Were disciples of Jesus actively recounting their experiences with him until their dying day?

  • Our question

    A man with an eye for a head is chasing another man in a relay race above a map. The baton is a cross and the person with an eye for a head has a speech bubble with Jesus in it.

    Among AD 30-70 Christendom, people were saying various things about Jesus. Assuming Jesus is a real historical figure, they would presumably be some amount of witnesses to his life among these early Christians. we mean to ask here whether these witnesses of Jesus’s life and teachings actively recounting and spreading what they heard and saw?

    At least several historians would affirm so, e.g.:

    • James Dunn: “Personal testimonies of a Matthew or a Bartimaeus or a Simon of Cyrene would probably have been a regular feature of such gatherings.” [Beginning from Jerusalem (Eerdmans, 2009), 194.]

    For example (arguably):
    These witnesses peoples/groups did

“Yes, after all…
  • In general, all strove to faithfully pass on Jesus-bio

    Early Christians were generally honest and careful in trying to accurately pass down Gospel history (i.e. information on Jesus's life and deeds), and they tried to so from sources which they felt were approved and trusted.

    A full page will discuss these arguments

    • All Mid-Eastern communities strove to faithfully passed down their history
    • All Jewish communities passed down rabbi-history faithfully.
    • Christians relayed Jesus-bio with overt quality control.
    • Christians would strive to faithfully pass down Jesus-bio.
    • Christians did faithfully pass down Jesus-bio.

    This helps show that early witnesses of Jesus were actively recounting their experience because they were a subset of these Christians, and in addition to striving to relay their experience they were poised to successfully do so (e.g the apostles were obviously celebrated travelers in Christendom who were poised to do so).

    But no, plausibly...

    • Christians didn’t pass down Jesus-bio.
    • The 1st church believed in an immanent end.
    • Charismatic groups wouldn’t prize tradition.
    • Gospel traditions are invented lies/legends.
  • Acts & synoptics say witness-disciples testified

    According to New Testament reports, Jesus had several disciples who were also living witnesses, and these witnesses in the early Church era were actively testifying.

    Consider three kinds of evidence:

    • Acts: “We oft testify ‘cus Jesus told us to!” [Acts 1:8, 22, 5:32, 10:37-41, 13:31]1
    • Mt 28:18-20 — “[Jesus said] All authority [was] given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples… ” [Note: in a context with a rabbi telling you to go make disciples involves continuing the rabbis own teaching in his name, and the disciples here were far more than just the apostles; this was for a multitude in attendance, and for all future Christians.]
    • In Mt, Mk, Lk, Jesus oft says “Always proclaim me, no matter what” [Lk 21:12-13, Mt 10:18, Mk 13:9-8]2

    This is relevant because witnesses abounded and testify of Jesus inevitably meant testifying of the Gospel, which includes his Messianic life (e.g. fulfillment of prophecy), his death, and his resurrection (see1 Cor 15).

    1. See first bearing witness to Jesus’s “resurrection” as short for his whole ministry:

      Acts 1:8, 22 — you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.’ […] 22beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us [i.e. Jesus’s whole ministry] one of these [potential Judas replacements] must become a witness with us of His resurrection.’

      [Note: “witness of his resurrection” hear clearly means “witness of Jesus’s WHOLE ministry leading up to the resurrection.” It shows the importance of bearing this witness of Jesus’s whole ministry throughout Acts.]
      Acts 2:32 — This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.
      Acts 3:15 — the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
      Acts 5:32 — And we are witnesses of these things;
      Acts 6:2-4 — “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables... we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (which new converts conformed to: Acts 2:42)
      Acts 10:37-42 — you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, … how He went about doing good and healing… We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and to testify solemnly that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.
      Acts 13:31 — and for many days He appeared to those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the very ones who are now His witnesses to the people.

    2. Lk 21:12-13 —‘But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony.
      Lk 24:45-48 — [Jesus said], “So it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
      Mt 10:18 — and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
      Mk 13:9-13 — ‘But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name,….

  • Gospel of John says witnesses were active

    The Gospel of John repeatedly says or implies that witnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry were active in the early church.

    Consider 5 sorts of examples:

    • John the Baptist is the ideal witness [Jn 1:7f; 3:26f; 5:32]1
    • Many converted due to the woman at the well. [Jn 4:39]2
    • Crowds “continued to testify”. [Jn 12:17]3
    • Disciples are prophesied to bear witness.[Jn 15:26-27]4
    • The author of John is bearing witness. [Jn 19:35, 21:24; cf.1 Jn 1:1-4]5
    1. Jn 1:7-8, 15, 19, 32, 34 — He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. […]15John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” […] 19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” […] 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. […] 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
      Jn 3:26, 28 — And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” […] 28You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’
      Jn 5:32 — There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.

    2. Jn 4:39 — From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.”

    3. Jn 12:17 — So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him.

    4. Jn 15:26-27 — “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

    5. Jn 19:35 — And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.
      Jn 21:24 — This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

      1 Jn 1:1-4 — “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was revealed to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.”

  • Papias: “Young Jesus-witnesses became old super-teachers”

    At least by AD 100, Papias had been testifying that he witnessed easily accessible eyewitness disciples of Jesus’s life who were habitually teaching and reciting their memories.

    A full page will analyze these 4 arguments:

    • Papias implies that Philip (a witness) still testifies.
    • Papias says “Philip’s daughters are active tradents.”
    • Papias says “John & Aristion still (in AD 80) oft relay all Jesus taught them”
    • Papias says “Living apostles still (in AD 80) oft relay all Jesus taught them.”

    This helps show witnesses were actively testifying because Papias is sufficiently ‘in the know’ for it to be surprising if he was completely wrong. And if he is right, then witness-based Jesus-bio would flourish. (If in Papias’s time there abounded elderly teachers who had been young disciple-witnesses of Jesus [i.e. being finally elderly in c. AD 85], then all the more witness-teachers would abound when even more were alive and well [e.g. in AD 30-70].)

    • Richard Bauckham: “Papias expected to hear specifically what Andrew or Peter or another named disciple had said or specifically what Aristion or John the Elder was still saying.54 We can probably deduce that, just as these last two, long surviving disciples continued to repeat their oral witness in their teaching as long as they lived, so the other disciples were not just originators of oral traditions in the earliest period but authoritative living sources of the traditions up to their deaths. The oral traditions had not evolved away from them but continued to be attached to them, so that people like Papias wanted to hear specifically what any one of them said. [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 20]

    But in response…

    • Papias wasn’t well-situated to hear such testimony.
    • Papias was not active in c. 60-90.
    • Witnesses weren’t common in c. AD 30-70.
    • There were many false teachers/liars.
  • Lk says Jesus-bio witnesses were the teachers/tradents

    Luke testifies that his eyewitness informants who saw Jesus “from the beginning” were also Christendom’s direct teachers.

    A full page will discuss 4 arguments

    • Luke says “apostles are out there preaching Jesus.”
    • It fits Luke's theme.
    • Noun proximity & order favors imply it.
    • The witnesses truly were the teachers.

    This is relevant because teachers by their very nature teachers are the primary disseminators of trusted information. So recognized teachers by nature are accessible and loud, and natural go-to sources of information (e.g. Near-Easterners prized personal instruction, so witness-teachers in later Christianity would be special guests). Teachers held captive audiences who felt the teachers was vetted and so were disposed to trust the teacher. And the teachers themselves felt obligated to share their story. One might surmise that teachers were invited to churches as special guests to recount their experiences, and may have proactively went to share their story as well.

    But again this...

    • There were no teachers (general).
    • There were few handy witnesses.
  • Christians prized direct witness-testimony on Jesus

    Christians AD 30-100 placed great value on witness attested Jesus-biography, hearing it, memorizing it, celebrating it, and relaying it. In fact, the more direct the testimony was (from a witness) the more valued it was.

    Consider these 10 arguments

    • Ancients felt personal instruction was of utmost value.
    • Christians oft appealed to witnesses.
    • Christians cited witnesses as Jesus-bio authorities.
    • 1st church'd reject Jesus-bio unvetted by witnesses.
    • Christians prized true Jesus-bio.
    • Christians prized Jesus-bio witnesses qua witnesses.
    • Christians prized Jesus-bio teachers.
    • In general, Jews honored witnesses as such.
    • In general, ancients valued witness testimony.
    • In general, Christians prized witness testimony.

    This is relevant because witnesses of Jesus’s ministry were alive and well, and they were easily accessible. Nothing would stop those who are curious from asking them questions and obtaining their testimony on issues.

    But no, plausibly...

    • Few handy witnesses were available.