Hinman’s Defense of his Sad Little Argument: Wishful Thinking by Kermit Zarley

Hinman’s Defense of his Sad Little Argument: Wishful Thinking by Kermit Zarley November 23, 2019

WHERE WE ARE

The main question at issue between me and Joe Hinman is this:

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.

First of all, I raised an objection against a key historical assumption made by Peter Kreeft (and by Hinman) in one of his objections against the Swoon Theory (and the Survival Theory).  Kreeft’s historical assumption was based on a specific passage from the 4th Gospel:

…we have very good reasons to doubt that the relevant passage from the 4th Gospel provides us with reliable and accurate historical information.

This is the SAME PASSAGE (John 19: 31-37) that Kreeft relied on to support his Objection #2, and there are at least ten good reasons for doubting the reliability and historicity of that passage from the 4th Gospel…  (emphasis added)

Note that the FOCUS of my objection is concerned with HISTORICAL RELIABILITY.  Although I was discussing a specific passage from the 4th Gospel, my “ten good reasons” for doubting “the reliability and historicity” of that specific passage included some reasons concerning the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel in general:

POINT #1: The 4th Gospel was probably NOT written by an eyewitness of the life, ministry, or crucifixion of Jesus.  

POINT #2: The 4th Gospel is the least historically reliable of the four Gospels.  

POINT #3: The account of the trial and crucifixion in the 4th Gospel conflicts with the trial and crucifixion accounts in other Gospels.

  • Point #1 is intended to cast doubt on the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel in general.
  • Point #2 is intended to cast doubt on the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel in general.
  • Point #3 is intended to cast doubt on the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel in general.

Points #4 through #9 are intended to cast doubt on the historicity of the specific passage in the 4th Gospel that is the basis for Kreeft’s historical assumption in his “blood and water” objection.

POINT #10: Other gospels provide no corroboration of stories about the beloved disciple.

  • Point #10 is intended to cast doubt on the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel in general.

So, at least four out of my ten points were attempts to cast doubt on the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel in general, not just about the specific passage in the 4th Gospel that was the basis for Peter Kreeft’s “blood and water” objection to the Swoon Theory.

Hinman asserts that my objections to Kreeft’s historical assumption are based on an outdated and uninformed view of New Testament scholarship:

Sorry your understanding is out of date.  Since Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses it is form criticism that is now considered dubious and John has a new credibility.  

[…]

He [Bradley Bowen] knows nothing about biblical scholarship…

(emphasis added)

The phrase “has a new credibility” is weak and vague, so taken by itself, in isolation from the context of our disagreement, it doesn’t logically imply that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, or even that the 4th Gospel is NOT HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE.

But in context, Hinman is objecting to my view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE.  So, he is implying that I am WRONG, and that the 4th Gospel is (at least) NOT HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, and he is suggesting the claim that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  Otherwise, the claim that “John has a new credibility” is simply IRRELEVANT to our disagreement.

My objection to Kreeft’s historical assumption was FOCUSED on the issue of whether the 4th Gospel was HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  So, in context, Hinman’s response to my objections, no matter how VAGUE and UNCLEAR his response may be, implies that he disagrees with my view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE.

Furthermore,  in order to back up his claim that there is a “trend involving many scholars” concerning the 4th Gospel having “a new credibility”, Hinman quotes Kermit Zarley who clearly and explicitly talks about NT scholars adopting the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

Here is the quote of Zarley given by Hinman:

But during the 1990s, the “Jesus, John, and History” section of the preeminent Society of Biblical Literature had a solid focus on this question of whether or not the Fourth Gospel is historically trustworthy. And they were moving toward the conclusion that it does, thus in opposition to most of the academy. Members of the panel of this section, such as Paul Andersen, Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher, have now produced three volumes on this subject as editors, with contributing chapters being mostly from section members. Their conclusion is that the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable.  (emphasis added)

My initial point was FOCUSED on the issue of whether the 4th Gospel was HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, and Hinman responded to my point by claiming that the 4th Gospel has “a new credibility” among NT scholars, and that in recent decades there has been “a trend involving many scholars” concerning the 4th Gospel, and then Hinman supports this claim about a recent trend among NT scholars by quoting Zarley who states that three NT scholars have  published three volumes about “whether or not the Fourth gospel is historically trustworthy” and that “Their conclusion is that the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable.”

Hinman’s weak and vague phrase about the 4th Gospel having “a new credibility” among NT scholars is sandwiched between  my initial objections against the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gosepl, and Zarley’s quote that asserts that at least three NT scholars have come to the conclusion that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.   Furthermore, Hinman himself, at one point explicitly frames the disagreement between us in terms of the issue of whether a significant portion of NT scholars have in recent decades been adopting the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE:

 …the dominant view being undermined [in Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses] is the older view Bowen knows where John is seen as not historically reliable(emphasis added)

If “the older view” is that the 4th Gospel is “not historically reliable”, then that suggests that the newer view (the new trend in NT scholarship “involving many scholars”) is that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable.

Therefore, there is no doubt that Hinman’s weak and vague phrase about the 4th Gospel having “a new credibility” among NT scholars is intended to imply that in recent years there has been “a trend involving many scholars” (i.e. NT scholars) where those scholars have adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

Hinman quotes Zarley who asserts that at least three NT scholars have in recent decades adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, and Hinman’s use of that quote in this context implies that the alleged “trend involving many scholars” is a trend in which a significant portion of NT scholars has (in recent decades) adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

This clear and strong claim, however, is also CLEARLY FALSE, and it reveals that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is based more on WISHFUL THINKING than on facts and evidence.

 

KERMIT ZARLEY’S WISHFUL THINKING

Joe Hinman’s WISHFUL THINKING about NT scholarship is based in part on a quote from Kermit Zarley.  But, as I will now argue, 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.

In a previous post, I have criticized Hinman’s use of the quote from Kermit Zarley on the grounds that Zarley has no degree in New Testament studies, no degree in Jesus studies, no degree in ancient history, and no degree in any relevant field related to NT scholarship or historical Jesus studies.  Zarley was a professional golfer with a degree in business.  He is hardly an authority on NT scholarship.  It would be IDIOTIC to rely on Zarley’s views as the basis for understanding recent trends in NT scholarship.

But lacking any degrees and any legitimate authority in the area of NT scholarship and historical Jesus studies does not prove that Zarley is wrong about the three NT scholars that he mentions.  Even ignorant fools can be right sometimes.  In fact, Zarley apparently attended some of the conferences that those three scholars held related to the re-examination of the 4th Gospel.  So, one might claim that Zarley had a front-row seat listening in on scholarly presentations and discussions by various NT scholars about the 4th Gospel, including the three scholars that he named:  “Paul Andersen [sic], Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher” (Zarley misspelled the name of the first scholar; he meant Paul Anderson).

In any case, Zarley’s claim that these three NT scholars have in recent decades come to the conclusion that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable.” is CLEARLY FALSE.  Since Zarley is an Evangelical Christian who has “a fairly conservative view” of the inspiration of the NT, it would fit nicely with his WISHES and desires for some serious NT scholars to come to the conclusion that the 4th Gospel was historically reliable.  That would confirm his religious beliefs about the divine inspiration of the NT.  So, I take it that if his claim is clearly false, then it is probably the case that his view about these three NT scholars is based on WISHFUL THINKING, rather than on facts and evidence.

First, if these three NT scholars all arrived at the conclusion that the 4th Gospel was HISTORICALLY RELIABLE after a number of years of intensive study and discussion with other NT scholars, then one would expect them to express that this was the conclusion that they reached, because this is a radical departure from mainstream NT scholarship and from mainstream historical Jesus scholarship.  Also, this is obviously a very significant conclusion, even apart from it being contrary to mainstream NT scholarly opinion.

Paul Anderson is one of the three NT scholars mentioned by Zarley.  Anderson wrote an essay discussing “The John, Jesus, and History Project” which is the scholarly project which produced the three volumes about the 4th Gospel mentioned by Zarley.  If Paul Anderson, Felix Just, and Tom Thatcher had all arrived at the conclusion that the 4th Gospel was HISTORICALLY RELIABLE as a result of their intensive study and scholarly discussions about the 4th Gospel that took place during that project, then we would expect Anderson to frequently discuss or at least mention this conclusion.  But the phrase “historically reliable” NEVER OCCURS in Anderson’s essay “The John, Jesus, and History Project – New Glimpses of Jesus and the Bi-Optic Hypothesis“!  That is the first hint that Zarley’s understanding of Anderson (and the NT scholars involved in this project) is based on WISHFUL THINKING rather than facts and evidence.

There is, however, one instance of the very similar phrase “reliable historically” in this overview article by Anderson.  Anderson is characterizing “the older view” of the 4th Gospel and replying to that older view with his own view (or with the new view of many of the NT scholars who participated in this scholarly project):

Because the Markan Gospels are more reliable historically, they provide the essential basis for investigating the Jesus of history.  Okay, but what of the exceptions?

The word “Okay” implies that Anderson, and other NT scholars involved in “The John, Jesus, and History Project”, AGREE that the 4th Gospel is LESS HISTORICALLY RELIABLE than other Gospels.  By “the Markan Gospels” Anderson means the Gospel of Mark and the two other canonical gospels that used Mark as a source: Matthew and Luke.

So, in this ONE AND ONLY MENTION of the phrase “reliable historically”, Anderson admits my Point #2 AGAINST the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel:

POINT #2: The 4th Gospel is the least historically reliable of the four Gospels.  

Anderson is merely making the point that there are SOME instances in which an event (or a detail about an event) seems “more historically plausible” as described in the 4th Gospel as opposed to the other canonical Gospels.  In other words, there might be some exceptions to the rule.  There might be some instances in which NT scholars would reasonably accept some particular event or detail from the 4th Gospel as historical even though that event or detail is missing from the other canonical Gospels or even though that event or detail is inconsistent with related accounts in the other canonical Gospels.

Now if Anderson had a very high level of confidence in the historical reliability of “the Markan Gospels”, then even though he believed the 4th Gospel to be LESS RELIABLE than “the Markan Gospels”, he might still think that the 4th Gospel was fairly HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  But based on comments in this essay, Anderson does not appear to have a high level of confidence in the historical reliability of “the Markan Gospels”.

For example, Anderson makes this comment comparing the Markan Gospels with the 4th Gospel:

And, given the fact that Mark locates all of Jesus’ controversies with religious leaders and judgment sayings at the end, after he arrives in Jerusalem, can it really be claimed that Mark’s itinerary is ordered by strict chronological knowledge as opposed to a conjectural narrative climax? The problem of historicity in Mark is every bit as vexing as the problem of historicity in John, and if Mark got it wrong, so did Matthew and Luke.

It appears that Anderson has some significant doubts concerning the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the Markan Gospels, which is not at all unusual.  Most NT scholars have some significant doubts concerning the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the Markan Gospels, so Anderson is merely pointing out doubts about HISTORICAL RELIABILITY that are shared by most NT scholars about the Markan Gospels.

But if Anderson has some significant doubts about the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the Markan Gospels, and he AGREES that the 4th Gospel is LESS RELIABLE than the Markan Gospels, then it is very unlikely that Anderson believes that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

So, in his essay characterizing “The John, Jesus, and History Project”, Paul Anderson NEVER ONCE mentions that he himself or ANY OTHER NT SCHOLAR arrived at the conclusion that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable”.  In fact, the phrase “historically reliable” NEVER OCCURS anywhere in that essay.  There is, however, ONLY ONE instance in which the similar phrase “reliable historically” does appear, but in that instance Anderson is AGREEING with one of my ten points AGAINST the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel!  Furthermore, since Anderson agrees with the point that the 4th Gospel is LESS historically reliable than the other three canonical Gospels, and since he does not appear to view the other three Gospels as being highly historically reliable, but rather has some significant doubts about their historical reliability, it is very unlikely that Anderson believes that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

Furthermore, Anderson’s view of the composition of the 4th Gospel casts significant doubt on the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of a number of chapters in this Gospel:

After the death of the Beloved Disciple (around 100 C.E.) the Elder compiled the Gospel, adding to it the worship material of the Prologue (1:1-18), inserting the feeding and sea-crossing narrative (Jn. 6) between chs. 5 and 7, and also inserting additional discourse material (Jn. 15-17) between Jesus’ saying, “Let us depart,” (Jn. 14:31) and his arrival with his disciples at the garden (Jn. 18:1). He also apparently attached additional appearance narratives (ch. 21) and eyewitness/Beloved Disciple passages, and crafted a second ending (21:24-5) in the pattern of the first. Then, he circulated the finalized witness of the Beloved Disciple, whose “testimony is true!” as an encouragement and challenge to the larger Christian movement.

 Anderson believes that the opening of chapter 1 of our version of the 4th Gospel was written by “John the Elder” and NOT the apostle John.  Anderson believes that chapter 6 of the 4th Gospel was written by “John the Elder” and NOT the apostle John.  Anderson also believes that chapters 15 through 17 of the 4th Gospel were composed by “John the Elder” and NOT the apostle John.  Furthermore, Anderson believes that chapter 21 of the 4th Gospel was composed by “John the Elder” and NOT the apostle John.  Finally, Anderson believes that passages in which “the beloved disciple” testifies to some event or detail were added by “John the Elder” and NOT the apostle John. (This last point, by the way, casts doubt on the historicity of the specific passage that Kreeft and Hinman rely upon in their “blood and water” objection against the Swoon Theory.)

Anderson believes that at least five chapters of the existing copies of the 4th Gospel were added by someone who was NOT an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, plus at least a few other passages sprinkled here and there in the rest of the 4th Gospel.

It now seems clear, on the basis of facts and evidence, that Anderson (and the other NT scholars who participated in the scholarly project re-examining the 4th Gosepel) does NOT believe that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  But then, what is the “new view” that the three NT scholars Anderson, Just, and Thatcher are promoting about the 4th Gospel, and what is the “old view” about the 4th Gospel that they are challenging?  The answers to those questions are very clear, at least if you base your understanding on facts and evidence, instead of WISHFUL THINKING.

Anderson, Just, and Thatcher (as well as other NT scholars involved their scholarly project) are opposing the view that the 4th Gospel should be completely ignored by NT scholars and Jesus scholars who are investigating the historical Jesus.  Here is how Anderson characterizes 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…

In other words, Anderson and other NT scholars involved in “The John, Jesus, and History Project” believe that the 4th Gospel should be studied and taken into consideration by NT scholars and Jesus scholars who are involved in historical Jesus investigations.  This is a very reasonable and modest proposal.  There is NO NEED for the radical assumption or claim that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE in order for this reasonable and modest proposal to be accepted.

Many NT scholars, for example, have significant doubts about the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the Gospel of Mark, as well as of Matthew and Luke, which use Mark as a primary source.  But NT scholars do not insist that investigations of the historical Jesus COMPLETELY IGNORE the gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Luke.  They simply do the best they can, with the flawed and less-than-fully-HISTORICALLY-RELIABLE sources that are available.  So, even if the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, it might still have some useful historical information about Jesus in it, and so it is a reasonable and modest proposal to insist that this Gospel also be considered and taken into account in studies of the historical Jesus.

It is clear that Anderson does NOT hold the view that the 4th Gospel provides us with an HISTORICALLY RELIABLE account of the life and ministry of Jesus.  Furthermore, based on Anderson’s characterization of “The John, Jesus, and History Project”, it is also clear that OTHER NT scholars involved in this project did not, in general, arrive at the extreme conclusion that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  At most, they concluded that there are some aspects and some parts of the 4th Gospel that are worthy of consideration in relation to historical issues about Jesus.

This is a much weaker and more modest conclusion than what Zarley claims was arrived at by those NT scholars involved in “The John, Jesus, and History Project”.  Zarley’s characterization of Anderson, Just, and Thatcher is WRONG, and clearly NOT based upon FACTS OR EVIDENCE.  Given Zarely’s conservative view of the inspiration of the NT, it is quite probable that he arrived at his mistaken view of NT scholarship on the basis of WISHFUL THINKING.


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