Hinman’s Defense of his Sad Little Argument: Seven Key NT Scholars

Hinman’s Defense of his Sad Little Argument: Seven Key NT Scholars December 11, 2019

WHERE WE ARE

Joe Hinman asserts that in recent decades there has been “a trend involving many scholars” in which “John has a new credibility”.  Because Hinman makes these assertions in response to my claim that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, and because Hinman then quotes Kermit Zarley’s assertion about three NT scholars arriving at the conclusion that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable”, it is clear in this context, that Hinman is making this claim:

There is a recent trend in NT scholarship that involves MANY NT scholars who have adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

This view of NT scholarship is CLEARLY FALSE and is based on a huge dose of WISHFUL THINKING by Joe Hinman.

Hinman has a strong DESIRE to refute the Swoon Theory, but some of his favorite objections to the Swoon Theory are based on passages from the Fourth Gospel.  Thus, Hinman has a strong DESIRE that the Fourth Gospel be viewed by NT scholars as being HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, otherwise what he thinks are his best objections to the Swoon Theory FAIL.

So, if I am correct that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is CLEARLY FALSE, then it is probable that this view is based not on facts and evidence, but on WISHFUL THINKING, just like Zarley’s CLEARLY FALSE view about the beliefs of three NT scholars was based on WISHFUL THINKING and not on facts and evidence.

In order to evaluate the view of NT scholarship that Hinman implies, I will examine the views of seven key NT scholars who have been identified by James Charlesworth as representing the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel that Hinman and Zarley are talking about.  Charlesworth, unlike Zarley (a professional golfer who has no degrees in NT or ancient history), is a bona fide NT and Jesus scholar, so Charlesworth’s view of which NT scholars are leading scholars who represent the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel has significant weight and authority.

In order to determine whether Hinman’s claim is true or false, I will attempt to answer the following seven key questions, related to seven NT scholars that James Charlesworth has identified as leading scholars who represent the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel:

Q1. Did C.H. DODD conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

Q2. Did RAYMOND BROWN conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

Q3.  Did J.P. MEIER conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

Q4.  Did THEISSEN and MERZ conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

Q5. Did RICHARD BAUCKHAM conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

Q6.  Did P.N. ANDERSON conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

Q7.  Did D.M. SMITH conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

If all or nearly all of these seven key NT scholars DID conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus, then that will show that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is TRUE.

If three or four of these seven key NT scholars have NOT concluded that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable”, then that will show that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is FALSE.

If five or six of these seven key NT scholars have NOT concluded that “the Fourth Gospel is historically reliable”, then that will show that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is CLEARLY FALSE, and we may reasonably infer that his claim is based not on facts and evidence but on WISHFUL THINKING.

 

MY CONCLUSIONS SO FAR

In the last post, I showed that Raymond Brown, C.H. Dodd, and J.P. Meier did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE:

Q1. Did C.H. DODD conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

The answer to this question is NO.

Q2. Did RAYMOND BROWN conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

The answer to this question is NO.

Q3.  Did J.P. MEIER conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

The answer to this question is NO.

In a previous post, I showed that, contrary to the WISHFUL THINKING of Zarley and Hinman, the NT scholar Paul Anderson did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE:

Q6.  Did P.N. ANDERSON conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

The answer to this question is NO.

So, in previous posts, I have already shown that AT LEAST FOUR out of the seven leading NT scholars who represent the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  We now know that MOST of the seven NT scholars identified by Charlesworth did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  Thus, Joe Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is WRONG and FALSE.

If it turns out that one or more of the remaining three leading NT scholars who were identified as representing the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel also did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus, then we may conclude that not only is Hinman’s view WRONG and FALSE, but that it is CLEARLY FALSE, and thus that Hinman’s view is probably based on WISHFUL THINKING rather than on facts and evidence.

In the past week I have been looking over the book The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide by NT scholars Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz.  Based on various comments and claims made by Theissen and Merz in this scholarly guidebook about the historical Jesus, it is clear to me that Theissen and Merz also did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus (as I will show to be the case later in this post):

  Q4.  Did THEISSEN and MERZ conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

The answer to this question is NO.

That means AT LEAST FIVE of the seven key scholars did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE (Charlesworth counts the team of Theissen and Merz as ONE example of an NT scholar who represents the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel).  So, it is now clear to me, based on facts and evidence, that Joe Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is not merely WRONG and FALSE, but it is CLEARLY FALSE, and thus his view of NT scholarship is probably based on WISHFUL THINKING rather than on facts and evidence.

I also have reason to believe that D.M. Smith did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE (for example, see his article “John, the Gospel According to” in the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, revised edition), so it is likely that when I look more closely at D.M. Smith‘s views of the 4th Gospel, I will discover facts and evidence sufficient to establish that he also did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

In sum,  I KNOW RIGHT NOW that AT LEAST FIVE (and very likely SIX) of the seven leading NT scholars that Charlesworth has identified as representatives of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus, and thus that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is not only FALSE but is CLEARLY FALSE, and is thus probably based on WISHFUL THINKING.

 

FACTS AND EVIDENCE ON THE VIEW OF THEISSEN AND MERZ OF THE 4TH GOSPEL

Charlesworth points to a particular book by Theissen and Merz as representative of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel:

In The Historical Jesus (1998), Theissen and Merz offer the insight: ‘[I]t is also clear that John presupposes sources with a Synoptic stamp both in the narrative tradition and in the sayings tradition. But he seems to refer back to them independently of the Synoptics.’ … (p.36)

Since Charlesworth points to the book The Historical Jesus for evidence that Theissen and Merz are representatives of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel,  I will examine that same book in order to determine whether Theissen and Merz did conclude that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

There are a couple of general statements by Theissen and Merz in The Historical Jesus  that cast significant doubt on the idea that they believe that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE:

… there is a broad scholarly consensus that we can best find access to the historical Jesus through the Synoptic tradition [i.e Matthew, Mark, and Luke].  (p.25)

But, someone might wonder, do Theissen and Merz accept and agree with this “broad scholarly consensus”?  Later, they make a comment comparing the Synoptic Gospels to the 4th Gospel, a comment that clearly shows that they accept and agree with this scholarly consensus:

The historical value of the Synoptics [i.e. Matthew, Mark, and Luke] is clearly to be rated higher than that of the Gospel of John. (p.97)

This is NOT the sort of statement one would expect from an NT scholar who had concluded that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  This is, in fact, one of the main points in my case against the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the 4th Gospel.  I’m very happy to have the support of Theissen and Merz for this key skeptical point.

It is possible, however, to believe that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE and to also believe that the 4th Gospel is significantly less HISTORICALLY RELIABLE than the other canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  But in order to hold both of these beliefs, without contradicting oneself, one would have to believe that the other canonical Gospels were VERY HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

One would need to believe, for example, that events and details found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke were true and correct about 90% of the time, and that events and details found in the 4th Gospel were true and correct about 70% of the time.  This would allow all four Gospels to be evaluated as “historically reliable” where this was understood to mean that events and details in these Gospels were true and correct at least 70% of the time.  The 4th Gospel would, in this scenario, barely meet the standard, and the other Gospels would both meet and significantly exceed the standard.

The problem here, though, is that it is clear that Theissen and Merz have significant doubts about the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  They do NOT believe that these other Gospels are VERY HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  So, if they believe that the Synoptic Gospels are only SOMEWHAT HISTORICALLY RELIABLE or that the Synoptic Gospels are LESS THAN HISTORICALLY RELIABLE, then because they view the 4th Gospel as significantly LESS RELIABLE than the Synoptics, this implies that they do NOT believe that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

Let’s examine what Theissen and Merz have to say concerning the HISTORICAL RELIABILITY of the Gospel of Matthew.

First, they believe that Matthew was based in large part on previously existing written sources:

The Gospel of Matthew is based on Mark, the Logia source [i.e. Q] and special materials of various kinds…  (p.30)

They believe that the Gospel of Matthew contains some legendary material and creative fictional material:

…there is legendary material (like the prehistory  in Matt. 1-2 or 14.28-31; 17.24-27; 27.3-10, 19, 24f.) and pericopes which have largely been shaped by the redactor (e.g. Matt. 28.16-20).  (p.30)

Theissen and Merz do NOT accept the birth and infancy stories in Matthew as historical; they view those stories as legendary.  So, that is two chapters of Matthew that they toss out as unhistorical.  They also believe that parts of Chapters 14 (Peter walks on water), 17 (miracle of the coin in the fish’s mouth), and 27 (Judas hangs himself) are also legendary.   Between the various pieces of those three chapters, there is about a chapter’s worth of legendary material in addition to the first two chapters of Matthew.  So, according to Theissen and Merz, about three chapters worth of material in Matthew is legendary.  Since there are 28 chapters in Matthew, Theissen and Merz believe that about 10% of Matthew is legendary.

But it is clear that Theissen and Merz have doubts about the historicity and historical reliability of other parts of Matthew that are not obviously based on legendary material.  For example, they mention (above) Matthew 28.16-20 (the Great Commission on a mountain in Galilee) as having “largely been shaped by the redactor”, implying that this part of chapter 28 is unhistorical or historically unreliable.

Theissen and Merz note that the outline of Matthew comes mostly from the Gospel of Mark:

In his outline, Matthew predominantly follows Mark… (p.30)

That would be OK, except that according to Theissen and Merz, Mark’s chronological and geographical outline is historically worthless:

The chronological and geographical outline of Mark is secondary to the individual traditions; its form is determined by the author’s theological premises and therefore historically worthless… (p.27)

So, not only is about 10% of Matthew legendary material that is unhistorical, and other parts of Matthew (here and there) have “largely been shaped by the redactor” and thus are unhistorical or unreliable, but the general chronological and geographical outline of Matthew is based on the chronological and geographical outline of Mark, which is (according to Theissen and Merz) “historically worthless”.  Therefore, the chronological and geographical outline of Matthew is also historically worthless, according to Theissen and Merz.

Recall that the three main written sources used the author of Matthew are Mark, Q, and various special sources from that author’s christian community.  Since Q is mostly sayings of Jesus, as opposed to stories or narratives about Jesus, the sources for Matthew’s stories are primarily Mark and his special sources, often referred to as ‘M’.

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the stories that Matthew borrowed from Mark.  How historically reliable are the OTHER stories in Matthew, that do not come from Mark?  For example, the birth and infancy stories in Chapters 1 and 2 do not come from the Gospel of Mark.  According to Theissen and Merz (and most NT scholars in general), these two chapters are based on legendary material and are unhistorical.  So, right off the bat, we have good reason for doubting the historical reliability of stories found in Matthew that are not based on Mark.

Other legendary material mentioned by Theissen and Merz adds to our doubts about the historical reliability of stories in Matthew that are not based on Mark.  They believe that parts of Chapters 14 (Peter walks on water), 17 (miracle of the coin in the fish’s mouth), and 27 (Judas hangs himself) are also legendary.  These are stories that do NOT come from Mark.  So, this is additional evidence, pointed out by Theissen and Merz, that when the author of Matthew adds a new story about Jesus to the stories that came from Mark, the added story is likely to be unhistorical or historically unreliable.

One skeptical challenge to the reliability of the Gospels is that events and details in the Gospels often appear to be derived from Old Testament stories or prophecies.  Skeptics argue that such events and details are often fictional, not based on eyewitness accounts, but creatively generated on the basis of reading and interpreting Old Testament scriptures.  Theissen and Merz admit that this does happen sometimes, and one of their primary examples of this comes from the Gospel of Matthew:

The productive power of the proof from scripture can be demonstrated by the misunderstandings of parallelismus membrorum.  What in Hebrew poetry is a varying description of the same process is sometimes in the New Testament divided into two actions:

  • Zechariah 9.9 describes the entry of the messianic king ‘on an ass, on a foal, the colt of an ass’.  Only one animal is meant … . Matthew makes it two; in 21.7 he speaks of ‘an ass and a foal’, on which the disciples lay their clothes. The animals are spoken of in the plural… (p.106)

In other words, the author of Matthew MISUNDERSTOOD the meaning of Zechariah 9.9, and then created a detail in this story about there being TWO animals in order for Jesus to precisely fulfill what was supposed to be a prophecy about the messiah.  The author of Matthew did not simply pass on from an existing story this detail about there being two animals, the author made this detail up, based on his reading and interpretation of an Old Testament passage (Zechariah 9.9).  But, as Theissen and Merz are very much aware, the Gospel of Matthew is filled with several events and details that are supposed (by the author of Matthew) to be fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies, so there are several other events and details in Matthew that are cast into doubt in terms of their historicity or historical reliability.

What about the miracle stories in Matthew?  Do Theissen and Merz accept these stories as historically reliable?  They do NOT reject all miracle stories out of hand.  They do accept some miracle stories as being based on actual historical events in the life and ministry of Jesus.  However, they do express significant doubts about the historicity of a number of miracle stories, including miracle stories found in the Gospel of Matthew:

The analysis of all the references to the miracles of Jesus in miracle stories, summaries, apothegms and logia makes possible a differentiated assessment of their historicity: exorcisms and healings form Jesus’ real miracle-working activity.  Only here is there broadly attested formation of a genre; only these two types of miracle are mentioned in summaries and presupposed in logia. … The right to judge the other miracles–walking on water, transfiguration, multiplication of loaves and miraculous fishing trip–differently arises out of the sources.  At a very early stage they were not included among the ‘typical’ miracles of Jesus. (p.301)

So it is not possible sweepingly to attribute the miracle tradition to Jesus: exorcisms and therapies can in essence be traced back to the historical Jesus… Other miracles have only an indirect connection with him: they are poems of primitive Christianity shaped by the Easter faith.  But there should be no doubt of Jesus’ activity in performing exorcisms and therapies.  (p.304)

The Gospel of Matthew has a story about Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33), and a story of the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9), and a story about the multiplication of loaves by Jesus (Matthew 14:13-21).  Theissen and Merz do NOT believe these miracle stories are true or historical.

We also saw previously that Theissen and Merz reject the historicity of the account in Matthew of the miracle of Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:28-31), as well as the story of Jesus miraculously predicting that Peter would find a coin in the mouth of the next fish he caught (Matthew 17:24-27).  Thus, Theissen and Merz reject several of the miracle stories found in Matthew as unhistorical, as fictional stories, as “poems of primitive Christianity”.

Based on the above comments by Theissen and Merz, it seems unlikely that they would say that the Gospel of Matthew provides an HISTORICALLY RELIABLE account of the life and ministry of Jesus:

  • They believe that about 10% of Matthew is legendary.
  • They believe there are passages here and there in Matthew that “have largely been shaped by the redactor” and are thus unhistorical or unreliable.
  • They believe that the chronological and geographical outline of Matthew is “historically worthless”.
  • They believe that some of the events and details in Matthew are fictional creations inspired by Old Testament stories or prophecies.
  • They believe that several of the miracle stories in Matthew are unhistorical.

It is CLEAR that they would NOT assert that the Gospel of Matthew is VERY HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.  At most, they might claim that Matthew was SOMEWHAT RELIABLE.  But since they also believe and assert that the 4th Gospel is LESS RELIABLE than the Synoptic gospels, and since Matthew is one of the Synoptic gospels, it is CLEAR that they do NOT believe that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE:

  Q4.  Did THEISSEN and MERZ conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus?

The answer to this question is NO.

 

CONCLUSION

We now KNOW based on facts and evidence that AT LEAST FIVE out of the seven leading NT scholars that Charlesworth has identified as representing the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel DID NOT CONCLUDE that the 4th Gospel provides an HISTORICALLY RELIABLE account of the life and ministry of Jesus.  Therefore, we now KNOW that the following claim is CLEARLY FALSE:

There is a recent trend in NT scholarship that involves MANY NT scholars who have adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY RELIABLE.

So, we now KNOW that Hinman’s view of NT scholarship concerning a NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel is CLEARLY FALSE, and that his view is probably based on WISHFUL THINKING, because it clearly has no basis in facts or evidence.

 


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