June 10, 2010

Source Criticism vs. 'Gospel History'

Modern Biblical Criticism has assumed the Gospels were handed down orally or that the earliest written sources were merely collections of the Lord’s teachings. On this basis, as if general skepticism wasn’t already enough, the secular Academy in Biblical Studies has concluded that the content of the Gospels must not be very useful for the reconstruction of historical events. It should go without saying there is another way to view things.

If it could be shown that Jesus’ earliest followers made any kind of written records of his words and deeds, the historic value of Gospel events would be infinitely greater than scholars currently allow. Of course this case cannot be proven, but at the very least it should be no less valid an assumption to begin from than the ones which currently hold rank in Universities and – yes – even in Seminaries.

If the Gospels are merely “portraits” of Jesus Christ and his life, then we really do have to take an awful lot on faith, which is fine. However, if the Gospels are the historical testimony of reliable eyewitnesses, whose first hand recollections were added to early journals and notes kept by the disciples of Jesus themselves… that simple adjustment in presuppositions starting points could change everything about New Testament studies.

And wouldn't that be great?


Anonymous said...

You are correct, there is another way to view things. But Modern Biblical Criticism arrives at its assumptions via D F Strauss, who convinced reasonable people the Jesus stories are not historical. The "historical testimony" way is the Flat Earth way.

Bill Heroman said...

If you say so, Nony.

Or not.

Anonymous said...

If you say so, Nony. Or not.

I see. So you have not read Strauss, or Schweitzer? Then, not knowing the history of NT scholarship in the 19th century, your guesses about the origins of NT scholarship in the 20th are understandable. Wrong. But understandable.

I thought you were equipped to discuss the scholarship. My mistake. Sorry to bother you.

Bill Heroman said...


You tell me who you are, and I'll tell you what I know.

Anonymous said...

I have read Strauss and Schweitzer and most current work on the historical Jesus is far beyond the influence of both. Schweitzer by the way uncritically accepted the gospel accounts/material as historical and it is for this that he has been largely criticized today. I don't know a single recent NT work on the historical Jesus (last 20-30 years) that seriously interacts with Strauss or even thoroughly reviews/critiques his work . . . unless one do so in a tedious review of scholarship. His work has virtually no impact on current historical Jesus research.

But that is not really the point of this blog post is it. I was just blog stocking and ran across this blog. I would just like to say to have a "portrait" of Jesus in the gospels is not necessarily a bad thing . . . the question depends on how accurate a portrait we have. And though I don't accept the gospels as completely historical, I do believe they give a highly reliable portrait of the historical Jesus. Have you had a chance to read James Dunn's work on the transmission of oral tradition? It is quite good I feel. Take a look at Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Ch 8 (173-254). I think you will find that there are more in the biblical academy that place a good deal of trust in the history of the gospels . . . though perhaps not absolute trust . . . which is perhaps what you are demanding.

Oh, my name is Adam Winn and I have a PhD in NT and teach as an adjunct at various institutions.

Bill Heroman said...

Thank you, Dr. Adam, for that very helpful and well-informed comment.

By the way, I don't demand. I just start with a different set of assumptions, hoping some PhD's such as yourself might soon be willing to try it that way.

Personally, I think Christian scholarship within the academy is way too defensive. Why suppose we have only a 'reliable portrait'? Is it not from a heritage of compromising with skeptical Enlightenment assertions?

(Not that there's anything wrong with that, sometimes. But it shouldn't be what we do *all* the time, imho.)

PS: I do have Dunn's JR, but I've only skimmed it. I'll bookmark those pages to peruse sometime soon. Thanks for the tip.

Glad to make your acquaintance. Hope to see you around some more, soon...

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