Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Oral Tradition that did not exist

Papias is quoted by Eusebius as stating there was a uniform preference for oral traditions. This remark has been interpreted as reflecting a lack of interest in preserving written tradition in written form. Furthermore, this lack of interest has been explained by the intense apocalyptic tension of the times.

Those who assert early dating need to explain why they believe Papias has been misinterpreted. Since there is no evidence of intense apocalyptic tension during the time of Papias, this explanation cannot be the alleged preference for oral tradition. Nor can this explanation explain why Paul was able to write to the Thessalonians who were experiencing such intense apocalyptic tension that many of been stopped working.

These three verses written by Paul in two separate letters illustrate the side by side nature of oral and written traditions. "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Cor. 11:2), and he commands the Thessalonians, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). He even order, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6).

Paul writes to Timothy: “[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The so-called oral tradition did not exist separate and apart from the written words nor did it predate the written word. This oral tradition is merely a statement that the gospel was preached and taught by selected individuals who had been trained for this purpose. Paul selected Timothy to be one of these people.

The Hebrew word for "minister of the word" is "huzzan" which is the name of the synagogue official in charge of the scroll. Bailey claims that Luke's use of this word in this context means that these persons in charge of passing the controlled oral traditions are eyewitnesses who have the tremendous responsibility to ensure that the word is accurately transmitted. This appears to be an important part of Luke's message. These persons were pre-selected by Jesus and trained by Jesus for this special role and include not only the twelve disciples but also the 120. Paul likewise selected individuals that he trained for this special role. Luke may have been one of the individuals trained for this role.

There is no evidence whatever that any believer ever held that the preaching should stop. Neither apocalyptic tension nor oral traditions prevented either Paul from writing his letters to the congregations or Luke to Most Excellent Theophilus.

Copyrighted 2007


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