blog Adversaria, formerly the author of the blog 40 Bicycles had the privilege of attending. Fortunately for us, he kept notes of the lecture which he has published on his blog under teh title Richard Baukham on the Historicity of the Gospels.

In his notes, the Adversaia blog author notes that Dr. Bauckham said:

Traditions, Bauckham argues, were transmitted by, or in the name of, eyewitnesses. These eyewitnesses were not anonymous and did not disappear as they passed on their tradition. They didn’t leave their traditions to merely become the property of anonymous communities. The eyewitnesses were the living guarantors of the traditions associated with their names. People were able to trace the stories that they heard back to the original witnesses, who were usually no more than a few steps removed from them. It must also be noticed that it was not communities that handed on traditions. Communities received traditions and appointed teachers transmitted them. The individuals selected to transmit the traditions had a known relationship to eyewitnesses.

How do we know that traditions were not anonymous? There are a few lines of possible argument here. The following are some examples. In the gospels we see many names within the stories. Many of the characters in the gospel narratives are anonymous, but certain personal names like Jairus and Bartimaeus occur from time to time. It might well be that these individuals were the originators of the traditions associated with their names. This may the reason why their names are mentioned. They would be characters known among the churches, who could act as guarantors of the testimony associated with their names.

A further thing to observe is the great attention given to the list of the twelve apostles in the synoptic gospels. Their names, surnames and some of their nicknames are given to us. We are supposed to be left in no doubt of their identity. This is important as the apostles were the principal guarantors of the tradition. There is also the fact of the ‘inclusio’ of eyewitness testimony to be observed in some of the gospel narratives. Some of the names written at the opening and closing of the accounts serve as bookends that identify the main source of the testimony of the books.

Overall, a very interesting read for anyone interested in the issue of the Historicity of the New Testament.


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