Everyone is familiar with what happens when several different people take notes on the same university course; or when several witnesses report something that is said or done in a public street; or when more than one person attempts to report what somebody has said in a public speech, out in the street, or, indeed, even in a private conversation. Several different persons witness the same event; they hear the same identical words. Each person, however, notes what seems most important to him; or what seems most interesting; or what seems most characteristic of the speaker.
A priori, we would expect the same sort of thing in the case of the notes or collections of notes taken down by the disciples of Jesus. What was noted down by one would not be exactly the same as what was noted down by another. There was, indeed, a common body of materia1. This is easily explained by the fact that the origin or source of all the information was the same, namely, the Galilean rabbi; he was the sole source of everything that was reported. There were, however, differences or divergences in what was reported. This was the case for the simple reason that one reporter does not record exactly the same things recorded by other reporters. We need only examine the notebooks of a number of students taking the same course in order to verify what happens in cases of this kind. These student notebooks will exhibit both quantitative and qualitative variations that can be explained by the intelligence, the capacity, the background, the preparation, and the attention of each student. The information they take in will be more or less accurately heard, more or less correctly understood, more or less faithfully taken down, and more or less convincingly summed up, depending on each student.
If we consider all this from the point of view of the totality of what the Galilean rabbi actually said and did, as our unique source of all the various information, then it is clear that a fair amount was lost in transmission, depending upon whether the hearers who were taking down what he said were more or less educated, or whether they took notes more or less accurately of what he in fact said. The information received was not in all respects exactly the same as the information that was transmitted. The total information emanating from the source—Christ the Lord—has not been handed down or passed on in its totality. It has certainly not been understood in its totality. It was received in diverse ways, according to the individual capacities of those who received it. It is only to be expected, again a priori, that the existing notes or collections of notes would similarly be characterized by differences of both quantity and quality.
Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 6.