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Pro (for)
8 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Oral transmission in the Bible is reliable

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Voting Style: Judge Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/25/2014 Category: Religion
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,629 times Debate No: 60906
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Reliability will be measured by the ability to recall memory to the point where the essentially entire message is preserved.

I will provide evidence for why oral transmission used to pass the Bible (particularly the New Testament) is reliable (

first round acceptance


I accept, do your Best M8!
Debate Round No. 1



Encoding in memory is a process of storing sensory input (sight,smell,sound, and taste) into memory. Your mind decides which memories are worth storing and which aren't. You can practice memory by repeating it over and over. Your short-term memory can change into long-term with practice.

Oral transmission consists of many forms of mnemonic devices and is still practiced today in the middle east. We can test it's reliability from several different fields.

Reliability of oral transmission in Academics:

Research shows that college students who use mnemonic devices retain more factual information and that there is "evidence that instruction involving the use of mnemonic devices does enhance a
student"s formal reasoning skills and that this has the potential for application of knowledge to more varied
tasks" (2). Those who use mnemonic devices to learn vocabulary perform better than those who don't. It's also said that the most creative mnemonic devices are the most effective (3).

Historical reliability :

There are many cases of oral transmission being reliable in history. 2nd century poet Bardaisan composed stanza after stanza of 7 syllable lines of Syriac hymns. 200 years later, his work is still remembered. Ephrem used the same process and his works are still orally recited in the Atashi Syrian Orthodoxy seminary. Some go as far to say that there is no need for books (4). The Greco-Roman historian Thucydides wrote

"I have given speeches in the manner in which it seemed to me that each of the speakers would best express what needed to be said about the ever prevailing situation, but I have kept as close as possible to the total opinion expressed by the actual words" (History of the Peloponnesian War, 1.22.1)."

"Plato says that the Sophist Hippias of Elis "was able to repeat fifty names after hearing them only once." Pliny the Elder reports that Cyrus was able to name every man in his army, and that Lucius Scipio remembered the names of every person in the Roman Empire, and that one named Charmadas "recited by heart any book in the libraries." Seneca boasted of being able in his youth to repeat 2000 names read to him "and recite in reverse order over two hundred verses his fellow students told him..." (5)

"If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the
words of the elders"what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas,
or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what
things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that
what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and
abiding voice" Eusebius "Church history"

Historian Charles Fornara, Tacitus (1st century historian), ". . .presented speeches responsibly, refused to invent them, and searched them out when it was possible to do so". He concludes that, "We are not entitled to proceed on the assumption that the historians considered themselves at liberty to write up speeches out of their own heads." (6)

Psychological reliability:

An associate professor at Howard university states that making personal connections to material increases retention. Students who use normal methods do worse than those who use mnemonic devices. Another study shows that doodling increases chances of doing better during exams than those who do not (7).

Empirical observations:

It's been documented that people can recite very long epics from memory (8). People have been observed reciting oral stories lasting up to 25 hours and several days from memory (9). Biblical scholar, Xavier Leon Dufour records of an illterate woman who can recite hindu prayers as long as his 285-page book from memory (10).

Kenneth Bailey's studies:

Kenneth Bailey was a professor of the New Testament and has lived in the middle east for around 30 years studying the reliability of oral transmission. He notes the following:

"1) Middle Eastern people express their values through proverbs, the creating and preserving of wisdom and sayings; 2) Story riddles - a teacher is presented with an unsolvable problem; 3) poetry - a distinct unlettered form of verse. The person who recites this is called a Sajali; 4) parable or story; 5) Well-told accounts of the important figures in the history of the village or community " (11).

There are different degrees of flexibility allowed in communities reciting oral transmission:

1) No flexibility - People must repeat the story word for word with absolutely no mistakes. If just one mistake is made, the community corrects that person

2) some flexibility - The flow of the story and conclusion must remain the same as well as the basic outline and summary.

3) Total flexibility - Total flexibility is only allowed for things irrelevant like gossip.

John Hogg, the founder of the Egyptian Evangelical community did many things causing the people to orally preserve them. His daughter wrote them down on paper and 50 years later, he came back to compare the two. He found that they were essentially the same wording.

There is simply overwhelming evidence for the reliability of oral transmission. Now what about the eye-witness testimony of the Gospels? Is it possible for the Gospels to be treated as historical documents? Yes, oral stories have been used as valid testimony in the court of law. A famous example is Delgamuukw v. British Columbia. Delgamuukw. Finally, oral history was accepted as legal evidence. Chief Justice Lamar of the Supreme court of Canada said:

"The laws of evidence must be adapted in order that [oral] evidence can be accommodated and placed on an equal footing with the types of historical evidence that courts are familiar with, which largely consists of historical documents. . . . To quote Dickson C.J., given that most aboriginal societies "did not keep written records," the failure to do so would "impose an impossible burden of proof" on aboriginal peoples, and "render nugatory" any rights that they have (Simon v. The Queen, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 387, at p. 408). This process must be undertaken on a case-by-case basis."

Numerous other courts accepted oral traditions as evidence and laid out terms on how to correctly interpret the evidence (Squamish Indian Band v. Canada (2001 FCT 480) and R. v. Ironeagle (2000 2 CNLR 163). Oral transmission although is mostly contested in legal matters is currently being considered as evidence in court testimony (12).

The evidence cannot be denied. The authors of the Bible were not gullible or ignorant. They were absolutely not careless in their transmission of the Bible. They used very advanced techniques deemed as more accurate than writing by some experts to very accurately transmit the Bible through oral transmission until finally being written down.





4. Bailey, Kenneth. "Informal, Controlled, Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels." Asia Journal of Theology. 5.1 (1991) 40




8. Honko, "Introduction: Oral and Semiliterary Epics," in The Epic: Oral and Written (eds., L. Honko, J. Handoo, and J. M. Foley; Mysore, India: Central Institute of Indian Languages, 1998) 9. - See more at:

9. Honko himself has witnessed one oral narrative that took seven days to complete. Honko, Textualizing the Siri Epic, 15. - See more at:

10. (Xavier Leon-Dufour, The Gospels of the Jesus of History, trans. and ed. John Hchugh. (New York: Desclee Company, 1968) 195)

11. Bailey, Kenneth. "Informal, Controlled, Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels." Asia Journal of Theology. 5.1 (1991) 41-42

12. John Borrows, "Listening for a Change: The Courts and Oral Tradition," Osgoode Hall Law Journal 39, no. 1 (2001): 10.


Thanks heaps Pro for your interesting argument!

Though firstly I will look at what Oral Transmission entails:

Oral Transmission or as it is more commonly known as Rote Learning, or Mechanical Learning, is a very good tool for Memorizing stories and even some details in what is referred to as Parrot Fashion.
Thus it is long regarded as Parrot Fashion Learning.

Which does have some serious flaws that I will get to later.

Oral Transmission relies on repetition for accuracy and in some studies it has been found that it does not improve understanding of that which is remembered in parrot fashion.
Details are remembered either in direct repetition or repetition of symbols/mnemonics which indicate that which is to be recalled.
Rote/Oral learning is actually a form of mechanical learning.
The Orator gives a line or sentence at a time and the students must repeat the sentence word for word.
There is no expectation nor emphasis on their understanding each line.

There are two forms of Oral or Rote Transmission of knowledge that Historians and Anthropologists investigate.

1: Rote/Oral Transmission of Tradition:

Oral Tradition is the transmission of Law and Cultural values through Rote in that a cultures laws, tradition and heritage is formed into short stories and these stories (parables) are then transmitted by rote to give an overall picture of the culture to the students which they can accurately (through repetition) to their followers and descendants.

To a Historian, Oral Traditions are considered as very accurate representations of a Culture, since the stories are so often simple and the scenarios and morals within each story are usually simple, clear and precise.
Such Oral Traditions are being recorded from many cultures by Anthropologists in order to keep such cultural heritages for posterity.
As many cultures have lost their Cultural Traditions due to Religious Missionaries making them change to their theologies and thus destroying their original traditions or modernization causing these cultures to lose their young students to other influences.

2: Rote/Oral Transmission of Historical Events:

Here the transmission of actual History is fraught with difficulties and errors, from various forces that does not affect the transmission of Oral Tradition.

Historical events are one off incidents, thus not Repetitive, and thus they don't record well in Oral Transmission. The event when transmitted is also only from the viewpoint of that who transmitted it, so individual account of an event often misses aspects and important details, thus is never an accurate account.

For Instance, Jesus died only once, Jesus did not repeat his death nor his last words and soldiers repeated their actions until those watching could remember every event accurately. Same problems exist with the resurrection. If the event is overwhelming, those passing the event on will miss details or get aspects wrong due to their delusional and biased view of the events. Thus there are errors of interpretation of the events.

Imagine Jesus giving his dying breath and then asking: "Can you repeat what I said to the onlookers/disciples?"
Then after the tenth time one of his disciples calls out: "Sorry Jesus, I didn't get that last word, it was a bit quiet, can you repeat it louder?"

No! Jesus could not repeat his dying words for his disciples to repeat back until they were remembered accurately.

Some problem existed with all events recorded in the Bible, they only occurred once, where repetition is required for accurate Oral Transmission.

This would explain why every Gospel has a different account of the Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ.
There is no agreement between the Gospels, which only goes to prove my assumption that these events were never accurately passed on by Oral Transmission, thus they contain transmission errors.

The problem then becomes: Which Gospel Is The Accurate One?

Another problem with using the Bible is that there is nowhere in the Bible that describes the Learning techniques that Jesus practiced on his disciples apart from teaching them in parables, which can only pass on tradition/laws. Matthew 13

They may learn by Experience from following Jesus, but there is no indication of how Oral Transmission was practiced, scholars can only guess on what was common practices at the time.
Though with such learning, those experiences cannot be passed on to others, so those experiences are actually lost in the Oral Transmission.
They can only transmit Teachings, but not Experiences nor understanding by Oral Tradition.
Everybody can learn the same sentences, though their understanding of them may differ, this is the issue of individual minds.
Every mind/brain is wired differently, we can all look at the same object, but we all perceive that object slightly differently, due to individual differences in neural connections.
Same goes with stories and orally transmitted passages.
We all understand the same passage, slightly differently, regardless of the skill of the teacher/orator.

Another issue with Rote Learning (Oral Tradition) is it can engender False Memories through repetition.

It's the old saying:

If you tell yourself a lie too many times, you will end up believing it to be Truth.
Same goes for any repetitive reinforcement, especially applicable to religion.

This can actually be used as a form of Brainwashing, commonly used by Rote Based Religions, such as practiced in Pakistan and other Islamic countries.

From an article on Rote learning in Pakistan
"The connection between rote learning and impact on society may seem remote but the fact is that with rote learning there are certain advantages but the disadvantages far outweigh when we look at the current state of the so called enlightened institutions of this world. "

They get the students to repeat false notions and bad Knowledge until they can repeat every word and by then it becomes embedded in their psych as Truth.
There is nowhere in the Bible where is states that Jesus did not practice such mind control on his disciples.
So there is also a possibility that he may have used such brainwashing tactics.

Same goes for the Gospels, we are not to know what biases and how much the Gospel scribes had been consciously influenced when they wrote their Gospel. Since there was also a translation from Aramaic to Greek, there would also be translation errors in the Gospels from oral transference.

God could have ensured the accurate transmission of Scripture through memory alone but he did not. As Ong and others point out, oral cultures prefer to memorize information thematically rather than rotely. Small variations creep in and can lead to larger variation as the message moves cross-culturally"

Finally Pro mentioned Historical Reliability of Oral Transmission.
Such reliability has yet to be proved for one off events.

I have already touched on this in that Historical Events are one off events and thus an observer will miss much information and recollection may be biased or inaccurate due to lack of attentiveness at the time the event occurred.
Also there is issues with personal emphasis and tone during transmission of an event, the listener may misunderstand points and details due to presentation issues.

The scope for transmission errors in Oral Transmission of events are numerous.
Though again, the discrepancies in the Bible concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are evidence of either errors of oral transmission or the Gospel writers adding their own interpretations and stories into the fold.

Thanks Pro!
I'm extremely short on time to research.
I hope I've given you something worthy of rebutting.

Debate Round No. 2


Con provides no sources for his claims.

"As many cultures have lost their Cultural Traditions due to Religious Missionaries making them change to their theologies and thus destroying their original traditions or modernization causing these cultures to lose their young students to other influences."

This is not relevant as to whether or not oral transmission is reliable

" If the event is overwhelming, those passing the event on will miss details or get aspects wrong due to their delusional and biased view of the events. Thus there are errors of interpretation of the events."

Con claims that those transmitting the event shall be biased, but doesn't give evidence for that claim. The same can be made for any interpretation of events.

"This would explain why every Gospel has a different account of the Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. There is no agreement between the Gospels, which only goes to prove my assumption that these events were never accurately passed on by Oral Transmission, thus they contain transmission errors."

There are only differences in the Gospels because each Gospel is focusing on a specific theme (1).

"The problem then becomes: Which Gospel Is The Accurate One?"

They are all accurate.

"Another problem with using the Bible is that there is nowhere in the Bible that describes the Learning techniques that Jesus practiced on his disciples apart from teaching them in parables, which can only pass on tradition/laws

Wrong, experts can trace back the techniques Jesus used based on observations of oral transmission. According to Gregory Boyd, he notes the following:

"Studies by anthropologists such as Albert B. Lord and Jan Vansina have demonstrated that the transmission of traditions in oral societies follow a generally fixed, if flexible pattern - similar to the type witnessed to in the Gospels themselves. Related to this, comtemporary psycholinguistic studies have served to confirm that the techniques that charactrerized Jesus' oral teaching methods would have made for 'very accurate communication between Jesus and his followers' and would have 'ensured excellent semantic recall.'" (2)

According to "Evolution of the Word" page 13, Jesus repeated oral traditions over and over again in the form of many different types of literary devices, including parables (3).

"They may learn by Experience from following Jesus, but there is no indication of how Oral Transmission was practiced, scholars can only guess on what was common practices at the time.
Though with such learning, those experiences cannot be passed on to others, so those experiences are actually lost in the Oral Transmission."

Experiences are essentially preserved in oral transmission. The description of these experiences are not at all subjective once we examine their significance in the Bible. Biblical hermenutics removes unnecessary interpretations not found in Scripture. The entire passage must be taken in context of the whole Bible.

On the same link you have to repetition, it says the following:

"These findings do not discredit the practice of repetitive learning, but pure repetition alone has limitations"

As we can see from the sources listed above: Repetition was not the only form of learning used by the disciples.

"They get the students to repeat false notions and bad Knowledge until they can repeat every word and by then it becomes embedded in their psych as Truth. There is nowhere in the Bible where is states that Jesus did not practice such mind control on his disciples. So there is also a possibility that he may have used such brainwashing tactics."

If that's possible, where is the evidence? Anything is possible, i can say it's possible that the holocaust was a hoax. I can say it's possible that the writings we have of ancient Egypt and Sumeria are biased and have inaccurate information, but it doesn't mean that it's proven. If changes were in fact made to the Gospels influenced by other cultures, we should be able to see it.

The evidence cited earlier clearly demonstrates that it is very unlikely for errors to creep in.






Point : There is no evidence that the Gospels were actually written from Oral Tradition. They may have been written from the mythical Legend of Jesus, not oratory information concerning his actual life. So the Gospels and the New Testament books may have nothing to do with Oral Tradition.

From the fanciful tales and discrepancies in the Bible, I may very well be correct.

The Jesus appearing in the Gospels is actually quite different to that written about by Saul/Paul, who was the earliest account of Jesus Christ, written around 20 years after the death of Jesus.

Yet Saul never ever met Jesus and wrote from Hearsay, possibly oral tradition, though there is no evidence for this either, since Saul did not disclose his sources. He too may have taken poetic license and invented some of his own concepts surrounding Jesus Christ.

Though the discrepancies between Saul’s version of Jesus and the Gospels is quite obvious, there are even more discrepancies just between the Gospel accounts of Jesus Christ.

Gospel Discrepancies (too many to mention here):

1: Differences in the personification or character of Jesus Christ:

John: , Jesus talks about himself all the time: Jesus proclaims himself to be the bread of life;(John 6:35), I am the way and the truth (John 14:6)

I am the light of the world (John 8:12).

Mark: Jesus teaches principally about God and the coming kingdom, and rarely ever talks directly about himself: Jesus talks about how he must go to Jerusalem and be rejected and be crucified and then raised from the dead. In Mark, Jesus never identifies himself as divine, as he never says, I am the son of God in Mark.

Here is a typical teaching from Jesus according to Mark.

18And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good?there isnone good but one,that is, God.

19Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

20And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

“ Mark 10:18-21.

Thus in John, Jesus is Extremely Narcissistic and in Mark, Jesus is quite humble.

They cannot possibly be writing about the same Jesus Christ.

Such differing accounts of the very same person make Oral Transmission from the same sources seem unlikely.

Since John was written nearly 60 years after Jesus died, it is likely the Author of John, took his own narrator’s license in reinventing Jesus in order to convince non-believers in Jesus Christ.

2: Differing reasons for the death of Jesus Christ:

According to Mark, Jesus's death is an reparation or expiation for sin (atonement).

16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working withthem, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.”

Mark 16:16-20

According to Luke, it's the reason people realize they're sinful and need to turn to God for forgiveness.

44And he said unto them, Thesearethe words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, andinthe prophets, andinthe psalms, concerning me.

45Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,

46And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

47And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

48And ye are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:44-48

Thus the death of Jesus gives a different message from different Gospels.

3: Different last words Jesus Uttered:

Mark and Matthew: “ Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Luke: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”

John: “It is finished”

So the writers of Mark had evidently read Matthew or vice versa, being a decade apart, so much of Matthew was copied by Mark or possibly the same orator.

Though the other two, with totally different versions of the event of the Death of Jesus, is destroying Pro’s concept of accurate Oral Transmission.

4: The Darkening and the Earthquake before the Tomb was found open.

Matthew and Mark mention the darkening, Mark doesn't mention the Great Earthquake, John was totally oblivious to any such events, yet Matthew declared the Earthquake to be very violent (Matthew 28:2).

These are a few of many discrepancies between the Oral Transmissions of just the Death of Jesus.
There are even more discrepancies concerning the resurrection story, such as Jesus was recognized in Matthew (

Matthew 28:9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him."

, Mark and Luke, but in John, nobody recognized Jesus, not even Mary (John 20:14), "14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus."

In John, Jesus had to demonstrate to his disciples who he was, yet in the others, he was instantly recognised.

There is the matter of the number of angels at the tomb. Matthew has 1 angel, John has 2 angels.

This is only a small number of the many discrepancies such as how long Jesus wandered among them before he ascended, from same day to many days.

Here are a few more contradictions which display the severe weakness of Oral Tradition in the written Bible creation. Though chances are Oral Tradition has nothing to do with the Bible, a lot if it was more likely invented by the Authors or those altering their works at the Councils.


1) How many generations were there between Abraham to David? Matthew 1:17 lists fourteen generations. Matthew 1:2 lists thirteen generations.

2) Is Paul lying? In Acts 20:35 Paul told people "to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Since Jesus never made such a biblical statement, isn’t Paul guilty of deception?

3) When did the leper become not a leper? (Matthew 8:13 & 8:14) Jesus healed the leper before visiting the house. (Mark 1:29-30 & 1:40-42) Jesus healed the leper after visiting Simon Peter’s house.

4) Who approached Jesus? (Matthew 8:5-7) The Centurion approached Jesus, beseeching help for a sick servant. (Luke 7:3 & 7:6-7) The Centurion did not approach Jesus. He sent friends and elders of the Jews.

5) Was she dead or just dying? (Matthew 9:18) He asked for help, saying his daughter was already dead. (Luke 8:41-42) Jairus approached Jesus for help, because his daughter was dying.

6) Just what did Jesus instruct them to take? (Matthew 10:10) Jesus instructed them not to take a staff, not to wear sandals. (Mark 6:8-9) Jesus instructed his disciples to wear sandals and take a staff on their journey.

7) When did John find out Jesus was the Messiah? (Matthew 11:2-3) While imprisoned. John the Baptist sent followers to Jesus to inquire if Jesus was the messiah. (Luke 7:18-22) While imprisoned. John the Baptist sent followers to Jesus to inquire if Jesus was the Messiah. (John 1 :29-34,36) John already knew Jesus was the Messiah.

8) Who made the request? (Matthew 20:20-21) Their mother requested that James and John, Zebedee’s children, should sit beside Jesus in his Kingdom. (Mark 10:35-37) James and John, Zebedee’s children, requested that they should sit beside Jesus in his Kingdom.

9) What animals were brought to Jesus? (Matthew 21:2-7) two of the disciples brought Jesus an donkey and a colt from the village of Bethphage. (Mark 11:2-7) They brought him only a colt.]

There is also the Synoptic Problem concerning the Gospels which makes Oral Tradition unlikely.

Bart Ehrman a noted Biblical Scholar who has researched the issue of Oral Traditions has this to say:

"And as anyone knows who has been subject to oral traditions – this would include all of us – the stories told about a person can change absolutely overnight! It happens all the time. What happens, then, to stories in circulation for 40 or 50 years, in different countries, told in different languages, among people who never laid an eye on an eyewitness or on anyone else who had? My sense is that the stories get changed, often a lot; and many of the stories simply get made up. It’s just the way it happens And it can be shown to have happened with the Gospels, since the same story is often told in very different ways. Every historian will tell you: evidence matters!"



Yes, I agree that Oral Tradition can hold small pearls of wisdom, though for recording and preserving one off events accurately it suffers from the same problem presented in Chinese Whispers or The Telephone Game, in that the minds of those passing the Tradition on being wired differently neurologically, will alter the message and thus distort the information/details.
More about this in the next round.

Though Oral Traditions contain great stories:

Thanks Pro and back to you!

Debate Round No. 3


Evidence does show that the Gospels were written from oral tradition (1).

Paul clearly used oral traditions to transmit the Gospels (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 4:16-17, etc.)

I will first begin by addressing Bart Ehrman's stance on oral traditions and the synoptic problem.

The Synoptic problem is resolved simply by oral transmission (2).

Bart Ehrman's problem:

Bart Ehrman completely exaggerates the changes made in oral transmission. He obviously isn't aware of all the evidence presented for the reliability of oral transmission.

Now you bring out supposed contradictions in the Gospels, but partial reports do not equal false reports. The Gospels are slightly different accounts of the same life of Jesus Christ (3).

"Is Paul lying? In Acts 20:35 Paul told people "to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

There are two solutions for this problem:

1) It was passed down orally - Not everything in the Gospels were written down (Joh 21:25).

2) It's paraphrasing Jesus' teachings (Luke 6:38).

Lets not forget that other signs of oral transmission also exist in other books of the Bible. The creation account also has common elements in other myths around the world (4), probably making oral transmission even more accurate and easier to remember. Genesis in Hebrew uses alliteration and repeats similar sounds.

More evidence for oral transmission:

Western academics are increasingly accepting oral transmission as reliable (5). Albert Machaise says this about oral transmission:

"The academic world and the oral history process both share an important common principle: They contribute to knowledge by building upon what is known and remembering that learning is a life-long quest." (6)

Experts also list eye-witness testimony and oral tradition as reliable methods so long as they follow specific procedures to verify their authenticity (7)

The book "mind of a mnemonist" is a study done by a psychologist on a person using mnemonic devices to accurately retain memories for years (8).

Oral transmission is said to be even more reliable than written transmission (9).

According to "The Jesus Legend", remembering the words of Jesus would be very easily committed to memory (10).

As i have stated earlier, there is simply an overwhelming amount of evidence for the oral transmission of the Bible being reliable.



2. Myers, Allen C., ed. "Synoptic Problem." The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. 1997. Print. 976

3. "Contradictions Among the Synoptics? in Craig Blomberg book "The Historical Reliability of the Gospels."


5. Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson, eds., The Oral History Reader (London: Routledge, 1998), ix"xiii.

6. Albert "Sonny" McHalsie (Naxaxalht"i), "We Have to Take Care of Everything That Belongs to Us," in Be of Good Mind: Essays on the Coast Salish, ed. Bruce Granville Miller (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007), 82.



9. Chars.JesJud - Charlesworth, James H. Jesus Within Judaism. New York: Doubleday, 1988. 19.



Thanks Pro for your interesting rebuttals!

Though I noticed Pro attacked Bart Ehrman's take on Oral Tradition.
Thus Pro is saying that Pro knows more than a New Testament Scholar who has spent most of his career studying Oral Tradition.

When it comes to such knowledge, Bart Ehrman trumps Pro by a PhD and many years of study as a professional.
So Pro is arguing from False Authority, namely his own!

Though not one of Pro's sources can trump Bart Ehrman on Authority.

Pro has provided absolutely no real evidence that Oral tradition was ever the Basis of the New Testament.
The discrepancies I have already highlighted in the Gospels point to their not being derived from Accurate Oral Tradition, or if they were, those writing them down made some terrible mistakes.

Pro has put a lot of effort into pretending Oral tradition is accurate, even though history has shown that it is not!
If Oral Tradition was judged on the Bible, it cannot ever be considered Accurate as the Bible is so extremely inaccurate.

Otherwise they would all have the same Last Words of Jesus, not a set of conflicting stories about everything Jesus did.

On Memory: Regardless of how good we think memories are, every time we recall something with our memory we alter it in some way, unbeknown to us. We think our recall is accurate, but really it is not.
All the stories you continually recall about your youth or childhood, are different from the last time you recalled them, but, you never know this, as you think you are recalling them accurately, when in fact, you have changed them.

The science behind this is actually obvious.
Neurology has confirmed this with experiments and group studies.

Recalling memories is similar to the Telephone game or Chinese Whispers.

Since it has been proved in science that recalling past events is haphazard, in spite of those less scientific and unverified sources that Pro sighted.

My sources are well verified by study.

So since from my sources, demonstrate clearly that we cannot rely on our memories to accurately recall events and every time we repeat those events, we alter them in some way, that is unknown to us.
There is a real reason to question the accuracy of Oral Tradition, which relies strongly on such fickle recall.

Yes, we think we are recalling our past events, the same events we have told repetitively (rote recall) over and over, but, we never realize that each time we have recalled it differently.

"Remember the telephone game where people take turns whispering a message into the ear of the next person in line? By the time the last person speaks it out loud, the message has radically changed. It’s been altered with each retelling.

Though I have already referenced the actual study previously.

Turns out yours and everybody's memory is a lot like the telephone game, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Another issue with Oral Tradition is one of Emphasis.
Stories may actually remain the same, but the emphasis of the story is so often altered by the mood of the person telling the story. If a person is recalling the story to a set of students or to a single student or to a group of doubters, the emphasis of different parts of the story changes.

So each student or recipient of the teacher/orator may receive the same story but, with different emphasis on certain parts of the story, then each student has a different version of the same parables.

This is easily observed in religious sects.
Many sects use the same parables from the Bible with different meanings attributed to those parables.

Simply because the instructor placed a different emphasis on a different aspect of the Parable.

Take for instance the Pentecostal Experience. Acts 2.

The real story of the Pentecost was a group of Jewish people all gathered in the same place from different regions and having mixed languages from those regions. They did not realize that all of them had Hebrew drummed into them by their parents until one of them yelled out from a loud noise in Hebrew and they suddenly realized that they all had the same tongue given to them, not by the holy spirit, but by their own parents. As it is Jewish tradition to keep the children knowledgeable of their mother tongue.

Yet, Pentecostal religions place emphasis on the experience and the flames over their heads instead of the social aspects of Judaism and the fact that all their parents taught them Hebrew. They appear to forget this and place emphasis on the holy spirit aspects and since when humans go into a euphoric state they tend to babble (glossolalia) which is truly meaningless, to both the utterer and any spiritual entity that would bother to even listen.

But, they are both reading the same Bible or in case of Rote/Oral Tradition, listening to the same Orator.

These massive differences in perceptions of the exact same Biblical passages can show how interpretation of the same story from an orator or even a different orator on the same passage can be equally different.

"The basis for this is in the incorrect hermeneutic of Acts 2:1-4, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Now, according to Pentecostalism, the evidence of speaking in tongues here in Acts 2 is proof that tongues is the initial evidence of all believers when they speak in other tongues. In keeping this teaching, they fail to continue with their reading to receive an understanding of what tongues are being spoken of here in Acts 2."


Here is a Christian anti Pentecostalism blog.

See how vindictive one side of the Pentecostal tale is against the other.
Both from reading exactly the same Parables.
Just imagine the differences that can arrive from a series of orators, who may put differences in emphasis, thus interpretation on the very same parables.
Remember, these two different sectarian views come from the exact same words, where Orators would often be transferring Oral Transmission with differing words, thus the differences in perceptions of the same tale could be even more different.

There is thus no faith in Memory, nor even in Oral Tradition.

There is no evidence, as Pro has never produced any that the New Testament is truly based on such Oral traditions, as I've read them all and they only Assume Oral Transmission at best.
They truly don't know.
Nobody knows if the New Testament really arose from Oral Tradition, or simply hearsay accounts and the imagination of the writers.
Pro cannot prove the New Testament has anything to do with Oral Tradition.

As I have already pointed out in clinical studies, memory, regardless of how good their memory may be will always present some errors.
We cannot avoid this, because of the way the human brain functions.
We use multiple faculties (structures) to record every little detail, but some structures are more active than others and similar items are stored in similar places in the brain, thus they may be recalled instead of the genuine item, but those recalling them are not aware of the differences.


Pro states: "Oral transmission is said to be even more reliable than written transmission."

The key here is 'said to', which is only implied, and as such it is neither verified nor proved as such.
From what I've already cited, memory is like a game of telephones, where memories alter without the person being aware of the changes, this demonstrates Pro's statement wrong, by the scientific study previously covered.

Pro states: "Experts also list eye-witness testimony and oral tradition as reliable methods so long as they follow specific procedures to verify their authenticity"

Pro had misread his own source, it states that they are only reliable if they meet certain conditions:
Such as:
1. "The tradition should be supported by an unbroken series of witnesses."
New Testament Fails this test, the line is non-existent.
There is no genuine connection from the Gospel writers to the witnesses of the event to be found in any evidence. The Gospels are not named after their authors, nor contributors as most were dead long before the Gospels were written.

"There should be several parallel and independent series of witnesses testifying to the fact in question."
The New Testament accounts of Jesus also fail this test, thus the New Testament Oral Tradition is invalid according to Historical Method.
There are no Parallel accounts of Jesus, the Gospels are written in different eras decades apart and they differ too much to be called consistent recollections.

These are only the General requirements of Oral Tradition reliability, that the New Testament cannot satisfy when put to the test of Historical Method, and you can forget about the particular tests, it fails them all.

This source and the requirements of validation of Oral Transmission to demonstrate it to be reliable, actually proves Bart Ehrman's contention against the Gospels as Correct and Valid.
Thus Pro's source validates Ehrman's Statements posed in my previous argument.

Thus by Pro's own source, the Oral Transmission in the New Testament is Historically Unreliable.

This is all I have time for now, though there is a lot more to come.

Thanks Pro for you great insight.

Now back to Pro!

Debate Round No. 4


Con appeals to the argument from authority.

The Telephone game is no where near the accuracy of oral transmission (1).

Con argues "Many sects use the same parables from the Bible with different meanings attributed to those parables" but fails to point out that it's not because of oral transmission, but a misinterpretation of the texts (2).

"The key here is 'said to', which is only implied, and as such it is neither verified nor proved as such."

Con did not point out the source i cited.

Now according to the Historical method cited earlier,either of the two sets of conditions can be fulfilled.

1) Broad conditions

2) Particular conditions:

3) Archaeology and evidence

I will now prove it with 3.

Millar Burrows, professor of Archaeology of Yale university says this:

"the whole archaeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the Scriptural record. More than one archaeologist has found his respect for the Bible increased by the experience of excavation in Palestine. Archaeology has in many cases refuted the views of modern critics." (3)

Archaeologist Johnathan Reed says "The many archaeological discoveries relating to people, places, or titles mentioned in Acts do lend credence to its historicity at one level; many of the specific details in Acts are factual" (4)

In the Jewish world of Jesus' day, Jews (namely Jesus' disciples) relied on this method (outlined by scholar
Birger Gerhardsson):

1. "Memory- Almost all important information was learned by way of sayings or texts that were ingrained in one"s memory so they knew it by heart.
2. Text and Commentary- The text refers to memorizing the text (text can be either what is written on the mind or in a book, p.4), while commentary refers to understanding the text. "First learn, then understand" (p.10).
3. Concise- Terms are concise and to the point in order for effective memorization to take place.
4. Didactic and Poetic devices- Things like pictorial imagery, alliteration, rhythmic phrases, and repetition (verbatim) were used to aid in memory.
5. Repetition- Jewish teachers would repeat word for word their main points, over and over followed by the students repeating those words over and over until they knew them by heart.
6. Recitation- When the texts were read repeatedly it was done rhythmically, partially sung.
7. Writing- Writing may have played a role in preserving tradition but this is debatable.
8. Living the Lesson- The Rabbi"s of the day were concerned with not only memorizing, and understanding but living the lesson." (5)


Based on all the evidence, it has been successfully proven that oral transmission of the Bible has completely been verified. I have presented historical evidence of people using oral transmission to demonstrate it's accuracy, psychological studies done to explain how they can remember so much, and even more modern studies further demonstrating it's reliability. Oral transmission can be trusted provided it follows certain procedures and incorporates mnemonic devices, thus we can be confident that the Bible has been essentially completely preserved for thousands of centuries.




3. Millar Burrows, What Mean These Stones? (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), p.1.

4. Jonathan L. Reed, The Harper Collins Visual Guide to the New Testament: What Archaeology Reveals about the First Christians (New York: HarperOne, 2007), p.100.

5. Birger Gerhardsson, The Reliability of the Gospel Traditon, p.9-14


Thanks Pro for your well thought out arguments

Pro stated:< "Con argues "Many sects use the same parables from the Bible with different meanings attributed to those parables" but fails to point out that it's not because of oral transmission, but a misinterpretation of the texts" >

No! That was not my point at all!
My point was that it is just as easy to misinterpret Oral Transmission as it is to misinterpret written text which we know by the hundreds of Christian sects is extremely easy.

The presentation alters from orator to orator, a difference in presentation (inflexion, emphasis on certain words or vowels) will change the meaning or interpretation of the Transmission (message).

This is always a problem with teaching, getting a message to stay precisely the same would mean exactly the same presentation by every Orator or Teacher, which is absolutely impossible, thus Oral Tradition is altered by inflexion and emphasis errors, introduced by the Orator's vocalizing of the messages in a slightly different fashion.
Vocalization changes cannot be helped, all humans have a different voice and thus different vocal inflections, which can change the emphasis on w

"Everyone has a distinct voice, different from all others; almost like a fingerprint, one's voice is unique and can act as an identifier. The human voice is composed of a multitude of different components, making each voice different; namely, pitch, tone, and rate. The following article, the first of a three part series on the voice, will discuss the pitch component of the voice. It will explore what voice pitch is, how it is used and how it can be influential. The human voice has many components and is created through a myriad of muscle movements. Pitch is an integral part of the human voice."

Summation of my main points:

1: Pro has still not proved that the Bible was ever a product of Oral Transmission.

Pro has no such evidence as no such evidence exists.

2: As I have shown repeatedly, the conflicts in the Gospel accounts of even the life of Jesus Christ deny there ever being any accurate Oral Tradition.
Many other Biblical Contradictions highlight the fact that Oral Tradition is somewhat missing and errant in the Bible accounts, even in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

Though I will limit this to the New Testament, the Old Testament is seriously Flawed and too many contradictions exist to be bothered with, such as Moses appears never to have existed and is a composite being of many legends.
But here is how there is no consistency concerning the birthright, or ancestry of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

In two places in the New Testament the genealogy of Jesus son of Mary is mentioned. MAT 1:6-16 and LUK 3:23-31. Each gives the ancestors of Joseph the CLAIMED husband of Mary and Step father of Jesus. The first one starts from Abraham(verse 2) all the way down to Jesus. The second one from Jesus all the way back to Adam. The only common name to these two lists between David and Jesus is JOSEPH, How can this be true? and also How can Jesus have a genealogy when all Muslims and most Christians believe that Jesus had/has no father."


3: Regardless of how good a person's memory is, Neurology has demonstrated that every time a memory is recalled it is altered in some way by the paths and associations in the method that the brain uses to store data. The Brain is a Relational Storage device, not a direct storage device, thus slight changes in relationships of data and associations will remap into the previously stored memories and thus alter them.
So the Telephone Game applicable in the context that we have no control over the accuracy of our own recollections.

They change without us being aware of it, so unlike the telephone game where messages/recollection is distorted deliberately for fun, our brains change the messages anyway, without us being aware of those changes.
Our brains are continually supplementing our memory with new information that filters itself into the same areas of previous memories and adds its own distortion.

The only way Oral Tradition could be maintained accurately was if those storing the information had no life experiences between the recording of the Oral message and passing it on and it was the first time they passed it on.
Remember as my scientific sources in the previous round stated.

It is stating that your own memory alters recollections sort of similar to a telephone game, which destroys Pro's video about telephone games being just fun, this scientific study demonstrates that the telephone game is inside our own brain and distorts our recall of events and details, no matter how good we consider our recall as being. The same goes for the memories of those in ancient times, distortion occurs regardless of how much they try not to distort their memories.

2000 years later and these scholars of Pro's (btw Dan Wallace cited in Pro's Video is not a Historian, only a Theologian (porky panderer) and an Apologist (producer of porkies)) try to tell us that hour ability to memorize has not improved or deteriorated since the Bibles were written. Yeah, Right! Ha Ha! Maybe they had less to think about back then, that is all.

Every Time An Individual Recalls An Event Or Message, The Event Or Message Is Altered.
This is because of the way the human brain functions, never a deliberate alteration by the person recalling the information.

So Pro is trying to tell us that these messages were passed on by people who during over 35 years, never had any life experiences and had never recalled their messages previously to anybody else.

As this is the only way they could avoid them being altered by repetitive recall and associated experiences in their lives.

That is a bit hard to believe that anybody could to for 30 or even 50 years (John) without having their memory distorted by recalling them.

The contentions between Saul's Jesus who was a different person to the Jesus of the Gospels, as Paul/Saul did not have knowledge of the miracles Jesus performed, if he really performed any at all, so such miracles were likely added by the Gospel writers as Paul's accounts of Jesus were the earliest available of around 20 years after the death of Jesus.
So Historically speaking, Saul's accounts should be more accurate, even though he too never met Jesus and wrote entirely from Hearsay. (Oral Tradition).

There have been no text documents concerning Jesus found to be written before Saul's accounts, so the Disciple's Creed, mentioned in Saul's writings, is now considered a Fabrication, the only Creed found was put together over a century later by over zealous Christians, trying to make Saul appear correct.

Which is typical of Christianity, apologists (porky producers) continually obfuscate and obscure history to make their religion appear truthful.
Which paints Christianity badly, as this shows that Christianity never values Truth, and prefers to use Lies to uphold their religion to keep Followers/sycophants.

Demonstrating clearly that Christianity puts Power (number of followers) and Money (paying tithes) above Truth, Honesty and even God.

Why can't Christianity ever be an Honest Religion?

I guess that is so obvious to anybody who looks at Christianity rationally and critically!


Though I don't think Pro has clearly demonstrated that the Bible was produced through Oral Tradition.
The inconsistencies I have highlighted show obvious flaws in the accounts of Jesus Christ, which is only a small part of the massive number of Flaws in the entire Bible, which are too numerous to mention.
The existence of such discrepancies demonstrate clearly that if Oral Tradition is so reliable then it was not used to produce the Bible scriptures, or that if Oral Tradition was used to produce the Bible accounts of Jesus Christ, then Oral Tradition is Unreliable.

Debate Round No. 5
16 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
Jessica exists, I saw her in person, or was it a dream, hallucination, damn, can't be sure about nething these days. :(
Posted by Truth_seeker 3 years ago
Lol I think Jessica doesn't really exist
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
Jellon thinks that the differences in the Gospels were minor.

Q: What were the last words spoken by Jesus?
A:It depends on which Gospel you read!
That is an important detail in the life of Jesus and it differs from Gospel to Gospel.

There was an Earthquake at the tomb mentioned in some Gospels and not others.
This was also important as it is in one Gospel what opened the tomb.

Jesus's Ancestors differ according to the Gospels.

Jesus's Personality differs, as in John, Jesus is an extreme Narcissist who talks incessantly about himself and makes grandiose claims of his importance.

In Mark, Jesus rarely talks directly about himself and is very humble.

They are not even the same person.

There are 4 different Jesus Christs if you take the Gospels separately and the accounts of Paul.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
Yes, the differences were not just minor details, they were major differences.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
4 Different Jesus Christs, some born from virgin birth, some not, some direct heir to David and some not, makes Richard Carrier's argument for the Non-Existence of Jesus Christ extremely probable.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
Also TS does not prove that Oral Tradition was used in forming the Gospels nor any other part of the Bible.
As many historians now believe, Mark was possibly copied from Matthew and the other two Gospels likely had a bit of stuff made up by the Authors as well.
Because John may not have been written until 70 years after the death of Jesus, thus oral tradition and bits learned from other Gospels would be combined, but John got much of it so wrong.

There were more than different details, there were 4 completely different Jesus Christs if one takes Saul and the 4 gospels literally.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
@ Jellon, problem there is that there were not 4 witnesses in the Gospels, as the disciples were not alive at the production of the Gospels, so there should be only 1 account of the death of Jesus Christ, only one account.
No Witnesses were living when the Gospels were written and the Gospels were written many years apart.
So logically, only the real story of Jesus should survive, but there is no real story for Jesus, thus there may not have been any Jesus. Simon/Peter or Saul, may have invented Jesus Christ and Richard Carrier may be right.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
Philosophy was one of my subjects in the Arts Degree course I entered, but Photography and ceramics are expensive subjects, Purchasing photography equipment, clay and glaze materials sapped all my funds.
So I dropped out and roamed the streets as a street urchin for a while.
No money for clothing nor enough for food.
So I did it rough for a few years before finally getting a job and going back to university for another career path.
Posted by Sagey 3 years ago
Thanks Envisage,
It's probably because I studied history more than philosophy.
I worked as a historian for a while, so I know more about this subject.

If I continued my Theology class which touches on Philosophy or finished my university Philosophy course which I bombed out of after 1 year, from running out of money for my Photography subject, as equipment in those days for photography is expensive, I would have a better knowledge of philosophy.

So I need to brush up on Philosophy if I want to argue philosophy.
That is why I tried to avoid it and argue from a historical perspective instead.
Thus my approach on our debate, which you went for philosophy and I tried to keep it a religious historical debate.
We both tried to stick to our strengths.
I will need to learn more about philosophy to keep debating here.
Thus I'm having a go at learning, but time for study is a big issue.
Posted by Envisage 3 years ago
Your historical debates are much better than your philosophical debates Sagey. You should quit trying to debate philosophy.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by mishapqueen 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro backed up his points with good evidence and argumentation. Con had good rhetoric, but very little backing it up. He also had this weird side-argument about the gospels being about different things. I may be biased, but I did not see a significant difference. I also didn't really understand what it had to do with the subject at hand. Good job, guys!
Vote Placed by Jellon 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con assets that the same story told with different details equals a contradiction, yet if police got the exact same story from all witnesses it would be seen as a conspired story. The argument is logically invalid. Con made several logical errors. Furthermore, Pro demonstrated with creditable sources that an oral tradition can be kept reliable. His sources show that the telephone analogy is flawed and oral tradition involves multiple individuals memorizing the same words, thus introducing a correction mechanism if someone gets it wrong. Although I don't feel Pro met the BoP for the subject, i don't see logical errors in his arguments as I do with Con. I don't believe the subject is the product of oral tradition and Pro gave no strong evidence for it. This debate doesn't seem to have resolved any issue, but because Pro did better imho, I feel obligated to award him points.