Mars Hill’s Sermon Series Document Reveals Background of Mark Driscoll’s Book on Peter, Part Two

On Tuesday, I discussed a document found on The Resurgence website which contained the research notes behind Mark Driscoll’s book on the apostle Peter. That document was missing for awhile but now has been returned to the website (seems to be gone from the website again, here it is). In that post, I examined paragraphs from the NBC, Driscoll’s book and Justin Holcomb’s research notes. In this post, I want to review three additional paragraphs in a similar manner. From both of these efforts, it appears to me that Holcomb’s work was adequately documented. One problem I found was that one of the endnotes cited the wrong source which is an easy mistake to make. However, it seems clear to me from the use of quotes and citations that Holcomb was not presenting the information as his own work.

Furthermore, it appears to me that Rev. Driscoll (or someone on his behalf) took Dr. Holcomb’s research notes and included them nearly verbatim into Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter. As a result, the material originally from the New Bible Commentaryas stated by Intervarsity Press — “improperly appeared without quotation or attribution” in Driscoll’s finished product. As I see it, the material may have ended up in the Driscoll book via mistake by Driscoll or his staff. However, if I am accurate in my analysis, another question arises: Was is proper for Driscoll to take material from a research assistant, remove the quotations and citations provided by that research assistant and then portray that work and research as his own work? While I may be wrong in my analysis, until Driscoll explains how the material from Holcomb’s research appeared in his book, one is left to speculate based on the available evidence.

First, examine paragraphs from Holcomb’s notes on page 149:

Where and when was the letter written?
“In 5:13 the writer sends greetings from ‘she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you‘. This seems like a reference to the local church in Babylon, but it is unlikely that Peter would have gone to the former capital of Nebuchadnezzar‘s empire. By Peter‘s time it was a sparsely inhabited ruin (fulfilling Is. 14:23). In Rev. 16:19 and 17:5 ‘Babylon‘ is used as a cryptic name for Rome, and Col. 4:10 and Phm. 24 (most likely written in Rome) show that Mark was there with Paul. In 2 Tim. 4:11, Mark is in Asia Minor, and Paul sends for him to come, most probably to Rome. The fact that neither Peter nor Paul mentions the other in the list of those sending greetings from Rome merely suggests that they were not together at the time of writing their letters. All this points to the theory that Peter was writing from Rome, which is supported by the evidence of Tertullian (Against Heresies, 36) and Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History, 2.25.8; 2.15.2 and 3.1.2–3).

In view of what was said above about Christians being persecuted, a date in the reign of Nero (AD 54–68) would seem best. Since Peter makes no reference to Paul‘s martyrdom, which is thought to have taken place during the out-burst of persecution in Rome in 64, the letter was probably written before then (see also 2:13). Links with other writings are thought to suggest a date after 60. So far as we can draw any conclusions from the evidence, the letter was probably written c. 63–64.

Note the quotes at the beginning of this section. Immediately below is a screen capture of the beginning (p. 149) and end of the section in question (p. 150) from Holcomb’s research notes. The quotes are enclosed in red.

At the end of the passage, along with the closing of the quote, the superscript “xxi” is provided and leads to this correct reference information:

David Wheaton, ―1 Peter in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Ed. D. A. Carson, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).

In the book Trial: 8 Witnesses From 1 & 2 Peter, Driscoll did not use all of what Holcomb provided but did incorporate some of it nearly verbatim. Also, note that the research notes do not paraphrase the Bible commentary but include the passage verbatim within the quotations. At this link you can see the entire section uncut, thus demonstrating that the section was set off by quotes with correct citation to the chapter on Peter in the NBC.

Now compare the passage above with the original chapter in the NBC and as included in the book by Driscoll.

In this section, Driscoll (or someone) removed the quotes from the research notes, changed a few words and included the material in his book without the citation. He did, however, include the references to Against Heresies and Ecclesiastical History as footnotes. The appearance is that Rev. Driscoll consulted those sources directly.

I am not going to speculate much more about what happened. I simply don’t know what was behind the decision to include this material as it is. However, I don’t believe Holcomb as research assistant should be the focus of this matter as was implied in the statement made by Mars Hill Church on their website. The ball is in Driscoll’s court to address the questions about proper use of a research assistants’ work when there is no credit given.

For me, the issue of ghostwriting and use of research assistance is a prime topic we should be talking about. I am with John Piper on this. Putting one’s name on material one did not write is misleading and corrosive to trust among consumers of published materials. It seems to me that the Christian publishing industry, authors, ministers and other stakeholders should engage in reflection about this practice. One good thing that I hope emerges from this controversy is a new standard that discourages ghostwriting and provides guidelines for the proper and honest attribution of authorship.

Another issue of concern relates to the statement from Mars Hill Church about “citation errors” in the book on 1 & 2 Peter. Their altered statement (you can read the original and altered statements here) suggests that the problems with the book on Peter were due to a “team of people, including a research assistant.” However, now it appears from this information on their own website that the issue was not the Docent researcher but whoever took the researcher’s work and put Mark Driscoll’s name on it.

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