The Nature of Orality, and the Witness of Paul


Some liberal scholars argue that because the stories of Jesus were first told by word of mouth, and since memory is faulty, that we cannot trust the gospel witness to Jesus. Dr. Bock discusses three views of orality and why the "informal controlled" model of the Bedouins best parallels the gospels and argues for the authenticity of their accounts. He also shows why the supposed "time gap" between Jesus living and the writing of the accounts is only a few years due to the wintess of Paul, and not decades as some propose.

Session 2-Vimeo


I. Introduction

A. Orality

B. Bart Ehrman and the “time gap” (telephone game)

II. What fills in the “gap”?

A. Nature of orality

B. Paul

C. Memory of the eyewitnesses (Session 3)

III. Three Approaches to Orality

Categories are from Kenneth Bailey, a missionary to the Bedouin peoples for decades in the Middle east.

A. Informal Uncontrolled

1. Stories can change dramatically

2. First charge by critics in the “Quest of the Historical Jesus”) (1920’s)

B. Formal Controlled

1. Defended by academics in the 1960’s based on rabbinics that maintained tight control to the word level of their teaching

2. But how then can you explain the similarity of the gospel stories and yet not word for word agreement in all places (as you would expect in rabbinic circles)?

C. Informal Controlled

1. How do the Bedouins pass on their stories: informal but controlled.

2. Informal: Anyone could tell the story

3. Controlled: There were respected people in the community who knew the stories and who provided controls. Allowed some variation, but not allowed to move too far from the core.

4. Heard the same stories told by different tribes with slight variation but always faithful to the core of the story.

D. Many NT scholars are more comfortable with this Bedouin model as the description of the biblical stories.

E. Example of Acts 2

IV. Role of Paul

A. Paul is important because he was converted in the early to mid-thirties (Galatians)

B. Now the “gap” is only a few years

C. Point: there already was a theology of Jesus by his time

Aside: why was the writing of the gospels later?

A. Nature of orality

B. Papias quote: preference for the “living voice”

C. Example from the Holocaust survivors

D. Justin Martyr calls the gospels “Apostolic memoirs”


A. Relevance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Example of the Isaiah scroll shows the carefulness at copying the Bible

B. Differences among the NT Greek manuscripts and the NET Bible

Summary of remaining topics