Bible Criticism/Part 4 | John Ankerberg Show

Bible Criticism/Part 4

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By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2001
Dr. Geisler finishes his series on biblical criticism this month. He explains the role of critics, the early church, and the Holy Spirit in the understanding the Bible.

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Biblical Criticism—Part Four

By Dr. Norman Geisler(from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)

Creators or recorders?

Unfounded higher criticism undermines the integrity of the New Testament writers by claiming that Jesus never said (or did) what the Gospels claim. Even some who call them­selves evangelical have gone so far as to claim that what “‘Jesus said’ or ‘Jesus did’ need not always mean that in history Jesus said or did what follows, but sometimes may mean that in the account at least partly constructed by Matthew himself Jesus said or did what follows” (Gundry, 630). This clearly undermines confidence in the truthfulness of the Gos­pels and the accuracy of the events they report. On this critical view the Gospel writers become creators of the events, not recorders.

Of course, every careful biblical scholar knows that one Gospel writer does not always use the same words in reporting what Jesus said as does another. However, they always convey the same meaning. They do select, summarize, and paraphrase, but they do not distort. A comparison of the parallel reports in the Gospels is ample evidence of this.

There is no substantiation for the claim of one New Testament scholar that Matthew created the Magi story (Matt. 2) out of the turtledove story (of Luke 2). For according to Robert Gundry, Matthew “changes the sacrificial slaying of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’ at the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:24; cf. Lev. 12:6-8), into Herod’s slaughtering of the babies in Bethlehem” (ibid., 34-35). Such a view not only degrades the integrity of the Gospel writers but the authenticity and authority of the Gospel record. It is also silly.

Neither is there support for Paul K. Jewett, who went so far as to assert (Jewett, 134- 35) that what the apostle Paul affirmed in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is wrong. If Paul is in error, then the time-honored truth that “what the Bible says, God says” is not so. Indeed, if Jewett is right, then even when one discovers what the author of Scripture is affirming, he is little closer to knowing the truth of God (cf. Gen. 3:1). If “what the Bible says, God says” is not so, then the divine authority of all Scripture is worthless.

The early church’s stake in truth.

That the early church had no real biographical interest is highly improbable. The New Testament writers, impressed as they were with the belief that Jesus was the long-prom­ised Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16-18), had great motivation to accurately record what he actually said and did.

To say otherwise is contrary to their own clear statements. John claimed that “Jesus did” the things recorded in his Gospel (John 21:25). Elsewhere John said “What… we have heard, we have seen with our eyes, we beheld and our hands handled… we proclaim to you also” (1 John 1:1-2).

Luke clearly manifests an intense biographical interest by the earliest Christian commu­nities when he wrote: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you might know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4). To claim, as the critics do, that the New Testa­ment writers lacked interest in recording real history is implausible.

The work of the Holy Spirit.

Such assumptions also neglect or deny the role of the Holy Spirit in activating the memories of the eyewitnesses. Much of the rejection of the Gospel record is based on the assumption that the writers could not be expected to remember sayings, details, and events twenty or forty years after the events. For Jesus died in 33, and the first Gospel records probably came (at latest) between 50 and 60 (Wenham, “Gospel Origins,” 112-34).

Again the critic is rejecting or neglecting the clear statement of Scripture. Jesus prom­ised his disciples, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

So even on the unlikely assumption that no one recorded anything Jesus said during his lifetime or immediately after, the critics would have us believe that eyewitnesses whose memories were later supernaturally activated by the Holy Spirit did not accurately record what Jesus did and said. It seems far more likely that the first-century eyewitnesses were right and the twentieth-century critics are wrong, than the reverse.

Guidelines for Biblical Criticism.

Of course biblical scholarship need not be destructive. But the biblical message must be understood in its theistic (supernatural) context and its actual historical and grammatical setting. Positive guidelines for evangelical scholarship are set forth in “The Chicago State­ment on Biblical Hermeneutics” (see Geisler, Summit II: Hermeneutics, 10-13 Also Radmacher and Preus, Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, esp. 881-914). It reads in part as follows:

Article XIII. WE AFFIRM that awareness of the literary categories, formal and stylistic, of the various parts of Scripture is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study. WE DENY that generic categories which negate the historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.

Article XIV. WE AFFIRM that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact. WE DENY that any such event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated.

Article XV. WE AFFIRM the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will account for all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text. WE DENY the legitimacy of any approach to Scripture that attributes to it meaning which the literal sense does not support.

Article XVI. WE AFFIRM that legitimate critical techniques should be used in determining the canonical text and its meaning. WE DENY the legitimacy of allowing any method of biblical criticism to question the truth or integrity of the writer’s expressed meaning, or of any other scriptural teaching.

Redaction versus Editing.

There are important differences between destructive redaction and constructive editing.

No knowledgeable scholars deny that a certain amount of editing occurred over the biblical text’s thousands of years of history. This legitimate editing, however, must be distinguished from illegitimate redaction which the negative critics allege. The negative critics have failed to present any convincing evidence that the kind of redaction they believe in has ever happened to the biblical text.

The following chart contrasts the two views.

Legitimate Editing Illegitimate Redacting
Changes in form Changes in content
Scribal changes Substantive changes
Changes in text Changes in the truth

The redaction model of the canon confuses legitimate scribal activity, involving gram­matical form, updating of names, and arrangement of prophetic material, with illegitimate redactive changes in actual content of a prophet’s message. It confuses acceptable scribal transmission with unacceptable tampering. It confuses proper discussion of which text is earlier with improper discussion of how later writers changed the truth of texts. There is no evidence that any significant illegitimate redactive changes have occurred since the Bible was first put in writing. On the contrary, all evidence supports a careful transmission in all substantial matters and in most details. No diminution of basic truth has occurred from the original writings to the Bibles in our hands.

Sources

0. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament

W. R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem

R. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art

G. Hasel, New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate

R. Jastrow, “A Scientist Caught between Two Faiths” in CT, 6 August 1982

P. Jewett, Man as Male and Female

E. Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method

C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections

E. Linnemann, Historical Criticism of the Bible

_______, Is There a Synoptic Problem?

G. M. Maier, The End of the Historical Critical Method

I.H. Marshall, The Origins of New Testament Christology

A.O. Morton, and J. McLeman, Christianity in the Computer Age

E.D. Radmacher and R. D. Preus, Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the Bible

J. Robinson, Redating the New Testament

E. P. Sanders. The Tendencies of the Synoptic Tradition

A.N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament

B.H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins

R. L. Thomas, “An Investigation of the Agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark.” JETS 19, (1976)

R. L. Thomas, “The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Redaction Criticism,” JETS 29/4 (December 1986)

J. W. Wenham, “Gospel Origins,” TJ 7, (1978)

__________, “History and The Old Testament,” Bib. Sac., 124, 1967

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