Oral traditions: a reason to trust the Gospels – DTS Prof. Darrell Bock

While some people question the reliability of the bible’s accounts of Jesus’ life, Prof. Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary argues that a proper understanding of oral tradition gives good reason to find them trustworthy.

Bock: People sometime compare story telling to Chinese whispers or the telephone game… that’s not the only model that’s at work in ancient times. There’s another model that Kenneth Bailey, a missionary to the Bedouins, who lived in an oral culture in the last century. He reported how they passed on material and he said that is was in an informal, but in a controlled way. Informal meant that there weren’t official story tellers. Anyone could tell the story. But, the controlling part was that there were elders or senior people, that if the story drifted too much from what the story was, would correct the storyteller and keep an eye on it.

And that’s exactly the kind of model we see in the early church. We have the apostles who knew Jesus and were a part of His ministry very early on overseeing the tradition and so we get stories that have some flexibility in detail. Just like a couple might mention their courtship in detail, but mention different details. But, at the same time there’s the gist of the story that’s the same. That’s what we see in the Gospel variation and that consistent core. And, that’s probably what drives the way orality worked in the first century. So, it’s not as wild and free floating as Chinese whispers.

….I think the gist of the story is the key point. And the key point of the story is, did they get, fundamentally, who Jesus claimed to be right? And the emphasis of the New Testament is that Jesus is unique. The point is they would have been on the mark, basically, knowing who Jesus was and what it was that He was saying about Himself. So, to claim that He was just a prophet, when He was going around saying, „I’m at the center of God’s program. I’m the annointed One and God’s gonna exalt Me.” The gist of the story means they’re gonna get those categories right.

….we have terrific textual evidence of what was written back then. That’s the first thing. The text is solid. And the second thing is that this line of tradition from multiple witnesses is telling us very clearly what christians believed about Jesus. Now, a person could choose to believe that or not believe that. That’s a judgment you make about the contentBut, I don’t think you can challenge that this is what christians believed in the first century. That comes through the materials loud and clear.

Oral Tradition: a reason to trust the gospels from CPX on Vimeo.

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