Survey: Three Questions on the Authorship of the Gospels for Conservative New Testament Scholars and Apologists

Image result for image of the four evangelists

 

Dear Conservative New Testament scholar or apologist:  I am conducting a survey on topics related to the authorship of the Gospels.  Would you kindly participate?

1. Do you agree with this statement by conservative NT scholar Richard Bauckham that a significant majority of NT scholars rejects the eyewitness/associate eyewitness authorship of the Gospels:

“The argument of this book [“Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship.  As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels].  No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.”  p. 240   

Your answer:  Yes  or  No

2. If you agree with Bauckham’s statement that “almost all recent scholarship” believes that the texts of our Gospels are NOT close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus, do you believe that this scholarly consensus is due to an objective evaluation of the evidence, or due to a bias against the supernatural, as some conservative Christian apologists allege (see here)?

Your answer:  Evidence  or  Bias

3. If you believe that the scholarly consensus on the authorship of the Gospels is due to a bias against the supernatural, how would you explain the fact that most Roman Catholic scholars, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and many moderate Protestant scholars such as NT Wright, who every much believe in the supernatural and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, also reject or question the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels?  (see here)

Your answer:

 

Thank you very much,

Gary

 

Attention Readers:  This survey has been sent to approximately 40 of the top conservative Christian scholars and apologists in the United States.  I have asked them to either post their responses to the survey in the comments below or email/mail their responses to me.  Since this is a survey of Christian apologists, only their comments will be approved for posting in the comment section below.  If you wish to comment, please do so under the next post, here.

 

 

 

 

End of post.

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15 thoughts on “Survey: Three Questions on the Authorship of the Gospels for Conservative New Testament Scholars and Apologists

  1. Attention: Only comments from invited Christian apologists will be approved for posting under this survey. This is a survey, not a debate. Please post your comments under the next post, here.

    Thank you for your understanding!

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  2. Dr. Timothy McGrew, project director for the Library of Historical Apologetics (response by email):

    Gary,

    Thanks for your inquiry. The questions you ask don’t all seem to be directly about the authorship of the Gospels, but I’m happy to answer them anyway.

    (1) Bauckham’s statement seems to me to be an overstatement. It would be more nearly correct only if one were to leave aside most evangelical scholarship (of which there is a considerable body). In recent years there is more willingness even on the part of some non-evangelical scholars to reconsider the more traditional position with respect to at least some of the reported words and deeds of Jesus in the Gospels.

    (2) Your alternatives are not exhaustive. Although a bias against physically detectable miracles is definitely a feature of much (not all) non-evangelical scholarship, and it can be documented in the work of New Testament scholars from Strauss and Bau r to Lüdemann and Ehrman, the skepticism in such scholarship is also heavily driven by bad methodology that became popular with the work of Strauss in the 1830s and has never left the field from that time onward. The widespread use of the argumentum ex silentio, the careless assumption that differences must always be due to editorial redaction and never to independent sources of knowledge, and the rejection (on wholly insufficient grounds) of reasonable harmonization are just three of these methodological problems. All of these problems are on full display in the work of Bart Ehrman. Some of them beset more recent evangelical scholarship as well.

    (3) I believe your question suffers from presupposition failure. Roman Catholic scholars span the range from those who will not touch the question of the bodily resurrection as a historical event (e.g. Raymond Brown, John Meier) to those who firmly embrace it — and also embrace the traditional authorship of the Gospels (e.g. Brant Pitre). I have serious doubt as to whether Brown believed in the miraculous in anything more than an Averroistic sense. Meier takes the bizarre position that an historian cannot speak about it. In any event, the other, methodological problems loom large for the more liberal scholars in the two groups you have mentioned in this question.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter Hawkins, Church of God, a Worldwide Association (response by email):

    Thank you for explaining in more detail why you are concerned about how various religious organizations portray the evidence of the resurrection of Christ, and their denial of the reliability of the New Testament. Few people who follow mainstream Christianity today understand that Jesus Christ has no part in the churches they are following.

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  4. Kurt Jaros, Apologetics 315 blog (email response):

    Evangelicals hold to a spectrum of positions on this issue, so I’m not sure what value there is in having me answer your questions (or for what purpose you are asking! Perhaps you have doubts and are seeking answer; or perhaps you’re one of those pesky internet trolls; who knows?! 😀

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  5. Lenny Esposito, President, Come Reason Ministries: (email response)

    I think it’s a false dilemma. There may be other factors at work—such as the desire to agree with the consensus even though one may hold to supernaturalism. There could be many factors involved. It’s best to deal with the arguments themselves.

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  6. Ken Samples, professor Biola University: (email response)

    Intended as an objective survey, I don’t think the questions are sufficiently straight forward and clear but involve complex issues that would require me to make a judgment about another scholars assessment and the personal reasons that might stand behind that assessment. I also respectfully wonder about the scholarly fair-mindedness of the questions because they strike me as somewhat “gotcha” type questions in nature. Nevertheless I am willing to say that is seems quite reasonable to me that a scholar’s worldview would to some degree affect how they interpret evidence and form explanatory theories. But scholars in other theological traditions may have differing ideas about what constitutes apostolic authority and how it is shaped and conveyed through the Gospel writings. If you are interested in my general apologetics response to issues relating to the Gospels and their authorship, transmission, and relation to critical theories, see chapter four of my book “God among Sages”.

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  7. Mikel Del Rosario, “Apologetics Guy”: (email response)

    Thanks for your question. Yes, I agree with Bauckham. Oral traditions behind the gospels likely “passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” The implication, however, that the Gospels are unreliable is far from consensus. What Bauckham argues against is the idea that there are several layers of textual activity across time that separates them from the eyewitness. While the time of writing may not be “close” chronologically, the content of the reports may be “close enough” to be accurate but perhaps not necessarily precise.

    For example, Matt 12:28 reports Jesus saying “But if I expel demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you!” while Luke 11:20 reports Jesus saying “But if I expel demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you! Here, it seems Jesus probably said “finger” but meant “Spirit.” Matthew is explaining the figure of speech. For more on this, see Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scriptures especially chapter 16 https://amzn.to/2LzbXf9 and also consider checking out Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels https://amzn.to/2O8kZl1

    Also, Kenneth Bailey suggested a kind of informal and controlled orality may lie behind some Gospel differences like this which have gist and variation ( https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_tradition_bailey.html). On this view, while anyone could share their eyewitness testimony of Jesus, apostles and elders in the church would likely have safeguarded the gist of the story in subsequent retellings. Having said that, I do not think one needs to invoke a skepticism towards the supernatural in order to explain why many challenge the reliability of the Gospels. We need to better understand both how orality works and how the Gospels are working. Issues of authorship are related but not identical to the reliability of the tradition streams which impacted the text. For example, Peter’s memories are likely a source for Mark’s Gospel. I hope you find the three resources I mentioned helpful.

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  8. Lydia McGrew, apologist and philosopher: (email response)

    I agree with the first statement.

    I think you need a third option in the second question, which would then obviate the need for the third question.

    The scholarly consensus is due to a poor evaluation of the evidence. This poor evaluation of the evidence was causally kicked off more than a hundred years ago by scholars who were biased against the supernatural. However, as a result of that influence, a set of incorrect standards for evaluating evidence then became entrenched in the discipline of New Testament scholarship as if they were objective standards for evaluating evidence. These bad standards do not bear any bias against the supernatural on their face. They are simply epistemically messed up. These include giving undue weight to arguments from silence, an opposition to historical harmonization, and a refusal to grant the patristic evidence for authorship its true value, among others. At the same time, much evidence for eyewitness origin was unfortunately lost sight of because of sheer scholarly fads and chronological snobbery (i.e., it was deemed “out of date” even though it had not been refuted)–e.g., the argument from undesigned coincidences, the argument from the unified character of Jesus, and others. Because these anti-standards, as I call them, came to be falsely thought of as markers of objective biblical scholarship, many generations of scholars trained in the discipline of New Testament studies, up to the present, have been pressured into accepting them, believing themselves to be acquiring objective professional expertise. They therefore have adopted an unjustified skepticism about the traditional eyewitness authorship of the Gospels even if they are not personally opposed to the supernatural.

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  9. Jack Wellman, pastor and blogger (email response)

    As for question # 1, about the “majority of NT scholars,” believe, I do not believe that this is true from what I studied at Moody, but even if it’s true, often the majority is wrong (the Bible is full of accounts where the majority were almost always wrong), and just because most believe something does not prove it is true. So no, I reject their rejection of the eye witness accounts of Jesus ministry as the Scriptures say more than 500 saw the risen Christ…or after He was resurrected. God’s Word on it is more than convincing over a majority of NT scholars. I question Mr. Bauckham’s statement, and until I see a survey with over 1,000 sample size, I cannot believe this man, so no to this one question.

    As for # 2, flatly, and clearly, it is no.. or bias.

    As for #3, I don’t care if every pope who ever existed believed one way or another, their credibility is lacking due to a substantial lack of evidence to prove their hypothesis.

    What is Mr. Bauckham’s point in all this? Is he trying to disprove the veracity of the Bible or what? Not sure why someone who is a Christian would try to undermine what centuries have proven to be true….the Word of God stands without error and Jesus sinless life, death, and bodily resurrection is an historical fact. Cleary this is biased. Every author was divinely moved by the Spirit of God to record what the Holy Spirit inspired them to write. This man’s belief lacks proof or crediblity, but there is no such lack thereof from the Word of God, as I and thousands of other theologians and Bible scholars have written about and proven to themselves and others:

    https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/how-do-we-know-the-bible-is-true-is-it-really-the-word-of-god/

    I hope this has helped and may God richly bless you.

    Pastor Jack, Corey, and Josh

    Telling Ministries Faith in the News
    What Christians Want to Know
    Christian Quotes Rhetorical Jesus

    Clarification: My apologies sir. I did not interpret the message correctly, so that is my fault sir, so after reading your reply, I am praying that God blesses the fruit of his [Richard Bauckham’s] hand for the Lord’s glory. More and more are falling away these days…and why I choose Moody for my graduate work…Moody is among the most trusted of all seminaries.

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  10. Craig Keener, theologian, apologist, author of “Miracles”: (email response)

    Hi Gary,

    –No. This needs to be nuanced because many who say this don’t take into account conservative scholars. “Significant majority” yes on Matthew, but a lot (possibly the majority) do see the beloved disciple (behind the Fourth Gospel) as an eyewitness. Virtually nobody sees Mark or Luke as an eyewitness, but a significant number do accept Mark’s association with an eyewitness, and Luke having material from eyewitnesses. “Majority” might be safe, but “significant majority” is stretching.

    –Again, “almost all” is an exaggeration. Sometimes writers use such exaggerations to underline the uniqueness of their work.

    –Again, “consensus” is not accurate–it depends on which Gospel, etc.

    Arguments from evidence are used for various positions, as are arguments from bias. 🙂 That’s why scholars at their best listen to and learn from one another–we disagree among ourselves but when we listen we can construct more nuanced arguments and often come to more nuanced conclusions.

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  11. Peter Kreeft, philosopher, theologian, apologist: (email response)

    Gary:

    Motives differ: skepticism, confusion, scientism as vs. science, fear, etc. Some are honest, some are not.

    PK

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  12. Joel Edmund Anderson, biblical scholar, apologist: (response on his blog)

    Yes, Bauckham’s statement is right…most RECENT scholars reject that notion.

    2-3. No, I don’t think that rejection is entirely objective. It doesn’t have much to do with some sort of “bias against the supernatural.” I think much of it amount to a “flavor of the month” group think. Example: Source Criticism–Can we see different kinds of material in the Pentateuch? Sure. But you can’t go much further than that…but source critics often do go too far, and it becomes circular logic and hopelessly speculative.

    Bottom line: Scholars generally agree Mark was 60s-70s, Matthew/Luke were 70s-80s, John was 90s. With the Synoptics, 30-35 years ISN’T a long time between the event and the writing of the gospels. And M,M,L weren’t made up out of whole cloth at that time. They were compilations of what had been proclaimed and taught about Jesus for those previous 30-35 years. So, I agree with Bauckham that they very likely have their roots in actual eyewitness accounts–but they were shaped into their current form/narrative 30+ years later.

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  13. Ron Jones, President, The Titus Institute

    Hi, Gary.

    Thanks for allowing me to participate in your survey. My answers are below:

    1. Yes
    2. Bias

    3. Comment:
      All of them, (including Bauckham, whom I do not consider a conservative scholar) have accommodated themselves to the scholarly consensus regarding the lack of total historicity and truthfulness of the Bible. They believe in the supernatural, but not in the supernatural inerrancy of the Bible which is clearly stated by Jesus and the apostles in the NT. Thus, their bias lies in the area of rejecting total inerrancy. They ignore the clear testimony of the early church fathers about the authorship (not editing) of the NT by apostles and their close associates who were appointed and promised supernatural power to teach the truth without error because of this bias.

    See https://defendinginerrancy.com/author/davidfarnell/

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