Posted in Christian

Retelling

The Jesus Tradition

A plausible purpose for retelling the Jesus tradition was because it comprised the foundation of the early church’s self-understanding. The Jesus tradition would have been crucial for the earliest disciples with respect to their identity formation and reason for being. Such a tradition would be needed to explain why the group existed and how it was to subsist. As Bailey notes, “Those who accepted the new rabbi as the expected Messiah would record and transmit data concerning him as the source of their new identity.” The first believers saw themselves within a meta-narrative of which they were key characters: the ekklesia, the “elect,” the “Nazarenes,” the “Israel of God,” the rebuilt temple, and they were constituted as such strictly by virtue of their relationship with Jesus the Messiah. It was inevitable that they would look back to Jesus – his life, death, and resurrection – as the epicenter of their own story. The retelling of the story of Jesus and the beginning of church potentially kept alive their vision and hope and justified their existence under adverse conditions. For a Jewish sect whose relationship to mainstream Judaism, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora, was becoming increasingly strained the Greco-Roman society, the Jesus tradition enabled Christian communities to interpret the significance of its own adverse situation by remembering the past of Jesus. In other words, the Gospels “seek to remember in order to make Christian identity in the present possible.”

Woman caught in adultery
art by: Clive Hicks-Jenkins Woman caught in adultery

An often underrated factor that undoubtedly contributed to a conserving of the Jesus tradition was the presence of eyewitnesses of Jesus within the earliest communities in the 30s-90s A.D. The role of eyewitnesses in shaping the tradition has been emphasized in recent decades by three scholars, Samuel Byrskog, Richard Bauckham, and Martin Hengel. All three have drawn attention to the presence of eyewitnesses in the early church and the importance of eyewitnesses in ancient historiography. A point validated by the observation that the only way one can affirm the Jesus tradition as both a living oral tradition that was constantly renegotiated and rehearsed anew as well as containing a stable core amid on-going performance of that tradition is through what Markus Bockmuehl says is “the (largely personal) apostolic vihicles of that stability.”
title: The Gospel of The Lord
by: Michael F. Bird

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