I assert that:
1. Most scholars reject, doubt, or question the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. The claim that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses and the close associates of eyewitness is held by only a small minority of scholars, almost exclusively consisting of evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants. As proof, see here.
2. I also assert that most scholars reject the early dating of the Gospels used by many evangelicals and conservative Protestants. As proof, read any article on the dating of the Gospels whether written by a liberal, moderate, or conservative. They will all state that the majority of modern scholars believe that the first Gospel (Mark) was written in circa 70 CE, with Matthew and Luke written approximately a decade later, and John written in approximately 90 CE.
3. In addition, I assert that a significant number of evangelicals and conservative Protestants allege that the majority scholarly positions on the above issues are due to a bias against the supernatural.
But how is this evangelical/conservative Protestant allegation possible when even most Roman Catholic scholars and many moderate Protestant scholars such as NT Wright, who very much believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus and represent a significant percentage of NT scholarship, also doubt or at least question the eyewitness authorship and early dating of the Gospels? One evangelical apologist reading my blog has questioned the veracity of my third assertion. Is it true that a significant number of evangelicals and conservative Protestants allege that most scholars are biased against the supernatural? Can I back up this assertion with evidence? Let me try (see the quotes by conservative Christians below).
Ask a conservative Christian apologist why skeptics should accept the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. His answer: Because most scholars say so.
Ask a conservative Christian apologist why skeptics should accept the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb. His answer: Because most scholars say so.
Ask a conservative Christian apologist if he accepts the majority scholarly opinion that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses or close associates of eyewitnesses. His Answer: No. Most scholars are biased.
Quotes by Conservative Christians:
William Lane Craig, conservative Christian historian and apologist: “Although most New Testament critics claim that the gospels were written after A.D. 70, that assertion, states Cambridge University’s John A. T. Robinson, is largely the result of scholarly laziness, the tyranny of unexamined presuppositions, and almost willful blindness on the part of the critics.”
(Gary: “Presuppositions” meaning…anti-supernaturalism?? “Willful blindness” meaning…bias?? Sounds to me like Craig is endorsing Robinson’s belief that scholars who hold to a later dating of the Gospels do so due to a bias against the supernatural.)
Norman Geisler, conservative theologian and apologist: It is always a danger when one sets out, as Enns does, to reconcile his view of Bible with “modern biblical scholarship”(13). More often than not, when this takes places one trades orthodoxy for academic respectability. This criticism should come as no surprise to Enns since he recognizes that one’s worldview influences how he interprets the Bible (14). He wrote: “the assumptions we have about the nature of God (which includes notions of revelation and inspiratiton…), and so on, will largely determine how we understand the evidence” (48). Why then should we expect that most of “modern biblical scholarship” (which he wishes to accommodate), based as it is on antisupernatural biases, is not reconcilable with the Bible. An attempt to reconcile a supernatural God who performed supernatural events recorded in a supernaturally inspired Book with naturalistically based scholarship which denies all of the above is doomed to failure.
Peter Williams, conservative evangelical scholar: Many scholars find themselves under peer-pressure to espouse a secular worldview in their work, and find their careers hampered by the assumption that theism has no legitimate place at the academic table.
(Gary: In other words, the work of “many” scholars is biased against theism. It is anti-supernaturalist, ie, it is not to be trusted. How is this possible when most scholars are Christian??)
JP Moreland, conservative Christian theologian: Until recent years, a fairly standard dating of the Gospels was this: Mark at 70, Matthew and Luke at 75 to 85, and John at 95. This dating was based on the belief that Mark was the earliest Gospel. It was also assumed that the Gospels were a result of a fairly long period when the Jesus tradition was circulated in various forms which would have taken time to develop and stabilize. But as we have seen in our discussion of Jewish oral tradition, there is no reason to doubt that many of the structural forms of the tradition came from Jesus himself or the early disciples. Further, there is no way of knowing how long it would have taken for a tradition to be put into forms, since there is no comparable first-century tradition which can clearly be dated at various stages of its development. Moreover, the Gospels are given these dates because of Jesus predictions of the fall of Jerusalem (70) in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. But again, this simply reflects an anti-supernatural bias.
J. Warner Wallace, conservative Christian apologist, author of “Cold Case Christianity”: When visiting with Dan Wallace, Greg Koukl and I asked him about the skepticism on the part of people like Bart Ehrman related to early dating. We asked Wallace if there was some specific manuscript evidence that inclined people to deny the early dating of the Gospel accounts. Wallace said there was no such evidence. We then asked why people continued to deny the early dating if, in fact, we were continuing to find early fragments and there was no contrary manuscript evidence. It turns out that the late dating of the gospels is due primarily to a denial of supernaturalism.
Tom Lambrecht, conservative Christian apologist: By “modern Bible scholars,” I assume you mean those following a critical interpretation of Scripture. This stems from a liberal bias against miracles, predictive prophecy, and other characteristics of the Bible. One example is the Jesus Seminar, in which scholars voted which of the Gospel sayings of Jesus were actually authentically spoken by him. I reject this approach to Scripture. There are many evangelical biblical scholars who support the authenticity of the Gospels. Even some non-evangelical scholars also support this. The textual and historical evidence for the Gospels’ authenticity is much stronger than for any other comparable historical document. It is only liberal bias that causes scholars to doubt the Bible’s authenticity. Paul in I Corinthians claims there were over 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection. And nearly all Bible scholars believe I Corinthians is authentically written by Paul. So the views of those who discount the Gospels do not concern me.
Stephan J. Bedard, conservative Christian apologist: Since critical scholars have trouble believing in real prophecy, they assume Mark wrote this after, as it was happening or just before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Often they grudgingly give Mark a date of around 68, so that the destruction might not have quite happened but yet is close enough that the writing was on the wall.
(Gary: All critical scholars have a bias against prophecy and the supernatural? I don’t think so! Most Roman Catholic scholars accept the standard dating of Mark to circa 70 CE. Are we to believe that most Roman Catholic scholars are biased against the supernatural and prophecies??)
Erik Manning, conservative Christian apologist: The consensus of critics tells us that the first gospel was written around 70 AD. The other three followed within the next 5 to 20 years. But where does this consensus come from? I’ll be straight up here. This dating comes from historians who rule out the supernatural.
Jonathon McLatchie, conservative Christian apologist, author at “Cross-Examined.Org blog”: While virtually all scholars maintain that all of the gospels were written in the first century, within liberal scholarship it is conventionally thought that all four gospels were written post-70 AD. It is my own view, however, that this proposition is largely arbitrary, and based largely on a false presumption that a prediction, on the part of Jesus regarding the destruction of the temple in AD 70, must have been composed after-the-fact.
(Gary: Most Roman Catholic scholars hold to the later dates, with Mark being composed circa 70 CE, shortly before or shortly after the destruction of the Temple. Are most Roman Catholic scholars “liberals” biased against supernatural prophecies??)
Ken Samples, conservative Christian theologian: The definition of “modern Bible scholars” can cover a lot of ground. Many of them accept anti-supernatural presuppositions. The traditional authorship of the Gospels was affirmed by some of the early church fathers. The fact that two of the Gospels carry names that were not part of the original twelve disciples favors an authenticity (if there was an intent to pad authority they would never have included Mark and Luke). I accept that Mark reflects Peter and Luke was associated closely with Paul. So I think the traditional position of eyewitness/ associate of eyewitness still makes good sense. Sometimes traditional trumps modern.
Ryan Leasure, conservative Christian pastor and apologist: With respect to your comments on the majority of New Testament scholars rejecting that the Gospels are eye-witness accounts, that’s simply not true. People who make those claims only count scholars from liberal institutions and leave out the thousands of scholars from conservative institutions who believe they’re eye-witness accounts as if their views don’t count.
(Gary: Yes, all scholars who aren’t conservative are liberals—with a bias. Most Roman Catholic scholars, who very much believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, do not believe in the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. How do you explain that, Pastor Leasure??)
Simon Peter Sutherland, conservative Christian apologist: One common notion people are presented with today is the claim that scholars now know the four Gospels of the New Testament were not written by eye-witnesses or people who actually knew Jesus of Nazareth. This type of claim is quite a common place today. We read it in books, hear it on the BBC radio, see and hear it on television and in countless documentaries. Likewise within the world of scholarship I continuously run into a head on collision with this argument by people who, when it is all said and done, know more about this argument than the narratives themselves.
(Gary: Implication: Scholars who disagree with evangelicals and fundamentalists regarding the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels are poorly informed; not because they have an informed, objective, difference of opinion.)
Rev. Dan Waldschmidt, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary: Many unbelieving scholars believe that the original stories about Jesus underwent changes and picked up fictional additions before they were finally written down in our canonical Gospels. Young people from our congregations who go to college may hear this paradigm of how the Gospels came to be. Richard Bauckham challenges this paradigm.
(Gary: Why no mention that a sizable percentage of NT scholars who are believers in Jesus, his miracles, and his bodily resurrection (most Roman Catholic scholars) who also doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels and agree with “unbelieving scholars” that the stories of Jesus underwent changes and picked up embellishments before they were finally written down in our canonical Gospels??)
Conservative Christian on the blog of conservative Christian blogger, Graham Lovell: You’re making a couple of unwarranted assumptions yourself. One is that modern scholars are accurate or can be trusted. In fact, ever since the advent of “Higher Criticism” (a misnomer if ever there was one) most modern scholars have been liberals and have therefore been eager to discredit the Bible by any means necessary.
(Gary: Lovell does not correct this false statement.)
Conservative Christian on Joel Edmundson’s blog: [O]pinions are like noses: everyone has one. My or anyone else’s opinion is worthless unless I or they have some pretty good reasons for holding it. That said, I could probably name just as many scholars who accept the Thomas story as historical as you could who don’t. But again, it’s irrelevant whether four out of five academics surveyed disbelieve it. What matters is *why* they disbelieve it, and are their reasons *credible*? I don’t believe they are. Most of those academics don’t believe the resurrection narratives as a whole are in any sense historical, so obviously they don’t accept particular details like the Thomas story as any kind of factual history. Why don’t they believe the resurrection narratives are genuine? Because many of them are strict materialists. Nothing which does not fit into their materialist worldview is allowed. Thus miracles like resurrection are ruled out of bounds before they even begin.
Conservative Christian blogger Edward Bromfield: Scholars are often wrong. You [Gary] make that point yourself in your comment [that the majority of NT scholars reject or doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels]. You’ve adopted the position that liberal scholars are correct and conservative scholars are wrong.
(Gary: Since when are Roman Catholic scholars, who believe in miracles and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, “liberals”???)
Rev. John Rasmussen, conservative Christian blogger: I’m not convinced that liberal scholarship is the best scholarship. Popularity does not necessarily correlate to credibility. If anything, the status of mainstream [scholarship] reflects that Western, post-Enlightenment [anti-supernaturalist?] opinions are mainstream.
(Gary: Notice that mainstream scholarship and liberal scholarship are assumed to be one and the same.)
Dr. Glenn Peoples, author of Right Reason blog: How do those who make up the overwhelming majority [of scholars] respond to Bauckham’s case? If your reply is that they don’t, or you don’t know, then that pretty much shows why the comment about what the majority think is kinda useless. I’ve been in the world of academic theology and biblical study long enough to know that the majority [of Bible scholars] can be just wrong because they don’t properly evaluate arguments.
(Gary: Why is Dr. Peoples alleging that the majority of Bible scholars do not properly evaluate arguments??? An anti-supernatural bias?? Peoples doesn’t say, but if we were to ask him, I would bet good money that this would be his reason.)
David Ould, conservative Anglican minister, in response to the claim made by a commenter on his blog that most scholars doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.
No, just most of the scholars that you read [reject the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.] Robust academics like Baukham have shown us that the eyewitness testimony of the gospels is entirely reliable.
(Gary: So scholars who agree with Bauckham (a very conservative Protestant scholar) are “robust academics”. And what about the rest of the Academy?? Are they lazy, sloppy academics?? This is a perfect example of “poisoning the well”. Instead of just stating that scholars have an honest, objective, difference of opinion on this issue, Rev. Ould feels it necessary to denigrate those scholars who disagree with his minority (fringe) position on the authorship of the Gospels.)
Craig Dunkley, Logic and Light blog: The idea that the gospels were anonymous has been held by skeptical New Testament scholars for many decades, though more recent scholarship is changing that. …These atheist and agnostic critics argue that they have adopted their positions because they were simply objective and dispassionately followed the evidence where it led them. The truth is, such critics routinely ignore evidence that contradicts their beliefs.
(Gary: Here again is the assumption that any scholar who rejects the eyewitness, traditional authorship of the Bible is a “skeptic” which is synonymous with “atheist and agnostic”. What about all the Roman Catholic scholars and moderate Protestant scholars who believe in the supernatural, miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus?? This false allegation is a canard!)
James Bishop, apologist and blogger: [M]ost biblical scholars have noted that many of Christ’s miracles, as well as his resurrection appearances are well attested historically. Many of them are attested to within early and independent sources, and often satisfy several criteria of authenticity. But if this is the case then why not follow through to the logical conclusion that Christ really wielded supernatural power? The answer to this is that there seems to be something more than methodological naturalism at play. There appears to be a philosophy, particularly philosophical or metaphysical naturalism, that is being factored into interpretive measures. Whereas methodological naturalism looks only for naturalistic explanations for things (thus never ruling out the possibility of a miracle), many scholars approach the texts with a philosophical naturalism which does rule out miracles. Philosophical naturalism is predicated on the belief that the supernatural does not exist, and therefore miracles do not and cannot occur.
(Gary: What a bunch of baloney! Most Bible scholars self-identify as “Christian”, which by definition means that they believe in some form of the supernatural. So alleging that “many” scholars approach the Bible with a mindset of philosophical naturalism (absolute denial of the existence of the supernatural) is ridiculous. Yes, Bart Ehrman and Gerd Luedemann may hold to philosophical naturalism, but are there any other atheist Bible scholars in the Academy?? If there are, I bet they can be counted on one hand! This oft repeated allegation is a canard!)
Dwight Longenecker, conservative Catholic priest and apologist: It is easy to understand, therefore, why skeptical New Testament scholars have relegated the magi from Matthew’s gospel to the realm of fantasy. Most ordinary Christians send their Christmas cards and attend church, never knowing that the majority of Bible scholars don’t believe the wise men existed at all. Furthermore, these scholars have taught most of the clergy that the wise men are fiction not fact. For all their lack of historical reality, the three wise men might as well be named Gandalf, Merlin, and Dumbledore rather than Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The scholars’ conclusions rest on their modernist anti-supernatural bias.
(Gary: Wow. I wonder if Father Longenecker has read the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops? If he did, he would be shocked to learn that the bishops of the Catholic Church do not hold to his very fundamentalist biblical inerrancy!)
Mighty Pursuit, conservative Christian website: Many secular scholars have dated the books in the Bible to be more towards the end of the first century. One of the primary reasons is centered around Jesus predicting the Seige of Jerusalem in AD 70 in three of the gospels (Mark 13, Luke 21, Matthew 24). This is a problem, because it means that the argument is based on a denial of supernaturalism. This kind of thinking is called circular reasoning, defined as a logical fallacy in which the reasoner begins with what they are trying to end with. This is how it works: 1. Jesus is not divine, so he couldn’t possibly predict the future.2. If he couldn’t predict the future, that must mean these references were written after 70 AD.3. Since they were written after AD 70, it’s unlikely the apostles or any eyewitnesses actually wrote the Gospels.4. Because eyewitnesses didn’t write the accounts, we can’t know what Jesus actually said or did in his lifetime.5. Since we can’t know what happened, it’s unlikely that the resurrection actually took place.6. If the resurrection didn’t take place, Jesus is not divine. If we can remove anti-supernatural bias and consider the possibility that Jesus is divine, we would have enough historical evidence to back up the claims for earlier dating.
(Gary: Nonsense. Most scholars, even Bart Ehrman, believe that the first Gospel, the Gospel of Mark was probably written circa 65-75 CE. This means that most scholars, including Ehrman, do not use the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE as the definitive determinant for dating the Gospels. Therefore, the allegation that the later dating of the Gospels is based on a anti-supernatural bias is bogus.)
Faith Facts, a conservative Christian blog: The New Testament was written entirely by eyewitnesses to the life of Christ or by interviewers of eyewitnesses (2 Peter 1:16. etc.). Many of the books were written within 25 or so years of Christ’s death, and scholars—both liberal and conservative—are moving toward the view that all of the books of the New Testament were written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. For example, scholars are in general agreement, especially, about the authorship of the books by Paul and Peter (who together wrote a majority of the New Testament). And there is further agreement among scholars that these two men were executed in the 60’s AD. The one book for which some doubt remains is Revelation. But recent scholarship holds that even this book was written prior to 70 AD.
(Gary: What is this guy smoking??? Even most conservative Bible scholars would reject the claim that all the books of the NT were written prior to 70 CE! This guy is either completely clueless or a bald face liar!)
Conservative Christian, commenting on an evangelical blog: Because so many modern scholars are skeptics or atheists is one reason why, unlike other ancient texts, the NT is presumed to be fantasy until it can be proved genuine/accurate. ….It may be too broad a brush to say ALL NT scholars work from such biases but many have/do.
(Gary: Canard! Most Bible scholars are self-identifying Christians. Most Bible scholars therefore believe in the supernatural in some form. Conservative Christians are perpetuating this false narrative to “poison the well”, thereby dissuading lay Christians from investigating the positions of “biased” scholars who disagree with evangelical and conservative Protestant positions
Free blog, a conservative Christian website: Many liberal New Testament scholars nevertheless doubt that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote the Gospels bearing their names. But they almost all agree that they were written well within the first century by orthodox Christians in the orbit of apostolic Christianity. Typically suggested dates place Mark in the late 60s or early 70s and Matthew and Luke in the 80s. Conservatives, accepting the Church Fathers’ testimony concerning the composition of these Gospels, date all three to the early or mid-60s.
(Gary: Notice the false dichotomy. One is either a conservative scholar who believes in the traditional authorship of the Gospels or one is a “liberal” who rejects it. What about all the Roman Catholic and moderate Protestant scholars who reject the traditional authorship of the Gospels??)
Jefferson White, conservative Christian scholar: Most biblical scholars fall into one of three camps. First there are the radical scholars, who say that the historical evidence “proves” that little or nothing in the New Testament is historically true. Second, there are the liberal scholars, who say that the historical evidence “proves” that parts of the New Testament are true and parts of it are false. They then disagree among themselves as to which is which. Third, you have the conservative scholars, who say that the historical evidence “proves” that the New Testament is mostly, or even entirely, an accurate record of events. Just on the basis of these divisions alone, one is forced to recognize that one is dealing with a profession that does not employ very rigorous standards of evidence. Like many other modern academic disciplines, biblical scholarship has more to do with intellectual gamesmanship than with an objective search for truth. The empirical evidence decisively points to the conclusion that the New Testament is an accurate record of events. It is because theologically conservative scholars already believe that this on religious grounds that they end up promoting the most objective standard for deciding historical truth. It is because that standard supports their theological beliefs. It is because liberals and radicals have the opposite ideological commitment that they favor looser standards of historical evidence and speculative historical constructs.
6 thoughts on “Why do Conservative Christians Allege that the Majority of Scholars Reject the Eyewitness Authorship and Early Dating of the Gospels Due to a Bias Against the Supernatural?”
As a non-Christian, Secularist, or Freethinking Humanist, personally I too lean toward your dates in #2 — dating the 27 Canonical Greek New Testament manuscripts. However, when engaging Evangy-Fundy Christians/Apologists about their Faith or Bible, in order to have a significant productive discussion with them I offer some compromise and conciliatory dating.
For me in presenting the actual chronological Greek progression of the NT’s development and composition, then its canonization over FOUR CENTURIES from 45+ non-canonical manuscripts which were circulating from c. 40-70 CE, it isn’t difficult at all to show the HEAVY Greco-Roman hands involved — versus its supposed original pedigree of Second Temple Judaism/Messianism; MAJOR differences! — putting her stamp of subjugation and authority on it! By the start of the 4th-century CE the true nature and reforms/messages that Yeshua bar Yosef, John the Baptist, James the brother, and other disciples/members had intended to achieve had been utterly deformed, defaced, and diverted. Their Torah-Judaism was gone!
If those original 4-5 leaders had come back to their movement 400-years later, they would not have recognized (or approved?) some 90% of what it had turned into! Most of their original teachings were no longer Second Temple Torah-Judaism or their God’s Kingdom on Earth brought in by the Messiahs. It was almost purely Hellenic. What would’ve been much worse for them to see in Judea and all of Syro-Palestine and Arabia post-400 CE was that nearly ALL of their culture, various sects, and people (descendants) were GONE, wiped out over the past 320-330 years.
The evangelical Fundamentalist Protestants you are addressing here Gary, just perform various acts of discrediting the integrity of the Roman Catholic Church’s ability to have reliable authority about the NEW GOD in the New Testament. And didn’t that final fracture of “God’s True Church™” begin in 1521 after some previous 1,000 years of arguing, challenging, changing, and separating? In a way, these Evangy-Fundy Christians are using the exact same Sectarian tactics various Jews did in 100 BCE to 140 CE, and many other religious faithful undermine their fellow members’ authority to substantiate their own. I guess that’s exactly why they are categorized as Protestants… they are fervent Protestors! Never satisfied. 😉
By the way, you have compiled an excellent list of 24-hour Protestant finger-pointers! Well done Sir.
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Ok, lots of conservative Catholic scholars accept the late dates.
I’m sure some conservative Protestant scholars accept them, too. The problem is that there is no legitimate reason to accept those dates as being any more likely than early dates, other than denial of the existence of prophecy. Given the wide dispersal and frequent quotations of the gospels, by name, by 100 AD, the late dates do not seem likely in a vacuum devoid of bias.
You have demonstrated that lots of scholars compromise their own faith for no good academic reason, the most likely reasons being desire for acceptance among peers. We already knew that.