Bauckham, Richard. “Chapter 11, Transmitting the Jesus Traditions” Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.” Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006, pp. 264-289.
In this chapter, Bauckham begins to make a case for formal controlled transmission of the accounts of Jesus, eventually leading to the written Gospels (Bauckham 2006, 264). The apostle Paul used the very specific terminology for passing on of authoritative tradition as would be assumed in Hellenistic schools. The transmission process was understood to take a tradition from an authority and impart it to another person with certainty that the tradition was accurately received (Bauckham 2006, 265).
Bauckham suggests that in Paul’s time with Peter mentioned in Galatians 1:18, Paul became adequately acquainted with the Jesus traditions that he made a great number of allusions to them in his writing (Bauckham 2006, 267). Baucham also notes that Paul is able to distinguish between Jesus traditions and particular instruction intended to be consistent with Jesus’ will (Bauckham 2006, 268).
Paul’s teaching is not only received from the Lord, but it is also passed on to others. Bauckham observes that we are never told of an individual who received Paul’s teaching (Bauckham 2006, 269). The concept of transmission to a community also exists in Josephus. The whole community was to receive the teaching faithfully.
Bauckham had earlier observed that different traditions are often remembered in different ways. The early Christians were very motivated to recall the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as real historical facts, requiring very accurate transmission (Bauckham 2006, 272). The concern of Christians in the past to preserve historically accurate accounts has been demonstrated frequently. Bauckham particularly refers his readers to Graham Stanton and his 1974 book Jesus of Nazareth in New Testament Preaching, as well as The Past of Jesus in the Gospels by Eugene Zemcio (Bauckham 2006, 275). Both books build persuasive cases for a great deal of care for accuracy and the most appropriate wording possible in the New Testament writings. Particularly in Lemcio’s work, we reach the conclusion that the Gospels are, first and foremost, a form of biography (Bauckham 2006, 277).
Bauckham notes that the Gospels were preserved faithfully, in part, by being preserved in isolation rather than as a part of another work. The events of Jesus’ life were not conflated into ethical or theological teachings (Bauckham 2006, 278). This may well have served to protect the accounts of the events from corruption.
The issue of memorization in the transmission of the Gospels is of great importance. Much of learning in antiquity was directly associated with memorization (Bauckham 2006, 280). Bauckham reviews the way memorization, expansion, and contraction of material, and use of notes would have been common in rhetorical studies. He then applies the treatment of rhetorical forms to the preservation of the Gospels. Much of the teaching would be retained verbatim, while narrative of events would have more variation, yet preserving the essential information (Bauckham 2006, 284).
Bauckham does observe that there is open debate about the possibility of disciples writing down the events of Jesus’ ministry while they followed him around (Bauckham 2006, 287). He recognizes that writing was typically used as a supplement to oral transmission. Scholars typically kept private notebooks as an aid to their memory or organizational skills (Bauckham 2006, 288). For this reason, Bauckham considers it likely that some disciples would have made notes. However, these notes would almost certainly have been used to strengthen the oral history (Bauckham 2006, 289).