WHERE WE ARE
Here is one of the main issues between Joe Hinman and me:
In recent decades has a significant portion of NT scholars shifted from the previously dominant view that the Fourth Gospel is historically UNRELIABLE to the previously minority view that the Fourth Gospel is historically RELIABLE?
My answer to this question is “NO”, and Hinman’s answer is “YES”. This indicates that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is based on WISHFUL THINKING rather than on facts and evidence.
Joe Hinman’s WISHFUL THINKING about NT scholarship is based in part on a quote from Kermit Zarley. But, as I argued in a previous post, that quote shows that Zarely was engaged in WISHFUL THINKING about the views of three NT scholars. Hinman is basing his huge indulgence in WISHFUL THINKING on a smaller dose of WISHFUL THINKING by Zarley.
Zarley claimed that three NT scholars named Paul Anderson, Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher, all concluded that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable.” after they had engaged in an in-depth re-examination of the 4th Gospel. This claim is clearly FALSE, and since Zarley is an Evangelical Christian who has “a fairly conservative view” of the inspiration of the NT, it seems likely that his mistaken understanding of the views of these three NT scholars was based on WISHFUL THINKING. Zarley WISHED it to be the case that some serious NT scholars arrived at the conclusion that the 4th Gospel was HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, because that would confirm his religious beliefs about the inspiration of the NT.
Hinman makes a stronger claim than Zarley. Hinman asserts that in recent decades there has been “a trend involving many scholars” in which “John has a new credibility”. Because Hinman makes these assertions in response to my claim that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, and because Hinman quotes Zarley’s assertion about three NT scholars arriving at the conclusion that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable”, it is clear in this context, that Hinman is claiming that there is a recent trend in NT scholarship that involves MANY NT scholars who have adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE. So, Hinman’s claim is stronger and broader than Zarley’s claim, but Hinman’s claim is also clearly FALSE, just like Zarley’s claim.
I don’t think Hinman has “a fairly conservative view” of the inspiration of the NT, but Hinman does WISH that the 4th Gospel was found by serious NT scholars to be HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, because Hinman desperately WISHES that he could REFUTE the Swoon Theory (and the Survival Theory), but he needs historical claims based on the 4th Gospel in order to do this. So, if I am correct that Hinman’s view of recent NT scholarship is clearly FALSE, then it is reasonable to conclude that Hinman’s mistaken view of NT scholarship is based on WISHFUL THINKING, just like Zarley’s mistaken view is based on WISHFUL THINKING.
THE RECENT TREND OF NT SCHOLARSHIP CONCERNING THE 4TH GOSPEL
Zarley was right that the three NT scholars that he named were promoting a NEW VIEW about the 4th Gospel, but he was WRONG about the content of that NEW VIEW. These three NT scholars were NOT promoting the view that “The Fourth Gospel is historically reliable.” Zarley just WISHED that was the case. Hinman is also right that there has been “a trend involving many scholars” in recent decades concerning the 4th Gospel, but like Zarley, Hinman is WRONG about the content of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel that has recently been adopted by many NT scholars.
Rather than leaning on Zarley, who has no degrees in NT studies or Jesus studies or ancient history or in any academic discipline that is relevant to NT scholarship or the scholarly study of the historical Jesus, we should turn to someone who is a bona fide NT scholar or Jesus scholar and who has written about the recent trend in NT scholarship concerning the 4th Gospel.
One such scholar is James Charlesworth. Here are his credentials (from his Profile page at Princeton Theological Seminary):
Charlesworth has written about the “trend involving many scholars” concerning the NEW VIEW about the Fourth Gospel in relation to issues about the historical Jesus. He wrote about this trend in an article called “The Historical Jesus in the Fourth Gospel: A Paradigm Shift?”
But there might well be more than just one recent trend in NT scholarship concerning the Fourth Gospel. How do we know that the NEW VIEW that Charlesworth discusses is the same one that Zarley and Hinman are talking about?
First, Charlesworth participated in the scholarly SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) project that was led by Paul Anderson, Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher and that involved a re-examination of the 4th Gospel (the “John, Jesus, and History” project), with a focus on questions of history and historicity. Zarley’s quote–provided by Hinman–specifically refers to that SBL project in his comments about the NEW VIEW about the Fourth Gospel.
Second, Paul Anderson, who was one of the leaders of the SBL project on the Fourth Gospel, in his essay about the SBL project on the Fourth Gospel, specifically points to the above mentioned essay by James Charlesworth as being a key essay about the rise of the NEW VIEW about the Fourth Gospel:
Third, in the article by Charlesworth that I will be referencing, Charlesworth refers to the scholarly SBL project on the Fourth Gospel as evidence of the rise of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel:
Fourth, as we shall soon see, the way that Charlesworth describes the NEW VIEW about the 4th Gospel is the same as the way that Anderson described this NEW VIEW about the 4th Gospel, so they are CLEARLY both talking about the SAME trend among NT scholars concerning the 4th Gospel.
In that article Charlesworth points out some particular scholars who are part of the trend, who hold a NEW VIEW about the 4th Gospel.
So, in order to test Hinman’s view, I will examine the views of seven scholars that Charlesworth points out as being part of the recent trend concerning a NEW VIEW about the 4th Gospel, in order to determine whether those scholars have concluded that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE. If most or all of the scholars that Charlesworth points out as being part of the recent trend have NOT concluded that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, then that will provide us with facts and evidence showing that Hinman’s view about the “trend involving many scholars” concerning the 4th Gospel is CLEARLY FALSE.
THE OLD VIEW VS. THE NEW VIEW OF THE FOURTH GOSPEL
Both Anderson and Charlesworth describe the OLD VIEW of the 4th Gospel in very similar ways.
Here is how Paul Anderson describes (in his essay about the SBL project concerning the 4th Gospel) the OLD VIEW that he and Just and Thatcher and other NT scholars are challenging:
…John is fundamentally off limits for historicity and Jesus studies.
Nearly all other ancient Christian gospel material is suitable for conducting Jesus research, including apocryphal and Gnostic writings, but not John.
…simply claiming that “nothing” in John is historical, and that John should be banned from historical Jesus research altogether.
…some critical scholars over the last two centuries have excluded nearly all Johannine content from the quest of the Jesus of history…
Here is how James Charlesworth describes (in his article on the “new paradigm” about the 4th Gospel) the OLD VIEW that he and other NT scholars involved in the SBL Project about the Fourth Gospel are challenging:
The Gospel of John has been either ignored or used marginally in the study of the historical Jesus. Careful study of the realia mentioned in the Gospel of John and explorations of the topography and architectural structures mentioned in the Gospel indicate that it must not be ignored or used only sporadically in Jesus research. … (p.3)
…those who have written a life of Jesus over the past one hundred years have focused on Mark and the Synoptics [i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke]. Against this strong consensus, the present essay points to a growing propensity of some of the best experts devoted to Jesus research; some are no longer branding John as a ‘spiritual’ work devoid of historical information. (p.3)
… my focused question is the following: Is it wise to ignore the Fourth Gospel in re-constructing the life, mission and message of Jesus from Nazareth?(p.4)
As J.D.G. Dunn reports, ‘the Fourth Gospel had been effectively knocked out of the quest’. Subsequently, Jesus scholars depended on, sometimes only on, the Synoptics [i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke], and among them most notably Mark. (p.5)
More and more, John was ignored by scholars devoted to the so-called Quest of the Historical Jesus. In the past half century, many exceptionally influential scholars, prosecuting research on the historical Jesus, stress that only the Synoptics [i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke] are to be followed in reconstructing Jesus’ life and message. (p.6)
Clearly, Anderson and Charlesworth AGREE that the OLD VIEW of NT scholars about the 4th Gospel is that the 4th Gospel should be ignored in relation to the scholarly study of the historical Jesus. This implies that the NEW VIEW is that the 4th Gospel should NOT be ignored, but should be studied and taken into consideration by scholars who investigate the historical Jesus.
SEVEN NT SCHOLARS WHO REPRESENT THE NEW VIEW OF THE 4TH GOSPEL
In his “pivotal essay” about the NEW VIEW of the Fourth Gospel, James Charlesworth identifies two scholars who were early advocates of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel:
In assessing the status quaestionis regarding the appropriateness of using John in Jesus research, it is possible to perceive a growing tendency to include John. This recent trend was foreshadowed by C.H. Dodd’s well-known Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel and Raymond E. Brown’s publications, including The Death of the Messiah. (p.35)
Charlesworth also identifies five “leading” scholars who represent the NEW VIEW:
We have chosen to indicate five leading scholars have now argued that John must be included in Jesus research; they are Meier, Theissen with Merz, Bauckham, Anderson, and Smith. (p.38)
1. In the voluminous A Marginal Jew (1991–), J.P. Meier not only claims that the ‘major source of our knowledge about the historical Jesus is … the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John)’ but shows how each Gospel intermittently provides valuable historical data. … (p.36)
2. In The Historical Jesus (1998), Theissen and Merz offer the insight: ‘[I]t is also clear that John presupposes sources with a Synoptic stamp both in the narrative tradition and in the sayings tradition. But he seems to refer back to them independently of the Synoptics.’ … (p.36)
3. In … The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (2007) , Richard Bauckham argues that John’s account of Nicodemus is reliable. … (p.36)
4. In The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus (2006), P.N. Anderson published the first voluminous book which seeks to show that John is imperative in Jesus research. His book is more than an exhortation to include John in the study of the historical Jesus; it is a polemic against the myopic use of the Synoptics. … (p.37)
5. In The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions (2008), D.M. Smith publishes for the first time four essays that focus on history in John … Smith seeks to demonstrate that there is some historical basis in John’s narrative presentation of Jesus. … (p.37)
In order to determine whether Hinman’s claim is true or false, I will attempt to answer the following seven key questions:
Q1. Did C.H. DODD conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Q2. Did RAYMOND BROWN conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Q3. Did J.P. MEIER conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Q4. Did THEISSEN and MERZ conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Q5. Did RICHARD BAUCKHAM conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Q6. Did P.N. ANDERSON conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
Q7. Did D.M. SMITH conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?
If all or most of these NT scholars did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus, then that will show that Hinman’s claim is CLEARLY FALSE, and that his claim is based on WISHFUL THINKING.
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