What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know
It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so
– Mark Twain *
I believe that what gets Joe Hinman into trouble is not so much what he doesn’t know as what he knows for sure that just ain’t so.
According to Hinman:
He [Brad Bowen] knows nothing about biblical scholarship...
On the other hand Hinman claims to have expertise in this area:
It’s my field not his…
When I first read his quotation of Kermit Zarley asserting that three NT scholars had in recent decades carefully examined the 4th Gospel and then concluded that “The Fourth Gospel is historically reliable.”, I immediately suspected this was BULLSHIT.
On the other hand, Hinman, since he was quoting Zarley in order to support his own view (that many NT scholars have come to the conclusion that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable), clearly HAD NO CLUE that Zarley’s assertion was BULLSHIT.
So, Hinman’s alleged expert knowledge about the New Testament and NT scholarship FAILED to give him an accurate sense of the degree of skepticism among NT scholars concerning the 4th Gospel, while my alleged complete lack of knowledge about the New Testament and NT scholarship somehow mysteriously conferred upon me an accurate sense of the degree of skepticism among NT scholars concerning the 4th Gospel.
My explanation for this puzzling circumstance is that Hinman is engaging in WISHFUL THINKING, just like Kermit Zarley was engaging in WISHFUL THINKING about the three NT scholars that Zarley mentions. When Hinman and Zarely read books and articles by NT scholars who discuss the 4th Gospel, they read with a STRONG DESIRE that the NT scholars CONFIRM their belief that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable.
So, when an NT scholar says something positive about the 4th Gospel containing some historical information, they embrace that statement and even exaggerate and distort the meaning of the statement, so that it becomes an unqualified CONFIRMATION of their belief in the reliability of the 4th Gospel. But when the same scholar says something negative about the 4th Gospel being unhistorical or unreliable in some way or aspect, they ignore or downplay or simply forget that statement, or they distort the meaning of the statement, so that it becomes a highly qualified insignificant quibble against the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel.
CONFIRMATION BIAS and WISHFUL THINKING thus work hand-in-hand so that Hinman and Zarley arrive at “knowledge” of things that JUST AIN’T SO. In my previous posts on this subject, I have already shown that Hinman’s view is CLEARLY FALSE, and thus probably based on WISHFUL THINKING. Here is the view that Hinman attempted to defend by means of his quotation of Zarley:
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.
I have shown that this view of NT scholarship is CLEARLY FALSE by considering the views of seven leading NT scholars that James Charlesworth has identified as being representative of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel (that Hinman and Zarley are talking about). I have shown that at least FIVE out of the seven leading NT scholars representing the NEW VIEW did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable. Thus, at least a clear majority (71%) of those leading NT scholars representing the NEW VIEW have NOT adopted the view that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable.
Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is just as much BULLSHIT as Zarley’s view of the three NT scholars that he talks about. Hinman had no clue that this was the case because of WISHFUL THINKING and CONFIRMATION BIAS. The real trouble was with what Hinman “knows” that just ain’t so.
Here are the questions I have investigated in order to evaluate Hinman’s claim about NT scholarship:
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.
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.
Q5. Did RICHARD BAUCKHAM conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus? I have not yet investigated this question.
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.
Q7. Did D.M. SMITH conclude that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus? This question will be discussed and answered in this post.
D.M. SMITH DID NOT CONCLUDE THAT THE 4TH GOSPEL IS HISTORICALLY RELIABLE
At this point, it should come as no great surprise that Dwight Moody Smith, another leading NT scholar who represents the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel does NOT believe or argue that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable, putting one more nail in the coffin of Hinman’s already firmly refuted claim about NT scholarship.
I now know that at least SIX out of the seven leading NT scholars who are representative of the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel did NOT conclude that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable. That is 86% of those seven leading NT scholars do NOT believe that the 4th Gospel is historically reliable. Hinman’s view of NT scholarship is CLEARLY out of touch with reality, at least concerning the degree of skepticism about the 4th Gospel.
Because Charlesworth specifically mentions one of D.M. Smith’s books–The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions (2008), I will focus on material from that book, which is one of the most recently published books by Smith (he died in 2016). However, I will also use a bit of material from his earlier book John Among the Gospels (2nd edition, 2001), which contains a chapter based on lectures that Smith gave in 1996 (chapter 8 in the book).
Here is a relevant quote of D. M. Smith from Chapter 8 of John among the Gospels:
In his book of the same title, Maurice Casey asks, is John’s Gospel true? and answers that it is not. Given Casey’s standard of what is truth… , his answer is in many important respects correct, or so I would agree. The picture of Jesus as the Christ that emerges from John is significantly farther removed from the historical Jesus than the portrayal of any or all of the Synoptic Gospels. It is true, as Casey maintains, that John is influenced both by the synagogue conflict, which so largely shaped the Gospel in its formative stages, and by its post-resurrection, Christian perspective … . John’s Jesus is different from the synoptic Jesus, and both differ from the historical figure of Jesus. Yet John’s Jesus is a more distinctly Christian figure who stands over against “the Jews.”
Casey’s argument that the Gospel of John is untrue entails his maintaining that in all cases where it differs from or contradicts the Synoptics John is historically wrong. Doubtless he believes that is the case, but his arguments suffer from his palpable programmatic intention. If, in respect to major and central aspects of John’s portrayal of Jesus, Casey’s position is, by historical-critical standards, largely correct, this does not mean that the Fourth Gospel may not contain historically accurate data, particularly when its differences do not express its clear theological or narrative interests. (p. 234-235, emphasis added)
Once again we see the same combination of two basic conclusions held by other leading NT scholars about the canonical Gospels: (1) the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) are at best only somewhat historically reliable, and (2) the 4th Gospel is significantly LESS historically reliable than the Synoptics.
Furthermore, Smith admits that Casey’s view that “where it differs from or contradicts the Synoptics John is historically wrong” is “largely correct” in relation to “major and central aspects of John’s portrayal of Jesus”. In other words, the portrayal of Jesus in the 4th Gospel in its major and central aspects is UNHISTORICAL. Clearly, the NT scholar who wrote the above passage does NOT believe that the 4th Gospel provides an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Chapter 8 of John among the Gospels (2nd ed., 2001), as stated earlier, is based on lectures that Smith gave in 1996. So, it is possible that the skepticism of Smith in 1996 about the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel was replaced later in his life by a new confidence in the historical reliability of that Gospel. So, we need to also take a look at his more recent publication The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions (2008), to see if he changed his mind later in life and became a believer in the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel.
In the preface of The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions (on page xii) we find a big clue indicating that Smith’s skepticism about the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel continued consistently from early in his career until late in his career, when this book was about to be published (in 2008):
The old essay included in this most recent publication by Smith is called “John’s Portrait of Jesus”, and Smith thinks that this essay, which was originally published in 1977, explains important information such that he “cannot say it better”. Smith then summarizes this essay in a single sentence:
The Johannine Jesus gives long discourses on Christology, but the historical Jesus did not.
This one sentence implies a significant degree of skepticism about the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel. So in the preface, Smith implies that this significant degree of skepticism about the reliability of the 4th Gospel has remained consistent through his career, from early in his career (1977) until late in his career (2008). This one sentence implies that both the content (Christology) and the form (long discourses) of the words and teachings of the historical Jesus are seriously and frequently misrepresented in the 4th Gospel.
One of the essays in The Fourth Gospel in Four Dimensions that had not been published previously is titled “The Problem of History in John”. This essay confirms the same significant degree of skepticism about the historical reliability of the 4th Gospel, as Smith’s much older essay (“John’s Portrait of Jesus”):
Of course, historical skepticism about John’s portrayal of Jesus did not begin yesterday. That the Johannine Jesus is preaching the gospel of the post-resurrection church has been apparent to most exegetes since the rise of historical criticism. (p.49, emphasis added)
The sayings of Jesus in John are another matter, in that Jesus talks Christology quite explicitly and debates his role with his opponents, although this does not happen in the Synoptics. … the anachronistic character of the Johannine Jesus’ preaching has long been recognized… (p.49, emphasis added)
In other words, the 4th Gospel has Jesus preaching Christian theology, asserting ideas and claims that the historical Jesus did NOT himself preach or teach. Thus, the preaching and teaching of Jesus in the 4th Gospel is sometimes UNHISTORICAL, according to Smith. Clearly, if the 4th Gospel frequently puts claims and ideas into the mouth of Jesus, when those claims and ideas were NOT included in the preaching or teaching of the historical Jesus, then the 4th Gospel does NOT provide an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus.
So, when Jesus is portrayed in the 4th Gospel as teaching or preaching Christology (elevated claims about his divine nature or his central role in the salvation of humankind) and when Jesus is portrayed in the 4th Gospel as engaging in lengthy theological discourses (as opposed to speaking in parables and aphorisms), then we have good reason to believe that the words attributed to Jesus in those passages are probably NOT from the historical Jesus, but are, rather, expressions of Christian theology that developed in the decades following the crucifixion of Jesus.
The main question now, for those who are not already familiar with the 4th Gospel, is “How often does the 4th Gospel portray Jesus as teaching or preaching Christology, and/or as engaging in lengthy theological discourses?” If Jesus is portrayed this way in only two or three passages, then the 4th Gospel could still be historically reliable in general, if the dozens of other passages in that Gospel provided accurate historical information about Jesus. But if the 4th Gospel frequently portrays Jesus as teaching or preaching Christology, and/or as engaging in lengthy theological discourses, then the 4th Gospel would clearly be HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, given D. Moody Smith’s views.
Since at least sixteen out of the twenty-one Chapters in the 4th Gospel contain passages that portray Jesus as teaching or preaching Christology, and/or as engaging in lengthy theological discourse, it is clear to those who are familiar with the 4th Gospel that Smith’s views imply that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, because it VERY FREQUENTLY portrays Jesus in these ways. As an expert on the 4th Gospel, Smith was clearly aware that the 4th Gospel VERY FREQUENTLY portrays Jesus as teaching or preaching Christology, and/or as engaging in lengthy theological discourse, so it is clear that Smith himself viewed the 4th Gospel as being HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE.
In EVERY chapter from Chapter 3 through Chapter 13, the 4th Gospel portrays Jesus as teaching or preaching Christology, and/or as engaging in lengthy theological discourse. Here are some selected examples of this from those chapters:
⦁ No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.
⦁ so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
⦁ For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
⦁ If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.
⦁ whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.
⦁ The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
⦁ to honor the Father, honor the Son
⦁ the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God
⦁ the Father who has sent me, He has testified of me
⦁ the Scriptures testify about me
⦁ I am the bread of life
⦁ this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life
⦁ My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.
⦁ I know Him, because I am from Him, and He sent Me.
⦁ He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’
⦁ I am the light of the world
⦁ the truth will make you free
⦁ before Abraham was born, I am
⦁ While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.
⦁ For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.
⦁ I am the good shepherd
⦁ I and the Father are one
⦁ the Father is in me, and I in the Father
⦁ I am the resurrection and the life
⦁ Father…so that they may believe that You sent Me
⦁ And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
⦁ While you have the Light, believe in the Light
⦁ he who sees Me sees the One who sent me
⦁ I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
⦁ From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.
⦁ Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.
⦁ as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
The above eleven Chapters are sufficient to show that the 4th Gospel is HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE based on D. Moody Smith’s view that passages where Jesus is portrayed as teaching or preaching Christology, and/or as engaging in lengthy theological discourse are probably UNHISTORICAL and do NOT accurately portray the historical Jesus. The 4th Gospel only contains twenty-one chapters, so these eleven Chapters constitute over half of the chapters in this Gospel.
But there are a number of other chapters in this Gospel that also contain UNHISTORICAL passages about Jesus, based on Smith’s point of view. Chapters 14 through 17 contain what are called the “Farewell Discourses” of Jesus, and they are lengthy theological discourses. So, based on Smith’s point of view, these four chapters are filled with passages that present a FALSE and UNHISTORICAL portrayal of the words and teachings of Jesus.
Furthermore, Chapter 18 also contains passages that appear to be UNHISTORICAL based on Smith’s viewpoint:
⦁ My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.
⦁ You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.
Smith believed that an important key to understanding the 4th Gospel, is the references of Jesus to “the Jews”. Smith believed this was anachronistic, i.e. UNHISTORICAL. Jesus and his disciples were Jews, and so it is implausible that they would talk about “the Jews” as being a group separate from themselves. Also, it is the conflict that arose decades after Jesus was crucified, a conflict between Jews who believed in Jesus as the divine Son of God and Jews who did not view Jesus as an exalted figure that motivated the animosity behind the expression “the Jews” in the 4th Gospel, according to Smith. Thus, such animosity towards “the Jews” is anachronistic in the mouth of Jesus. The historical Jesus would NOT have spoken about being “handed over to the Jews” when he and his disciples were Jews, and when it was NOT the Jews but the Romans who crucified him. Jesus was “handed over to” the Romans to be killed, not the Jews. So, I’m fairly sure that Smith would reject the claim that the historical Jesus spoke these words that are attributed to him in Chapter 18. Jesus also tries to preach Christology to Pilate in Chapter 18, and Smith would presumably doubt the historicity of those alleged words of Jesus in Chapter 18.
So, it is clear that at least sixteen of the twenty-one chapters of the Fourth Gospel (over 75% of the chapters in this Gospel) contain UNHISTORICAL portrayals of the words and teachings of Jesus, in the view of D. Moody Smith. Smith was an expert in this Gospel, so he was keenly aware of how frequently the 4th Gospel presents a portrayal of Jesus that is UNHISTORICAL, and thus Smith must have viewed the 4th Gospel as being HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE, both in 1977, when he wrote the essay “John’s Portrait of Jesus”, as well as in 2008, when he published for the first time the essay “The Problem of History in John”. In conclusion, D. Moody Smith NEVER concluded that the 4th Gospel was historically reliable. For his entire career, Smith consistently held the view that the 4th Gospel was HISTORICALLY UNRELIABLE.
I have shown that at least SIX of the seven key NT scholars who, according to James Charlesworth represent the NEW VIEW of the 4th Gospel did NOT arrive at the conclusion that the 4th Gospel presents an historically reliable account of the life and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, the following claim, implied by Joe Hinman 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.
The facts and evidence show this claim so clearly to be FALSE, that one may reasonably conclude that Hinman was engaging in very serious WISHFUL THINKING in believing and implying this claim. Hinman might have some “knowledge” about NT scholarship, but in this case, the problem is that what he “knows” about NT scholarship just ain’t so.
* Interestingly, the above quote, presented in the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth”, does NOT come from Mark Twain.
In fact, it appears that this quote does NOT come from any specific person. The humorist Josh Billings apparently said something similar, and Mark Twain also said something similar, but neither Billings nor Twain made the above statement.
Here are the quotes of Billings and Twain that probably were the basis out of which the above saying evolved:
I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing
than two know what ain’t so – Josh Billings
When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not;
but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter – Mark Twain