Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses - Part 11
The next two chapters I will overview in a little more depth for no other reason than simply that I found them fascinating! The chapters following will mostly be summarised in only one post.
Click here for the series outline.
Chapter 6. Eyewitnesses “from the Beginning”
The following chapter is a creative and learned discussion addressing the issue that scholars ‘have often supposed that the Gospel writers cannot have attached much importance to eyewitness testimony since they do not indicate named eyewitness sources of the traditions they use’. While in previous chapters Bauckham has suggested that specific named individuals in the Gospels can be accounted for in that they were eyewitnesses, and that the lists of the Twelve serve to name an official body of eyewitnesses, in this chapter he attempts, in a two-stage argument, to maintain the Gospel writers did indeed have their own way of indicating eyewitness sources.
“From the beginning”
The first part of the argument maintains that ‘in the early Christian movement a special importance [was] attached to the testimony of disciples who had been eyewitnesses of the whole ministry of Jesus, from its beginning at the time when John was baptizing, and whose witness extended to the resurrection appearances’. The whole ministry of Jesus, at least in light of Acts 1:21-22; 10:36-42; John 15:26-27, was seen to encompass the events including and sandwiched between Jesus’ baptism and his resurrection. Naturally, the Twelve would have been specially qualified and ‘authoritative’ witnesses of this Christ-story understood in its broadest sense, even if they were not alone. But do the Gospels evidence such an understanding of eyewitnesses?
The preface to Luke's Gospel
Important evidence is found in Luke’s prologue. First, the mention of auvto,ptai in Luke 1:2 is discussed. While Bauckham (here following Loveday Alexander’s extensive study) is clear that this word should not be understood forensically but rather as referring to ‘firsthand observers’, the main point involves noting the historiographical associations in the wider context. This leads to the proposition that the phrase ‘from the beginning’ (avpV avrch/j) should be seen not as ‘an evocation of the authority of antiquity in hellenistic culture or a reference to the authoritative ancient sources of an oral tradition’, but rather ‘a claim that the eyewitnesses had been present throughout the events from the appropriate commencement of the author's history onwards’. Furthermore, the evidence in the prologue coheres well with the historiographical principle of choosing the appropriate starting-point for a history (cf. the reference to Plutarch and Josephus, C. Ap. 1:47). Thus, the preface to Luke’s Gospel evidences an understanding of the principal eyewitness – as those who had been present ‘from the beginning’ in such a way that, while perhaps just common sense on Luke’s part, reflects historiographical principles.
The main thrust of Bauckham’s argument is to affirm the importance of eyewitnesses ‘from the beginning’ in early Christianity. These eyewitnesses were also, Bauckham argues, the u`phre,tai geno,menoi tou/ lo,gou,. Indeed, the identification of the eyewitnesses with these servants of the word is best seen as a grammatical necessity such that those who were eyewitnesses of the whole of Jesus’ ministry thereby later qualified to be servants of the word. Of course, while these servants may not be reduced to Twelve, it would certainly have included them.