THE HISTORICAL-CRITICAL METHOD,
JESUS RESEARCH,

AND THE CHRISTIAN SCHOLAR

By
Barry D. Smith

 
 

Originally Published in Trinity Journal 15NS (1994) 201-220


 

 

It is not always easy to see the forest for the trees in biblical studies.  It is not always easy, in other words, for a biblical scholar to maintain a clear grasp of the methodological underpinnings of his or her work when bogged down in the details of a particular research project.  It can happen, therefore, that a Christian biblical scholar, without being fully aware of it, proceeds methodologically in a way that is incompatible with his or her religious beliefs. The purpose of this paper is to attempt to see the forest. I intend to explore the methodological issue of the impact that faith in Christ has on biblical scholarship. This enterprise is, of course, not new; it has been dealt with innumerable times in the past. But, in my opinion, it bears renewed consideration for this generation of Christian scholars. My position is that faith in Christ is incompatible with the use of the historical-critical method, as I shall define it, and as a result Christian scholars ought to distance themselves methodologically from it. I begin with general considerations on the incompatibility of faith and use of the historical-critical method. I then move to an exposition of how faith is incompatible with Jesus research carried out on historical-critical principles, since I believe that it is in Jesus research where the contradiction between faith and the historical critical method is most acutely visible.
 
 

I. The Nature of the Historical-Critical Method

In his four-volume work Abhandlung von freier Untersuchung des Canons (Treatise on the Free Investigation of the Canon), J. S. Semler differentiates between the Word of God and the canon of the church. For him canon does not denote a set of divinely inspired texts but merely collections of books chosen by churches as suitable for public reading. This disjunction allowed for the emergence of a new interpretive method, which has become known as the historical-critical method. (1)

    Since the Bible is not to be viewed as a set of divinely inspired texts, it becomes axiomatic that a biblical text means only what its author intended it to mean and, therefore, that this meaning is necessarily tied to the author's historical context. To quote the now-famous words of Benjamin Jowett, ''Scripture has one meaning—the meaning which it had in the minds of the Prophet or Evangelist who first uttered or wrote, to the hearers or readers who first received it."(2) The task of the historical-critical scholar is to reconstruct the historical conditions of the production of a text and then to determine the author's intended meaning from within those parameters. This is the historical side of the historical-critical method, what it means to understand a text historically. The historical-critical method, however, has another side: it is not only historical but also critical. Again, since the biblical texts are not to be considered as divinely inspired, it is axiomatic that the truth claims made by a biblical text be open to refutation.(3) There can be no instances of special pleading; all texts are to be treated alike. In other words, the biblical texts are to have no a priori authority.(4) The historical-critical method in earlier days was synonymous with the "scientific" (wissenschaftlich) approach to the Bible, as opposed to the "dogmatic" approach of the church (Troeltsch). The appellation "scientific," of course, contains an implicit claim to superiority.

    It is no coincidence that Semler is a rationalist in his theological orientation. The historical-critical method is the necessary methodological correlative of the rationalist assumption of human intellectual autonomy. Religion rationalistically conceived ("natural religion") is not dependent for its existence on a set of documents, divinely inspired or otherwise; the possibility of recognizing the truth of its maxims is intrinsic to the one who assents to these insofar as he or she possesses the faculty of reason. Rationalistic religious truth becomes, therefore, the criterion by which the contents of all "positive" religious texts, including the Bible, are determined to be authoritative for the reader. But not every advocate of the historical-critical method need be a rationalist; he or she needs only not be a Christian. Anyone who is not a Christian can and even ought to adopt the historical-critical method when studying the Christian Bible.(5)

II. The Incompatibility of Being a Christian and a Historical Critic

The rise of the historical-critical method is viewed by its advocates as a milestone in the history of the church, separating the pre-critical age, when people naively assumed that the Bible was divinely inspired and infallible, from the enlightened and scientific age, when interpreters seek to understand historically and critically. At this point in the history of the church it is the general consensus that the rise of the historical-critical method has been a positive development; in spite of problems it may have raised for "fundamentalists" in every denomination, it has been a benefit to the church.(6)  It is my view, however, that this judgment conceals the fact of the basic incompatibility of the historical-critical method with faith in Christ.(7)

    Necessarily, a Christian today is committed to viewing a set of texts as having noetic authority.(8) Some may not want to tie faith in Christ so closely to a set of texts, but this is inevitable owing to the nature of faith in Christ. Noetically defined, faith in Christ is the assent to the proposition that Jesus is the Christ. As such, it is a type of knowing (cf. Heb 11:1-2). This proposition derives from the Christocentric interpretation of those texts accepted as Scripture by Jews in the first century CE, an interpretation initiated by Jesus and continued by the early church. (That there were texts considered religiously authoritative by Jews at the time of Jesus is clear.) That is to say, the proposition that Jesus is the Christ derives from the fact that Jesus understood himself as the Christ, the instrument through whom God would bring about Israel's eschatological salvation anticipated in the Jewish Scriptures of his day, and that the early church adopted the same hermeneutical point of departure, interpreting Jesus' life, death, and resurrection as the fulfilling of his messianic functions.(9) This Christocentric interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures is available to us now only in textual form in documents produced by the early church, most of which are found in the New Testament. (I prescind from the related issues of the inspiration of the Christian Bible and the formation of the canon; although this is an artificial procedure, for my purposes in this paper these issues are secondary.)

    The possibility of faith today, therefore, is extrinsic to the one who believes, because it is dependent upon and inseparable from the actuality of a set of texts, both the first-century Jewish Scriptures and one or more of those texts produced by the early church that give expression to the proposition that Jesus is the Christ. To be an intrinsic possibility, the proposition that Jesus is the Christ would have to be an innate truth of reason, which it is not.(10) Since the proposition assented to in faith is derivative of a set of texts, the act of faith is also an affirmation that these texts have noetic authority.(11) Or to put it in logical order, the proposition is assented to because what these texts intend has been deemed to be true, with the result that they are admitted as noetically authoritative.(12) The question of the warrant for the acceptance of these texts as noetically authoritative is a separate issue, one dealt with by Christian apologetics.(13) My point is simply that assent to the proposition is logically inseparable from the attribution of noetic authority to these texts, insofar as they generate the proposition.(14) To say that one believes that Jesus is the Christ while maintaining a critical stance towards these texts is contradictory, as contradictory as Socrates' accusers claiming that he believes in supernatural activities but not in supernatural beings (Apology 26c-27e).(15) Now I have been examining the phenomenon of faith in Christ from a noetic point of view alone, which is admittedly an incomplete perspective. But to deny that there is this dimension is certainly incorrect.(16) Inevitably, therefore, one cannot be a Christian today without accepting the noetic authority of a set of texts as a necessary correlative of faith in Christ.(17)

    There are, consequently, two reasons that faith in Christ is incompatible with advocacy of the historical-critical Method.(18) First, contrary to the critical axiom of the method, a Christian has made a decision to abandon his or her intellectual autonomy and to accord noetic authority to a set of texts.(19) Second, against the historical axiom, by recognizing the noetic authority of these texts, credence is given to the possibility of the unhistorical interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures, since there are several instances of such unhistorical interpretation in Jesus' interpretation and in the interpretation of the early church recorded in these texts.(20) An unhistorical interpretation of a text is a meaning assigned to a text that was not intended by its author, a sensus plenior.(21) By no means is this to say that a Christian never seeks to understand the Jewish Scriptures historically, but only that he or she believes that the meaning of any one of these texts is not necessarily determined or exhausted by its authorial intention.(22) The Christian biblical scholar must judge the historical-critical method to be inappropriate to its object.(23)

    We find a historical parallel in the Qumran community. To be a member of this Jewish religious community (or, as they understood themselves, the remnant who had entered the [new] Covenant), required submission to a set of canonical works and the interpretation of these works by the Teacher of Righteousness and other sages of the community. These interpretations were of two sorts. First, the community had many halakic differences with other Jewish groups. But more importantly for a comparison with early Christianity, the community gave eschatological (and unhistorical) interpretations to the prophets and writings (psalms) in light of events in its own history, sometimes under the influence of religious ideas originating in the post-biblical period. New revelation was provided by God to the community by means of inspired interpretation of old revelation.(24) Unlike early Christianity, the Qumran community did not center its interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures on the Messiah (rather on itself as the eschatological remnant), nor were signs and wonders produced as divine confirmation of the validity of their interpretation. In addition, early Christianity did not have the same interest in the proper explication of the torah as the Qumran community did. Nevertheless, both movements worked with an eschatological hermeneutic, both produced traditions/literary works by authoritative figures consisting of interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures in light of post-biblical events and influenced by post-biblical religious ideas, and membership in both presupposed acceptance of their respective hermeneutics and the results of their applications.

    A good example of the hermeneutical similarity between the early church and the Qumran community can be found in their respective interpretations of Hab 1:5b: "I [Yahweh] am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told." As is clear from 1:6, the marvelous and astonishing event of which Habakkuk speaks is the coming of the Babylonians. 1QpHab, however, provides another interpretation for this text: it concerns apostates from the community, whose departure is unbelievable and bewildering. Paul, likewise, as recorded by Luke, ignores the historical meaning, interpreting the event referred to by Habakkuk as the future judgment of God on those who reject the gospel (Acts 13:41). Both interpretations exceed the intended meaning of the text, its historical meaning; both are new revelation based on old revelation.


 
Questions 

1. What is the historical-critical method?

2. Why is faith in Christ incompatible with the use of the historical-critical method?

 

III. Jesus Research on Historical-Critical Principles

Necessarily, Jesus research on historical-critical principles entails the rejection of the assumption that a text can have a meaning that exceeds the authorial intention, the historical meaning, which assumption, of course, underlies those texts produced by the early church that preserve the Christological interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures initiated by Jesus and continued by the early church. Jesus, for instance, is reported to have read Isa 61:1-2 in the synagogue at Nazareth: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19). He then claimed, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21b). The historical-critical scholar must judge that what Jesus is doing is illegitimate (assuming that he or she believes that Jesus even did this), since there is no reason to suspect that the "I" in the text is anyone other than the author himself. Now even if one can produce evidence that Jews of the post-biblical period interpreted Isa 61:1-3 or parts thereof messianically and/or eschatologically and, therefore, that Jesus was in line with the hermeneutical norms of his day (cf. 4Q521 Messianic Apocalypse and 11QMelch), nevertheless the historical-critical scholar must conclude that Jesus' interpretation of the text cannot be its meaning. Likewise, the interpretation of Ps 118:22-23 attributed to Jesus (the rejected cornerstone: Mark 12:10-11; cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7) as speaking of the ironic rejection of the Messiah is unhistorical, since this is not the authorial meaning. The basis of Jesus' interpretation is charismatic: he had inspired insight into the true but hidden meaning of the text.(25) The same is true of the gospel writers' use of the Jewish Scriptures, so that when, for example, the author of the gospel of Matthew claims that Jesus' virginal birth is a fulfillment of the prophecy of the birth of Immanuel in Isa 7:14, the historical-critical scholar must demur. (Even if Jesus or the early church was dependent on the Targumin for a particular unhistorical interpretive slant on a text, still there is no escaping that the interpretation is unhistorical.)

    Consequently, explanations for Jesus' or the early church's unhistorical interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures must be sought; usually apologetic reasons—the desire to justify prior religious convictions—are produced to explain this phenomenon. From a historical-critical point of view, however, these appeals to the Jewish Scriptures to bolster pre-existing belief are strained and cast doubt on either the intellectual competence or the moral integrity of the interpreter. Either the interpreter was incapable of differentiating his own interpretive horizon from that of the author of the text (26) or he intentionally foisted propagandistic interpretations on the Jewish Scriptures. At best Jesus and the early Christians were pre-critical, at worst dishonest.(27)

    The one who studies Jesus historical-critically also begins by making a distinction in principle between the historical Jesus and the Jesus constructed by the early church. The assumption is that some elements of the portrayal of Jesus found in the texts from which the proposition that Jesus is the Christ derives may be unhistorical. In actual practice this amounts to a critical stance towards the four canonical gospels, since no other documents have a strong prima facie claim to be a source for a reconstruction of the life of Jesus.(28) Beginning with D. F. Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, the consensus has emerged that the gospel of John has questionable historical value (with a few possible exceptions). This leaves only the Synoptic Gospels as potential sources of data on Jesus. But owing to the possibility of discontinuity between the synoptic portrayal of Jesus and the historical Jesus, it is incumbent on any New Testament scholar who aims to establish facts about Jesus to demonstrate beforehand the authenticity of the synoptic material used as data in this enterprise.

    The requirement to demonstrate the authenticity of the synoptic Jesus-traditions before they can be used as data on Jesus has given rise to criteria of authenticity. Two criteria in particular have received greater prominence, because it is believed that conformity to one or both of these is the best index of the authenticity of a synoptic Jesus-tradition. These are the criteria of dissimilarity and of multiple attestation. When a saying or meaning-laden action of Jesus reported by the Synoptic Gospels is dissimilar to what one knows to be characteristic of the belief structures of the early church and the Judaisms of Jesus' day, then that saying or meaning-laden action is likely authentic. The criterion of multiple attestation rests on the premise that, the more independent testimonies to a tradition there are, the greater is the probability that it is authentic. This criterion involves the use of literary criticism to distinguish sources and does not restrict itself to the canonical gospels.

    The conservative advocate of the historical-critical method believes that the evidence is such that general historicity should be accorded to the Synoptic Gospels, so that the researcher is justified in assuming historicity unless proven otherwise.(29) The warrant for the judgment of the Synoptic Gospels' general historicity is the nature of the tradition and its transmission. The existence of eyewitnesses and the Jerusalem church as a control on the tradition, evidence that the church did not create sayings of Jesus when it was to its advantage to do so, the likelihood that the disciples functioned analogously to rabbinic pupils as faithful transmitters of Jesus-tradition—all combine to support the thesis that the synoptic Jesus-tradition is generally historically reliable. Nevertheless, such a conservative point of departure makes little difference in the last analysis, since individual Jesus-traditions must still be defended against actual or hypothetical doubt. The judgment that in general the synoptic material is historically reliable does not absolve one from proving that a particular synoptic Jesus-tradition is authentic. To put the burden of proof on the one who would deny its authenticity is unjustified, since general reliability does not imply total reliability.(30) As long as the Jesus researcher allows for the possibility of non-historicity, the authenticity of individual synoptic Jesus-traditions must be established by means of criteria of authenticity. Supposition proves nothing.(31)

    The historical-critical assumption of the possibility of discontinuity between the synoptic portrayal of Jesus and the historical Jesus justifies the adoption of a critical freedom in the determination of Jesus' intentionality. In other words, there are no prior limits set to the reconstruction of the aims of Jesus. R. G. Collingwood correctly divides the historical task into the reconstruction of the "outside" and the "inside" of the event; the discovery of what happened includes the discovery of why it happened, and when dealing with history the "why" invariably turns out to be human intentionality.(32) Although some New Testament scholars have rejected in principle the possibility of reconstructing Jesus' "inner life," most have understood that Jesus research culminates in a determination of the overriding aim of Jesus; this generic intention becomes a heuristic device for understanding the specific intentions informing individual events in Jesus' career.(33) For the historical-critical scholar there is no a priori obligation to accept the Synoptic Gospels' explanation of Jesus' generic intention—Jesus' messianic self-understanding—and a fortiori no obligation to accept their explanations of his specific intentions. Any hypothesis concerning Jesus' generic or specific intentions that is consistent with the authentic "outside" data can be entertained. Thus there have been numerous attempts to reconstruct a non-messianic Jesus. G. Vermes, for instance, depicts Jesus as a typical charismatic Jew, similar to Honi the circle-drawer and Hanina ben Dosa, and rejects the Christological context in which Jesus' charismatic activities and his preaching of the Kingdom were placed by the early church, as reflected in the gospels.(34) Other examples of a non-messianic Jesus are those of Sanders and Borg, although they differ significantly from each other in other respects.(35)

    The issue of ultimate presuppositions and their influence on Jesus research must also be raised. The Synoptic Gospels (as well as the Gospel of John) assume certain ultimate presuppositions in their portrayal of Jesus. By his insistence on the confessional nature of the gospels, M. Kähler makes this plain in his critique of nineteenth-century lives of Jesus.(36) The historical-critical scholar, however, maintaining an intellectual autonomy adopted as a methodological principle, has no a priori obligation to accept the truth of any or all of these presuppositions.(37) And if these presuppositions are rejected, any element of the portrait of Jesus that rests on them must also be rejected. There are two ways in particular in which this occurs.

    First a historical-critical scholar's ultimate presuppositions will be operative in advance in determining which synoptic Jesus-traditions are authentic; what is selected as data on Jesus must agree with the scholar's view of the general conditions of historical possibility, which is a function of his or her ultimate presuppositions. (Agreement of synoptic Jesus-tradition with the Jesus researcher's own views on the general conditions of historical possibility is de facto the first criterion of authenticity.) In many cases, for example, owing to the implicit or explicit deployment of the Troeltschian principles of analogy—that the past must be interpreted on analogy to the present—and correlation—that historical reality is a closed cause/effect continuum—Jesus' more unusual activities in the Synoptic Gospels are set aside as legendary or mythological accretions to the tradition. Bultmann's program of demythologizing is a good illustration of this.(38)

    Second, in the process of establishing facts about Jesus the historical-critical scholar's ultimate presuppositions will affect how "outside" data on Jesus deemed authentic are explained and, therefore, whether he or she can accept the Synoptic Gospels' own explanations, either as given in the words of Jesus or as provided by the gospel writers.(39) Although he accepts the Synoptic Gospels' portrayal of Jesus as healer as authentic, J. Jeremias, for example, rejects their explanation of Jesus' healings as supernatural, explaining them rather as the performance of psychosomatic cures.(40) Whether, in Jeremias's view, Jesus understood his healing in this way is unclear, but what is clear is that Jeremias believes that the Synoptic Gospels' explanation of Jesus' healings is mistaken, being the result of the influence of a pre-modern worldview. J. Crossan, similarly, accepts as historical the gospels' depiction of Jesus as exorcist but interprets this category socio-politically (in Marxist terms) as the intentional subversion of the status quo; that Jesus really did cast out demons is not taken up as an explanatory possibility.(41)

    Now some may say that it is inappropriate to allow the issue of ultimate presuppositions to intrude into historical research. Rather, according to this view, the role of the historian is the more modest determination of the intentionality of the historical figure under consideration—the historical "inside"—or what others believed about this intentionality. In the case of the Synoptic Gospels' portrayal of Jesus, the historian either seeks to determine the aims of Jesus or what the early church believed those aims to have been. These are the only valid objects of investigation. Whether Jesus, for example, actually healed by the power of God and actually cast out demons are questions that are out-of-bounds for the historian; all that ought to be of concern is whether Jesus believed that he was doing these things and/or whether the early church believed this. In other words, the goal of historical research is imminent explanation only, not transcendent; the latter is to be avoided, since only the former is value-free explanation, the condition of the possibility of historical objectivity. In this way, the whole issue of ultimate presuppositions can be avoided.

    Unfortunately, such an approach to Jesus research is not possible, for two reasons. First, the historian will still be influenced by his or her view of the general conditions of historical possibility in the determination of data on Jesus. Second, although the reconstruction of intentionality is an important part of historical research, in some cases, especially in dealing with figures of religious history, the data ineluctably moves the historian beyond imminent explanation to transcendent. (42) For example, if an historian determines that the early church and Jesus himself believed that he was healing by the power of God and that he was casting out actual demons, the historian is then compelled to ask whether this belief corresponded to reality. If the historian judges that it does, then the transcendent explanation is identical with the imminent, and the historical task is complete. But if not, then the historian must seek to explain the genesis of the early church and Jesus' erroneous belief in this regard; otherwise the historical task is incomplete. Since the influence of ultimate presuppositions on Jesus research is unavoidable, the need remains for the historian to make the prior decision whether to accept the gospels' own ultimate presuppositions or proceed on the principle of intellectual autonomy.(43)

IV. Jesus Research on the Principle of Faith

By contrast, the Christian doing Jesus research will operate very differently than the historical-critical scholar. Faith in Christ will result in the adoption of a different point of departure. In opposition to the historical-critical approach, the Christian scholar will begin from the assumption of the noetic authority of the Jewish Scriptures and the textual record of their Christological interpretation initiated by Jesus and continued by the early church. Now the exact identity of this textual record is another issue, one not dealt with in this paper. (Suffice it to say that the canonical gospels will figure prominently in any list of texts productive of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ.) But what is clear is that a Christian Jesus researcher, as a function of her faith in Christ, will abandon her intellectual autonomy, and begin from the assumption that what this textual record intends is true.  In his essay "The Will to Believe," William James affirms that, in dealing with "options" that are both "momentous and forced"—of which religion is a prime example—"we have the right to believe at our own risk any hypothesis that is live enough to tempt our will."(44)  In the case of the one who has faith in Christ, the will is not only tempted but compelled—by the Holy Spirit—to believe that this textual record is what it claims to be. Methodological skepticism, the historian's usual point of departure, is thereby set aside by the "passional nature," to use James's terminology. This means that everything in this textual record is data on Jesus, relevant to the reconstruction of both the historical "outside" and "inside," and relevant to both imminent and transcendent historical explanation. If this is obscurantism, then so be it. At least, it is more consistent than the approach of some conservative advocates of the historical-critical method who claim to be doing historical research without being influenced by religious presuppositions, but who clearly are.

    The assumption of the authority of the Jewish Scriptures and the textual record productive of the proposition that Jesus is the Christ implies the acceptance of the validity of Jesus and the early church’s sometimes unhistorical interpretations of those Jewish Scriptures. This entails not only an acceptance of the assumption shared by Jesus and the early church that a test from the Jewish scriptures may have a sensus plenior, but also the confession that Jesus had the hermeneutical key by which to understand those Scriptures—that he was an inspired interpreter—and that he passed this role on to the early church.

    Some may think that to begin with this methodological point of departure would spell the end of Jesus research, since nothing would remain to be done. In fact, this is not the case.(45) There are scholarly activities related to Jesus research compatible with the methodological assumption that what the textual record of the Christological interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures initiated by Jesus and continued by the early church is true.(46) In order to reconstruct a full picture of Jesus’ life, the Christian Jesus researcher will engage in source criticism (on the assumption that the exact composition of this textual record has been determined),(47) redaction criticism, form criticism (with certain qualifications having been made), tradition-historical research (including attempts to reconstruct the original Aramaic forms of Jesus’ sayings),(48) religious-historical research, sociological analysis (as long as it does not become reductionistic), archeological work, and general historical research. More items, no doubt, could be added to the list. The difference between historical-critical and Christian Jesus research is that the latter assumes that what the texts deemed in advance to be noetically authoritative intend is true and engages in only those scholarly activities compatible with this assumption.(49)

    No doubt Christian Jesus research will be judged by historical-critical scholars as being naive, uncritical, and, therefore, invalid—and such an accusation would be on the mark if one accepts the premises of the historical-critical method.(50) But does the Christian have any choice but to proceed in this way? Some scholars from the evangelical tradition, perhaps feeling the sting of this criticism, advocate that Christians need not be bound by the authority of Scripture in doing Jesus research. They may even feel that they are providing a valuable service to the church by showing the historical reliability of the synoptic (but usually not the Johannine) portrayal of Jesus.

    In this regard I shall make three points. First, as has already been indicated, the issue of ultimate presuppositions and their role in Jesus research cannot be avoided, so that there simply can be no portrayal of Jesus acceptable to all viewpoints, contrary to the claims of the historical-critical method.

    Second, if the Christian scholar does Jesus research on historical-critical principles, he or she is being inconsistent. Consistency demands that the Christian scholar begin from the point of departure outlined above; how such a person can do Jesus research using the historical-critical method is incomprehensible.

    To be sure, arguments working from historical-critical principles can be and, for apologetic reasons, even ought to be produced. In the present academic context Christians ought not to hesitate, when possible, to demonstrate the defensibility of what they hold as a function of religious belief, to prove that their position is at least as historically possible as any other. In rebuttal of the form-critical claim that Christology had its beginning only with the Easter experience of the disciples, N. A. Dahl, for example, argues that unless Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, as the canonical gospels assume, the fact of the early church's post-Easter confession of Jesus' messiahship is inexplicable, since resurrection and messiahship are not mutually inclusive concepts.(51) Now Dahl's argument is not a definitive proof that Jesus understood himself as the Messiah, but it does have the effect of demonstrating that this position is not historically unreasonable, and, therefore, that it cannot be dismissed out-of-hand. Similarly, R. Pesch's view that Jesus would have anticipated his death and would have incorporated this expectation into his self-understanding as the herald of the Kingdom of God (as the words of institution suppose), is at least as believable as the position that Jesus' violent end caught him by surprise and, therefore, remained uninterpreted.(52) (I should point out that both Dahl and Pesch profess to work within the confines of the historical-critical method.) But one should not confuse an apologia with the adoption of the historical-critical method.(53) J. Barr with justification notes that, although a "fundamentalist" using the historical-critical method may produce what he calls "maximally-conservative arguments" in defense of a particular point, it is evident that the real basis of his or her position is dogmatic: the prior assumption of the inerrancy of the Bible. It is the latter that provides the will to produce the former.54 This is the way it must be.

    Third, it is questionable whether Jesus research on historical-critical principles is even a legitimate academic undertaking.(55) To expect to be able to extricate the authentic kernel (if any exists) from the accretions of the tradition by means of the criteria of authenticity is far too optimistic. "As well hope to start with a string of sausages and reconstruct the pig," to re-apply an analogy originally created by B. F. Streeter to describe the difficulty of Johannine source criticism.(56) (Voting with colored beads does not overcome this deficiency.) Given historical-critical methodological assumptions, the state of the evidence is such that a scholar can only produce historical possibilities. The problem is that an insufficient number of probable data on Jesus (i.e., authentic material) can be produced. Since it depends for its possibility upon the ascertainment of sufficient number of probable data on Jesus, the historiographical process of establishing facts about Jesus —including his aims—cannot be carried out.(57) What often happens in Jesus research, however, is that the researcher's own prior religious or ideological commitments become the determining factor in transforming one possible version of the "historical Jesus" into the most probable version. Everyone seems to want to have Jesus as an advocate of his or her views.

    The criteria of authenticity are woefully inadequate to their task. The criterion of dissimilarity, as virtually all recognize, is too coarse of a methodological sieve to be of much use in historical reconstruction. Although discontinuity establishes historicity, continuity does not necessarily establish non-historicity—how much can an historian expect Jesus to have differed from first-century Judaisms and the movement to which he gave impetus? The incomplete knowledge of the Judaisms of Jesus' day further reduces the value of this criterion. The criterion of multiple attestation likewise has limited usefulness—if any at all—if the early church was as unrestricted in its creation of Jesus-tradition as is assumed. The assertion that a tradition existing in more than one independent source increases the probability that it derives from the historical Jesus is debatable. It is argued that, since all communities would have had access to authentic Jesus-tradition, one would expect that it would be multiply attested. A singly-attested tradition, therefore, is a good candidate for being a creation of an early Christian community. But the opposite position is equally arguable. It is possible that Jesus-traditions created by a particular community and spread by early Christian missionaries to other communities would be more useful than some authentic traditions preserved simply because they were known to have originated with Jesus. (Why else would they be created unless they were useful?) It follows that the more useful would be the more used, and might as a consequence have a better chance of being multiply attested than the less useful, authentic Jesus-traditions, which would have the tendency to become extinct or to be only singly attested owing to their lack of usefulness. In such cases, singly-attested traditions would be more authentic. In addition, the criterion of multiple attestation rests on a particular solution to the synoptic problem not shared by all scholars. The other criteria of authenticity fare less well than the criteria of dissimilarity and multiple attestation.

    The Christian cannot do Jesus research on historical-critical principles. Regardless of the pressures of the academic world to conform to prevailing methodological standards, a Christian Jesus researcher ought to take the path of faith, even if this means loss of academic reputation or position: "Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace that he bore. For we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for a city that is to come" (Heb 13:13).
 

Questions 

1. How does the one who used the historical-critical method do Jesus research?

2. How does a Christian do Jesus research?



 


Notes


(1) Cf. E. Krentz, The Historical Critical Method (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975) 18. M. Hengel says that talk of the historical-critical method is problematic, since there are in fact many historical methods ("Historische Methoden und theologische Auslegung des Neuen Testaments," KuD 19 [1973] 85-90). (Cf. also C. Tuckett, Reading the New Testament: Methods of Interpretation [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987] 2.) In spite of the methodological diversity used in historical study, it is still correct to speak of the historical-critical method, as I define it. It denotes a general orientation to the study of the Bible (and other texts), consciously adopted by its advocates in opposition to the "dogmatic approach."

(2) B. Jowett, "On the Interpretation of Scripture," in Essays and Reviews (7th ea.; London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, 1861) 378.

(3) Krentz differentiates two phases of the critical process: external and internal (Method, 42-43). The former establishes the credibility of a witness, the possibility of reliability; the latter determines "the original sense" of the text and evaluates "the competency and the honesty of the witness." V. A. Harvey writes: "The historian does not accept the authority of his witnesses; rather he confers authority upon them, and he does this only after subjecting them to a rigorous and skeptical crossexamination" (The Historian and the Believer [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966] 107; Cf. R G. Collingwood, The Idea of History [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946]).

(4) P. Stuhlmacher's use of Gadamer's hermeneutical philosophy to mitigate the effects of the critical distance assumed by the historical-critical method is unconvincing and inappropriate (Vom Verstehen des Neuens Testaments [Goettingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986]). His Hermeneutik des Einverstaendnis stresses the need to be open to the Sache of the text, an openness to transcendence, as Gadamer recommends. (In his article "Neues Testament und HermeneutikVersuch einer Bestandaufnahme," ZTK 68 [1971] 121-61, Stuhlmacher says that a fourth principle ought to be added to Troeltsch's three, that of Vernehmen.) But Gadamer's hermeneutical philosophy recommends unrestricted openness, the readiness in principle to have all texts illumine the existence of the interpreter. There is no place in hermeneutical philosophy for the notion of authoritative texts, since such a distinction would necessarily mean that the interpreter would make decisions in advance about the potential existential import of some texts relative to others; the authoritative texts would unjustifiably receive preferential status.

(5) On Semler's views, cf. W. G. Kümmel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems (New York: Abingdon, 1970) 62-69; B. Childs, The New Testament as Canon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985) 6-7; Stuhlmacher, Verstehen, 61-62, 128-31; Krentz, Method, 18.

(6) Advocates of the historical-critical method sometimes commit the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent. They argue, "If the historical-critical method is correct then an increase in knowledge will result. There is an increase of knowledge; therefore, the historical-critical method is corrects' There is, in other words, no necessary connection between the historical-critical method and an increased understanding of the Bible

(7) Adoption of the historical-critical method seldom serves "traditional religious purposes, as J. Levenson deftly points out (The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism [Louisville: Westminster/Knox, 1993] 30). It should also be noted that advocates of the historical-critical method give the pejorative label of "pre-critical" to anyone who does not follow their method. This label is interchangeable with "obscurantist."

(8) The noetic authority exercised by a set of texts denotes their authoritative role in the cognitive process of the determination of "what is."

(9) 0bviously someone who does not believe that Jesus ever claimed to be the Christ would have some difficulty believing that Jesus is the Christ, unless he or she believes that Jesus could have been the Christ without having known it.

(10) B. Chilton offers two justifications for the adoption of the historical-critical method (A Galilean Rabbi and His Bible [Wilmington: Glazier, 1984] 148-98). First, he believes that it would be intellectually inconsistent to suspend "normal criteria of judgment just because an allegedly holy book is the topic of inquiry" (164). In other words, the reader of the Bible must not handle the Bible any differently than other texts. Second, Chilton believes that Jesus and the early church's own use of the Bible (in the case of Jesus, the Targumin) was "critical" inasmuch as it was creative and non-literal at times. In response to the first justification, suffice it to say that, contrary to Chilton, the Christian is logically compelled to ascribe noetic authority to a set of texts. Chilton's second justification founders on the fact that the use of Scripture by Jesus and the early church was not the adoption of a critical approach to the Bible. Chilton equivocates on the meaning of "critical." His use of "critical" to describe Jesus' and the early church's creative and non-literal use of the Jewish Scriptures is better described as "charismatic" interpretation, this differs from what "critical" denotes when used of the historical-critical method.

(11) J. Barr recognizes this when he writes: "In Kantian terms, involvement with the Bible is analytic in being a Christian; you can't first become a Christian and then consider whether, as an optional extra, synthetically in Kant's terms, some sort of involvement with the Bible might be added on" ("Has the Bible any Authority?" in The Scope and Authority of the Bible [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1980] 52). One might expect that this would lead Barr to conclude that the Bible must have some sort of noetic authority for the Christian, but Barr surprisingly says, "In talking about the essential implication of scripture in the process of salvation, in the life of the church, and in the faith of the Christian, we are not talking about "accepting" the contents of the Bible or "believing the Bible." Christian faith is not faith in the Bible, not primarily: it is faith in Christ as the one through whom one comes to God, and faith that through the Bible we meet him, he communicates with us" (p. 55). Barr must explain, however, how he can speak of faith in Christ without assuming that the Bible has some sort of noetic authority. Faith in Christ is analytic of involvement with the Bible, because the object of Christian faith, Christ, is rendered in the Bible. Barr's position is clearly self-reversing.

(12) We must make the distinction between implicit and explicit acceptance. Not everyone who becomes a Christian has first explicitly accepted the noetic authority of a set of texts. In fact, many believe without even having inquired into the source of the proposition to which they are assenting, let alone the warrant for the acceptance of the source as authoritative. But for anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ there is at least an implicit acceptance of the noetic authority of a set of texts, since this is a logical implication of faith.

(13) Frequently, in the Bible, warrant for accepting a proposition spoken by a human being as from God consists of extraordinary events performed by the transmitter of the proposition (cf. Acts 2:22). The same thing happens today when the gospel is preached.

(14) Also influencing Jesus' interpretation of the messianic/eschatological promises of the Jewish Scriptures of his day were religious ideas that appear to have their origin in the post-biblical period. The most obvious example is Jesus' characterization of the Kingdom of God as the time of Satan's overthrow or binding. This is a whole other issue in itself.

(15) Lessing's famous dictum that "the contingent truths of history can never become the proof of the necessary truths of reason" is foreign to the New Testament, and remains so today to those becoming Christians.

(16) The existentialist view that faith has no propositional content, but is rather a synonym for authentic self-understanding, being the response to the Word of God defined as direct address, equally devoid of propositional content, was prevalent in the middle of the twentieth century. This position was sometimes supported by a reinterpretation of the Protestant principle of justification by faith. Faith must not be made dependent on anything but the Word of God; otherwise there is the risk that faith will be replaced by that which is not faith. Faith, therefore, cannot be made dependent on knowledge derived from an inspired and infallible set of documents. Thus the historical-critical method becomes a necessary correlative of this reinterpretation of the doctrine of justification by faith, since the one who adopts it rejects in principle the possibility of such knowledge. Cf., for example, G. Ebeling, "The Significance of the Critical Historical Method for Church and Theology in Protestantism," in Word and Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963); R. Bultmann, "The Case for Demythologizing,'' Kerygma and Myth 2 (London: SPCK, 1962) 181-94. This position, however, is self-reversing, not only because the kerygma to which faith responds contains a minimum of irreducible positivity—that Jesus existed and somehow made possible eschatological existence—but also because the doctrine of justification by faith itself is derived from the NT. As E. Reisner says, "Nicht die Kritik der Schrift mit den Mitteln der Vernunft, vor allem der historischen Vernunft . . . sondern die Kritik der historischen Vernunft durch das Wort der Schrift is genuin reformatorisch" ("Hermeneutik und historische Vernunft," ZTK 49 [1952] 223-38, esp. 235; cf. also Harvey, Historian, chap. 5).

(17) R. Brown argues simplistically that, because God does not speak, the Bible cannot be the Word of God. It can only be human in its origin, "a time-conditioned word, affected by limitations of human insight and problems" (The Critical Meaning of the Bible [New York: Paulist, 1981] 4). God does communicate directly and propositionally with human beings, but, even if he did not, it does not follow that texts written by human beings could not be called the Word of God, insofar as they were produced under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Equally unacceptable is M. Borg's odd statement that "Christianity does not consist primarily of having correct beliefs about the historical Jesus, but consists of having a relationship with the living Christ" (Jesus: A New Vision [San Francisco: Harper, 1991] 13). Since the identities of both the "historical Jesus" and the "risen Christ" derive from the New Testament, it is difficult to understand how Borg can be critical towards the New Testament's portrayal of the former without being equally critical towards the latter, unless he has some means of knowing the identity of the "risen Christ" apart from the New Testament.

(18) B. Childs's canon criticism, in spite of its prima facie appearance of being a happy compromise between historical-critical methodology and the church's traditional views on canon, turns out to be internally contradictory. Childs holds that the final canonical shape of a New Testament book as a witness to Christ and its intra-canonical relations with other works should be taken seriously by the interpreter. So far any "pre-critical" exegete would agree. The problem with Childs's view is that it drives a wedge between canonical significance and the intended factual referentiality of a text. What a text intends may be false in a factually referential sense, but still have canonical significance--can still be true in some sense. For example, in dealing with the internal evidence for the authorship of the fourth gospel, Childs restricts himself to "the theological function of the book's witness to authorship without converting the question immediately into one of historicity" (Canon, 130). This theological function is untouched by any historical evidence that there really was no beloved disciple or that he really was not an eyewitness. (Later Childs writes that the beloved disciple is a symbol of the apostolic generation whose testimony was considered authentic [142].) Similarly, Childs distinguishes between the historical Paul and the canonical Paul, created by the church. The canonical Paul can function authoritatively in the canon in spite of not being identical with the historical Paul. Childs's position is internally inconsistent because one cannot separate a text's factually referential truth claims from its canonical significance. If there really was no eyewitness basis for the fourth gospel then the church cannot consider it as having such. If Paul did not write certain letters that bear his name then those letters cannot be regarded as having Pauline authority. (Cf. J. J. Collins, "Historical Criticism and the State of Biblical Theology," Christian Century 110:22 [1993] 743-47.) The same can be said of Levenson's apparently pluralistic approach to the study of the Bible (The Hebrew Bible, 122-24).

(19) Cf. Reisner, who criticizes the historical-critical method for its assumption of intellectual autonomy ("Hermeneutik"). E. Linnemann writes, "In the theology of faith, the necessary regulation of thought must occur through the Holy Scripture. It controls the thought process. Thought must subordinate itself to the Word of God. If difficulties crop up, it does not doubt God's Word but its own wisdom. It asks God for wisdom in the expectation that it will receive what it has requested, waiting patiently for God's timing. (Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990] chap. 6) D. Wong laments the loss of biblical authority, but erroneously says that this loss is not necessarily tied to the advent of the historical-critical method ("The Loss of the Christian Mind in Biblical Scholarship " EQ 64 [1992] 23-36, esp. 24).

(20) There have been attempts to classify the types of unhistorical interpretations, using as paradigms early rabbinic and Qumran interpretation of canonical texts; cf., for example, J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Use of Explicit Old Testament Quotations in Qumran Literature and the New Testament," NTS 7 (1960-61) 297-333.

(21) The historical-critical scholar allows for the possibility of predictions of future events so long as these predictions are conceivable within the historical horizon of the author. Isaiah, for example, could predict the emergence of a future ruler from the line of David (Isaiah 9, 11). But usually it is assumed that human beings cannot know the future except by extrapolating tentatively from conditions that obtain in the present. Consequently, any text that purports to be a detailed and completely accurate prediction of future events is usually assumed to be a vaticinium ex eventu. It is assumed, in other words, that the author could not have intended such things, since to do so would exceed normal human capabilities.

(22) The German pietists called this the sensus mysticum (cf. H. Stroh, "Hermeneutik im Pietismus," ZTK 74 [19771 38-57, esp. 49).

(23) G. Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method (St. Louis: Concordia, 1977) 49; cf. also Linnemann, Historical Criticism, chap. 6.

(24) Cf. O. Betz, Offenbarung und Schriftforschung in der Qumransekte (Tuebingen: Mohr, 1960).

(25) Not all of Jesus' interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures are of this sort; in some cases there is a midrashic logic to them. Jesus' exegesis of Ps 110:1 as implying that David's son (2 Samuel 7) is more than his son, since David called him lord (Mark 12:35-37=Matt 22:4146=Luke 20:4144), and his argument for the resurrection based on the fact that God said to Moses that he (still) was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Mark 12:18-27=Matt 22:23-33=Luke 20:2740), for example are quite reasonable.

(26) To use Gadamer's terminology.

(27) C. F. D. Moule tries futilely to justify the New Testament's use of the OT on historical-critical grounds and thereby rescue it from the judgment that it is as invalid as the Qumran pesher type of interpretation: "These eschatological and personal convictions they [the members of the Qumran community] read into scripture. Comparably, the Christians went to scripture already convinced that Jesus had initiated the last period of world history.... But there is a difference. The Qumran sectarians did not . . . see in their leader the coping stone and climax and fulfillment of the whole edifice of relations between God and man which is reflected in the scriptures. But in Jesus this is exactly what Christians did find. And this constitutes the vital and decisive distinctiveness of Christian exegesis. While it is undeniable that Christians applied the same arbitrary and artificial devices and, again and again used scripture in a merely "vehicular" manner, the incentive for their choice of passages and their interpretations of them was the discovery that, in a historical and "three-dimensional" way Jesus actually implemented and achieved in his person and represented tee culmination of, that relation between God and man which is the basic theme of scripture. (The Birth of the New Testament [3d ea.; London: Black, 1981] 86-87)

(28) The possible exception is the Gospel of Thomas; but cf. the discussion in J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1991) 114-39.

(29) Cf., for example, J. Jeremias, New Testament Theology (New York: Scribner, 1971) 37; I. H. Marshall, I Believe in the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 199-200; R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982) chap. 1; B. Witherington III, The Christology of Jesus ( Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress, 1990) chap. 1.

(30) Cf. B. F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979) 83-84.

(31) I. H. Marshall's position on the historical-critical method is ambiguous. On the one hand, he believes that the gospels are inspired writings, presumably with the resultant guarantee that what they intend is true (or mostly so). On the other hand, he advocates the use of the historical-critical method, having full confidence that its proper application will yield conservative results. What he lacks is a consideration of whether inspiration (and the attendant authority) ever a priori sets limits for historical-critical research. Marshall, for example, allows for error in the gospels but does not say how much or which type of error is compatible with inspired writing (cf. I Believe; id., "Historical Criticism," in New Testament Interpretation [ea. I. H. Marshall; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977] 126-38). The same ambiguity is to be found in R. Stein's book, The Method and Message of Jesus' Teachings (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1978). B. Witherington, on the other hand, is quite explicit about rejecting in advance a methodology based on the principle of faith: "To be sure, each pericope or saying must stand on its own so far as whether or not it goes back to a Sitz im Leben Jesu, and in this study we will not assume the authenticity of any key text" (The Christology of Jesus, 22). (CE a review of Witherington's book by R. Miller in CBQ 54 [1992] 810-11.)

(32) Collingwood, The Idea of History.

(33) This is especially true of what N. T. Wright calls the "Third Quest'' of the historical Jesus (s. Neill and N. T.Wright, The Interpretation of the New Testament: 1861-1986 [Oxford: Oxford University, 1988] 379).

(34) G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973); id., The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1993). Stuhlmacher holds that the historical-critical method should be restricted in its application by the dogmatic tradition of the church; this would obviate results inimical to fundamental Christian beliefs, such as that Jesus was not the Christ (Verstehen, 222-55). How this position is compatible with the tenets of the historical-critical method is difficult to understand. It seems that, in spite of his claim, Stuhlmacher really is not an advocate of the historical-critical method, at least as I have defined it. The same lack of clarity is found in M. Hengel’s discussion of methodology ("Historische Methoden'').

(35) E. P. Sanders, Jesusand Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985); M. Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Edwin Mellen, 1984).

(36) M. Kahler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964).

(37) On the role of presupposition in New Testament studies, cf. D. deSilva, "The Meaning of the New Testament and the Skandalon of World constructions, EQ 64 (1992) 3-21.

(38) Although Borg rejects the older Troeltschian principles, nevertheless, he does not, as he claims, adopt the New Testament's own presuppositions (Jesus: A New Vision). Unlike Troeltsch, he allows for the intersection of "the world of Spirit and the world of ordinary experience (26-27), so that he takes seriously the gospel’s claim that Jesus had visions, healed, and exorcised. But Borg does not adopt the gospels' own presuppositions, because he identifies Jesus' involvement with "the Spirit," as the New Testament claims, with his involvement with "Spirit." The latter is a religious-studies category used to describe the phenomenon of charismatic/holy men in all religions, whereas the former is a distinctly Jewish idea. Jews of Jesus' day would never have traced all supernatural activities connected with charismatic/holy men to a common source, Spirit/the Spirit, as Borg seems to want to do. (Cf. also Borg's treatment of Jesus as exorcist [61-65].)

(39) A scholar may for reasons of ultimate presuppositions reject the early church's explanation of an "outside" datum, either as placed on Jesus' lips or as editorial comment, but believe that Jesus' own explanation would have differed from this. Or a scholar may presuppositionally reject what he believes to be Jesus' explanation of an "outside" datum.

(40) Jeremias, New Testament Theology, 85-92.

(41) J. Crossan, The Historical Jesus. The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (New York: Harper/Collins, 1991) 315.

(42) L. Hurtado concludes that early Christian binitarianism can be accounted for by the collective and individual experience of the risen Christ in visions by the earliest Christians (One God, One Lord [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988] chap. 5). Apart from the fact that it is difficult to conceive of Jews, firmly grounded in the monotheism of the Jewish Scriptures, ever interpreting any vision of the risen Christ as meaning that Christ was somehow equal with God, the flaw in Hurtado's work is that he never takes up the question of the nature and origin of these visions. The historian cannot avoid this type of question. Religious experience cannot become a sort of deus ex machina of historical explanation.

(43) L. Gilkey, "Cosmology, Ontology, and the Travail of Biblical Language," JR 41 (1961) 194-205, 17 and J. Barr, "Revelation Through History in the Old Testament and in Modern Theology," Int(1963)193-205, make it clear that avoidance of the question "What really happened?" in biblical studies is impossible.

(44) W. James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York: Dover, 1956) 29.

(45) Cf. C. Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (New York: Harper and Row, 1984) chap. 6; M. Silva, Has the Church Misread the Bible? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987) 42-45.

(46) J. Meier distinguishes correctly between the "real Jesus" and the "historical Jesus." The former consists of a good biographical knowledge of Jesus as an historical figure, but is unrecoverable, owing to the limitations of the sources. The latter is "the Jesus whom we can ‘recover’ and examine using scientific tools of modern historical research" (A Marginal Jew, chap. 1). Of course, unlike Meier, I would not adopt the historical-critical method as my point of departure.

(47) E. Linnemann seems to be too extreme in her insistence on the literary independence of the Synoptic Gospels (Is There a Synoptic Problem? Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992]). There is nothing incompatible with the acceptance of the noetic authority of the gospels and a belief that there is some literary dependence.

(48) I, for example, seek to determine which features of which versions of the words of institution are closest to hypothetical Aramiac original ("The More Original Form of the Words of Institution," ZNW 83 [1992] 165-85). That there are differences among the accounts necessitates that this task be undertaken.

(49) N. T. Wright attempts to formulate a methodology that includes "the premodern emphasis on the text as in some sense authoritative, the modem emphasis on the text . . . as irreducibly integrated into history, and irreducibly involved with theology, and the post-modem emphasis on the reading of the text," but with limited success (The New Testament and the People of God [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1992] 3144, cf. 26). He appears to combine Lonerganian critical realism (via B. F. Meyer) with presuppositionalism, but with confusing results. These two approaches are largely incompatible, since the critical realist generally understands correct worldview as emerging out of the empirical data by means of intelligence and judgment, whereas the presuppositionalist, while allowing for modifications by the data, generally believes that worldviews are immune from being overturned by the data on account of their a priori nature. Another major source of confusion is Wright's multivalent use of story/stories/Story: he chooses to denote so many things by these terms that each use of them by him is vague. At any rate, Wright wishes to preserve the authority of the New Testament but not deny its historical character; this leads him to define the authority of the New Testament in a way that to me is unclear: as the authority four acts of an unfinished play would have on those called upon to write the fifth and final act (139 44). It would seem to me, however, that the Christian worldview described by Wright implicitly assumes the noetic authority of the Old and New Testaments (122-37). His formulation of a Christian worldview should include something explicit about the revelatory nature of these texts. With respect to Jesus research, Wright seems to adopt B. F. Meyer's methodology (98), including a distaste for radical hypotheses that play fast and loose with the gospels as sources, discounting large portions of them as unhistorical (106-109). But even with this conservative slant, Wright is still within the historical-critical mainstream.

(50) Cf. E. P. Sanders and M. Davies, Studying the Synoptic Gospels (Philadelphia: Trinity, 1989) 303-304

(51) N. A. Dahl, "The Crucified Messiah," in The Crucified Messiah and Other Essays (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974) 10-36.

(52) R. Pesch, Das Abendmahl und Jesu Todesverstandnis (Freiburg: Herder, 1978).

(53) For example, I attempt to prove that objections to the authenticity of Mark 11:17 are groundless ("Objections to the Authenticity of Mark 11:17 Reconsidered," WTJ 54 [1992] 25-71). (Cf. also my Jesus' Last Passover Meal [Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1993] 99-108; 165-68.)

(54) J. Barr, Fundamentalism (London: SCM, 1977) 86-89; Barr also insightfully comments that conservative results produced by means of the historical-critical method are a departure from the fundamentalist hermeneutic grounded in the principle of inerrancy of Scripture and may be caused by the "craving for intellectual respectability." This, moreover, according to Barr, can lead to "a slow exit from the fundamentalist world" (124). Barr's 1977 prediction is coming to pass.

(55) B. F. Meyer criticizes historical Jesus research for allowing supposition—either methodological skepticism or credulity—to determine results; he advocates that there be added a third column to "yes" (historical) and "no" (non-historical): the column "I do not know" (historical residues) (Aims, 83-84). But it seems that, given the state of the evidence, Meyer is too optimistic about the possibility of filling the "yes" column with enough material to be able to reconstruct the aims of Jesus; the "I do not know" column would likely contain the vast majority of the material.

(56) B. F. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: MacMillan, 1924) 377.

(57) In recent years some New Testament scholars from the evangelical tradition have come to the conclusion that it is important for their kind to take part in R. Funk's "Jesus Seminar." The rationale given is that those from the evangelical tradition have something to offer this project that otherwise would not be heard were they not participants (cf. C. Evans, "Conservative Trend of the Jesus Seminar Unreported," Christian Week [Feb. 4,1992] 5). Such a position, however, betrays a lack of clear thinking. If all the participants (Fellows and Associate Fellows) of the Jesus Seminar share a common method (the historical-critical method), presumably their results should be more or less uniform. This shared methodology, in other words, should give an objectivity to the proceedings, so that the theological idiosyncrasies of the participants should not influence the results. Thus one wonders what being an evangelical has to do with being able to make a contribution to the deliberations. Such a factor should be as irrelevant as the color of one's hair. Moreover, if being from the evangelical tradition means the a priori acceptance of the inspiration and authority of the canonical gospels—which inter alia is what it used to mean—one wonders how someone from this tradition could make any contribution at all to the Seminar, since there would be irreconcilable methodological differences.

It is difficult not to suspect that ideology influences the proceedings of the Jesus Seminar. At the February 1987 meeting of the Jesus Seminar in Salem, Oregon, for example, a vote was taken on the following proposition: "There was no Jewish trial of Jesus before the Roman authority executed him, and there was no Jewish crowd involved in his condemnation" (M. Borg, "The Jesus Seminar and the Passion Sayings," Forum 3 [1987] 81-95, esp. 86). Only one of thirty-three voted black, zero gray, three pink, and a whopping twenty-nine red. It is beyond me how anybody can know that the Romans alone were responsible for Jesus' death, when the historicity of the major accounts of Jesus' arrest and trial, all of which implicate some Jews in his execution and have a Jewish mob shouting for his crucifixion, is rejected. There is simply a lack of evidence. Perhaps a concern for political correctness had a bearing on the outcome of the voting. It is a telling comment that, as Borg says, "the vote on this question received the most media attention in the weeks following the meetings" (Ibid.).
 

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