James Still's "Critique of New Testament Reliability and 'Bias' in NT Development"--my
My Comment 21:
James Still continues...
[date: June 7, 1998]
There existed many different varieties of proto-gospels, each based
on the local communities own oral tradition as it was preserved from the
time of Jesus. Although Q is the most famous of these early Sayings Sources
(as Q is also called) it was not the only one. The Gospel of Thomas, for
example, is based on a more primitive strata of Q; a strata that swapped
stories about Jesus before the apocalyptic expectations that came to be
attributed to Jesus and the "Son of Man" sayings found their way into the
James here makes several rather significant assumptions (generally following
the party-line of the Jesus Seminar folk), which need close examination.
Some of these are:
1. Local communities maintained oral tradition from the time of Jesus.
(Elsewhere James delineates these early communities as Judea, Samaria,
Let's look at each of these carefully, and 'test' them...
2. This oral tradition somehow constituted a 'proto-gospel'.
3. There were significant differences between these proto-gospels
4. These proto-gospels consisted ONLY of sayings of Jesus
5. The document called "Q" was such a Sayings Source
6. The Gospel of Thomas was such a sayings source, and pre-dated Q.
7. The apocalyptic expectations did NOT come from Jesus.
8. The Son of Man sayings did NOT come from Jesus.
9. The apocalyptic expectations and "Son of Man" sayings were "put on
the lips of Jesus" later.
1. Local communities maintained oral tradition from the time of
Jesus. (Elsewhere James delineates these early communities as Judea, Samaria,
Were there really long periods of 'oral only' transmission of the
sayings of Jesus, from the times of Jesus?
Was the early oral tradition ONLY made up of 'sayings' of Jesus?
Was this alleged oral tradition transmitted without 'controls' or
The interesting thing about this is that there is absolutely no data
to support this, and what little data exists argues that it is simply not
All indications are that the ministry of Jesus--during His earthly life--DID
NOT focus on developing local communities of believers (capable of preserving
Jesus' sayings), nor did it actually PRODUCE those (there were no separate
"Christian" or messianic meetings commemorating the life/words of Jesus
until after His death).
Quite simply, when a person encountered the person of Jesus during His
life, and became a believer in His Person and Mission, Jesus simply told
them to either "follow Him" (abandoning all) or to remain in the status
quo. The "Status Quo" was simple synagogue worship with a focus on praising
God for His messenger/Son. During the life of Christ, the "church" was
"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I
will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.
" (Matt 16.18)
Believers that did not join the travelling band of Jesus disciples (such
as Mary/Martha/Lazarus), did not exit the synagogue and form a break-off
group. And indeed, they didn't do this until after Pentecost. And the socio-political
situation would have greatly retarded any open discussion about Jesus:
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for
the Jews had already agreed, that if anyone should confess Him to be Christ,
he should be put out of the synagogue. (John 9.22)
Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because
of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put
out of the synagogue; (John 12.42)
Furthermore, when the apostles in Acts began evangelizing Samaria and other
communities, we have NO indication that ANYONE remembered the words of
Jesus. Jesus introduced several Samaritans from the city of Sychar (at
Jacob's Well) to the messianic faith (John 4), but this community never
shows up in any subsequent literature of the first 2-3 centuries. [The
evangelization of Samaria by Philip in Acts 8 was at the capital city of
Samaria/Sebaste, some 8 miles from Sychar.]
Indeed, even when Paul and friends begin evangelizing the outlying areas,
the only "sayings from the time of Jesus" he encounters are from John the
Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent
man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. 25 This man
had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit,
he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being
acquainted only with the baptism of John; (Acts 18.24)
And it came about that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having
passed through the upper country came to Ephesus, and found some disciples,
2 and he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy
Spirit." 3 And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said,
"Into John's baptism." 4 And Paul said, "John baptized with the
baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming
after him, that is, in Jesus." (Acts 19.1ff)
So, if there WERE residual bits of information about Jesus, it would have
come from the message of John the Baptist, either concerning Christ's atoning
sacrifice ("behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world")
or His divine nature/mission/authority ("but One is coming who is mightier
than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 "And His winnowing fork is in His
hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into
His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.")
One must remember that the response to Jesus was quite varied during
His lifetime. Whereas the tiny village of Sychar in Samaria welcomed Him
(John 4), the only other Samaritan village recorded did NOT receive Him
(Luke 9.51ff). Galilee was extremely divided in its response, and even
those of His home town rejected Him. Jerusalem and the Judean countryside
also were quite divided in its response to Jesus, with the crowd of celebrants
(or anti-Roman hopefuls?) at the Triumphal Entry counterbalanced by the
mercenary mob of the Trial of Pilate. He only made the briefest of trips
outside of Israel (one to the "region" of Tyre/Sidon, and one to Caesarea
Philippi), hardly staying long enough to create a 'community'.
There simply were no "communities" created by Jesus during His lifetime--that
was the task for the Apostles. Their forays out into the Judean towns (the
Sending of the Twelve and the Sending of the Seventy) were basically the
same messianic message of John the Baptist, and although their ministry
seemed to be powerful (Luke 10.17), its success was not reported in terms
of 'conversions'. Their message was the "shared" one of "The kingdom
of God has come near to you" (Luke 10.9) and we have no indications
that it included any "Sayings" of Jesus.
No doubt those whose lives were deeply touched and transformed by our
Lord would have had a vivid memory of their encounter, but this would hardly
have constituted "oral tradition" at the level of a 'proto-gospel'. (And
it certainly would not have been a 'community' product.) In fact, the vast
majority of known 'transformation encounters' recorded about Jesus and
non-disciples do NOT contain any generic preaching-type statements. All
of His remarks to healed people or 'touched' people were of a personal
nature "go home and tell..." or "watch out for sin..." or the such like.
The sermon-quality or Sayings-quality remarks given to non-disciples were
given only occasionally, and probably not to the same group more than once.
Jesus was focused on accomplishing His messianic and salvific work,
and He focused on building ONE SPECIFIC community--the apostolic band--to
carry this message forward. He did NOT even aim the majority of His
teaching at the public, but rather at the disciples. So, after a most
detailed and careful analysis of Jesus' major speeches in Matthew, Byrskog
"In short, Jesus' major speeches are directed mainly to Jesus' own
disciples. Jewish crowds are also often present. But the speeches are not
preaching aimed for an audience of outsiders first of all. They are mostly
information to the disciples. The disciples are the primary recipients
of Jesus' teaching. They are his pupils."
And Matthew 10.27, illustrates this "train the trainer" program further:
"What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear
whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops."
"Communities" are defined not only by a belief-structure, but also by
corresponding rituals, ceremonies, cultic actions. The first one of these
we find for the 'Jesus movement' was the Last Supper, instituted the night
before He died. Accordingly, this constitutive element would have also
been missing from any alleged pre-Passion 'communities'. [The entry-rite,
that of baptism, was NOT associated specifically with a Jesus movement,
since it was shared by John the Baptist.]
Frend illustrates some of the dynamics of the Galilean ministry and
"How long the Galilean ministry lasted is uncertain. It must have
been more than a year, and more likely two. It was long enough for Jesus
to visit much of northern Galilee and preach beyond its boundaries in Tyre
and Sidon, to have made one journey at least to Jerusalem via Samaria and
to have left him time for silent solitary prayer in the hills. It was long
enough, too, for opposition to consolidate and render much of
Jesus' efforts fruitless...For a time Jesus was to withdraw from
public teaching and concentrate on his disciples alone...Meanwhile
the disciples, people who had truly left all to follow him, were to be
built up as the nucleus of the new Israel...After another quick and secret
journey through northern Galilee including his old base Capernaum, Jesus,
his disciples, and friends set out for Jerusalem."
So, this first point is simply false. We have no reason to believe
that "local communities maintained oral tradition from the times of Jesus"
and we have several reasons to believe that this in fact did NOT occur.
Indeed, the historical record supports this as well. Jesus spent the
majority of His ministry around the Sea of Galilee, and we do not encounter
any historical evidence of a Jesus movement there until after the expulsion
of the Jews from Jerusalem in the early 2nd century.
Galilean Christianity only appears in the later rabbinic sources, showing
the conflict between Rabbinical Judaism (which mostly settled in Galilee
after the expulsion from Jerusalem) and the Nazarenes, a Jewish-Christian
group of highest orthodoxy. We know that there were Christians in Galilee
during the book of Acts (hardly surprising, since the vast majority of
Church leadership was from Galilee!), but Palestinian Christianity seems
to have been dominated by the Church of Jerusalem. Indeed, Luke can speak
of "the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria"
Now, IF WE ALLOW "assumptions" to be considered, then the most logical
'assumption' would be that of Pritz' [NT:NJC:120]:
"The talmudic sources seem to return us to the area of the Galilee,
where a Nazarene presence can be supposed to have been constant
since the ministry of Jesus.""
But if Pritz' assumption can be allowed, then James is a tough spot, for
the only real and early data we have about the Nazarenes concerning biblical
content comes from Epiphanius (7,2; 7,4; 9,4):
a. The use both the Old and New Testaments, without excluding any
books known to Epiphanius (7,2):
"For they use not only the New Testament but also the
Old, like the Jews. For the Legislation and the Prophets and the Scriptures,
which are called the Bible by the Jews, are not rejected by them as they
are by those mentioned above [Manicheans, Marcionites, Gnostics]. "
b. They have a good knowledge of Hebrew and read the OT and at least one
gospel in that language (7,4; 9,4):
"They a good mastery of the Hebrew language. For the entire Law and
the Prophets and what is called the Scriptures, I mention the poetical
books, Kings, Chronicles and Ester and all the others, are read by them
in Hebrew as in the case with the Jews, of course."
"They have the entire Gospel of Matthew in Hebrew. It is carefully
preserved by them in Hebrew letters."
In other words, when they first appear in the 'fossil record', they have
a full gospel-not a 'sayings source'. And they are careful to preserve
it in written form. (In fact, they were quite scribal in nature-they
even wrote a commentary on Isaiah that is used/quoted by Jerome.)
And before I move on, let me make one additional point about this whole
'oral tradition' issue. Although I have already dealt with this in Comment
12, some additional data is worth reviewing.
The old Form-Critical school of Bultmann/Dibelius, upon which much of
the Jesus Seminar superstructure rests, assumed that a long period of
'oral transmission' occurred, in which the tradition grew/developed
without controls, after the analogy of folklore.
Over the past half-century, this assumption has been shown to be unwarranted
by historical and comparative studies. For example,
"Matthew compiled the oracles in the Hebrew speech, and each one interpreted
them as best he could." (Eccl. Hist., 3.39.16).
First-century Palestine was literally CRAWLING with scribes! Qumran had
tons, they show up in the gospel records, they show up in the Pseudepigraphical
Jewish literature of the period (e.g., the theme of the Heavenly Scribe,
for example Enoch), they show up in the Apocrypha (e.g., Sirach), they
show up in the earliest rabbinical literature we have. It simply was NOT
an 'oral' culture!
The Qumranites were known to write down the words of the Teacher and preserve
them very, very carefully. Josephus points out that the Essenes (likely
the basic stock of Qumran) are careful to preserve their books (BJ 2.8):
"Moreover, he swears to communicate their doctrines to no one any otherwise
than as he received them himself; that he will abstain from robbery, and
will equally preserve the books belonging to their sect, and the
means of the angels [or messengers]. These are the oaths by which they
secure their proselytes to themselves." This sect came into existence merely
years before they had the flourishing literature that we find in the Dead
Sea Scrolls. They were very quick to record the words of the Righteous
The Uppsala school has demonstrated how closely the apostolic circle approximated
a scribal 'rabbinate' which would have produced fixed traditions
of Jesus' teachings ever BEFORE His death. Davids summarizes some of their
findings in GP1:87, 88, 89-90:
"First, we have pointed out both in relation to Jewish traditions and
in relation to the language of Jesus that there is no reason to assume
that the early transmission was exclusively oral."
"The narrative of Acts 1:21-22 indicates that at least to some in the
church the role of the apostles was not only that of a witness to the resurrection,
but also that of a witness to the life and presumably the teachings of
Jesus. It would be hard to believe that men with such a role did not by
their presence exert some control upon the development of tradition."
"So long as the apostles existed, then, and particularly so long as
the existed in Jerusalem, the respect in which they were held had the effect
of dampening variation in the tradition..."
"Gerhardsson was correct over against the form-critical school in looking
at the gospel material, especially the didactic parts, as traditions deliberately
taught by Jesus to the disciples and in part passed on by them before the
passion. Further research, however, has shown that at an early date at
least part of this process was in a written form (i.e. the Qumranic model
was as much that of Jesus' milieu as the later rabbinic) and that the material
was from the beginning partially in Greek.
"After Easter the early church did take an intense interest in the life
and teaching of Jesus. Translation of Aramaic traditions into Greek must
have been almost immediate in Jerusalem, where Hellenistic Jews were part
of the early church. The presence of eyewitnesses of that life up until
the period when the written gospels were appearing, witnesses who were
in high church positions, must have had a strongly conservative effect
on the tradition (remembering that the church as much as the rest of its
society valued the authority of elders). The church was clearly conscious
that it was passing on tradition, not creating new ex nihilo (cf.
even Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1ff., 11:23ff., which are some of the few places
where his arguments overlap gospel concerns.). Yet this transmission was
also probably more in writing than Gerhardsson allows."
Byrskog has shown that at least Matthew conceived of the apostolic mission
as specifically a scribal one, based on Matthew 13.51:
"Have you understood all these things?" They *said to Him, "Yes."
52 And He said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple
of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth
out of his treasure things new and old." (See also 23.34, and 28.18-20)
And this accords well with Eusebius' famous remark about Matthew and "sayings"
Notice here that Matthew did not USE a 'compilation' but actually put a
'sayings document' together. And, given the emphasis on note-taking and
scribal-type disciples above, there is no reason why the compilation could
not have occurred as the speeches of Jesus were given. There is
no reason to suppose that Matthew waited until Jesus had died or ascended
to do such a student-like task (as a tax-collector, such procrastination
of documentation would have been suicidal!); and there is every reason
to suppose it was done as they traveled about.
6. That any such oral transmission was not uncontrolled (after the pattern
of folklore), we can give the summary by E. Earle Ellis [GAG:40-41]:
"The uncontrolled transmission of the gospel traditions, understood
largely from the analogy of folk traditions, owed more to J.G. Herder's
eighteenth-century romanticism than to an analysis of first-century Jewish
practices and rightly raised a number of questions. (1) The limited chronological
framework, first of all, does not inspire confidence in the analogy: the
development of "holy word" traditions over a few decades in a relatively
small and closely knit religious group is quite a different matter from
the development of folk traditions over a century or more. (2) The postulate
was also at odds with the conceptions about the transmission of religious
traditions that were present in early Christianity (I Cor. 11:23; 15:1-3)
and rabbinic Judaism, as O. Cullmann, H. Reisenfeld, B. Gerhardsson, and
R. Riesner have shown. Finally, (3) it is difficult if not impossible,
in a continuous traditioning process, to account for the transmission from
folkloric (communal) oral transmission with its milieu and techniques to
the (individual) written result in the Gospels with its milieu and techniques."
7. Additionally, Gamble points out that this assumption of 'folk lore'
approaches was NOT based on empirical studies [BREC:15]:
"The idea of the folk community taken up by form criticism was not,
however, an analytical concept based on empirical ethnographic studies,
but a constructive concept rooted in a romantic notion of history and culture,
a view characterized by a nostalgic concept of primitive societies uncorrupted
by civilization. The value of this idea for form criticism was above all
its emphasis on the anonymous and collective nature of authorship, and
thus on the nonliterary character of folk tradition."
In summary, the old 'oral tradition-"long and loose"-position has lost
its general strength, in the face of the data of first-century Palestinian
But this need not deter James from his proto-objection; he could simply
start the 'tradition cycle' later, with the apostles. The apostles will
immediately start the evangelization process, and presumably create communities
that preserve the words of Jesus--as taught by the apostles--in some 'oral
tradition' form (perhaps). And this might allow James the latitude he will
need to come up with "different traditions", but the facts will unfortunately
(for James) indicate otherwise.
When the evangelization of the world begins--Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria,
and the uttermost earth--the apostolic message (1) ALREADY contains
more than "sayings" of Jesus and (2) ALREADY is tightly overseen and controlled
by the apostolic band.
That the apostolic message was larger than Sayings Sources can easily
be seen from the simple "sermons" of Peter in the early chapters of Acts.
Consider the first one in Acts 2. After the opening quote from the book
of Joel (filled with apocalyptic imagery, by the way), Peter delivers his
message--without a single "Saying" of Jesus:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man
attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which
God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know- 23
this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God,
you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to
death. 24 "And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony
of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. 25 "For
David says of Him, 'I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; For
He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 'Therefore my heart
was glad and my tongue exulted; Moreover my flesh also will abide in hope;
27 Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Thy Holy One
to undergo decay. 28 'Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou
wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.' 29 "Brethren, I may confidently
say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was
buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 "And so, because he was
a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one
of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he looked ahead and spoke of
the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades,
nor did His flesh suffer decay. 32 "This Jesus God raised up again,
to which we are all witnesses. 33 "Therefore having been exalted to
the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise
of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.
34 "For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:'The
Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Thine
enemies a footstool for Thy feet." ' 36 "Therefore let all the house of
Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this
Jesus whom you crucified."
Now, even a cursory glance at this sermon will reveal a very, very high
Christology! (Something even the 3rd century church would have been proud
of!) The emphasis is quite clearly what God had accomplished in the life,
death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Davidic messiah (with a dash
of Throne-apocalyptic thrown in). There is not the slightest mention
of the "Sayings" of Jesus in this passage; the focus is on what
the prophetic OT spoke about Jesus!
Ditto for Peter's second sermon in Acts 3:
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has
glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered up, and
disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.
14 "But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a
murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life,
the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
16 "And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which
has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes
through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
17 "And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your
rulers did also. 18 "But the things which God announced beforehand by
the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has
thus fulfilled. 19 "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be
wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence
of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for
you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of
all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from
ancient time. 22 "Moses said, 'The Lord God shall raise up for you a
prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything
He says to you. 23 'And it shall be that every soul that does not heed
that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' 24 "And
likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors
onward, also announced these days. 25 "It is you who are the sons of
the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying
to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'
26 "For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless
you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways."
Here again the focus is on what GOD promised to do through His prophets
in the Tanaach/OT, and what GOD did through the work of Christ--nothing
about cynic witticisms or "Sayings" of Jesus.
Of special importance is Peter's message to the Gentile Cornelius in
"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace
through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)- 37 you yourselves know the thing
which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the
baptism which John proclaimed. 38 "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God
anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went
about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil;
for God was with Him. 39 "And we are witnesses of all the things He did
both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him
to death by hanging Him on a cross. 40 "God raised Him up on the
third day, and granted that He should become visible, 41 not to all
the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is,
to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
42 "And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify
that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the
living and the dead. 43 "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that
through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness
Stuhlmacher points out the interesting understanding of how this impacts
the question of the earliest apostolic preaching [GAG:22]:
"Since the logos declared by Peter in Acts 10:36-43 is not
simply a summary of the Lucan gospel but rather presents a concise version
of Mark's Gospel, I am of the opinion, again in company with C.H.Dodd and
M. Dibelius [note: the father of form-criticism, upon which the Jesus Seminar
is critically dependent!], that what we have in Acts 10:36ff is the
fundamental kerygmatic model of the gospel account first offered by
Mark. This fundamental model is pre-Pauline or contemporary with
Paul and shows not only that in the Church's mission Jesus' resurrection
is proclaimed and his return announced but also that the story of the deeds
and fate of the earthly Jesus is old, all this in the frame work of scriptural
references in to the Old Testament."
In other words, the earliest records we have of the apostolic preaching
is the "gospel" as we have it today--not some 'sayings source'.
The earliest data we have indicates a composite message.
Secondly, the apostolic message 'content' is ALREADY tightly overseen
and controlled by the apostolic band. There are a number of indications
of relatively CLOSE apostolic oversight of the spread of the gospel content:
1.The early church had a center (Jerusalem) and leaders (apostles).
2.When the church expanded into Samaria, there was interaction with
the leaders of the founding church (Acts 8.14): "When the apostles in
Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter
and John to them". [By all accounts, Peter and John would have been
closest to ANY information about Jesus' acts/words.]
3.When the church expanded into Antioch, we see the same pattern occur
(Act 11:22): "News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem,
and they sent Barnabas to Antioch."
4.When the issue of circumcision came up, the church in Antioch appointed
Paul and Barnabas "to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders
about this question" (Acts 15.2)
5.The first church council was held at Jerusalem (Act 15:23-29)
6.The reference in Acts 15:24--"We have heard that some went out
from us without our authorization and disturbed you..."--is
a STRONG indication of a 'sense of control'!
7....as is 16.6: "As they traveled from town to town, they delivered
the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the
people to obey. .
8.Paul accepted the importance of the Jerusalem center (Gal 2.1-2):
"Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas.
I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before
them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately
to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run
my race in vain."
9.Davids points out how significant this was [GP:I:87f]:
"Confirmation of the picture in Acts comes from the fact that even
Paul felt the power and authority of the Jerusalem church and the apostles.
While Paul insists that his legitimacy as an apostle comes directly from
Christ, he still reports that he found it necessary to go to Jerusalem
at least twice and on one occasion to seek formal approval of his gospel
from the apostles (Gal. 2.1-10). This would be most astounding if Paul
did not feel that the apostles had at least some type of authority over
the content of the tradition. Thus although Paul refuses to become dependent
upon Jerusalem, he has the highest respect for the role of the community
as a stronghold of pure doctrine and tradition".
10. At Jrs. Paul was welcomed and sent to the Gentiles (Gal 2.9f): "James,
Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right
hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed
that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked
was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was
eager to do."
11.Paul (a native of Tarsus!) returned to Jerusalem after EACH missionary
12.Even Peter is subject to the apostles as a group (Acts 8.4).
13.The leading apostles and evangelists had traveling ministries, bringing
them into contact with churches and believers everywhere.
14.The early churches did NOT live in a vacuum. They corresponded with
each other (cf. I Clement, a letter from Rome to Corinth, a.d. 95, see
ATNT:48-49) and exchanged NT documents (cf. Col. 4.16).
15.Bauckham summarizes the authority succinctly [BAFCSPS:450]:
"The Jerusalem council presupposes the authority of Jerusalem to decide
the issue of Gentile Christians' obedience to the Law (Acts 15). Its decision
binds not only Antioch and its daughter churches (15.22-31) but also the
churches founded by Paul and Barnabas (16.4). When James recalls the decision
in 21.25, the effect is to imply that Paul's Gentile mission is still subject
Notice that every indication we have--from the only sources we have--supports
a very narrow range of "content flexibility" by local communities and leads
us to believe that the message of the earliest church was predominantly
on the deeds of Jesus instead of His sayings!
But let's raise the hypothetical case, perhaps suggested by James' scenario.
WHAT IF a Galilean village HAD maintained a memory of some of Jesus' sayings
during one of His trips up, and they then encountered an apostolic preaching
journey into their town--what would have been likely to happen?
There is no reason to suppose that their response to the obvious "informational
superiority" and/or authority of the apostles would not have been the same
So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there
were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they were continually
devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2.41f)
In other words, the apostolic preaching (and the frequent visits) would
have exercised a 'corrective' influence on any incorrect memories of Jesus'
teaching. Those who had been touched by the life and words of Jesus earlier
would have been eager to learn more about the Savior from those who accompanied
Him "from the Baptism of John on" (Acts 1.22).
Notice carefully at this point, that this argument makes a case that
NO SAYINGS SOURCES COULD HAVE ARISEN AT ALL, except as part of the
apostolic records! If the socio-historical scenario constructed above (i.e.,
most of Jesus' teachings aimed at disciples, and no significant community
formation until post-Pentecost), then the only place that Jesus' words/sayings
could have been preserved would have been within the apostolic community
(broadly considered to the 100+ of Acts 1).
And when you couple this with (1) the facts of very close interaction
among the apostolic band over the next twenty years or so, and with (2)
the deeds-oriented preaching of the earliest sermons of the apostles, you
are basically locked OUT of James' position. A Sayings Source simply
cannot manifest itself 'early', unless you can demonstrate that the early
preaching of the apostles was radically different from that preserved in
our earliest sources. If there will be any 'oral tradition' scenario,
it will have to be apostolic or post-apostolic in time; NOT from the pre-apostolic
period. To get to a place where James can assert that the individual apostles
created communities with different 'gospels', he will have to demonstrate--against
the evidence above--that the apostles generally worked alone, and generally
did not interact (or accept correction!) with each other. And the data
on frequent apostolic interaction is considerable--especially concerning
the preaching/teaching content (and its written forms).
It is quite easy to demonstrate that the various writers/sources of
NT documents were in constant communication and collaborative work. Some
of the data are as follows:
1. The letters of James, I Peter, and the Pauline letters were written
by apostles who--according to Paul and his sometime companion Luke--worked
together. The data is extensive: Gal 1.18; 2.1, 9; I cor 3.22-4.1; 9.5;
11.16, 23ff; 14.33ff; 15.3-7; Rom 15.25; Acts 11.29f; 12.25; 15.6-35; 21.17f;
cf. 2 Pet 3.15f; Jude 17f with I Tim 4.1).
2. The letters and the Book of Acts connect their authors with the synoptic
3. Peter and Paul with Mark (Col 4.10f;2 Tim 4.11; Phlm 24; I Pet 5.13;
Acts 12.12-25; 13.5, 13; 15.37ff).
4. Paul and James with Luke (Paul: Col 4.14; 2 Tim 4.11; Phlm 24; Acts
16.10-17; 20.5-21.17; 27.1-28.16 ["we"]; James: Acts 21.17f ["we"]).
5. Acts puts James and Matthew together in Jerusalem (Acts 1.13f with
6. The epistles reveal that Paul and Peter and James know a number of
synoptic traditions [GAG:44] Paul: I Cor 7.10; 9.14 (I tim 5.18); I Cor 11.23; 15.3; cf.
Col2.8; see GP:II:345-375 for a substantial list of Pauline overlaps with
the Synoptic Apocalypse. [see also some
significant verbal overlaps with Jesus' words]
Peter: I Pet 1.10ff Luke 10.24=Matt 13.17); 2.7 (Mark 12:10);
2.12 (Matt 5.16); 4.13f (Matt 5.11f=Luke 6.22f).
James shows special affinities to Matthew: 1:5,6, 22f; 2:5, 13;
7. Peter was apparently the source of much information for Paul--Gal 1.18.
The NT writers were in constant communication and collaboration with each
other, and demonstrate this in their writings. It would have been difficult
if not impossible for one of this group to have held to variant/dissident
views/memories without it becoming widely known. We even know of disagreements
within the early church, and that they are surfaced quite visibly(!)--such
as Peter vs. Paul in Galatians and the circumcision issue in Acts 14-15.
All the indications along these lines indicate frequent and healthy feedback
loops in the early decades of the Church.
Back to James' assumptions...
2. This oral tradition somehow constituted a 'proto-gospel'.
Well, we have already seen how this 'oral tradition' could not/did not
exist, and James even admits in his later piece that there is not the slightest
shred of textual or archeological data to support this.
And, it should be pointed out, that the genre of the real gospels is
that of Greek bioi. And any of the supposed Saying Sources do not
have any relationship to this genre. So, it is misleading to even term
these non-existent sources as 'proto-gospels' on genre grounds.
On to the next assumption...
3. There were significant differences between these proto-gospels
Since these proto-gospels don't exist, it is difficult to assess the
differences between them (sardonic smile here)...
This, of course, is the area of Rampant Speculation that dominates the
discussion about "Sayings Sources" and the like. James will have to make
tons and tons of speculative judgments about what this community
would have believed and what that community would have believed,
with the result being so incredibly gossamer...
It is difficult for me to know what else to say here, to be frank, since
this area is so subjective and without critical controls. Just let me point
out that the data presented above about the apostolic control, when coupled
with the data on the fidelity of the apostolic preservation/transmission
surfaced in the last couple of decades by scholars such as Gerhardsson,
Reisner, Harris, and Byrskog, make a very, very strong case for the accuracy
of the transmitted intra-gospel words of Jesus, as well as the episodal
narratives about His deeds.
Differences among the Synoptic Gospels do not provide prima facie
evidence that the information presented in them came from 'competing proto-gospels'.
But the issue of the Synoptic Problem is for later...
On to the next assumption...
4. These proto-gospels consisted ONLY of sayings of Jesus
Notice here that the best data we have, on the earliest preaching of
the apostles (noted above) contradicts this clearly and forcefully. Notice
also that we have argued above that a "sayings source" could not have surfaced
from the apostolic band (the only possible place from which it could have
This leaves us with a simple negative verdict on this assumption as
It must also be remembered that one of the main topics in Jesus' disclosures
to His disciples before His death was ABOUT His death and resurrection.
Repeatedly, He attempted to teach them this, and the unflattering portrait
of their 'dullness' and even downright rejection of His words [Matt 16.21-24:
"From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must
go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests
and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter
took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This
shall never happen to You." 23 But He turned and said to Peter,"Get behind
Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your
mind on God's interests, but man's.""], makes a strong case for the
authenticity of these attempted teaching 'events'.
[And, by the way, "Q"--one of the hypothetical "Saying Sources" of James'
is FILLED with biographical detail about Jesus. It is not remotely "ONLY"
the sayings of Jesus, nor is it even ONLY about Jesus. It includes stories
about John the Baptist (Q1-Q4), and numerous supernatural elements (e.g.,
the Satanic temptation in Q6-Q8 and the Voice of God at the baptism in
Q5). And current Q-scholarship believes Q was written, not oral anyway
(Sato, in NT:TSOQ:156)]
On to the next assumption...
5. The document called "Q" was such a Sayings Source
Again, James has admitted (as do all scholars) that there are no traces
of this document in the historical record. James has to fall back on the
vagueness of the "Synoptic Problem" to support the claim that Q existed.
Q is a logical construct that is a 'document of the gaps' required by the
Two-Source view of gospel criticism. [I will cover this issue below].
Although I have pointed out some of the problems with the Q hypothesis
earlier, let me just make a summary point again from one additional source,
Ralph Martin, who generally supports some kind of Q-layer [NTF:147]. He
cites as the "best summary" of the pro-con arguments about Q, from Knox:
"It is necessary to insist that Q is simply a hypothetical document;
its claim to have existed rests on its being the best hypothesis to explain
the fact that there is much material to be found in these two Gospels [Matthew,
Luke] which shows so close a resemblance of wording (sometimes amounting
to complete identity) that it must have been derived by both of them from
a common written source, or at least an oral source which was regarded
as authoritative and memorized by Christian teachers"
Let's be clear on this: Q is a 'sayings' COLLECTION-not necessarily a sayings
SOURCE. As a hypothetical document, it is defined (roughly) by an equation:
"Common (Matthew, Luke) minus Mark = Q". As it just so happens, this equation
yields mostly sayings of Jesus (reasons for which we will discuss below).
But let's not forget that we have no textual, literary, or archeological
evidence for this document or body of tradition-it is PURELY 'logic' (or
better, our lack of information about the formation of the gospels) that
suggests such a Q (assuming one rules out OTHER solutions to the 'synoptic
problem', of course).
Orchard still has one of the most incisive comments about Q (cited in
"Apart from the fact that no two scholars agree on its content,
'Q' stretches credulity to the limit--to imagine that in the first
Christian century a document, so highly treasured and copied so carefully
and lovingly by both Matthew and Luke quite independently, should have
disappeared without leaving a single trace or any real objective clue to
its existence and nature."
[Now, it is important to mention here that "Q" is not as big of an issue
as might first appear. The existence of Q-tradition is held by scholars
of all persuasions and religious commitments. This is NOT a matter of 'faith'
per se, but simply a matter of historical and textual science. I
will indicate in a longer piece on the synoptic problem why I (and a growing
number of non-amateur scholars) are abandoning the Two-Source theory (which
needs a Q) in favor of the Two-Gospel theory (which doesn't).]
On to the next assumption...
6. The Gospel of Thomas was such a sayings source, and pre-dated
I have demonstrated elsewhere that:
On to the next assumption...
Gthom is too late for this;
Gthom is too fuzzy for this;
Gthom is dependent on the 4 canonical gospels already!
Gthom is held to be early ONLY by a small, small minority of NT scholars
(mostly Jesus Seminar types)
7. The apocalyptic expectations did NOT come from Jesus.
Could Jesus really not have had any 'apocalyptic expectations' because
they were allegedly only later?
This is another of those positions that is hopelessly out of date. [James
needs more gadfly DNA in him (smile)].
The data of the literary sources before/during the time of Jesus would
suggest that if Jesus did NOT voice 'apocalyptic expectations', then He
would have been ABSOLUTELY unique in the milieu of the period! Every other
group within Judaism (with the possible exception of the Sadducees) voiced
'apocalyptic expectations' in one degree or another.
Without getting into technical definitions of 'apocalyptic', let us
simply note it involves the use of geo-astronomical images to describe
either present or future actions of God in history. It is generally assumed
to have originated in the 'throne visions' of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and to
have been 'formalized' by Daniel.
If we survey the literature of the period, we find that apocalyptic
works crop up EVERYWHERE, and even the most "sedate" of authors appeal
to apocalyptic passages as a means of understanding their present/future.
The literature is too vast to do more than simply illustrate this, so
let me just give a quick sampling of the works/texts of the period.
"The Amoraim in the fourth century who created their vision of the
Messianic era, and did not, like Samuel regard it only as a time devoid
of the bondage of the kingdoms, but gave it a Utopian and apocalyptic
character, came, as a result of these portrayals, to endow the Messiah
also with authority to give decisions and expound Halakhot transcending
the existing Torah."
Qumran. This community, of course, KNEW that they were living in
the last days, and that THEY were the remnant that God would save. There
are literally DOZENS of apocalyptic scrolls found there.
Palestinian Pseudepigrapha. This refers to works written in the
period that are not part of the biblical canon. In this category we can
place I Enoch (the first 36 chapters of which are pre-Maccabean):
I Enoch 14.17-21: "As for its floor, it was of fire and above
it was lightning and the path of the stars; and as for the ceiling, it
was flaming fire. And I observed and saw inside it a lofty throne--its
appearance was like crystal and its wheels like the shining sun;
and (I heard?) the voice of the cherubim; and from beneath the throne
were issuing streams of flaming fire. It was difficult to look at it.
And the Great Glory was sitting upon it--as for his gown,
which was shining more brightly than the sun, it was whiter than any
snow...No one could come near unto him from among those that surrounded
the tens of millions (that stood) before him", with Dan 7.9-10:
""I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient
of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow, And
the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames,
Its wheels were a burning fire. "A river of fire was flowing
And coming out from before Him; Thousands upon thousands were
attending Him, And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;
The court sat, And the books were opened.
Diaspora Pseudepigraha. This refers to works written in the period
by Jews outside of Palestine, generally in Greek, that are not part of
the biblical canon. In this category we have The Apocalypse of Zephaniah
(1st century BC, Greek-speaking Jew), of which it can be said:
"The author's interest in angels, thrones, and apocalyptic judgment
represents a more direct influence form the later Old Testament collection
of writings, particularly Daniel and Psalms." [OTP:1:504]
Another example would be from Book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles. (in
comparison with Daniel):
14.361: "Then the holy nation will hold sway over the whole
earth for all ages, with their mighty children" with Dan 2.44 (above)
and 7.27:"Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all
the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the
saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom,
and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.'"
Palestinian Apocrypha. This refers to works written in the period
by Jews in Palestine, which are NOT in the Jewish and Protestant canons,
but are in some groups within the Catholic and Orthodox communities. And
example of this would be 2 Maccabees, which draws from the apocalyptic
traditions in Daniel extensively.
2 Maccabees was probably written right around 161 bce--earlier
than 1 Maccabees [Harrington, HCSB; Kee CASA], and Chester points
out that "it is also at pains throughout to show, at least implicitly,
that the prophecies of Daniel 7-11 hold true" and that "it is certainly
clear that 2 Maccabees sees Daniel as an inspired and authoritative
work, and takes up important themes from it" [HI:IIW:154].
Rabbinic Judaism. Even the later rabbinical data that we have demonstrates
that a non-trivial apocalyptic theme was present in rabbinical thought,
which might have stretched back into the pre-70 period. So Urbach [SWWRT:311,
"The homilies of Sages and others that contain hyperbolical descriptions
of the world to come recall the visions of the apocalyptists [pre-Christian]."
"Needless to say, it was just the apocalyptic stories and dicta of
the Sages that were not always handed down in their original form;
sometimes the narrators presented them in a sharp dialectical form that
appeared to nullify their original intention."
Where this nets out should be clear: the vast majority of Judaism held
to apocalyptic ideas for at least 2-3 centuries before Jesus, and several
centuries AFTER Jesus, so the evidence is quite strong that apocalyptic
expectations on the part of Jesus are to be expected. Indeed, it would
be very surprising if Jesus had NOT expressed this common theme in His
day-in one form or another.
Indeed, this area was one of the major problems (and embarrassments!)
of the older Form-Critical school. Gamble points out that they really missed
the mark on this, especially in light of the vast amount of data available
to them [BREC:19f]:
"I have also noted that form criticism regarded the eschatological
expectations of early Christianity as a powerful disincentive to writing
and thus to the production of literature. In the face of what was already
known about Jewish apocalyptic literature, it is astonishing that this
claim could ever have been made, but after the discovery of the Qumran
scrolls, it simply cannot be sustained."
And the Jesus Seminar and James are still talking about this?! (James,
"come out from among them...")
On to the next assumption...
8. The Son of Man sayings did NOT come from Jesus.
This assumption is very close to the previous one, since the Danielic
"Son of Man" motif was a frequent sub-theme in Jewish apocalyptic of the
Could Jesus really not have had any 'Son of man' sayings, because
they were allegedly only later?
However, in this case, the data is less extensive (which makes sense
since it is a sub-theme of apocalyptic) than that for the broader 'apocalyptic',
but is still strong that "son of man" ideas were still held by various
pre-Jesus "Judaisms". [We also have the complication that in the passage
in Daniel, the "Son of Man" figure is sometimes interpreted as the nation
of Israel, and sometimes as the representative of the nation (as in the
case of Jesus). As Israel can be seen through the eyes of various individual
figures, such as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah or the Exodus Son of Hosea
11, both understandings are probably involved, but interpreters may sometimes
see only one and not both.]
The summary statement by Nickelsburg in ABD will point out that this
was common in Jewish (not just Christian) texts of the time of Jesus:
"Used in Dan 7:13-14 to describe a cloud-borne humanlike figure, the
expression-or at least the figure so designated in Daniel-became traditional
in some forms of Jewish and early Christian speculation which anticipated
a transcendent eschatological agent of divine judgment and deliverance."
To show that Jesus' usage of this was not unique we need only to consider
a couple of strands of data:
First, we have the work of Ezekiel the Tragedian (early 2nd
Century BC, Greek), the Exagoge 68:
Overall, then, we see that the 'son of man' terminology, images, and themes
were very much a part of the milieu of 'messianic Judaism' and as such,
provides a perfectly reasonable backdrop for Jesus' use of the term Himself.
In other words, it makes perfect (and preferable, actually) historical
sense to state that Jesus' used of the 'son of man' terminology and images
to describe His identify and mission. And, as in the case of 'apocalyptic
expectations', it might be considered surprising if He had not done so.
"On Sinai's peak I saw what seemed a throne so great in size
it touched the clouds of heaven. Upon it sat a man of noble
mien, becrowned, and with a scepter in one hand while with the other
he did beckon me."
Robertson, the translator in OTP, says this (OTP:II:812, n.b2):
"Its significance lies in the fact that Ezekiel would represent God
as a man, an image which is surely rooted in the figures of 'the son
of man' and 'the Ancient of Days' in Daniel's vision."
Second, we have the Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). Again
Nickelsburg (ABD, "Son of Man"):
"This major section of the corpus known as 1 Enoch attests
a crucial step in the development of the tradition in Daniel 7. Although
these chapters also transmit and rework traditional material from 1
Enoch 1-36, their uniqueness within the Enochic corpus lies in a series
of heavenly tableaux that depict an unfolding drama whose protagonist is
a transcendent figure known as "the righteous one," "the chosen one," "the
anointed one," and "this/that son of man," who functions as champion
of "the righteous and the chosen" and as judge of their antagonists, "the
kings and the mighty... The Parables' portrait of this agent of deliverance
draws much of its language and imagery from three biblical sources or traditional
interpretations of these sources. The basic texts are: Daniel 7; Isaiah
11 and Psalm 2; Isaiah 42, 49, and 52-53. Through the use and elaboration
of this material, the author has created a composite figure whom he considers
to be the referent in texts about the heavenly one like a son of man,
the Davidic king, and Second Isaiah's servant of the Lord."
Third, we should consider the Wisdom of Solomon 1-6. Although
it does NOT use the term 'son of man', its dependence on the Danielic figure
is noted by Nickelsburg (ABD):
" In this text from around the turn of the era, an author posing
as Solomon admonishes the kings and rulers of the earth to practice justice
because God rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness. Central to his
exposition is the case of an unnamed righteous one, a typical figure who
is persecuted and put to death by rich and powerful opponents, but vindicated
in the heavenly court, where he stands among the angels and condemns his
persecutors. The two scenes that depict his persecution and exaltation
(chaps. 2 and 5) are cast in the language of Isaiah 52-53, and significant
parallels to the judgment scene in 1 Enoch 62-63 and to 1 Enoch
46 indicate that Wisdom and the Parables present variants of a common exegetical
tradition, which conflates the Isaianic servant passage with material from
Isaiah 14 and identifies the kings of Isaiah 52-53 with the royal figure
who storms heaven and is cast down to earth.
Fourth, let's notice Nickelsburg's summary about this figure (from
the above texts plus a couple of other Jewish texts):
"The evidence presented here indicates that the idea of a transcendent
judge and deliverer was a known element in Jewish eschatology by the
latter part of the 1st century c.e. The texts in question attest a
common model that was composed of elements from Israelite traditions about
the Davidic king, the Deutero-Isaianic servant/chosen one, and the Danielic
"son of man." The model surely existed apart from these texts, and,
in order to posit belief in such a transcendent savior figure in any given
case, we need not presume that any one of the texts was known and used
as a literary source. For the modern critic, however, the texts serve as
extant testimonies and expressions of the belief. The texts and their sources
in the Hebrew Scriptures do not represent successive developments in a
single continuous process. The tradition was fluid and its components interacted
with one another in different ways. The transcendent deliverer was often
identified with Daniel's one like a son of man, although he was not
always called "son of man." In 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, e.g.,
royal and messianic terminology predominated."
And this motif can be dated at least to the early part of the first century
"The dating of the son of man-servant-messiah tradition is difficult
because its clearest attestation is in the Parables, which are notoriously
difficult to date. Nonetheless, the evidence in 4 Ezra 13 indicates
that something very close to the tradition in the Parables was known
and substantially domesticated by the end of the 1st century. An earlier
date is indicated by the Wisdom of Solomon (ca. 40 c.e. at the latest)
and its modified form of the conflation of servant and messianic traditions.
Thus the conflated tradition attested in the Parables appears to have been
extant early in the 1st century c.e. This hypothesis provides a
context for the study of NT son of man traditions."
Finally, even the Rabbinics manifest at least a minor strand of
understanding along this line (amazing in light of the hugely controversial
usage of this in Rabbinic-Christian polemic). They generally refer to the
Danielic image as "Son of the Clouds" though:
"R. Nahman said to R. Yitzhaq: "Have you perhaps heard when Bar Nifle
['Son of the Clouds'] will come?" He answered: "Who is Bar Nifle?"
R. Nahman said: "The Messiah." R. Yitzhaq said: "You call the Messiah Bar
Nifle?" He said: "Yes, for it is written, On that day I shall raise up
the Tabernacle of David that is fallen [nofelet] (Amos 9.11)." [B.
"R. Alexandr said: "R. Y'hoshu'a ben Levi explained:...'If they will
be righteous, [the Messiah will come] on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7.13);
if they will not be righteous, [he will come] as a poor man riding upon
an ass (Zech 9.9)'" [B. Sanh 98a]
"Anani ["He of the clouds"] is King Messiah, who will in the
future reveal himself" [Targum to I Chron 3.24]
"And now let us speak in praise of King Messiah who will come in the
future with the clouds of heaven and two Seraphim to his right and to his
left, as it is written, Behond, with the clouds of heaven came one like
unto a son of man (Dan 7.13) [Pirque Mashiah, Bhm 3.70]
On to the next assumption...
9. The apocalyptic expectations and "Son of Man" sayings were "put
on the lips of Jesus" later.
Did the early church really create 'new' sayings of Jesus and 'write
these into' the stories of His pre-Easter life?
So far we have seen that it would be much more historically plausible
to maintain that Jesus DID use these images to describe His messianic identity
and mission-given the pervasiveness of these in the common religious understandings
of the day. So all I would like to do here is make the point that the early
Church appeared to AVOID ascribing post-Jesus sayings to Jesus, and indeed,
even appeared to PROTECT the Jesus traditions from 'encroachment'.
There are several strands of evidence and argumentation that I think
will make this clear:
First of all, from the above discussion, there was probably no
need for Jesus' followers to ascribe this to Him, since He probably used
those categories/images Himself-given His thorough 'Jewishness'. If
the Judaisms of the day used such terminology, why would we believe that
the disciples were 'more Jewish' than was Jesus?! He certainly didn't seem
to have a problem with the 'exclusivity' of the locus of salvation. In
His conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4 (allegedly a gospel
with anti-semitic leanings!), Jesus flat out told her: "Woman, believe
Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem,
shall you worship the Father. 22 "You worship that which you do not know;
we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews."
(John 4.21-22). We simply do not have a plausible reason to deny that Jesus
said these things, but that His disciples did.
Second, Byrskog has pointed out that the 'school' model of Jesus/disciples
operated such that Matthew seems to have deliberately protected the
Jesus tradition [HI:JTOT:360-361]:
"The evidence available implies that the prophetic influences in the
Matthean community manifested themselves as interpretative activities.
As E. Schweizer puts it, 'the true prophet is the interpreter of the commissions
of Jesus' Jesus-sayings from the past remained the basis of any contemporizing
address to the community. It is indeed possible that the prophets did utter
new and independent oracles. But Matthew did apparently not allow them
to enter into the Jesus tradition as pre-Easter Jesus-sayings. There
was no entirely free incorporation and intergration of new and independent
oracles into the Jesus tradition. Within the creativity, there was
the aim to preserve. [italics Bryskog's; bold mine]
"Matthew's aim to preserve--even protect--the Jesus tradition
implies the existence of criteria which controlled the incorporation of
additional material. J.D.G. Dunn stresses the early Christian' need to
test prophetic oracles."
Third, Lemcio has demonstrated rather forcefully that the gospel
writers went to great pains to preserve the pre-Easter sayings of
Jesus in distinction to the post-Easter sayings of the Risen Lord. He summarizes
this consistent trend [PJG:108,109]
"The hardest available evidence from the gospels has confirmed
the thesis that the Evangelists produced narratives about Jesus of Nazareth
that were free of blatant attempts to infuse and overlay his story with
their own later and developed estimates of his teaching, miracles,
passion, and person."
"With a consistency that can be charted on virtually every page of
text, the thought and idiom of his era are not reproduced in theirs.
Or, more correctly, they do not retroject theirs into his. Such
a claim, when carefully qualified, can even be made of John. At significant
moments (5:24, 12:44), the most christocentric of Evangelists reveals a
synoptic-like theocentricity that dominates the entire gospel."
Fourth, the original assertion that later Christian writers would
attribute later sayings to Jesus came from the form critical school assumptions.
Bultmann and Dibelius believed that later Christian prophets could, when
speaking by the 'spirit of Jesus', would think it okay to put THEIR 'inspired
words' onto the mouth of Jesus.
But the work of Otfried Hofius, admittedly one of the main experts in
agrapha (i.e., non-canonical sayings of Jesus), is a definite counter-trend
to the assumptions of 'free creation' of sayings of Jesus. Compare some
of his remarks in GAG:359:
"With regard to the agrapha which originated within the ancient Church--and
are therefore nonheretical--and which do not qualify for classification
among the group of sayings in section 4 above, we have before us on the
whole an astonishing picture: apart from haggadic-legendary pronouncements
and deliberate or mistaken attributions, we are dealing predominantly with
expansions, with modification, with blends of synoptic (occasionally also
Johannine) logia, and in rare instance with formations modeled on canonical
dominical sayings or with the conversion of narrative notations in the
Gospels into direct statement by Jesus. By comparison the number of
completely free creations is quite minimal. This most be noted as a
phenomenon worthy of consideration and reflection. The palpable tie-in
with the pre-existing tradition of dominical sayings makes it definitely
doubtful, in my opinion, that the early Church freely, on a large
scale, and without inhibitions, produced sayings of the earthly Jesus...What
we do have to doubt, however, is that the Church was very productive in
the minting of new sayings of Jesus."
Fifth, Byrskog also reaches the same conclusions that the church
did NOT ascribe post-Easter prophetic utterances to the pre-Easter Jesus
"Two negative implications emerge. First, early Christianity did
not easily shift the authorial identification of sayings from a Christian
prophet to Jesus. This observation is in harmony with the distinction
that Paul makes between what he himself says and what the Lord says (1
Cor 7:10-40; 9:14; 11:23; 15:3; 1 Thess 4:15). Paul may have considered
his apostolic commission as a call to preach in prophetic terms. But regardless
of whether the sayings of the Lord in all cases actually go back on a dominical
tradition or not, it is evident that Paul is anxious to keep sayings ascribed
to himself and sayings ascribed to the Lord separate...Second, the normal
procedure in early Christianity was not to project port-Easter sayings
into the pre-Easter ministry of Jesus. In the NT, as often also in
later texts, the explicit prophetic oracles appear on the lips of the risen
Christ...There are no episodal comments implying a projection back into
Jesus' earthy ministry." [emphasis Bryskog's]
Sixth, there is a definite "what's wrong with this picture?" issue
here. If the later church put THEIR words, reflecting THEIR issues, into
the mouth of the pre-Easter Jesus, why didn't they do a good job of it?!
The controversies of the later church (e.g., organization, re-baptism,
etc.) would be the best "candidates" for spurious sayings, yet these
simply do not appear at all. The very motive would contradict the actual
data of the alleged retrojected sayings. Blomberg makes this point [BLOM:32]:
"Further, if the gospel writers felt so free to include prophetic
messages as words of the earthly Jesus, it is astonishing that there are
no 'sayings' of Jesus addressing some of the most divisive controversies
in the early church, for example the role of circumcision or speaking in
Finally, David Aune, in the most detailed study of prophecy in the
period so far, points to the radical lack of evidence to support this theory
"scholars, it appears, have seized the hypothesis of the creative
role of Christian prophets because it both accounts for the additions to
the sayings tradition and absolves the early Christians from any culpability
in the forging of inauthentic words of Jesus. In spite of the theological
attractiveness of the theory, however, the historical evidence in support
of the theory lies largely in the creative imagination of scholars."
All in all, we can summarize the verdict on this assumption:
1. there is no data to support the hypothesis that Christians invented
ANY sayings of the pre-Easter Jesus;
2. there is no motive to support the hypothesis, either;
3. the absence of Jesus sayings that would have been 'convenient' for
the disputes of the early Church counts against the theory;
4. there is textual evidence that supports a view that the gospel writers
deliberately 'protected' the Jesus tradition from intrusion of spurious
5. "Control data" from the agrapha supports the view that words were
NOT put on Jesus' lips in the gospel traditions;
6. there is a wealth of textual and literary evidence that the synoptic
writers made a deliberate effort to distinguish between the pre- and post-Easter
sayings of Jesus.
In other words, the case is decidedly AGAINST the assumption of James (and
the older Form Critical school, and its modern derivative the Jesus Seminar).
Overall, this position of James is considerably out-of-date, not even
according well with the data that was available at its first articulation
in the days of Bultmann and Dibelius. And the data has accumulated further
against it over the intervening decades, so that the fact that the Jesus
Seminar (and James) is still maintaining this position demonstrates how
'fringe' (and way out there along an increasingly discredited "trajectory"!)
they really are. The data is simply 'otherwise'.
Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference