When Written Gospels, Inspired Word of God, Was Trumped by Oral Tradition (I don't want to read, I want to hear)

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    Oct 28, 2014 10:01 PM GMT
    Bart D.Ehrman

    Oral traditions about Jesus did not cease to circulate as soon as the Gospels were written. On the contrary, we have solid evidence that the traditions continued to thrive for a very long time indeed. Hard evidence comes in the writings of a second-century Christian named Papias, the author of a five-volume work called “The Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord” written sometime between 120-40 CE. The book no longer survives, except as it is occasionally quoted by later church writers. In one of our surviving quotations, it is clear that Papias loved hearing oral accounts about Jesus from people who were expected to know the truth — more than reading books about him. Notice the final line of this passage: rather than being interested in Gospels, Papias preferred orally-delivered reports from people who had been companions of the “elders,” who, in turn, had known the apostles. Here is what he says:

    I also will not hesitate to draw up for you, along with these expositions, an orderly account of all the things I carefully learned and have carefully recalled from the elders; for I have certified their truth…

    Whenever someone arrived who had been a companion of one of the elders, I would carefully inquire after their words, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip or what Thomas had said, or James or John or Matthew or any of the other disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the elder John, disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I did not suppose that what came out of books would benefit me as much as that which came from a living and abiding voice.
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    Oct 28, 2014 10:03 PM GMT

    In regards to this statement of Papias, does it means that for him the Gospels are not inspired? Is it known when the Gospels were universally considered to be the inspired word of God?

    Dr. Bart D. Ehrman Answers:

    Good point — it does seem that that’s the case for him! The Gospels come to be thought of as inspired by the end of the second century with Irenaeus.
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    Oct 28, 2014 10:07 PM GMT
    I'd rather hear from the elders who walked with Jesus than from those who wrote about Jesus.

    Papias infers suspicion about God's word and chooses the humble words of elders who had contact with the disciples--elders who lived through the Jewish Revolt.