This chapter is devoted to a critical analysis of certain lines of argument used by many New Testament scholars to support a negative conclusion on the historical value of reports of dominical sayings and of events in the Synoptic Gospels…I will be concentrating, though not exclusively, on reported utterances of Jesus rather than on his deeds and other happenings. I will also exclude the parables from discussion–not because I regard them as unimportant; quite the contrary. It is because the parables are, at least in what is regarded as their earliest form, more widely accepted as stemming from the historical Jesus than the sayings I will be discussing…The principle that short sayings are most likely to be remembered fits ill with the principle that parables are among the alleged sayings most likely to be remembered. For some of the parables are considerably longer than many allege sayings rejected by the [Jesus] Seminar].
W. Alston, “Historical Criticism of the Synoptic Gospels,” C. Bartholomew et al. eds. “Behind” The Text: History and Biblical Interpretation (Zondervan 2003), 151-52, 177.
Although Alston doesn’t develop the point, it draws attention to something elementary, yet fundamental. Even if, for the sake of argument, we bracket the inspiration of the Gospels, each canonical Gospel is a collection of stories, some of them embedding speeches.
Stories are memorable. Indeed, that’s one reason the Bible contains so many stories. And speeches associated with stories are more memorable due to their narrative association. Remembering the story helps you remember who said what. Not only are the gospel stories historical records, but they also serve as a mnemonic device.
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that these stories were transmitted by word-of-mouth before they were committed to writing, there would still be no reason for general scepticism regarding the reliability of the canonical account.
Memorable events give rise to memorable stories. Stories of what was said and done.