How Can I Trust Oral Tradition?


How can I trust the narrative of the Bible when it has been passed down orally by multitudes of people? A colleague of mine recently was debating religious scripture with me. He said that now he’s going to start talking about Jesus, but his name is now Timmy because I want it to be. He made a good point that since both the Old and New Testament were orally passed down to multiple people, that these people could have added, edited, forgotten or changed certain things. How can I trust that the Bible holds a true narrative?


Can you trust God to make sure the narrative is true? Are you saying God can’t be trusted with such a thing?


Compare with early Church writings


We know it is **substantially **the same text because of our ability to compare it with VERY early copies. We have early manuscripts of various parts of the Bible, such as the Septuagint and other documents, which we can compare to and ascertain the integrity of our current bibles.


The idea that the Scriptures were only orally passed down well before actually being written, is a modern theory, not a traditional one. Early Christians themselves believed the writings to have been written first. Even Peter talks about Paul’s writings in one of his letters. My response to oral tradition concerning Scripture would first be to not debate upon the premesis of Scripture starting out as oral tradition, but written by the very men who the writings have been traditionally attributed to. This is just another example of modern theories weakening the authenticity and reliability of Scripture. Its funny how many of these modern theories and approaches only seem to be similar to early teachings and ideas from heretic sects.


We trust all sorts of written material every day - that Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander the Great really existed and that they are who they say they are. We don’t call into question the historical accuracy of these accounts so why should we treat the Bible any differently?
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (1 John 1:1)*

John was any eyewitness. He saw Jesus firsthand and wrote about it. Why should we doubt his account any more than we doubt Doris Goodwin-Kearns’ account of Abraham Lincoln in her book?


I’m no expert, but it was explained like this to me before.

Back in the days of the Old and New Testaments, most people could not read and write, so oral tradition was common and the way to pass down history from generation to generation. This was done in the form of stories, but not like the stories we have today. Today, we have the internet, books, etc to check the facts. Back then, it would have been very important to pass down the stories very accurately to the next generation. So these stories of their ancestors and historical events were repeated over and over the same way, so there would be no error.

I may not be explaining this accurately, but I hope you are at least able to get the essence of what I’m trying to say. Obviously, I’m not skilled in the art of oral tradition. lol!


Someone, Lewis or Chesterton I think, said that Oral Tradition is more reliable than Written History. Oral Tradition is the coordinated memory of all the community; Written History is the prejudices of one man.

I recall reading in Hawaii that the early missionaries wrote off the history of the islands as preserved in oral tradition, but it turned out to be quite accurate.


It is hard to imgaine that there would be no error because we would think in term of our present situation. But yes, in the era without internet and where written record were nearly impossible that people had to depend on oral tradtion, it could be very accurate. When anyone retold or repeated the story, if anything was missed out or an error was introduced it would be immediately pointed out by other listeners. Hence inaccuracies were avoided.


Since all original, signed (autograph) copies of the scriptures were long gone before even Saint Jerome could examine them in the late 300s; and since Saint Jerome translated from copies of copies of copies of copies of copies; and since meaning and intent is lost in each translation; and since modern scholars do not even have the versions that Jerome examined; and since those multiple-times copied scripture duplicates have been translated from and into various languages, over various times and by those of varying cultures and abilities - changing, gaining and losing something in each process; and since the history of the scriptures is one of errors, inadequacy in translation, omissions, additions, inconsistencies, losses, and other potential sources of inaccuracy, the question should be: how is it that we can we trust the scriptures?

There is only one answer that is rational.


(I’ve read some books whose authors seem to express themselves routinely in sentences that stretch hundreds of words, longer than even the sentence above. I’m fairly impressed about things like this, restrained as I seem to be, in seventh grade grammar, imprisoned particularly by periods.)


Semi-tractors, semi-trailes, semi-colons!


Lets not forget that the message of Christ has not depended upon human efforts alone to preserve a trustworthy message, the hand of God has been in it, the Holy Spirit has been at work to protect the Scriptures and the oral traditions that people’s salvation relied upon.


:thumbsup: It is the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised, who safeguards the entire deposit of faith, both written and oral. As to the scriptures, the following is from the introduction to the 1967 Papal Edition of the Confraternity Bible: “Translations of the bible are absolutely without error only in so far as they accurately express the ideas as written by the inspired writer in the original language.”

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