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Oral Tradition or Documentation? A Struggle for the Heart of Theology!

  • October 13, 2019
  • By Ben van Noort
Oral Tradition or Documentation? A Struggle for the Heart of Theology!

Oral Tradition or Documentation? A Struggle for the Heart of Theology!

Is it a must to choose between Documentation or Oral Tradition, before the writing of the Scriptures?


Looking back to the former articles about the book of Ruth, the following questions are justified: “Everything concerning the spoken word in this book, did it happen just as described in the prior articles?” Or: “Was there no oral tradition prior to the writing of the Old Testament, neither as in the New Testament?” And: “The direct speeches in the Old Testament, have they been preserved during the events and by identical testimonies shortly thereafter, by writers?”

Uncultivated Territory

These are serious questions and we should not overlook the point that we are penetrating a completely uncultivated territory. Who will be ready to abandon preconceived ideas settled during ages? Documentation is contrary to everything we are told until now. Furthermore, the doctrine of the oral tradition prior to the written text is the heart of theology up to now, for the Old as well as the New Testament. It is a serious point saying to believe in the Word of God, and to look at the consequences of such a confession.

More Fascinating

On the other hand, each time when we speak about the subject we will find words for documentation in a fascinating way, as we have seen for the book of Ruth. This not only prevents us from an antithetic tone, but will always give us the joy to speak about documentation as a fascinating tool to understand the Scriptures. Many more examples will spring forward in the future, astonishing and realistic.

Treasurers of Old

In Romans 3:1-3 we read:
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews are entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (RSV)

It is said here that the Jewish people have always been the treasurers of the Words of God. Not that they all have always been faithful to these words, nevertheless God’s faithfulness always remained. The written words remained there as indelible promises for those who longed for them. This already started with Abraham.

Abraham had Scripture

In Galatians 3:8 we read:
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ ” (RSV)  

It was Scripture … that preached to Abraham the Gospel of the blessing for the nations. From the moment that Abraham received this revelation he preserved it in writing as we have seen (Genesis 26:5, see former blog) as a: mizwah, chukah and torah (Commandment, writing and instruction).

God’s Plan

By reading the documentation, Abraham was encouraged again and again by the promises God had given him (Romans 4:20-21). And his faithful descendants followed in his footsteps: by writing, reading and believing. And so it happened that the Jewish people became the treasurers of God’s promises in writing (Hebrew Bible) as they are still “entrusted with the oracles of God” in favor of Israel and mankind. Jesus’s actual words and deeds have been preserved in the Gospels due to his shorthand writers in the same way, but in Greek.

By Ben van Noort, October 13, 2019