Lecture 04: Rules of Scholarship
Course: Why We Trust Our Bible
Lecture: Rules of Scholarship
Here, we will look at the rules that critical scholarship uses to decide whether a verse belongs in the Bible or not. He takes those rules and flips them around and in even using those rules; you can still prove that a lot of what is in the Bible is true. Understand that just because you can’t prove something, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Even if you can’t prove to a liberal critical scholar whether a verse belongs in the Bible or not, it doesn’t mean it is just made up.
Many people have different kinds of questions about trusting the Bible; things like, is it real? Is it authentic? Did the Biblical writers get the story correct? Did the church alter it through the centuries? A lot of these questions as a pastor forced me to deal with a lot of these issues. As a translator, one is also making decisions on whether this is the correct English word to use or not? Will it give someone the wrong idea or make someone believe or not believe the Bible. These are real issues that translators struggle with. How do you prove that the historical Jesus is the Christ of faith or isn’t? So, what level of proof do we need or how high do we set that level of proof in order to say that you believe that the Scriptures are true and accurately reflect the historical Jesus. Just because you can’t prove something, doesn’t mean it is wrong. I’ll state this in another way; just because you can’t prove something doesn’t mean it is not authentic. So, as we go through this discussion of memory and how reliable it is, the idea of being able to prove something or not doesn’t make it so.
Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2nd Thessalonians 2:2 that they may have received a false letter that seemed to be from Paul saying that the Day of the Lord had come. So, someone wrote a false letter to the church saying that Christ’s return had already happened. Later on in Galatians in 6:11 Paul says, ‘see what large letters I’m writing, that is how I sign all of my books.’ Apparently, it was his signature of authenticity; the assumption was that people were forging letters supposedly from Paul.
II. Multiple Attestations
Some of the things we look for in order to determine whether the writing is historically accurate or note include what we call multiple attestations. This is where everyone is saying the same thing. When you hear the same story being told by different people, it increases the likelihood that what they are saying is true. The same thing happens with the Gospels, if you have different streams of traditions, the more you have, the more you can argue within the context of critical scholarship that it actually happened. For the Gospels, we have about five different streams, multiple attestations, of tradition. The first is the Gospel of Mark because it was the first Gospel that was written. We read in Mark and learn what Jesus did and said. There is another document known as ‘Q’ from a German word as a as a meaningful source. It seemed to have been a collection of teachings of Jesus. That source is no longer available as it is only a hypothetical theory in the first place. You can go to Matthew and Luke and read the same story that is not in Mark and they are often word for word. So it really looks like that Matthew and Luke were citing another source. So that source was called Q. Almost all of Mark is in both Matthew and Luke with this Q document that occurred in both Matthew and Luke. There was no reason to keep it since it was in Matthew and Luke. But there are also other traditions that we call ‘M’. This was information about Jesus that is only found in Matthew and then we have a fourth stream of tradition cleverly called ‘L’ and this is material that is only in Luke. So Mark sits down and writes his Gospel which is the first one. Matthew sits down and has Mark and Q and his own material and writes the Book of Matthew. Luke comes along and he has Mark, Q and his own material which we call L and he writes the Gospel of Luke. So these represent four streams of tradition; four multiple attestations or four different sources of information about Jesus and of course, we have the Gospel of John who writes out of his own personal experiences. This gives us five different streams, providing us with similar events and teachings.
For example in considering the phrase, the Son of Man where some of these emphasize Jesus’ humanity. Some emphasize his coming persecution and suffering. But there are other Son of Man sayings that talk about him coming as an apocalyptic divine figure and judge of the whole world. Interestingly, all three of these are attested to these various streams of tradition and yet critical scholarship will accept the first two but not the last one, Jesus being the coming judge of the living and the dead; that he is going to judge the world. The argument is that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t accept some of these sayings and not some of the others when they are all tied together. This is a very powerful argument within the scope of scholarship. So when it comes to asking whether the writers are historically accurate, when we see the same event being taught multiple times from different people, then you can argue that it is a greater chance of being accurate.
So, if you don’t see that Jesus saw himself as the coming apocalyptic judge from the prophet Daniel as when Jesus stood before Pilate telling Pilate that someday he would be the judge. Assumptions play a role in thinking what is authentic and what isn’t. It is not just pure science. Another point which should be encouraging is the role of the Holy Spirit. Remember in John 14:26 in the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit who the Father will send in my name will instruct you (the eleven disciples) regarding all things and cause you to remember everything that I have told you. Now, that verse isn’t going to convince a skeptic that there should be more ‘red’ in the Bible and less ‘black’ as to the way the Jesus Seminar decided on things. This should be an encouragement to all of us thinking back to this period of oral tradition and the accuracy of their memories, it was one of the functions of the Holy Spirit was to keep the memories of the disciples accurate. So do I have any trouble believing that someone in a rabbinic oral culture under the power of the Holy Spirit remembered the stories about whether the stories of Jesus were accurate or not? I don’t have any trouble at all. My memory isn’t like those who lived in an oral culture.
If it is not similar to Judaism which is the past and not similar to the early church which represents the future, then the likelihood of the sayings authenticity increases. And not much passes this rule.
Other reasons for historical accuracy include embarrassing sayings. The argument is, if the church was willing to make up sayings, would they have made up these particular sayings. There are things in the Gospels that are indeed embarrassing to the original audience, to the characters involved in the story. If the church was just willing to make up stories, would it have made up these sayings? Interestingly, what seems similar to one person may not seem similar to the next person. Another category that is related to this are what is called the hard sayings of Jesus. There are things that Jesus says that are really difficult to process and the church just would not have made these things up. For example, Luke 14:26, Jesus says, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate their mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even their own life; such a person cannot be my disciple.’ Would you have made such a thing up? What about Mark 13: 42 where Jesus says, ‘I don’t even know when the end of time is going to happen; only God the Father knows when I am going to return again.’ Wow! You are the second member of the Godhead and there is stuff that you don’t know? The argument is that these hard sayings are included because the Gospel writers know they happened and that they are important. If they were only to make up stories, they would not have made up these difficult sayings.
Other reasons for historical accuracy include embarrassing sayings. The argument is, if the church was willing to make up sayings, would they have made up these particular sayings. There are things in the Gospels that are indeed embarrassing to the original audience, to the characters involved in the story. If the church was just willing to make up stories, would it have made up these sayings? For example, Jesus goes out and picks twelve people to be with him for three and a half years. One of them tried to kill him, Judas. That is embarrassing. The Gospel writers are saying that Jesus was the Son of God, he was here on a divine mission and yet he chose Judas, someone who tried to kill him. Why? Or perhaps at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus and Peter had a little altercation where Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he is going to suffer and then Jesus calls Peter Satan. If you were making up the Gospel story, would you take the head of the church and would you have Jesus rebuke him calling him Satan? This is embarrassing that Peter was so totally misunderstood in rebuking Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer and he got rebuked in return. You wouldn’t make up something like this. There are quite a few of these embarrassing situations within the Gospel. So the point here is: if the Gospel writers are trying to be historically accurate, then this is part of the story that they are going to record it, because it is historically accurate as it happened. But if you were just making up stories, you wouldn’t make up these kinds of stories.
VI. Cultural congruence
When he was before the Sanhedrin and they were judging him and in Matthew 26:64 Jesus quotes the Daniel passage about the Son of Man coming with clouds to judge them. Through this, he is saying, I am the Daniel Son of Man and I am the celestial judge before whom all of you will someday stand. He collected twelve disciples to create the true Israel. Who would do this? Then you have those wonderful I AM sayings in John where Jesus says before Abraham was, I AM quoting God’s most holy name that we get from the burning bush. The Jews understood that he was claiming to be the I AM, the Yahweh, the Jehovah and God of the burning bush and they tried to kill him which is what one is supposed to do when someone commits blasphemy in Jewish law.
VII. Inherent ambiguity
Can you prove that the Bible is trustworthy?’ The answer to that is ‘no’. You can’t prove it but the fact of matter; you really can’t prove anything, not really. You can’t prove the existence of God for a deist; neither can you prove that there is no God for an atheist. You can’t prove evolution nor can you prove
creationism. We have our beliefs on it but you can’t prove it. If you listening to this class and you are looking for definite proof, beyond any doubt, where you can know that such and such is true, it is simply not possible, but this applies to anything in life. This is the nature of reality, as all belief systems are precisely that: they are belief or faith systems. You can try to set yourself extremely high standards to the point of proving the church didn’t alter the message of Jesus; those standards will not hold up. Of course if you set the standards too low, then you can’t convince anyone that it is true. So in regards to this question: can I prove the Bible is trustworthy, the answer is no. But the other side of what we are talking about; is it a rational belief? I believe that answer is yes. I don’t have to have all these points clarified to be a Christian nor to believe the Bible is trustworthy. There is good evidence and argumentation; it is an internally consistent and coherent argument; I think that it is the most rational thing you can do; you can believe that the Bible is trustworthy. Again, can I prove it? No! But can I create a cogent rational argument that holds together? Yes, I believe I can.
Did the Biblical writers get the story correct? Did the church alter it through the centuries? A lot of these questions as a pastor forced me to deal with a lot of these issues. I have also been a translator in a New Testament chair for ten years with the ESV and I am currently on the NIV committee. Another point: the argument is whether the church was willing l to go take a name and attach it to an anonymous gospel, would they have picked Matthew, Mark and Luke? I don’t believe they would not have picked these three people to give credibility of an anonymous gospel. So why would anyone attach Mark’s name to the second Gospel. There would be no reason to, except that there was a very strong tradition that Mark wrote that Gospel and the church honored that tradition. And it was important for the church to get this right. Another way of looking at it, sense we know from Paypius, the church historian, through Eusebius, Mark was really writing down the memories of Peter. Why isn’t it the Gospel of Peter as he was the person who stood behind it? Apparently, the church wasn’t willing to ignore the traditions which said that Mark wrote it. This tells you how the church viewed authorship; they weren’t willing to ignore traditions.
VIII. Three Test Cases
The best example of this in the Gospels would be the birth narratives. Let’s look and compare Matthew and Luke. Matthew starts with a genealogy where Luke starts with the visit of the angels along with John the Baptist. Then they come together and agree that Jesus was born and shepherds came to visit them and then other things and they both agree that Jesus ends up in Nazareth years later. So you have a different beginning, then you have a similarity of the birth, the shepherds and Nazareth but then you have totally different things happening between these points. In Matthew you have the wise men coming and you have Herod killing all the babies two years old and younger. You have the flight to Egypt and Herod dying and then with Joseph returning to Nazareth. But in Luke, after the shepherds is the circumcision in the temple, the naming and the offering in the temple and Jesus ends up in Nazareth. So how could you trust two different stories that are so different? So let’s look at harmonization. When it comes to the magi, there are two points: where was Jesus when the magi came? Chapter 2:11. He is in a house. And we know that Herod was crazy and evil and if Jesus had just been born, why would he kill babies that were two years old and younger? One of the clues includes the time the baby was circumcised which is usually eight days after birth. So we know that the circumcision happened immediately, but the magi weren’t so sure. Then you have the naming and offering in the temple and again we know that this happened relatively quickly. But you also have the story of Simeon who has been told that he will not die until he sees the Messiah. He sees Jesus and then breaks forth into this beautiful hymn about Jesus being a light to the gentiles. One of Luke’s themes is that the Gospel is not just for the Jews but also for the gentiles. This story sets the stage for Jesus and his ministry for gentiles also. This is why the travel narrative of Jesus is longer than in other Gospels. This involved a ministry to the gentiles which is very important to Luke; so from the first day, Jesus was destined to be a light to the gentiles.
So how are we going to put all these things together? Can you think of some kind of situation that could give rise for both of these accounts? Yeah, it is actually very simple! So Jesus was born, the shepherds came that night and eight days later, he was taken to be circumcised and after that named and offered in the temple. And then, very easily they could have returned to Bethlehem as Joseph was from Bethlehem, being his ancestral home. So he could have stayed there for a while, a year or year and a half; the magi come and Herod finds out from the magi. Jesus could have been alive for least a year; Herod goes to kill all the babies that are two years old and younger. So Mary and Joseph head for Egypt and after Herod’s death, they return home to Nazareth. So this is a possible way to handle the birth of Jesus and makes perfectly good sense. There was a selection of material and there are purposes governing that selection. In the Matthew passage, there are prophecies such as ‘out of Egypt, I have called my Son.’ It was important for Jesus to be seen as the fulfillment of Prophecy and this prophecy was from Hosea. When the babies were killed, this is a fulfillment of prophecy, something that was important to the Jews, but not so important for the gentiles. Luke doesn’t have any real reason to include this, but yet, this is what harmonization is. When it comes to apparent contradictions in the synoptic Gospels, harmonization solves just about any perceived problem.
Note that at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus and Peter had a little altercation where Peter rebukes Jesus for saying that he is going to suffer and then Jesus calls Peter Satan. If you were making up the Gospel story, would you take the head of the church and would you have Jesus rebuke him calling him Satan?
This is embarrassing that Peter was so totally misunderstood in rebuking Jesus for saying that he was going to suffer and he got rebuked in return. You wouldn’t make up something like this. There are quite a few of these embarrassing situations within the Gospel. So the point here is: if the Gospel writers are trying to be historically accurate, then this is part of the story that they are going to record it, because it is historically accurate as it happened. But if you were just making up stories, you wouldn’t make up these kinds of stories.
Usually when a dignitary comes to a city, officials go out from the city and greet the dignitary. So Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king but what do the leaders do? They complain, tell your disciples to stop. What does Jesus say? If they do not cry out, the stones will cry out. Note that whenever creation is said to talk
or have the possibility of talking, that’s important. The creation of God which is animated in this passage, seen as living and breathing, accepts the witness of what is represented here and if the disciples had not done it, the creation would have responded. So when creation speaks, people are supposed to listen. The background to this is from Zachariah 9:9 ‘Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Look! Your king is coming to you: he is legitimate and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey – on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey. Also there is a passage in 1st Kings where Solomon comes into the city. There’s praise for God’s great work, there is praise for Davidic hope. He enters as the promised King, offering himself to the city. The disciples are praising him as doing the works of God and the other people are those who are pouring into the city during these pilgrim feasts. The leader’s reaction which is only in Luke is to stop. There are other passages from Genesis 4 and Habakkuk 2 that are also examples of creation talk. The blood of Able cries out in one of those passages. And then Jesus weeps and predicts the judgment for covenant unfaithfulness. ‘So Jesus wept over it, saying, if you had only known on this day, even you, the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Jesus continues, for the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and surround you and close in on you from every side. They will demolish you – you and your children within your walls – and they will not leave within you one stone on top of another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’ And so the exile judgment declared in Luke 13 is confirmed here by this remark in a prediction that comes in the destruction of Jerusalem. Note now that the judgment that followed in AD 70 was part of the eschatological calendar. It represents a confirmation that the nation has been judged and the nation in effect