What is different between Gospel Evidence and current Evangelical Theology?
Difference of Opinion about the Gospels
It is not about the content of the gospel books, or new life in Christ. The difference with current Evangelical theology is about the question: What sort of books are the gospels?
As long as all (orthodox and liberal) theologians teach that there was an oral tradition prior to the gospels, they keep the Christians on the wrong foot about the actual words of Jesus. This delicate problem becomes particularly clear in the review I wrote for www.christianbook.com, about the book of Peter J. Williams “Can We Trust the Gospels?” (2018). I gave the book four stars (instead of five). Read the review below:
Why Not Telling What The Gospel Writers Themselves Said About The Issue?
April 1, 2019
Williams has written a most interesting book “Can We Trust the Gospels?” Indeed the gospels are trustworthy. With many good arguments he comes to a positive answer to the title of the book. However, in my view one point is missing painfully. In chapter 5 it is about “Do We Have Jesus’s Actual Words?” I have the feeling that the conclusion “We find many converging reasons to believe that we have content that originated from Jesus,” is not enough. The question how the gospel writers got their sources is a black spot in the book (and also in current theology). The point is: How precisely did the sayings of Jesus originate from him?
Two gospel writers themselves have spoken about this subject.
Luke about the Issue
“1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, 2just as delivered to us the eyewitnesses from the beginning also (being) ministers of the (spoken) word,”
(Luke 1:1-2. Elaborated on RSV, the active form has been presented in v. 2 as in the Greek original.)
(1) ‘The things which have been accomplished among us,’ are the deeds of Jesus, the Jesus events. Luke wanted to tell something about that in the introduction of his Gospel.
(2) The word ‘us’ in the former expression refers to the bystanders of the events.
(3) This ‘us’ is repeated in v. 2. To them the eyewitnesses delivered, to the bystanders.
(4) As good eyewitnesses they delivered two things: not only what they had seen, but also what they had heard.
(5) Also being servants of the spoken word, they delivered (v. 2). This excludes oral tradition, as it was not possible to deliver orally during the Jesus events. This includes note taking, as they could only deliver in writing during the spoken word of the Jesus events.
(6) The service to the spoken word included the writing of the actual words of Jesus.
It is clear that the servants of the spoken word were not the preaching apostles after Jesus’ departure, as is supposed usually. No, these servants of the word were the professionals who wrote down what Jesus said and did in their reports that were distributed among the bystanders. They (many v. 1) could write on their wax tablets what they had experienced with Jesus and tell and read at home. These reports from the ministry of Jesus became later the sources for the gospel writers.
John about the Issue
Also John, the second gospel writer said the same in his first Letter (1:3, 4): “3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, … 4And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.” What they had seen and heard, could only made known later if it would have been written down during seeing and hearing. The present times (proclaim, are writing) in these texts refer to parallel activities that started in the past (the beginning v. 1) and continued at the time of the writing of John’s Letter. So the first reports had been brought in books and broadcasted all over the churches after Pentecost.
The Letter to the Hebrews about It
The same we read in Hebrews 2:3-4 (own translation): “3How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation; which beginning to be spoken by the Lord, was established for us by those who were hearing, 4God also bearing witness, both with signs and wonders, etc.”
Remark. God gave his testimony to the ministry of Jesus (the Lord) as his confirmation to the work of Jesus (v. 4). Within this ministry worked hearers as establishers of the words of Jesus they heard. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
We possess the actual words of Jesus due to his writers. Of course this provides important insights about the gospels. In my book “Jesus’s Stenographers, The Story of the Red Letters” these things have been exposed in detail and may be a valuable addition to the book of Peter J. Williams.