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How Do We Know Jesus Used Stenographers?

  • December 9, 2018
  • By Ben van Noort
How Do We Know Jesus Used Stenographers?

How Do We Know Jesus Used Stenographers?

The word stenographer—or stenography—do not occur in the New Testament. How do we know these writers were at work in Jesus’s ministry?


The answer is in the foundational texts. They make clear that rapid writers were responsible for the preservation and deliverance of the spoken word of Jesus. We put these texts together in word-for-word translations.


“1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, 2just as delivered to us the eyewitnesses from the beginning also being servants of the spoken word,”

Luke 1:1-2

(1) ‘The things accomplished among us’ are the Jesus events. ‘Us’ are the spectators, those who were there, the bystanders.
(2) Eyewitnesses were at work during the spoken word as “servants of the spoken word”.
(3) They delivered information to us, the bystanders (the same ‘us’ as in v. 1).
(4) As servants of the spoken word, it was only possible to deliver by writing, note-taking. Oral tradition was not possible during the spoken word of the Jesus events. 

3How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation; which beginning to be spoken by the Lord was established (recorded) in behalf of us, by those who were hearing; 4God also bearing witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost.”
Hebrews 2:3-4

Hearers of the Lord were busy with establishing (bebaio-o establish for the future) for future generations while they were listening to the Lord (Jesus), also while miracles occurred as God’s testimony of approval. Can it be more clear?
In v. 2 is spoken of the Ten Commandments that became firm (bebaios = firm, secure). The Ten Commandments (words of angels) were written in tablets of stone to be secure for the future, the words of Jesus in wax tablets.


3That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; … 4And we are writing these things that our joy may be complete.
1 John 1:3-4

The apostle John is saying here that they made known what they had seen and heard. They did so in writing, and they did so from the very first. Why? It was part of the joy of the Gospel. That joy was already in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

The oldest son said: “Look, I serve (simple present) you so many years; yet, you never gave me a kid that I might merry with my friends,” (Luke 15:29). The simple present refers to an action from the past still in progress at the time of speaking. The same in 1 John 1:3 (proclaim) and 4 (are writing).

Apostolic Claims

We have in these three foundational texts convincing statements that the apostles brought out the spoken words of Jesus, they had preserved during his ministry. And there is no reason to doubt their claims.


In each of the four Gospels there are long orations of Jesus. We know he spoke in Greek (see a future blog), and there was only one way in this language to preserve orations: stenography. An oration is not the same as a dictation to a secretary. Orations in public could only be preserved by means of stenography (Seneca). It was the only tool that was in use in the Roman Empire for this purpose. It had been developed exclusively for it. And in the first century it was practiced in the lower social layers of society: slaves and ordinary people, who were trained in the new art of writing (Plutarch).

The authors of the gospels at least must have had knowledge about the art of stenography, just like all there readers and hearers. They would be blameworthy if they gave the impression to their hearers to listen to the actual words of Jesus, without making use of stenography regarding the orations and discourses of Jesus. 

Why were the first Christians permitted to believe that stenography was part of the preservation of Jesus’ words? They had no balanced theological doctrine of mechanical inspiration for that belief. They only lived in a culture in which stenography was a normal aspect of society before the year 70 AD. Thereafter disdain and discrimination for the Jewish people became self-evident, and also the contempt for their supposed backwards culture (without stenography), while it had been of high quality. In 135 AD (after the last Jewish revolt) the ecclesiastical theory of the oral tradition before the gospels was introduced by bishop Papias of Hierapolis.

Jesus Said

More than 600 times it is mentioned in the Gospels: Jesus said … How is it possible, for Heaven’s sake, that theologians have cast doubts on Jesus’s sayings for centuries until today, with their claim of the oral tradition behind the Gospels? And without any sound proof for it! There is a better story to tell, the story of Documentation within Jesus’ ministry.

And yet, ordinary Christians have always believed. Their experience was and is the power of Jesus’ words. Their simple creed was and is: Listening to his words, is listening to Him.

By Ben van Noort, December 9, 2018