The Oral Gospel Tradition

The Oral Gospel Tradition

The Oral Gospel Tradition

The Oral Gospel Tradition

Synopsis

The traditions about Jesus and his teaching circulated in oral form for many years, continuing to do so for decades following the writing of the New Testament Gospels. James Dunn is one of the major voices urging that more consideration needs to be given to the oral use and transmission of the Jesus tradition as a major factor in giving the Synoptic tradition its enduring character.

Excerpt

My fascination with the oral tradition which lies behind the New Testament Gospels has deep roots. in my student and early scholarship days I had an instinctive sense that it must surely be important for Christians today to know about Jesus, what he taught and how he acted. To assume that the Gospel accounts were later contrivances, the wish-lists of later Christians, the ideals of good men of subsequent generations retrojected onto a much less significant historical figure, was not a perspective I could readily adapt to. Or to infer that it didn’t matter whether Jesus said and did what was attributed to him (what mattered was the Christ of centuries of Christian preaching and faith) was theologically unsatisfying, a cutting and running from potentially disturbing findings.

An initial issue arose from my early research interest in the Holy Spirit, and in early Christian experience of charismata, ‘spiritual gifts’, including prophecy. the issue was posed by the then strongly presented view that many of the sayings attributed to Jesus had actually originated in prophecies within early Christian assemblies — prophecies often delivered, as in the ot, in first person (‘I’) terms, where the one speaking could be taken to be the risen and exalted Christ. If that was the case, it would inevitably influence how we now view the sayings attributed to Jesus and how the sayings of Jesus were regarded and handled in the beginning. I tackled that issue in the first of the essays reprinted below.

Particularly fascinating in the Gospel material were and are the different ways in which the traditions about Jesus were combined, with different versions and different emphases. I had become impressed by the diversity . . .

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