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The author of CT's 2007 Book Award winner in biblical studies, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham proposes a new (or, rather, an ancient) paradigm through which to view the Gospels: as the eyewitness testimony of trustworthy insiders. Wheaton professor Gary Burge asked the St. Andrews scholar how his approach diverges from mainstream New Testament scholarship—and what it means for our understanding of Jesus.

What it the importance of "testimony" for interpreting the New Testament?

I think it helps us to understand what sort of history we have in the Gospels. Most history rests mostly on testimony. In other words, it entails believing what witnesses say. We can assess whether we think witnesses are trustworthy, and we may be able to check parts of what they say by other evidence. But in the end we have to trust them. We can't independently verify everything they say. If we could, we wouldn't need witnesses.

It's the same with witnesses in court. Testimony asks to be trusted, and it's not irrational to do so. We do so all the time. Now in the case of the Gospels, I think we have exactly the kind of testimony that historians in the ancient world valued: the eyewitness testimony of involved participants who could speak of the meaning of events they had experienced from the inside. This kind of testimony is naturally not that of the disinterested passerby who happened to notice something. That wouldn't tell us much worth knowing about Jesus. That the witnesses were insiders, that they were deeply affected by the events, is part of the value of their witness for us.

In the book, I discuss testimonies of the Holocaust as a modern example of an event we would have no real conception of without the testimony of survivors. ...

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June 2007

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