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Is the Oral Tradition Comparable to the Telephone Game?

Is the Oral Tradition Comparable to the Telephone Game?


[Questioner] The academic position on when the gospels were written was
after the epistles of Paul, at least most of them, so the epistles were written first, that’s my understanding. Do you have sort of some evidence maybe you can shed some light
on the idea of the oral tradition or the oral transmission before the gospels were
written? So that we know that what was written down was necessarily what was being transmitted?
[Dr Craig] My own personal view is that the gospels were written much earlier than
that. Because I think that the book of Acts was written prior to the martyrdom
of Paul in the mid A.D. 60s. And there are quite a number of reasons to
believe that the book of Acts was completed before the mid A.D. 60s. Not only is Paul’s martyrdom not mention but Jesus’ younger brother, James,
martyrdom isn’t mentioned. I spoke of it tonight. It’s told by Josephus how James
was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem in the mid A.D. 60s.
Now James was the head of the Jerusalem church and you mean to tell me Luke
wouldn’t have narrated that if the book of Acts had been written after this? It
seems highly improbable and there are many other things that makes one believe
that the book of Acts was written prior to this time. Luke was written prior to
Acts because the Gospel of Luke is the first half of this double work Luke/Acts. So Luke was written probably around A.D. 57 or so. That’s exactly the same date as
1 Corinthians – well, almost almost exactly the same day his 1 Corinthians 15
about A.D. 55. So that would put Luke’s gospel at about the same date as some of
the Pauline correspondence. And Mark’s gospel was used by Luke which would put
it even earlier. And so I think that the window between the events that they
describe and the writing of gospels, in the case of Mark and Luke and
probably Matthew, is very short indeed. But in any case to answer your
question it is a gross misrepresentation when skeptics compare the oral
transmission of traditions in Judaism to the child’s game of telephone where a
message gets garbled and garbled until at the end it doesn’t even resemble what
started at the beginning. In Judaism children were taught in elementary school
in the home and in the synagogue to memorize faithfully massive amounts of
sacred tradition and to hand these on faithfully. And in an oral culture the
ability to memorize and faithfully transmit tradition was a highly
developed an important and prized skill. And the disciples could be counted on to
treat the teachings of Jesus with that same sort of care and concern. And indeed
one of the differences between the game of telephone and the disciples
transmission of the traditions about Jesus is that the eyewitnesses of Jesus
life and teachings were still alive. They were still around! You could go back to
the person at the beginning of the telephone game and say, “What did you say?
He’s still there.” So that an historian like Richard [Bacham?] says we really shouldn’t
talk about oral tradition in this case, we should talk about oral history
because the original eyewitnesses are still around to be questioned and so
it’s not just a matter of tradition being handed on. So I think that gives
some insight I hope at least two why it’s so important to try to recover
these early sources behind the gospels because these drive us right back to a
time very, very close to the events themselves where we have sources so
early that it would be highly improbable to regard these as a result of a process
of legend and mythology.

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