Jesus and the Eyewitnesses – 2nd Ed (Gupta)


Confession: I was one of the few folks that did not read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses when it first came out in 2006. So I felt compelled to wade through this 600+ page updated edition. Bauckham, as many of you know, is an incisive and interdisciplinary scholar, having made important contributions to the study of Revelation, NT Christology, and women in the Gospels, just for starters.

In Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Bauckham makes his intentions clear. He argues that

“in the period up to the writing of the Gospels, gospel traditions were connected with named and known eyewitnesses, people who had heard the teaching of Jesus from his lips and committed it to memory, people who had witnessed the events of his ministry, death, and resurrection and themselves had formulated the stories about these events that they told” (93)

Bauckham realizes that he is cutting against the grain of modern scholarship by appealing to these “eyewitnesses.” One of his overarching concerns is to propose “testimony” as a better description of what the Gospels offer, rather than either what we call (pure) “history” or religious legend. Some have scoffed at this idea of testimony, as if it is “faith-based” rather than scientific. Bauckham responds, though, by claiming this: “From a historiographic perspective, radical suspicion of testimony is a kind of epistemological suicide. It is no more practicable in history than it is in ordinary life” (506). Here is a longer statement on the subject:

“To insist, with some Gospel critics, that the historicity of each and every Gospel pericope must be established, one by one, with arguments for each, is not to recognize testimony for what it necessarily is. It is to suppose that we can extract individual facts from testimony and build our own reconstruction of events that is no longer dependent on the witness. It is to refuse the privileged access to truth that precisely participant testimony can give us. Ancient historiography rightly valued such testimony as essential to good history, and the Holocaust shows us how indispensable it can be when the events we confront are ‘at the limits'” (502)

Bauckham.jpgHow does Bauckham go about proving that the Gospels are supported by eyewitness testimony? His approach is necessarily multiform, focusing, for example, on the use of names in the Gospels and what the appearance of so many named characters tells us; “these people joined the early Christian movement and were well known at least in the circles in which these traditions were first transmitted” (45). Bauckham reasons that there would have been no reason to name such figures except for this identification as real participants in the story and probably known eyewitnesses (47). But could it be that the Evangelists made these names up for narrative purposes? Bauckham argues that from what we know of the popularity and use of Jewish names in the ancient world at large, the Gospels reflect the same (see 84). And what about those unnamed characters? Bauckham proposes that some of these may have been eyewitnesses who were not named due to “protective anonymity” (2000).

I have offered just a taste here of what is in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Bauckham is interested not only in names, but also the earliest reception of the Gospels, recent scholarship on individual and communal memory, problems with form criticism, and ways that the Gospels identify eyewitnesses. In this second edition, Bauckham has added three new chapters that appear at the end of the book. The first extra chapter deals with Mark, specifically offering more detail regarding Bauckham’s argument that Mark presents Peter as a key eyewitness source for his Gospel. A second extra chapter digs deeper into the identity of the Beloved Disciple – Bauckham defends his conclusion that this was not John the son of Zebedee. Finally, Bauckham further discusses his rejection of form criticism. I love this line: “I discovered the death of form criticism and reported it. I did not attempt to kill it” (590).

So, what is my take on Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (2nd ed)? Again, I am deeply impressed by Bauckham’s ability to tackle his argument from various angles which requires facility in several disciplines. I believe he is at his best when he demonstrates how eyewitnesses are emphasized and identified in (non-biblical) ancient texts, such as in Lucian, Porphyry – and in the new chapters he adds Polybius, Plutarch, and Josephus. This is exactly the kind of spade-work that will lead to a paradigm shift, if Bauckham’s findings hold up to further scrutiny.

But, I hasten to point out that in many ways Bauckham is pioneering new territory, and this makes it very difficult to prove how the Evangelists were divulging the eyewitnesses. Note for example how he admits: “I know of no comprehensive study of the ways in which ancient historians indicated their eyewitness sources” (514).

Despite the length of the book, I felt that Bauckham should have given more attention the the matter of genre and the Gospels. If he is going to focus on how texts mark eyewitnesses, I believe this merited a chapter on gospels as biographies. This is somewhat implicit in his work, but it deserves space, because then one is able to determine more clearly the best comparative texts.

In the end, what Bauckham offers is plausibility. He shows how it is plausible that the Gospels should be taken as historical works that come from eyewitness testimony, similar to the way other ancient historical works relied on eyewitnesses. Obviously, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses will remain an important voice in the wider discussion of the origins, development, and nature of the Gospels and what they tell us about Jesus and the early Christians.


Barth and Ephesians – Book of the Year Contender (Gupta)

Barth EphesiansGood news! A NEW book from Barth….Ok, since Karl Barth has been dead for almost half a century, he hasn’t been publishing much. But Baker just published a newly-translated-into-English book-version of Barth’s German lecture notes on Ephesians. Put simply, what we have now in English are Barth’s lectures on Ephesians. To be more specific, Barth’s extensive notes on Ephesians chapter one, with a brief overview of Ephesians chapters two through six. Putting all the caveats aside, this little book is exhilarating reading, bring the voice of Barth alive to a new generation! This is a contender for book of the year!

Preliminary Notes

This edited work is based on Barth’s 1921-22 lectures on Ephesians. Apparently, Barth had so much to say about chapter one, that he had to rush through the rest of Ephesians in one lecture (Feb 23, 1922). I love an announcement that Barth made to his class pre-empting any questions about the pace of the course:

Announcement: In response to the complaints that we are moving too slowly, I would point out that the text we are considering is not easy to interpret, not insignificant, and not merely a matter of controversy. Our goal is to understand the text. We have no control over how far we go or do not go when it is a matter of understanding something from the word” (92)

The translator offers this comment: “By this point in the course, Barth had delivered five lectures, roughly one half of the semester, and covered only three verses [from Ephesians chapter one]” (92)!

Notes on Barth’s Notes

Authorship: Barth argues that “It seems to me much more likely that one author wrote both letters (Col and Eph), drawing from the same conceptual framework but expressing his ideas in different situations, freely adapting his own ideas the second time, repeating, paraphrasing, and occasionally modifying them, much as any of us might do today when we have lectured on or written about similar material to different audiences” (56); Later: “Personally, I would defend the authenticity of Ephesians” (58)

Who Cares?: “frankly, I do not have any great interest in the (authorship) question. As far as I am concerned, it could be otherwise…[I]t is enough to know that someone, at any rate, wrote Ephesians (why not Paul?) thirty to sixty years after Christ’s death, someone who understood Paul well and developed the apostle’s ideas with obvious loyalty as well as originality” (59)

An Apostle: “An apostle is a person with a mission and the power to carry it out. He is sent to enemy-occupied territory to break up a blockade…” (59)

Incarnation: “The message of the incarnation is not proclaimed as an idea, in the normal sense of the word; rather, the word from the peaceful kingdom enters the world as a battle cry, as a declaration of war” (61)

Faith: “Faith is the action of the new person in me, the person I am not, the new person whose identity within me is the source of the greatest possible honor. Faith is a fundamental and eternal event that is beyond all temporal processes.” (68)

Grace and Adoption: “Grace is the reality of forgiveness, which has no continuity whatsoever with anything that we can grasp (apart from the continuity that is established by God’s will and God’s alone!): this human creature, who is fallen and without exception fails to recognize God, is recognized by God as his child” (73)

The Incomprehensible Nevertheless! “Despite God’s holiness, Grace! Despite human sin, Peace!” (77)

God as Lord: “There is no cause to shudder as before a despot, because his despotism is the despotism of love” (100)

Transforming Forgiveness: “Forgiveness is not a matter of merely excusing a person; the one who is forgiven is also made obedient. The rule of God does not refer only to the dynamics of God’s action; God’s acquittal effects a corresponding dynamic in the creature, whose action is completely dissolved, reconstituted, and established on a new foundation” (106)

Hope: “To hope is to intentionally align oneself with God, with all the risk that such partisanship involves. It is a declaration of war against the reality of this world. You could call it the willingness to see the world completely unromantically and without any illusions” (119)

Pilgrims: “true theology is and will always be theologia viatorum. But if all we can be is pilgrims, then pilgrims we should be…The ambiguity of our existence corresponds to the liveliness of our hope; and hope in turn enables us to live to the glory of God, neither blind to life’s difficulties nor resigned to them” (146).




Scripture and Its Interpretation (Baker) – Book Notice (Gupta)


This is a book I have been wanting for a long time. I teach a biblical hermeneutics and exegesis course where I want students to think through different modes of reading and also different perspectives. This is perfect -and I absolutely love the cover!

From a variety of contributors, this book introduces everything from African and Asian biblical interpretation to Latino/a, Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal readings. There are also handy essays on theological interpretation, and how Scripture relates to such topics as spirituality, politics, ethics, and mission. I am excited to see a very diverse group of contributors, not only from different faith traditions but diverse perspectives in terms of gender, ethnicity, and location. Congrats to Michael Gorman (editor) and the contributors. [Easter egg: my co-blogger Chris has a nice essay in here on noncanonical writings related to the Bible. I guess they weren’t interested in my suggested essay, “Keeping Bible-reading ‘Portland’ Weird”]