IMPORTANT BOOK REVIEWS ON THE “HISTORICAL” JESUS

DoHistoricalMattersMattertoFaithREVIEW OF DO HISTORICAL MATTERS MATTER TO FAITH?

OBVIOUSLY NOT TO THESE CRITICALLY-TRAINED EVANGELICALS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

TMSJ 2013 Review-

Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?
James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, Eds. Do Historical Matters Matter To Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Post Modern Approaches to Scripture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. 544 pp. (paper) $24.95.

Reviewed by F. David Farnell, Professor of New Testament, The Master’s Seminary

Do historical matters matter to faith? In the foreword for Do Historical Matters Matter? John D. Woodbridge states, that the purpose of the book is to demonstrate that “the Bible’s historical narratives are trustworthy (13). It also purports to be a “fresh” look at the Bible’s (OT and NT) historical reliability: “the Bible’s historical narratives are indeed trustworthy.” (ibid).

The two editors of the volume Hoffmeier and Magary, assert, “During the past thirty years biblical and theological scholarship has had to cope with many serious challenges to orthodox and evangelical understanding of Scripture” (9). It seeks to counter modernist and postmodernist impacts upon the understanding of the historical trustworthiness of the OT and NT. The work is a “collaborative book” as “an outgrowth of panel discussion by faculty members of the Department of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in February 2009” (21).

The book expands the discussion to New Testament subjects as well (210). Peter Enns’ work, Inspiration and Incarnation, as well as Kenton Sparks’s God’s Word in Human Words provide the stimulus for these articles. In the “Preface,” the editors “offer this book to help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible by colleagues within our faith community, as well as those outside of it” (23). “We offer this book to help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible by colleagues within our faith community, as well as those outside it. There will be a special emphasis placed on matters of history and the historicity of biblical narratives, both Old and New Testaments, as this seems presently to be a burning issue for theology and faith. Hence, we begin with a group of essays that deal with theological matters before moving on to topics in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and archaeology.” (21).

Significant evangelical scholars, including, John D. Woodbridge, Ravi Zacharias, D. A. Carson, and Timothy George wrote endorsements for this volume, leading this reviewer to anticipate a high quality book defending the trustworthiness of Scripture. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. If the presentations in this work are accepted as representing the state of evangelicalism regarding OT and NT trustworthiness, then both the 1978 and 1982 ICBI statements are now null and void among the younger generation of evangelical scholars.

After reading this work, the answer to the question the work posses, “do historical matters matter?” the answer must be in the negative, at least not to these scholars. The fresh solutions that they offer are worse than the disease that they purport to be curing. This reviewer was left wondering if all the endorsers of this work truly, really read the contents of this work. Because of the length limitations, this reviewer can only review a few salient highlights of this work.

In Chapter One, “Religious Epistomology, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, and Critical Biblical Scholarship,” Thomas McCall sets forth philosophy of biblical scholarship for the group. McCall advocates a type of “methodological naturalism”: “MN holds only that the method of CBS [critical biblical scholarship] ‘can be followed and may be valuable for historians’ but do not give the only or final word on all matters (historical or otherwise).” (52) What McCall fails to consider in his discussion is that often a “methodology” is really an ideology that has an underlying agenda in its presuppositional bases (Col 2:8; 2 Cor 10:5). This chapter suggests a Hegelian/Fichtian dialectic: Fundamentalism (i.e. Reformed Epistomology) is too dismissive or critical of critical biblical scholarship (thesis), critical biblical scholarship in its historic form is too “binding and obligatory” (antithesis), with the synthesis expressed by evangelicals who use critical methods to engage in dialogue: “critical biblical scholarship can be ‘appropriated’ in a way that is both intellectually and spiritually healthy.” (54). Acceptance of critical biblical scholarship in various, limited ways is the only way to have influence in the larger market place of ideas in biblical criticism.

McCall’s idea of influencing, however, is negated by 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:14 where Paul sets forth the myth of influence, i.e. the fact that the default response of anyone who does not have the Spirit of God (i.e. unbelievers) is to conclude that the things of God are “foolishness” or “an offense” (1 Cor. 1:23) and that God deliberately has planned that wisdom of unsaved men is inherently unable to arrive at a true understanding the truth of God’s Word (1 Cor. 2:8–14). This places “critical biblical scholarship” (CBS) in a tenuous light, for it operates decidedly on foundational unbelief. Only those with the Spirit of God can understand the thoughts of God, for no one will boast before God concerning his own wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30).

In Chapter 3, “The Divine Investment in Truth, Toward a Theological Account of Biblical Inerrancy,” Mark Thompson asserts a belief in inerrancy but argues strongly that suspicion regarding inerrancy “stems from the way that some have used assent to this doctrine [inerrancy] as a shibboleth. Individuals and institutions have been black-listed for raising doubts about the way the doctrine has been construed in the past. Only those who are able to affirm biblical inerrancy without qualification are to be trusted.” Thompson singles out Harold Lindsell as “one of the most conspicuous examples” of those who cause this distrust. (71 n2). For Thompson, the greatest suspicion against inerrancy “[m]ost serious of all . . . is the way still others, reared on the strictest form of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, have abandoned the faith under the intense questioning of biblical criticism. Forced to choose between a perfect, unblemished text and seemingly incontrovertible evidence of error in Scripture, such people begin to lose confidence in the gospel proclaimed throughout Scripture. In light of such cases, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy might even be deemed dangerous.” (72). These evangelicals have apparently forgotten that it was Harold Lindsell who was a great impetus in the ICBI discussion of both 1978 and 1982. History is now being forgotten. He blames people who hold to a strong view of inerrancy for causing people to depart from the faith. Apparently, for Thompson, inerrancy is a cause of defection especially if one holds to it strongly.

Thompson argues that, instead, “the doctrine should not be judged by the abuse of it or by inadequate explanations. He argues for a solution in the following terms: “Strong convictions about the inerrancy of Scripture need not mean that his aspect of the of Scripture is elevated above all others in importance. Biblical inerrancy need not entail literalism and a failure to take seriously the various literary forms in which God’s words come to us, nor need it repudiate genuine human authorship in a Docetic fashion.” (72). Such a statement clearly indicates that Thompson places Scripture on the same level as any other book, subject to the same assault that historical-critical ideologies, far from neutral, have perpetrated upon it. Thompson concludes that a solution toward resolving any distortions in the doctrine of inerrancy is as follows: “the doctrine of inerrancy almost inevitably becomes distorted when it becomes the most important thing we want to say about Scripture.” (97). He affirms Timothy Ward’s solution, “Timothy Ward’s assessment that inerrancy is ‘a true statement to make about the Bible but is not in the top rank of significant things to assert about the Bible’ is timely” (97). Thus, Thompson’s solution appears to downplay the significance of inerrancy for biblical issues as a way of overcoming difficulties regarding the doctrine as well as recognizing not all statements in the Bible are to be taken as literal in terms of genre.

In Chapter 14, Robert W. Yarbrough wrote “God’s Word in Human Words—Form-Critical Reflections,” argues for seeing a value to historical critical approaches such as form critical studies by evangelicals even if in a limited way: “Form criticism did call attention to the important point that the Gospels comprise units of expression that may be sorted into discernible categories. Admittedly, form critics approached Gospel sources with premises and convictions that created blind spots in their observations. Limitations to the method as typically practiced amounted to build-in obsolence that would eventually doom it to irrelevancy in the estimation of most Gospels [sic] interpreters today.” (328). However, Yarbrough argues that “to study works from the form-critical era is to be reminded that literary sub-units—even sacred sources—can be grouped and analyzed according to the type of discourse they enshrine and the clues to the cultural surroundings that may yield” (p. 328). He acknowledges that Linnemann “renounced her lifelong professional and personal commitment to what she called historical-critical theology . . . she tested the claims of historical-critical views that she had been taught as a student and then as a professor had inflicted on hapless university undergraduates in an attempt to disabuse them of their Christian faith in Jesus and the Bible, the better to equip them for service in enlightened post-Christian German society.” (332).

Yet, Yarbrough, delving into his perceived psycho-analysis of Linnemann’s perceptions of biblical scholarship, labels her as someone among evangelicals who overreacted to the historical-critical approaches. He noted that “In academic mode, whether lecturing or writing, Linnemann tended toward overstatement and polemics. It is as if a couple of decades of vehement rejection of the Gospels’ trustworthiness created a corresponding zeal for their defense once she rejected the ‘critical’ paradigm she embraced in Bultmann’s heyday and under the spell of her identify as one of his students. Her scholarly pro-Bible writings are not a model of balanced scholarship, cautious investigation, and measured, gracious interaction with those she viewed as soft on the question of the Bible’s inaccuracy.” (332).

However, Yarbrough psycho-analysis of Linnemann is directly challenged by Linnemann’s own story as a former post-Bultmann who witnessed first-hand the dangerous nature of historical criticism, for she based in on a thorough understanding and analysis of the approach as an ideological approach. Eta Linnemann, herself a student of Rudolf Bultmann, the renown formgeschichtliche critic, and also of Ernst Fuchs, the outstanding proponent of the New Hermeneutic, notes regarding Historical Criticism,

[I]nstead of being based on God’s Word . . .it [historical criticism] had its foundations in philosophies which made bold to define truth so that God’s Word was excluded as the source of truth. These philosophies simply simply presupposed that man could have no valid knowledge of the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Father of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ” (Linnemann, Historical Criticism (Baker, 2001] 17–18).

She stresses that the Enlightenment laid the atheistic staring point of the sciences but that of biblical criticism as a whole (ibid, 29). One comment is especially insightful that in the practice of the historical-critical methods, “What is concealed from the student is the fact that science itself, including and especially theological science, is by no means unbiased and presuppositionless. The presuppositions which determine the way work is carried on in each of its disciplines are at work behind the scenes and are not openly set forth” (ibid, 107). Linnemann notes, “a more intensive investigation [of historical criticism] would show that underlying the historical-critical approach is a series of prejudgments which are not themselves the result of scientific investigation. They are rather dogmatic premises, statements of faith, whose foundation is the absolutizing of human reason as a controlling apparatus” (ibid, 111). Her rejection stemmed not from psychological motives but years of academic research into its dangers.

In Chapter 15, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” Craig Blomberg sets forth “constructive” solutions to problems in the New Testament text that he believes would be in line with inerrancy to solve difficulties that evangelicals face. In Blomberg’s article, he decries the Evangelical Theological Society’s dismissal of Robert H. Gundry from the society and reaffirms his support for Gundry to be allowed to make a midrashic approach to dehistorcizing (i.e. allegorizing) the story of the Herod’s killing of Babies in Bethlehem in Matthew 2 as consistent with a belief in inerrancy.

“For Gundry, inerrancy would only be called into question only if Matthew were making truth claims that were false. But if Matthew were employing a different style, form of genre that was not making truth claims about what happened historically when he added to his sources, then he could not be charged with falsifying the truth. Preachers throughout church history have similarly added speculative detail, local color, possible historical reconstruction, and theological commentary to their to their retelling of biblical stories. As long as their audiences know the text of Scripture well enough to distinguish between the Bible between the Bible and the preacher’s additions, they typically recognize what the preacher is doing and do not impugn his or her trustworthiness.

A substantial number of voting members of the Evangelical Theological Society present at the annual business meeting of its annual conference in 1983 that Gundry’s views were consistent with inerrancy, at that time the sole tenet in the Society’s doctrinal statement, and requested his resigation from the society. I voted with the minority. Following the papers and writings of my own professors from seminary, especially D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo, I believed Gundry had shown how his view could be consistent with inerrancy, even though I did not find his actually approach to Matthew convincing. in other words, the issue was a hermeneutical one, not a theological one. The trustees of Westmont College, where Gundry taught, agreed, and he continued his illustrious teaching and writing career there until his retirement.” (349).

In accordance with Gundry, one of Blomberg’s solution for difficult problems in New Testament in relationship to inerrancy is to allow for a genre of non-historicity to be considered: “Though not a panacea for every conceivable debate, much more sensitive reflection over the implications of the various literary and rhetorical genres in the Bible would seem an important first step that is not often taken enough . . . . in some contexts it may take some careful hermeneutical discernment to determine just what a text is or is not affirming. Style, figures of speech, species of rhetorical and literary form and genre all go a long way toward disclosing those affirmations.” (351). For Blomberg, difficulties can be resolves at times by realizing the non-historical nature of some portions of the New Testament.

In a 1984 article, Blomberg uses this as an explanation of the story of the coin in the fish’s mouth in Matthew 17:21–24: “Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretation of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same. The problem will not disappear simply because one author [Gundry] is dealt with ad hominem . . . how should evangelicals react? Dismissing the sociological view on the grounds that the NT miracles present themselves as historical gets us nowhere. So do almost all the other miracle stories of antiquity. Are we to believe them all?” (Blomberg, “New Testament Miracles,” JETS, 27, No. 4 [Dec 1984]: 436). Blomberg noted, “It is often not noticed that the so-called miracle of the fish with the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27) is not even a narrative; it is merely a command from Jesus to go to the lake and catch such a fish. We don’t even know if Peter obeyed the command. Here is a good reminder to pay careful attention to the literary form.” (354 n32) Unfortunately, this solution would seem to be at odds with the ICBI statement on Hermeneutics when it states in Article XIII: “generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”

Blomberg offers another solution toward solving problems surrounding pseudonymity in relation to some New Testament books whereby the “critical consensus approach could . . . be consistent with inerrancy, “benign pseudonymity.” (353, 360). Blomberg also uses the term “ghost-writer” to describe this activity. (ibid). Another name for this would be pseudepigraphy (e.g. Ephesians, Colossians, Pastorals).

A methodology consistent with evangelical convictions might argue that there was an accepted literary convention that allowed a follower, say, of Paul, in the generation after his martyrdom, to write a letter in Paul’s name to one of the churches that had come under his sphere of influence. The church would have recognized that it could not have come from an apostle they knew had died two or three decades earlier, and they would have realized that the true author was writing thoughts indebted to the earlier teaching of Paul. In a world without footnotes or bibliographies, this was one way of giving credit where credit was due. Modesty prevented the real author from using his own name, so he wrote in ways he could easily have envisioned Paul writing were the apostle still alive today. Whether or not this is what actually happened, such a hypothesis is thoroughly consistent with a high view of Scripture and an inerrant Bible. We simply have to recognize what is and is not being claimed by the use of name ‘Paul’ in that given letter. (352).

For Blomberg, the key to pseudonymity would also lie in motive behind the writing. Blomberg argues that “One’s acceptance or rejection of the overall theory of authorship should then depend on the answers to these kinds of questions, not on some a priori determination that pseudonymity is in every instance compatible or incompatible with evangelicalism.” (353). He argues, “[i]t is not the conclusion one comes to on the issue [pseudonymity] that determines whether one can still fairly claim to be evangelical, or even inerrantist, how one arrives at that conclusion.” (352). Yet, how could one ever known the motive of such ghostwriters? Would not such a false writer go against all moral standards of Christianity? Under Blomberg’s logic, Bart Ehrman’s work, Forged (HarperOne, 2011) only differs in one respect: Blomberg attributes good motives to forgers, while Ehrman is honest enough to admit that these “benign” writings are really what they would be in such circumstances. Are apparently both of these scholars able to read the proverbial “tea leaves” and divine the motives behind such perpetrations. Not likely!

He also carries this logic to the idea of “historical reliability more broadly.” He relates, “Might some passages in the Gospels and Acts traditionally thought of as historical actually be mythical or legendary? I see no way to exclude the answer a priori. The question would be whether any given proposal to that effect demonstrated the existence of an accepted literary form likely known to the Evangelists’ audiences, establishes as a legitimate device for communicating theological truth through historical fiction. In each case it is not the proposal itself that should be off limits for the evangelical. The important question is whether any given proposal has actually made its case.” (354).

Finally, Blomberg, seemingly anticipating objections to his ideas, issues a stern warning to those who would oppose such proposals that he has discussed:

[L]et those on the ‘far right’ neither anathematize those who do explore and defend new options nor immediately seek to ban them from organizations or institutions to which they belong.” If new proposals . . . cannot withstand scholarly rigor, then let their refutations proceed at that level, with convincing scholarship, rather than with the kind of censorship that makes one wonder whether those who object have no persuasive reply and so have to resort simply to demonizing and/or silencing the voices with which they disagree. If evangelical scholarship proceeded in this more measured fashion, neither inherently favoring nor inherently resisting ‘critical’ conclusions, whether or not they form a consensus, then it might fairly be said to be both traditional and constructive. (364).

Blomberg prior receipt of strong criticism due to his involvement co-authoring a book with Stephen E. Robinson, a New Testament professor at Brigham Young University entitled, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (IVP, 1997). As a result, he states, “Many of us who were trained at seminaries that were vigorously engaged in labeling (rightly or wrongly) other historically evangelical seminaries as no longer evangelical and who then came to the UK for doctoral study found the breadth of British definitions of evangelicalism and the comparative lack of a polemical environment like a breath of fresh air” (Trueman, Gray, Blomberg, Solid Ground: 25 Years of Evangelical Theology [IVP, 2000] 315). Yet, this desire for lack of criticism and just an irenic spirit in Christian academics hardly finds legitimacy in terms of the biblical model displayed in the OT and NT. Much of the OT castigated God’s people for their compromising on belief or behavior (e.g. Numbers 11–14; Psalm 95). Under today’s sentiments, the OT might be labeled anti-Semitic due to its criticism of Jewish people. In the New Testament, whole books were composed to criticize false teaching and wrong behavior on the part of God’s people (Galatians, 1–2 Corinthians, Pastorals, 1–3 John, Rev. 2–3). Jesus himself fearlessly castigated powerful groups of important people (Matt. 21–23). One is reminded of the satirical pieces that have been done on the fact that if Paul wrote Galatians today, he likely would have been vilified in many popular Christian magazines today.

In Chapter 16, Precision and Accuracy,” Bock asserts that the genre of the gospels is a form of ancient Greco-Roman biography known as bios: “[w]hen we think about the Gospels, there sometimes is a debate about the genre of this material. There was a time when this material was considered unique in its literary orientation. However, recently a consensus has emerged that the Gospels are a form of ancient bios.” (368). He echoes the thinking of Charles Talbert and British theologian Richard Burridge who popularized this view (Burridge, What Are the Gospels? [Cambridge, 2004] and Talbert, What is a Gospel? [Fortress, 1977]). Yet, this assertion that the gospels being a form of ancient bios is fraught with dangers for historical matters surrounding the Gospels since it can lead readily to de-emphasizing the Gospels as historical documents. For example, this opinion of the gospels as bios has recently created a storm of controversy with Michael Licona’s work, The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historigraphcial Aproach (IVP, 2010) where he uses bios as a means of dehistoricizing parts of the Gospel (i.e. Matthew 27:51–53 with the resurrection of the saints after Jesus crucifixion). Licona argued “Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches . . . and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid, 34).

Bock argues, “[i]n ancient biography actions and sayings are the focus of the portrayal. The timing of the events is of less concern that the fact that they happened. Sometimes figures from distinct periods can be juxtaposed in ways that compare how they acted. The model of the figure that explains his greatness and presents him as one worthy of imitation stands at the core of the presentation. The central figure in a bios often is inspiring. The presentation of Jesus in the Gospels fits this general goal . . . This genre background is our starting point.” (368).

Operating from this consensus of the gospel as bios, Bock argues that the Olivet Discourse may have an “updated” saying. Comparing the disciples question in Mark 13:4 (“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” as well as Luke 21:7 (“Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”) with Matthew 24:3 (“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”). Bock notes that “something is going on between the versions in Mark and Luke in comparison to Matthew.” Bock continues, “Matthew has taken the question as it was in Mark and Luke and has presented what the disciples essentially were asking, even if they did not appreciate all the implications in the question at the time . . . . Whether the disciples say the end is in view or Matthew is drawing that out as inherent in the question asked, the point is that Matthew is drawing that out as inherent in the question asked, the point is that Matthew has made the focus of the question clearer than the more ambiguous way it is asked in Mark and Luke.” Bock asserts that “Matthew may actually be giving us the more precise force and point of the question, now paraphrased in light of a fuller understanding of what Jesus’s career was to look like.” Apparently, Bock allows for the possibility that the disciples may not have asked the question as is set forth in Matthew 24:3 but that Matthew updated the question by adding this comment to the lips of the disciples regarding the “end of the age: “Matthew has simply updated the force of the question, introducing the idea of the end [of the age] as the topic Jesus implied by his remark about the temple.” (372). One is left wondering with Bock’s postulation whether the disciples actually asked the question as Matthew presented (“end of the age”) or did Matthew add words to their lips that they did not say? Bock’s approach here is essentially a subtle form of dehistoricizing the gospels at this point. Equally plausible, however, is that the disciples did ask the question in the way in which Matthew phrased it and that a harmonization of the passage could be postulated that would not require such creative invention on the part of Matthew.

In answering the question, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, an alarming trend has been noticed among these evangelicals who pursue such a modus operandi based in historical-critical ideologies as delineated above. A subtle, and at times, not so subtle dehistoricization of the Gospels is taking place. Such an evangelical trend dangerously impacts the ICBI statements forged in 1978 (Inerrancy) and 1982 (Hermeneutics) for views of the inerrancy and interpretation of the Gospels as well as the entire OT and NT. While these evangelicals involved are to be commended for their assertion that they affirm a belief in inerrancy, their practice seems to be at odds with such an assertion. This question of historical matters mattering would seem to need a negative answer in many instances. Because these evangelicals have a problematic view of the historical basis of the Gospels, many of them have joined together in the pursuit of what is termed “searching for the ‘historical Jesus’” which is based in a philosophically driven post-modernistic historiography.

 

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BockWhoisJesus

 

BOOKFRONT

Darrell L. Bock, Who is Jesus? Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith . New York: Howard Books, 2012. 238 pp. (paper) $19.97.

Reviewed by F. David Farnell, Professor of New Testament.

THIS REVIEW ALSO COVERS BOCK/WEBB KEY EVENTS

NOTE: A Better title would be WHO ARE THESE EVANGELICALS?

This book’s operating assumption is the promotion of the historical-critical

distinction between the Christ of faith (Jesus as He is presented in the

Gospels/geschichte ) and that of the Jesus as He actually was in history

(history/historie ). Bock argues that you can abide by historical Jesus study rules and

still move toward a better historical understanding of Jesus that also explains the

faith of His earliest followers. There is no chasm between the historical Jesus and

the Jesus we worship today.

This book grows out of a ten-year study where an international group of Jesus

scholars met for one weekend each summer, taking a close look at twelve core

events in the life of Jesus. These scholars argue that a person can play by many of

the historical rules and still appreciate that the gist of these events has been

rendered in our earliest sources. Who is Jesus? is a treatment of the technical study

that can be appreciated by non-scholars.

Bock takes the reader through the rules of historical Jesus study and then states

the key rules used in this study. He then takes us through twelve events of Jesus’

life with the following structure: considering the rules to see if they open the door

for seeing the event as authentic, examining the objections, and considering how

the relevant background opens up the event and what it means for understanding

Jesus.

The events examined include John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus, the

choosing of the Twelve, Jesus’ association with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus

and the Sabbath, Jesus and exorcism, Peter’s declaration at Caesarea Philippi,

Jesus’ triumphal entry, Jesus’ temple act, the Last Supper, the examination by

Jewish leadership, the examination by Pilate and crucifixion, and the women

discovering the empty tomb.

After applying the rules of historical Jesus study to the twelve events, Bock

concludes, “They affirm to us that the Jesus of history links to and discloses the

Christ of faith” (214).

Several replies to this positive view draw a much more sober and startling

reality. The reader is urged to search for further information including this

reviewer’s two-part series in The Master’s Seminary Journal on “Evangelicals and

the Search for the ‘Historical Jesus’” (22:2 [Spring 2012]; part two forthcoming,

Spring 2013) for much greater scope of information. Some things, however, can be

noted on this book. First, little to celebrate exists in this book. Instead, it is clear,

demonstrable proof that The Jesus Crisis (Kregel, 1998; hereafter TJC) was

prescient in its prediction that a horrific crisis regarding the inerrancy-reliability of

the Gospel documents exists among European and British-trained evangelical

scholars who differ little from New Testament critical scholarship as a whole.

While Bock issued a scathing review against TJC (BSac 157 [April-June 2000],

232–36), this latest book demonstrates that the book was very accurate as to the

state of vast sections of evangelical scholarship. Bock has now admitted that they

use the same rules to “search” for Jesus as the critical scholars do. This is proof

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positive that the TJC sounded the correct warning. Evangelical scholars no longer

accept the Gospels at face value; they now must apply rules of critical scholarship

to demonstrate “probability” (i.e. post-modernistic historiography) that the Gospels

might have a core of historicity in them (see also Bock/Webb, Twelve Key Events–

2010).

Second,

the term “historical Jesus” is an historical-critical fiction as well as

aberration that is now being normalized among these evangelicals. It posits a

heretical position that the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history are

somehow different—they are not . It is best perhaps termed the “existential Jesus.”

A close examination of the questing reveals that the “historical Jesus” is whatever

the quester a priori determines Jesus to be or wants Him as somehow significantly

in distinction from the biblical documents. After an arbitrary a priori decision has

been made on a preconceived concept of Jesus, criteria of authenticity, stemming

from tradition criticism, can be applied to the Gospels and that concept of Jesus

affirmed. Since the criteria are subjective and conflicting, other criteria can be

invented and applied to ensure the desired outcome. The critical weakness, as well

as subjectivity, of these criteria lies in the fact that the same criteria can be applied

or countered with different criteria to ensure whatever view has already been

assumed.

Third, a close corollary is

“questing” or searching for the historical Jesus and

may be defined as a philosophically-motivated historical-critical construct that the

Jesus as presented in the Gospels is not the same or is not to be identified fully with

the Jesus who actually lived in history. Underlying the questing is the assumption

that “scientific” research showed that the Jesus of history was different from the

Christ of Scripture, the creeds, orthodox theology, and Christian piety. These

evangelicals have bought into philosophical systems that are inherently hostile to

God’s Word without due consideration of their destructive nature.

Fourth, one cannot overstress that the rise of modern philosophical ideologies

inherent in historical criticism generates such distinctions between Jesus as He is

presented in the canonical Gospels and conceptualizations of how He is alleged to

have been actually in history. Hostile philosophical underpinnings of the ideology

in terms of a virulent anti-supernaturalism create these hypothetical distinctions.

The overarching intent in these searches is the destruction of the influence of the

Gospels, as well as the church, over society . Evangelicals now are unwittingly

participating in the Gospels’ destruction by normalizing such principles in research.

Fifth, critical scholarship can take these very same arguments or criteria of

authenticity used by Bock and negate the Gospels. What is “probability” for Bock

is not to critical scholarship who would merely say that Bock has in a priori fashion

imposed his evangelical beliefs on the Gospel texts. The clear loser in this is now

the Gospels. A simple question would be asked: Whom have these evangelicals

convinced of the wisdom of their approach beyond themselves? I would doubt that

any opponents of the Gospels are convinced. What has resulted is that the Gospels

are now subject for their historicity or reliability upon the shifting sands of “one-upmanship”

of who can beg the question in applying these principles, i.e. assume

what they are trying to prove. In reality, these evangelicals have proved nothing.

Somewhat like jujitsu, their critical counterparts can apply equally negating

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arguments to fend off any evangelical assertions. The loser again, however, is the

Gospels and their integrity.

Sixth, this book is in clear violation of the ICBI 1978 and 1982 inerrancy

statements that affirm “grammatico-historical” rather than “historical-critical”

hermeneutics employed by Bock in this work. If this continues, these British and

European evangelicals involved in this endeavor will have effectively eviscerated

these two hard won documents because they have forgotten history:

Article XVIII:

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammaticohistorical

exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that

Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of

the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing,

dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to

authorship.

Bock and those involved in searching now imitate critical scholarship with their

historical-critical, post-modernistic historiography. The loser is the Gospels.

This book is demonstrable proof that the Gospels are safer in the hands of lay

people in church pews than in the hands of evangelical critical scholarship who

diligently must search for the “historical Jesus” and contemplate “Who is Jesus?”

This reviewer would urge these evangelicals to open up their Bibles to God’s record

in the Gospels rather than concentrating on this Spinozan, philosophical tragedy

purposely designed by the father of historical criticism to destroy them.

Finally, this book, as well as Key Events (2012) and the ten long years of their

efforts, is all for naught. All the efforts of these evangelicals are now dubious.

Recent British-influenced scholars are now calling for the rejection of these criteria

so diligently used by Bock, Webb, et. al. Chris Keith, echoing the earlier warning of

Morna Hooker, says about these criteria, “they cannot deliver” what they are

designed to do (Theology 75 [1972], 570)

. Keith argues instead that scholars need

“to set these particular tools down and find other means of searching” such as

“memory” theories (Jesus, Criteria and the Demise of the Authenticity , Edinburgh:

T&T Clark, 2012. 48). Bottom line: all of these evangelical efforts are and will be

futile, founded on the constantly shifting sands of the whim of scholarly arrogance.

The scholarly whims have shifted. The losers will always be God’s Word as well as

any evangelicals who subject the Word to these useless endeavors. Bottom line,

this book accomplishes nothing except to add unnecessary doubt to the Gospels. It

also serves to show how pathetically desperate these evangelicals are in portraying

themselves as British-influenced critical scholars, all at the cost of the integrity of

God’s Word.

 

 

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