Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Legends cannot replace facts so long as eyewitnesses remain alive. . .
Anyway, as I was discussing this with someone who was clearly quite disconcerted that we did not have such a sterile history for the New Testament, in particular, I was reminded of this line from some blog or other or book: Legends cannot replace facts so long as eyewitnesses remain alive... It is often our fear that scurrilous material may have clandestinely entered the text or distortions accrued over time so that our confidence in the Word of God is a more general confidence that specific things are true even if other things are not. But the great fallacy in all of this is the presence of eyewitnesses.
The Twelve formed not only a council of Bishops, a working task force on evangelism, and a bureaucracy for administering the Church. They were the line of truth that kept the faith, the faithful, and the book of faith in check. These were those who heard the voice of Jesus teach and preach, who walked with Jesus the journey to death and life victorious, who ate with Jesus both with sinners and in the Upper Room, who saw Jesus transcend the laws of nature to heal the sick, feed the hungry, turn water into wine, walk on water, and raise the dead. They stood in the empty tomb wondering how such a glorious word could be true and watch Him ascend to the Father in a mixture of joy and loss. They gathered in prayer and mutual consolation until the Spirit came as He has promised and these were those whose fears dissipated into the light of the Son as does the morning fog.
Their witness was born from experience, empowered by the Spirit, and blessed by the Lord. They were careful to "pass on what they received from the Lord." Although surely at least one or more Gospels were written down before and Pauline correspondence nearly complete, the early Church formed the nucleus of the Apostles Creed within a generation or so of Jesus' death and resurrection. This verbal confession was shaped by those who were eyewitnesses to it all and their gift to the Church was not merely the written record of what they saw, heard, and experienced -- it was also the oral tradition repeated and repeated until it became the common confession (which it still is).
Blessed John was the last of the Twelve to depart this life in faith. But he was not the last of those whose witness was not the speculation of what might have been but the confession of what was. From eyewitness to witness, the faith was passed down. From generation to generation, the sacred deposit once delivered to the saints continued to handled as the Church's great treasure. You cannot divorce this oral tradition (which we have so clearly identified in the Apostles Creed) from the New Testament. Together they form a common witness to who Jesus was and is, what He accomplished for us and our salvation, and how we receive His gift and grace.
There are those who exploit the mess of a history not nearly so neat and tidy as tablets buried in the soil by a God who dropped them from heaven. These so called scholars presume that nothing is as it claims and in doing so dismiss not merely the word of Scripture but the veracity and truthfulness of the eyewitnesses. It is to their shame that they treat these faithful witnesses with such disdain and the truth they passed on. But I would suggest that to fully debate them is to legitimize what is a false idea. Legend exists to be sure but legend cannot exist where eyewitnesses had burned into them the memory of what they saw, heard, and experienced. Such is the glorious confidence we have in the words of Scripture and the authors, in the ancient creeds and confession, and in the truth that has been scrutinized over and over again and still stands in spite of the skeptics. Do not fear, people of God, the Word of the Lord endures forever. And this to our great joy and edification, our justification and salvation, our redemption and heavenly reunion.