3(1) When Tertullian (
Prescriptions Against Heresies
) gave thought to heresies in the latesecond century, he was able to say that churches known to have apostolic foundationswere not heretical. Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus at the end of the 2
century, was easilyable to establish the history of bishops for the church he oversaw (Eusebius,
5.24.2-7).(2) Our canonical Gospels present the testimony of eyewitnesses, as Richard Bauckhamably argues.
(3) Over against the view that Jesus did not see himself as the coming Messiah, N. T.Wright and others have convincingly argued that Jesus intended to bring about therestoration of Israel from exile in fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.
The narrativeof Israel and its Old Testament grounding only affirms orthodox Christology over againstthe Gnostic misdirections of the second century.(4) When we look carefully at the means of preserving the tradition about Jesus, we seethat Form Criticism’s assumption of a long period of communities developing thetradition for a variety of purposes apart from eyewitnesses and Redaction Criticism’sassumption that these free floating stories about or sayings of Jesus (pericopae) wereeventually edited by late first century authors creates a false perspective on how closelytied the Gospels were to the events of Jesus’ life. As James Dunn has argued, thetradition was preserved with due care for accuracy.
Consider the important role of teachers in the community, the likely memorization of sayings of Jesus, the role of eyewitnesses in the community, the community’s valuing accurate memories of Jesus, theimportance of apostolic custodians of the Church’s tradition, the assumption by NewTestament authors of epistles that the churches knew traditions about Jesus,
the Gospels’historical interests in their choice of the genre of biography,
the tendency to check prophecy with tradition, a concern over ‘false prophets’, and the control that acommunity exercised on the right telling of a story by any story teller. Dunn concludeshis argument for the historical veracity of the Gospels’ tradition with the followingstatement:
… the differences introduced by the Evangelists, whether as oral diversity or literary editing, are consistently in the character of abbreviation and omission,
Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony
(Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 2006).
N. T. Wright,
Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God
, Vol. 2 (AugsburgFortress, 1997).
James D. G. Dunn,
Jesus Remembered, Christianity in the Making, Vol. 1
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,2003).
Paul, Peter, and James alike do not quote but allude to Jesus’ life and sayings. See the list of allusions toJesus’ teaching in Paul, Peter, and James in Dunn,
footnotes 48 and 49 on p. 182.
For a thorough discussion of ancient biography and the Gospels’ genre, emphasising historicity, see theintroduction in Craig Keener,
The Gospel of John—A Commentary
, Vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson,2004).
, p. 224.