The Gospel: From Oral Tradition to the Written Text

But often the skeptic today questions the accuracy of the things written because he denies inspiration and there was a period of time that passed between Jesus’ ministry and the writing of the gospels.

The oral tradition begins our discussion today.  You have to start with the presumption, How did Christ become God?  The phrases used in years gone past is the historical Jesus and The Christ of faith in the New Testament.  The argument goes that the historical Jesus is factually correct but the Church made Christ into a God.  How do we resolve these issues?

How do you prove that the historical Jesus is the same as the Christ of Faith?  We already have evidence that historical Jesus lived and walked the earth.  This was well documented in the previous blog, Did Christ live? Just because you can not prove something does not mean it is not true.

Most cultures even today teach by oral tradition, word of mouth.  During the time of Jesus, nobody could read or write they were illiterate on this point. Does not mean they were stupid. This means that during Jesus time you had an event, then that event was retold over and over again.   Rabbinical teaching would teach by word of mouth, retelling the event over and over again, till the student would remember it and was able to pass it along to others.  This way the student could memorize large portions of the Torah.

In an oral society there are three ways to retell an event;

  1. Informal uncontrolled, which means anyone could tell the event with no controls as to the accuracy of the story.
  2. Formal control, this meant that only the Rabbinical priest could retell the story.
  3. Informal control, this meant during the first century of Christ the apostles or disciples would retell the story.  This is where you see the different versions of events in the gospels between Matthew, Mark or Luke.  However, if you were retelling an event.  You had respected folks in the community that would correct you on your story.  Perhaps they were an eyewitness to something or that was not the way they were taught. So you have differences in the story but it does not take away the core of the story.  It stays factually true.

During the times of Christ in America as early as the 18th-century children were taught to memorize the entire Bible by their parents and the schools. Just a footnote.

We can all remember a core event like when America landed on the moon.  We can retell the core of the story but perhaps not who the astronauts were.  However, in a corporate pool, you have more folks remembering and coming closer to the truth.  It takes on its own life. The core of the story does not change the morality of it.  This was the same mechanisms in place during the time of Christ.

It must be noted that during the first century their memorization skills vastly outpaced ours nowadays.  Everyday life had to be memorized not like today where we write everything down.  Coupled with the fact as it states in John 14: 26,

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”.

I believe the Holy Spirit would have made sure the stories retained their accuracy.  So can we trust the gospels with their variations?  I would have to say yes.

Do We Know Who Wrote the Gospels?  We have seen that in an oral society as was the case with Jesus in the first century.  There were rigid traditions in place to safeguard the accuracy of the events.  Keep this in mind when we look at the authorship of the 4 gospels.  The church just would not have assigned just anybody’s name to the different synoptic gospels.  Without having clear evidence of authorship at hand.


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