Was the Bible transmitted by oral tradition?

To start off, it's important for us to make a clear differentiation between oral "tradition" and oral "transmission." A long-standing tradition may be rooted in common practices or beliefs without any concrete ties to facts, while transmission is the passing along of information. In some cases, biblical content was initially recorded through oral "transmission," but this is not because it was merely a "tradition." Generally, the information being transmitted explained details related to specific times, locations, and people. Most commonly, the Bible was transcribed into written form at nearly the same time, or closely after, the events being talked about.

First, let's look at the New Testament books. Modern historians consider Luke to be an excellent source of historically accurate information. The Gospel of Luke relays physical eyewitnesses' experiences, which indicates that parts of the book could be counted as "oral transmission." Though, many of these same stories that are in Luke's Gospel are also relayed in Mark's Gospel, which was written prior to Luke's.

"Oral tradition" is hardly a possibility when it comes to the Gospel of Mark, which is estimated to have been written near AD 55—shortly after Christ's earthly life. Most of Paul's epistles predate the Gospels. When Paul describes the general structure of the Christian faith in 1 Corinthians 15, he mentions being taught this information when he converted to Christianity, which was within a few years after Christ's resurrection.

In a similar way, the Old Testament books were generally written in the present tense. Rather than being old-fashioned story traditions, told as a "once upon a time" fairytale, they were written about actual historical events and words from the Lord that were happening at the time of their writing.

When Jesus spoke, He would sometimes quote from the Old Testament Scriptures. It is good for us to be familiar with the Scriptures so that we have a better understanding of God and of His will. Jesus discouraged the Pharisees' use of oral tradition in their interpretation of the Law of Moses, however (see Mark 7:6–9). This is because they used oral tradition to spin the Scriptures their own way to make the Law say what they wanted it to, rather than focusing on what God was actually saying through those Scriptures.

Oral transmission was not uncommon in a day and age when the majority of people were unable to read or write. Because oral transmission was a normal thing, it was generally a reliable method of conveying information because accuracy was considered to be extremely important. Written transmission is best for preserving accuracy over a long time period, and evidence proves that the books of the Bible were penned in written form very early on. The Bible is based in factual records rather than oral traditions.

Related Truth:

Is the Bible really the Word of God?

Is the Bible reliable?

What proof do we have for the inspiration of the Bible?

Is the Bible still relevant today?

What is the canon of the Bible and how did we get it?

Return to:
Truth about the Bible

Subscribe to the CompellingTruth.org Newsletter:

Preferred Bible Version:

CompellingTruth.org is a ministry of