The Men in the Picture

“We declare to you 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— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3 NRSV).

The photo here is from an old tintype I own. I found it in my paternal grandmother’s house shortly after her passing in the early 1990s. Though the man on the right is a stranger to me, the one on the left is my great-great grandfather Adam Gonnermann. I tend to believe that the picture was taken while he was still in Germany, and that the unknown man in the picture was a friend.

Now, I never met my great-great grandfather. He died decades before I was born. How do I know who this man is, then? Simple. My father and grandmother both told me that this was him. How did they know? They were told by my grandfather Charles and his family.

I don’t have any direct “proof” that the bearded man is Adam Gonnermann, but we have other pictures of him that have been passed down, and the likeness is unmistakable. What is most important, in any case, is that I have it on what I consider very good authority from indirect testimony passed down from eye-witnesses that this indeed is my great-great-grandfather.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 NRSV).

There is no reason for me to doubt that the man on the left in this picture is my great-great-grandfather Adam Gonnermann. So, if I can believe the reliable testimony of direct eyewitnesses that has been passed down through generations with the few photos, why should I stumble over the word of apostles and prophets who often suffered for their message regarding the Messiah? This faith has been passed along from generation to generation, together with holy writings, as witness to the divine reality that broke into our deluded world and which promises new heavens and new earth as the final outworking of God’s new creative work in the resurrection of Jesus.

“…and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2 NRSV).

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