Oral Tradition: Was the Writer's Memory Accurate?

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Since there was a period of time between when Jesus lived and when the gospels were written, how can we trust that the writers' memories weren't faulty? And didn't they change history to match their theology? Actually, the "informed controlled": understanding of orality assures us that the writers were accurate and trustworthy. The gospels were not written right away because we prefer the testimony of eyewitnesses.

Oral Tradition


1. Challenge

a. The writers could have been eye witnesses but their memory is faulty

1) Bart Ehrman

2) How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Teacher from Galilee

b. Is the “historical Jesus” the same as the “Christ of faith”?

c. How do you “prove” this, or anything?

2. Definition

“Stories of what Jesus did and said were passed on by word of mouth”

3. During Jesus’ life, probably not a lot of record keeping

a. Oral culture

b. Rabbinic teaching method

4. Three Approaches to orality

a. Informal Uncontrolled

b. Formal Controlled

c. Informal Controlled

5. Other factors concerning memory

a. Core facts and details

b. Corporate memory and individual memory

c. Rabbinic culture

d. Memory is more reliable when the person has a stake in what is being remembered

e. Critics’ assumptions

6. Holy Spirit control (John 14:26; cf. 15:26, 27)

7. Why was the writing of the gospels later?

a. Nature of orality

b. Preference for the oral witness of eyewitnesses

c. Some may have expected Jesus to return quickly.


27 min 50 sec