Now that we understand where Richard Bauckham is coming from, we delve into his argument.
His first and most vital person (he comes up in most chapters of this book) to his argument is the early church priest of Hierapolis. Papias. He wrote a book, which we don't have in any full sense anymore. However, he is quoted by another church father named Eusebius (and by others too, we will get there a bit later).
Richard tells us that in the past Papias' testimony was heavily discussed but is now almost universally dismissed by biblical scholars. He sketches out two reasons why they have done this.
1) Eusebius treats Papias with scorn and disagrees with him on the writing of various gospels.
2) If scholars were to take him seriously he would challenge the form critics view of the formation of the gospels.
Now we can see Richard going against the grain. He argues we should not adopt Eusebius' attitude, and obviously point no. 2 is just prejudice as Richard sees it, and needs no argument put against it.
Why should we not adopt Eusebius' attitude? Because, he argues, Papias is in a better situation to know what is happening, this is because his city lies on the road between Ephesus and Antioch and he therefore hears a lot of the testimonies of people as they pass through.
Now he builds on this argument by showing us the opening quote to Papias' book that Eusebius quotes. Here it is:
"I shall not hesitate also to put into properly ordered form for you [singular 'you'] everything I learned carefully in the past from elders and noted down well, for the truth of which i vouch. For unlike most people I did not enjoy those who have a great deal to say, but those who teach the truth. Nor did I enjoy those who recall someone else's commandments, but those who remember the commandments given by the Lord to the faith and proceeding from the truth itself. And if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on (παρηκολουθηκως τισ) the elders should come my way, I enquired about the words of the elders - [that is,] what [according to the elders ] Andrew or Peter said (ειπεν), or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord's disciples, were saying (λεγουσιν). For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. "
-( Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-4)
He then describes the four different groups of people who Papias is referring to.
1)Those who had 'been in attendance' to the elders. This group's placing in history hinges on the translation of the words 'παρηκολουθηκως τισ' which Richard thinks mean an active kind of following, and not 'to have followed while alive and now to be the followers'. This means, that when Papias heard these followers, they were telling him words that the elders, who were still alive, were saying.
2)The elders. These elders are the various Asiatic wise teachers who are leaders of the churches in their various Asiatic cities. (note: Asia in the ancient world refers to what would today be called Asia minor and the middle east). Papias, being in Heiropolis did not get the opportunity to learn from them, but being on the crossroads between two major Asian cities, he would often have met the followers in category (1)
3)the twelve disciples (he only lists 7, this is because 7 is 'completeness' and therefore stand in for the 12) we understand them to be dead at this exact point when Papias is writing. Why? 'ειπεν' is the strong aorist of λεγω meaning 'I say'. Strong aorist is a completed action that is no longer happening. So they are no longer speaking.
4)Aristion and John the elder. These are also the Lord's disciples but they are not part of the 12. They were also still alive when Papias was doing this info gathering work (note: not necessarily when he was writing it down). Why do we think they were alive at this time? 'λεγουσιν' this the 3rd person plural (i.e. 'they') form of 'λεγω' which is a present verb. So they are still speaking at this time, unlike the 12.
This is all very significant for how we view the way on which the gospels were compiled, if Richard's ideas are right, then they are the witness of disciples and their followers (the elders) who would have made sure that they were kept pure. (Insert here a complicated argument that the gospels are written by Jews with the exception of Luke's who is regarded as a 'God-fearer' like the Roman centurion in Acts chapter 10, and how they have a strong historic tradition, and would not feel the need to 'mythologize' their saviour).
Also, we start to see shadows of Richard's thesis that John is written by an eyewitness of Jesus. (this John the elder).
Richard then moves on to discuss another part of the above quote, in particular this part:
"For I did not think that information from books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice. "Here he discusses what Papias actually meant by this phrase that seems so odd to us modern people who use library's and almost exclusively rely on books for reliable information.
First he reminds us of Samuel Byrskog's book that gave the thesis that all history in the ancient world was done under the presupposition that good history was only done within living memory. He then had applied this to the gospel's. However, a criticism of this was that Byrskog gave no reason to suppose that this could be the case in Palestine too.
Here, however, Richard provides that argument in the form of Papias' testimony. He was obviously aware of what 'good' historical practice was, and here Richard gives a number or arguments that draw on many Roman authors who use the same Greek words to describe good historical practice.
He mentions in particular a certain man named 'Polybius'. Polybius was a Greek historian writing in the 1st C. BC, he wrote a scathing critique of a certain historian named Timaeus who had exclusively used written records to write his own book of history. He makes much mention of eyewitnesses (αυτοπτης) as the ideal standard for historical research, and not trusting written scripts because they are not eyewitnesses. I will now draw attention to the fact that this is also how Luke opens his gospel:
"...ἡμῖν οἱ ἀπ' αὐτὸπται καὶ ὑπηέται γενόμενοι τοῦ λόγου..."
So, one can see that it was taken seriously by whoever compiled Luke and also by Papias, which adds credibility to Luke's account, which was written prior to Papias' book. There are also many other arguments that Richard poses, which I will allow you to read for yourself... but some of them are amazingly persuasive. This therefore builds quite a successful case so far for the idea that this idea of good history was seen as the ideal in 1st Century Palestine, and that history was only to be written within living memory of eyewitnesses of these events.
Finally, Richard turns his guns once again on the form critics and charging them with grossly misunderstanding Papias. First he notes that many of the form critics take the above quote of Papias to mean that he preferred Oral tradition to writing... so therefore would not have been immediately keen on the gospels, but this misses the point. Bauckham quickly notes that the only reason we know this is because Papias wrote this information down also. Also, he points out that Papias is talking about collecting his own information at an earlier time than when this was written, so this could be as early as 90 AD, when the gospels were still starting to get out and the gospel of John was not yet written.
Then he draws a distinction between oral tradition and oral history.
A collective process that takes place within a community as they do traditions (like the last supper) and continually reenact them and tell the stories etc. Richard stresses that in Oral tradition nobody is the primary 'owner' of the information.
2) Oral history:
Where people pass on information in highly specified lines, where one person has 'ownership' (usually an eyewitness) of said information, and when he dies it probably will become Oral tradition fairly soon after.
Richard then makes the claim that the people compiling the gospels would have preferred to go to the eye witnesses (or the owners of the information) over the oral traditions (Which were definitely happening at the same time, but were being guided by specific eye witnesses). He then notes that this hypothesis has some strong explanatory power... this being the names mentioned in the gospels, therefore it makes a prediction that we can use to help test this hypothesis.
Finally he draws our attention to the fact that the greek word for tradition (παραδοσις) is used by various 1st century authors as identical to eyewitness accounts and first hand evidence. He sites Josephus' use of the word, who uses it when he describes his experience with the Roman generals during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Bauckham does this so that when we see the word 'tradition' in say Paul's letters, we will not jump to the conclusion that this is oral tradition, when it could very well be oral history.
I wish Richard would interact with other scholar's opinions more. Often he makes a quick statement and does not give much in the way of argument to back it up, nor tells us why other scholars disagree with him. For example he asserts, when discussing how the 2nd Century church fathers discuss methods of retaining history, that there is "...no reason simply to assume that second-century writers got it wrong." And then continues on to accuse the form critics of being to ideological (which may well be true, but as of yet he has not shown us why.) He does not give us any real reasons why people think Irenaeus got the method of Oral history confused with Oral tradition... and why they prefer to think of it as oral tradition. He does interact a little bit with J.D. Dunn in his footnotes, but it is not very substantial.
Now for some reverse criticisms. I have seen some reviews which have tried to pull the carpet out from underneath Richard's feet, so to speak. What they have done is say that we cannot trust Papias' testimony because Eusebius did not, and in fact accused him of making up things. However, I think they are missing the point of Bauckham's argument at this point, he is not arguing that Papias is reliable, but that he has captured the style of history writing that Byrskog showed was prominent in the Ancient world, and therefore lends credibility to the idea that the evangelists would have wanted to use eyewitnesses or 'Oral history' or else they would not have tried to write them.