Sunday, December 03, 2006

Richard Bauckham's Book And Roman Catholicism

I'm in the process of reading Richard Bauckham's book Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006). The book is primarily about eyewitness testimony in early Christianity, particularly the gospels, but I want to note something I haven't seen anybody else mention yet.

The book has a lot of material that's relevant to some of the claims of Roman Catholicism. I've often said that if I had lived at the time of Papias, I would have had the same sort of interest in oral tradition that he had. Catholics will often quote Papias, Irenaeus, and other sources referring to tradition or some form of what's commonly called "apostolic succession", but the earliest concepts of tradition and apostolic succession were radically different from what Roman Catholicism has advocated. Bauckham rightly distinguishes between oral tradition and oral history, and both are distinct from the Roman Catholic concept of oral tradition in particular. Papias' interest in living eyewitnesses of Jesus and in reports from people who knew eyewitnesses isn't equivalent to a belief in an infallible institution that was sure to maintain all apostolic teaching throughout church history, much less an institution specifically centered in Rome with a Pope. When sources like Papias and Irenaeus appeal to concepts of tradition and successions of church leadership, they're appealing to evidential concepts (concepts concerned with historical evidence). If a bishop of Rome or a bishop of Ephesus no longer has that evidential connection with the apostles, then he loses his evidential significance. The fact that the church of Rome or the church of Ephesus in the second century had close historical ties with the apostles doesn't logically lead us to the conclusion that a denomination centered in Rome or a church in Ephesus later on in church history would have the same significance. The methods and arguments of a Papias or an Irenaeus when addressing these subjects depend largely on the historical context in which they lived. Transferring their comments to our modern context, as if Papias' interest in the oral testimony of witnesses is in the same category as modern Roman Catholic interest in the rulings of the Roman Catholic hierarchy (often referred to as "oral tradition"), is fallacious. Bauckham's book isn't about Roman Catholicism, but it does have a lot of relevant material.

No comments:

Post a Comment