If They Weren’t Taking Notes, How Did the Disciples Remember Jesus’s Exact Teaching?

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Bert Perry's picture

Paper being expensive, they were primarily an oral society, and it's amazing how good your memory gets when you need to rely on it for almost everything.  Also a story-telling society--look how Stephen goes through the entire history of Israel in his trial before being stoned.  Good article, but I felt that it really kinda missed the 700 lb gorilla in the room. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Philip Golden Jr.'s picture

John 14:26- "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."

That being said, I believe the article is aiming more at answering the skeptic on his own grounds (historical investigation). While this is certainly helpful, I think we too often yield our ground on these things when we need to push for a metaphysical explanation for the genesis of the scriptural books. These are supernatural books and we should be unashamed to hold to their supernatural origins. These types of arguments provide a rational basis for our faith in a supernatural book. They support our position but must never be the thing we ultimately appeal to for justification of our faith in these books. That must remain a work of the Spirit.

Phil Golden

ScottS's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Paper being expensive, they were primarily an oral society, and it's amazing how good your memory gets when you need to rely on it for almost everything.  Also a story-telling society--look how Stephen goes through the entire history of Israel in his trial before being stoned.  Good article, but I felt that it really kinda missed the 700 lb gorilla in the room. 

Bert, you didn't think that points 1 & 2 with the emphasis on remembering and what the disciples then preached was dealing with oral transmission and memory? I'm not sure I see the negligence of the 700 lb. gorilla there. But maybe I'm missing something you are trying to focus on.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

ScottS's picture

I'm not a huge fan of "source" conjectures (like the Q document, etc.). But there is some evidence that Matthew's gospel may have been in Aramaic before its final form of the inspired Greek text, and I can certainly imagine Matthew (being a tax collector, so used to keeping records) as possibly keeping record of some of what Jesus said (in Aramaic) and then using that to later compose his gospel (in Greek). Of all the apostles, he most likely would have had more ready access to writing materials during his time following Jesus.

But that is still conjecture.

I'm totally content with the Holy Spirit causing them to remember (Jn 14:26), breathing the words to them (2 Tim 3:16), moving them to so write (2 Pet 1:21), whether that was aided by any record keeping or not.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

Bert Perry's picture

Well said to Phil about the Holy Spirit as well.

Scott, upon re-reading the article this morning, I stand by my previous comments.  Sure, Jesus did expect that memory, but there is a related question as to why He could do so.  One of the big answers is that even outside the rabbinic traditions He used, He was in a culture that was predominantly oral.  It goes well beyond that rabbinic system. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

ScottS's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Scott, upon re-reading the article this morning, I stand by my previous comments.  Sure, Jesus did expect that memory, but there is a related question as to why He could do so.  One of the big answers is that even outside the rabbinic traditions He used, He was in a culture that was predominantly oral.  It goes well beyond that rabbinic system. 

Okay, so your beef is that he assumed the background of an "oral society" and did not specifically mention it as a contributing factor. I can see your reasoning. Thanks.

Scott Smith, Ph.D.

The goal now, the destiny to come, holiness like God—
Gen 1:27, Lev 19:2, 1 Pet 1:15-16

JSwaim's picture

I once served on a jury.  During the trial we jurors were allowed no writing instrument or paper.  We deliberated based solely on our collective memories.  We even had to pick our way through testimony that was stated in court but the judge told us to disregard.  Relying on memory of the oral seems to be a pretty reliable method as this is pretty standard procedure in a jury trial.