Jesus Under Fire (ed. Moreland)

Wilkins, Michael J., Moreland, J. P. eds. Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995.

If all we had were the remarks by Josephus, Tacitus et al about Jesus and the prima facie reports of the empty tomb, we would be fully warranted in believing Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again.  The Jesus Seminar rejects that and rejects that we can know most anything about Jesus.  This book is an early response to the juvenile methods of the Jesus Seminar.  It also serves as a great text for an intro to a Synoptic Gospels class.

I. The Seminar’s Method

Aside from their ludicrous coloring system, the Seminar says:

a. If an utterance isn’t a parable or an aphorism, then Jesus didn’t say it.  That’s rather strange; why would they say that?  They want Jesus to be a wandering Cynic or guru.  In other words, he’s from Woodstock.  Of course, no other body of scholarship would dream of applying such restrictive criteria to any other religious figure.

B. Jesus’s Jewish heritage is exorcised(!) from his ministry.  This makes sense, since a Hebrew prophet wouldn’t have been a Greek Cynic.  Of course, even critical New Testament studies would reject that today, since if anything all the emphasis is on Jesus’s Jewishness.

C. The Gospel writers either borrowed from the Gospel of Thomas and/or the Secret Gospel of Mark.  Oddly enough, the stringent criteria above is not applied to these texts.

Craig Blomberg gives a good rebuttal to the above points.  We especially note the oft-made claim that Jesus expected the end of the world (and was likely disappointed).  The problem is that he gave a bunch of instruction which presupposed a long interval of time (Blomberg 31). He mentioned mundane issues such as paying taxes, divorce, and marriage.

And to say the early church made up the texts simply won’t work.  If the church “invented” Jesus’s deity, then why are there passages where Jesus seems to downplay it?  

The most important essay is Darrell Bock’s essay on the historiography of the Gospels.  Is the reporting of the gospel events designed to be a memorex, live, or jive?  In other words, given the standards of ancient writing, did the authors write dwon the exact wording of Jesus (memorex), nothing of Jesus (jive), or the “gist” of Jesus (live)?  Bock makes a convincing case for live.

If you hold to the memorex view, then you have a hard time affirming inerrancy in light of different sequences (or even worse, did Jesus heal the blind man as he was going into Jericho or leaving Jericho?).

The live view seeks to reproduce the “voice” or Jesus, not the exact words.  Compare this with Thucydides account in 1.22.1.  Thucydides admits he is summarizing, and perhaps reordering, a speaker’s thoughts and words, yet scholars recognize him as a model of accuracy and good reporting.

Other comments:

Gary Habermas remarks on the Seminar’s disavowal of miracles:  the Seminar says we can’t trust the miracle narratives because the authors wanted to believe in them.  Whether they did or not is irrelevant.  It’s called the genetic fallacy.

Strangely enough, skeptics like Marcus Borg believe in the exorcism stories, but he gives us no reason for accepting the attestation of all Gospel writers on these stories while excluding the nature miracles.

William Lane Craig offers his standard defense of the Resurrection.  I’ll forgo it here because I think it is better presented in Craig’s later works (cf. On Guard). He does note that the Resurrection can’t be a hallucination on the disciples’ part.  Hallucinations can only show what is already in the mind, and Jesus’s resurrection isn’t identical with the Jewish afterlife (Craig 161).

Edwin Yamauchi’s concluding essay is  fine survey of “Jesus studies” after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  He also touches on Josephus’s writings, including the controversial passage in Antiquities 18.  It’s mostly authentic.  Eusebius’s edition is somewhat doctored, but it is clear that Josephus knew of Jesus and his miracles.

This is an outstanding short response to the Jesus Seminar.  It is somewhat dated as N.T. Wright’s refutation of the Jesus Seminar came out soon afterwards.

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