(Updated) What can a long oral tradition produce (in connection with the Gospels)? / Τι μπορεί να παράξει μια μακρά προφορική μετάδοση (σε σχέση με τα Ευαγγέλια);

Bultmann’s school presupposes what it ought to be obliged to prove, namely, that the four Gospels are late documents based upon a long tradition of oral preaching. It was in the course of the development of these long oral traditions that the episodes narrated in the Gospels were supposedly invented, and the parables of our Lord composed.

Quite apart from the fact that nobody has ever witnessed whole communities producing what the early Christian communities are supposed to have produced, it seems clear that different “traditions” existing in different places would never have resulted in anything but wide diversity and incoherence. A homogeneous result would have been impossible in the case of materials developed in this fashion. Different communities operating under different influences would undoubtedly have produced four gospels as different from each other as are the various gnostic pseudogospels in which all kinds of materials have been indiscriminately thrown together.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 199.

We can always take the easy road of accepting the reigning fashionable opinion. But on the hypothesis of a plurality of independently evolving gospel traditions which resulted in our existing four Gospels, we would never have arrived at usages so precise and consistent. If this hypothesis of plurality of gospel traditions were true, the result would rather have been four gospels that were incoherent and divergent and impossible to reconcile with one another, gospels that were filled with mutual inconsistencies.

If four different traditions had really issued in four different written gospels, they would have been the sort of writings that would have been produced by four different sects, if not by four different religions.

What has to be explained by any viable working hypothesis is the unity of thought among the four Gospels. With the New Testament documents that we in fact have—the four Gospels, the Letters of Paul, the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Revelation—it is possible to derive a consistent doctrine about God, about Christ, and about the relationship between God and Christ. Why is this possible? It is possible only because all of the different elements of information provided in the various  New Testament sources belong to a coherent and homogeneous logical whole. However, if a number of different Christian communities had each produced its own individual gospel, we would have seen a different Christology issued from each of these divergent sources. But a careful examination of these documents—an examination such as the one we have conducted up to now—resulted in no such thing. The various elements provided in the different documents that make up the small library that has been named, because of a faulty translation, the New Testament, instead give a highly coherent and consistent account of their common subject matter. It is hardly the Christology of a Noetus, or a Praxeas, or a Sabellius that leaps to the eye from the pages of the New Testament; nor is it that of Theodore of Byzantium called “the Currier”. Toward A.D. 180, Noetus of Smyrna taught that Jesus Christ was quite simply God; his was a Christology in which “man” was not involved. When Christ suffered, God suffered; the incarnation was an adventure of God, which did not include any role for man. So much for Noetus.

Theodore the Currier, excommunicated by Pope Victor around A.D. 190, taught the converse. He taught that Christ was merely a man, psilon anthropon. These are the kinds of results obtained by leaving “traditions” to themselves. The various elements which make up the books of the New Testament do not in fact go off on their own. The Christology formulated by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles is wholly consistent with the total message of the New Testament; it is the same Christology the successors of Peter, the popes of Rome, would profess; it is the Christology of such popes as Damasus and Leo.

Claude Tresmontant, The Hebrew Christ, σελ. 200, 201.


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