Election 2004 Part 2 - An Analysis of the Evangelical Vote in the Campaign of 2004

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 17 November 2004 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


What part did the oral tradition play in the development of the New Testament?


The oral tradition is the only way that the stories of Jesus could have lived between his death in 30 C.E. (approximately) and the writing of the Gospels between 70 C.E. and 100 C.E. This means that everything we know about Jesus lived for 40 to 70 years in oral transmission before it was written down. The real questions are where was this tradition preserved, by whom and in what context?

When I wrote "Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes," I defended the thesis that it was in the synagogue that the oral tradition was born and in the synagogue that it thrived. Most of the gospel stories existed first as sermons, preached about Jesus against the background of the synagogue readings of the Torah and the prophets In this process, Jesus in the oral tradition came to be understood as the fulfillment of both the expectations of the Torah and the hopes of the prophets.

I also argued in that book that stories of Jesus appropriate to the great feasts and fasts of the Jewish year were developed in the oral tradition that enabled the gospels to suggest that not only was the crucifixion of Jesus to be interpreted against the Passover, but also that every other major Jewish holy day was in time given Christian content by the oral tradition during the synagogue phase of Christian history.

In my life, this point of view has opened the gospels to a freshness that treating them as literal history could never create. Try it; I believe you will like it.

-- John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply