The Oral Gospel Tradition: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

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56 Responses

  1. Duane Arnold says:

    By the way, in terms of NT manuscripts or fragments, the earliest date from the mid to late second century…

    “The earliest and most famous Greek New Testament manuscript is the Ryland Papyrus P52, currently on display at the John Rylands University Library in Manchester, UK. It was purchased in 1920 by Bernard Grenfell on the Egyptian antiquities market. However, it wasn’t really “discovered” until 1934 when it was translated by C. H. Roberts. Three of the leading papyrologists in Europe to whom Roberts sent photos of the fragment to dated it from A.D. 100-150, although most scholars today would use a wider date range of the second century in general. P52 comes from a codex (ie. book form, not a scroll) and contains parts of seven lines from the John 18:31–33 on the front, and parts of seven lines from verses 37–38 on the back.”

  2. josh hamrick says:

    I think the people who are troubled that we don’t have any first century manuscripts, haven’t really looked at the nature of ancient literature. The New Testament is very well accounted for in relation to other ancient texts.

    Thanks for sharing the video Duane. Interesting insights, particularly that the oral accounts were reliable, though the precise wording may not be reliable. Don’t know that I agree, but it is an interesting thought.

  3. Duane Arnold says:


    I thought you might find Dunn thought provoking. I think his approach might be better that waiting for the long lost “Q” to appear!

  4. Josh the Baptist says:

    That’s true. I’ve never seen the need for Q. Seems there are more, simpler, resolutions to the synoptics issue than a mysterious lost document, that is never referred to by anyone else, but apparently at one time was far more known than any of the Gospels.

  5. Michael says:

    When I watched this my thought was “of course”!
    There’s simply no way to defend every “jot and tittle” as being straight from the mouth of God…

  6. Josh the Baptist says:

    “There’s simply no way to defend ”

    I mean, as you know, there are plenty of ways to defend, but not my goal to propose innerrancy at this point. The idea in the video was quite interesting.

  7. Em says:

    do we then assume that the New Testament wasn’t written by those who are credited with doing so? hmmm

  8. josh hamrick says:

    I didn’t take that from the video. Why would that follow?

  9. Duane Arnold says:


    The point of the “Gospel Tradition”, whether oral or written, is the presentation of Jesus as he was known and heard by eyewitnesses. We tend to forget that especially when we turn to Bibliolatry….

  10. Michael says:


    Yes, I’m aware of the explanations, but I always had issues with the explanations considering how much of the Scriptures depended on the oral tradition.

  11. Michael says:


    I don’t think we know…and I don’t think it very important.

  12. Josh the Baptist says:

    If the idea is that God is preserving His truth, then I don’t why Oral or written would have to change the outcome.

  13. Josh the Baptist says:

    I think we have a really good idea of who wrote almost all the New Testament books.

    If Em is troubled by the manuscript dates, that’s what I was pointing out in my first comment. To have fragments of a piece of ancient literature that date to within 200 years of its writing, is extremely good. That doesn’t mean the writing was done at that time, it means the earliest copies that we have found date to that time.

  14. Duane Arnold says:

    “I think we have a really good idea of who wrote almost all the New Testament books.”

    I think we have a solid tradition, but there remain issues of authorship with some…

  15. Josh the Baptist says:

    Some, yes, but those issues aren’t related to manuscript dating.

  16. Duane Arnold says:



  17. Josh the Baptist says:

    And so that’s really my question to em. Why does she think that the video (or discussion) leads to not knowing the biblical authors?

    Manuscript dating doesn’t affect that.

    Perhaps, the idea that these stories were shared verbally by different communities before being written down somehow invalidates the given author? Probably by today’s copy write and Intellectual Property laws, but those things didn’t exist then. Oral tradition IS how God chose to preserve much of His history. There’s no question about that. Moses wasn’t in the Garden of Eden. He heard that from his mom, likely. Its just the method God used to record His truth, and it is a perfectly good method. But again, I may not be understanding the objection behind the question.

  18. Em says:

    No, the harmony from Genesis to Revelation, speaks of a Divine hand on it. Little blips are almost meaningless…..
    Ever try writing? It ain’t easy….
    God keep

  19. Duane Arnold says:


    Some like it all to be wrapped up in a neatly written volume with all questions (supposedly) answered…

  20. Josh the Baptist says:

    Duane – Too bad for them 🙂

    I meant troubled as in, why were you asking about authorship?

  21. Michael says:

    One of the things that is tough to get used to in my older years is that I don’t really have a defined “doctrine of scripture”.
    Inerrancy simply asks too much for the text and history to bear.
    I’m learning to be content with the overall narratives of the Bible, which I can affirm without hesitation…

  22. Duane Arnold says:


    I think it is the “Who” of scripture that matters, rather than the “How” or the “What”…

  23. Josh the Baptist says:

    Inerrancy only really matters if your tribe demands it 🙂

  24. Michael says:



  25. Josh the Baptist says:

    But if your tribe demands it, it is VERY important 🙂

  26. Michael says:


    true…which is why I have a hard time with tribes…

  27. Josh the Baptist says:

    Like most other issues, most of the people making the most noise have no idea what the terms even mean. I think it’s inherent with “conservative” groups. Don’t guess I’ve ever been a part of liberal groups.

  28. Josh the Baptist says:

    That is a good review. A couple of links down from that one is an article about how the Q hypothesis became so dominant among evangelicals. Also very good.

  29. JD says:

    And what is the role of the Holy Spirit in preserving the oral tradition until it was written down ?
    Certainly some early eyewitness could have been scribes and took note of what was said and done.
    Since there is so much we don’t know, let’s remember that Jesus said that someone would remember what actually happened.
    I believe that they did.

  30. Josh the Baptist says:

    “And what is the role of the Holy Spirit in preserving the oral tradition until it was written down ?”
    Same role as when it was written down. To inspire, preserve, etc.

  31. Duane Arnold says:

    “Certainly some early eyewitness could have been scribes and took note of what was said and done.”

    Quite possibly, although we would have to assume a literate sub-culture existing within a larger oral tradition culture, which is plausible. I think what we tend to miss is the idea that both the oral and literary traditions had the same aim and purpose, which was to point to Christ as the primary message. The words (oral and written) were vehicles…

  32. Josh the Baptist says:

    My hypothesis is that’s exactly what happened. These Gospel stories were shared in faith communities and then at some point, someone in that community started taking notes. We know Mark didn’t write as it happened, heard it second hand, possibly from multiple sources. Luke explicitly tells us he wrote later.

    But regardless of how early the first notes were taken, for the next 1500 years or so, most people were not exposed to the Gospel by reading it for themselves. They heard it. The idea of having our own bound copy is very new. That’s not the way people learned for centuries.

  33. Duane Arnold says:


    Until the fifth century, reading silently was largely unknown. Reading was normally aloud…

  34. Josh the Baptist says:

    Right, and unless I’ve misunderstood, still for centuries after that, the main method for Scripture intake was to go somewhere and hear someone else read it. Personal copies just weren’t a thing. Even as literacy increased, technology had not developed to make the bible available to everyone, and certainly not in their own language. My point is that oral tradition survived even after the publication of the Gospels. Even still today in asense.

  35. Duane Arnold says:

    Printing was the game changer to a large degree, although with a caveat. In Italy literacy actually decreased after the introduction of printed works… The oral culture persisted.

  36. Steve says:

    Fascinating Duane. Thanks for sharing! Curious where did nomenclature
    “Q” come from? I assume no relationship to Qanon theory.

  37. Duane Arnold says:

    Quelle… German meaning “source”. That is, a common source for the synoptic Gospels accounting for similarities…

  38. Steve says:

    Thanks Duane. That makes sense.

  39. PM says:

    Does it speak to the truth of scripture, and the divine nature of the oral/written communication that a coherent story of redemption has lasted for 1000’s of years? Sustained both through spoken and written traditions.

  40. Duane Arnold says:


    For me, it is the narrative contained within the oral and written traditions… or as Dunn would say, the “impact” of what Jesus said and did…

  41. DH says:

    Something I’ve learned is Liberal Christians always have low regard for scripture.
    John told us how to spot the truth from error.
    “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1Jn. 4:6).

  42. Michael says:


    What is a” liberal” Christian?

    What is a “low” view of Scripture?
    Is there a” moderate” or “high” view of Scripture?

  43. DH says:

    It is a person or view who calls itself a Christian but doesn’t believe “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2Tim. 3:16).

  44. Michael says:

    I call myself a Christian…but what does that verse mean?

    Which manuscript or translation was it that God breathed out?

  45. DH says:

    2 Timothy 3:16-17
    English Standard Version
    16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, …

  46. Duane Arnold says:

    When the second letter to Timothy was written (c.65) what was meant by “all scripture”? This is kind of basic…

  47. Josh the Baptist says:

    It is an interesting though exercise, though. Does the “Scripture” of v16 refer only to written material, or could it included the oral tradition? The word used is γραφὴ, which might be translated literally as “writing”. I think I take DH’s broader view of what that verse encompasses, but there is real question as to what Paul’s intentions were.

  48. Duane Arnold says:


    What could Paul’s intention be before his death in the mid-60s?

  49. Josh the Baptist says:

    Almost had to be speaking of the Old Testament.

  50. Duane Arnold says:


    Agreed… and the LXX at that!

  51. Josh the Baptist says:

    Hmm, yes. Another interesting wrinkle.

  52. Duane Arnold says:

    Yes, with yet more questions…
    An inspired Greek translation?
    The original Hebrew text inspired? (Which one?)
    The original manuscripts inspired? (Which we don’t have…)
    The narrative/message inspired?

  53. Josh the Baptist says:

    And I think almost all today would agree that the LXX is not inspired, in an inerrancy sense.

  54. Josh the Baptist says:

    Great article! I think the author and I would disagree on the meaning of “inspired”. Also he seems to imply that the New Testament authors followed the LXX because it was a better reading in some areas, rather than they followed it because it was the familiar text to them.

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