Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Köstenberger review of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

1) Bruce Fisk's Crossings is biblioblogger of the month for May. Do give his interview with Jim West a read.

I thought his idea about how biblioblogging could be improved was rather interesting:

'I like the organic, idiosyncratic, open-source feel of the blogosphere but I'm hoping we'll see more collaboration whereby groups with overlapping interests post to the same site. Most blogs I visit are pretty much solo efforts. It would be fun to see someone adapt the bloggingheads.tv model using webcams and a split screen to encourage conversations among religion scholars.'

2) For those of you who can read German, Zweifel an Koran und Mohammed: Saarbrücker Wissenschaftler forschen über die Anfänge des Islam is worth a read.

3) Finally, Andreas Köstenberger has written a helpful review of Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses here. It will come as no surprise to those who are familiar with Köstenberger's position on the authorship of John's Gospel that he attempts a critique of Bauckham's thesis for not asserting that John the son of Zebedee wrote the Gospel. He argues:

'After all, Bauckham's point is not merely that eyewitness testimony is important for the Gospels, but that we are dealing here with apostolic eyewitness testimony, that is, eyewitness testimony that is credible because it comes from those who were closest to Jesus during his earthly ministry. In this regard, it is hard to see how the testimony of one largely unknown "John the Elder" (not mentioned in any of the Synoptics or other non-Johannine New Testament writings) would satisfy Bauckham's own criterion'

However, I did not get the impression that Bauckham's arguments regarding the authorship of the Johannine Gospel were 'unduly biased' as Köstenberger claims. I am no Johannine expert, but I get the feeling that Köstenberger is attempting to urge us to squeeze the available evidence through his own (arbitrary) logical wringer, namely that the eyewitness testimony of John's Gospel requires a more authoritative early Christian figure than 'the largely unknown "John the Elder"'. But I am not so sure, especially given the Beloved Disciple's anonymity through the Gospel. Besides, John the Elder was not unkown, of course, in his circles, and he knew Jesus, according to Bauckham's thesis, very well. Concerning the logical wringer: to employ a less than appropriate parallel, it may be hard to see how the monotheistic Apostle Paul can express a divine Christology one moment, and then turn and speak of the subordination of the Son to the Father the next. But it would appear to be the most accurate treatment of the evidence to allow both elements in Paul their full say. Those who employ a logical wringer at this point end up doing violence to the texts. OK that wasn't the best example I could have come up with, but you know what I mean!

(My thanks to Jordan Barrett for drawing my attention to this article)



At 5/02/2007 10:46 AM, Anonymous volker said...

Hi Chris,
do you mean by Paul "speak[ing] of the subordination of the Son to the Father" a verse like this: 1 Cor. 11:3 "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man,..., and God is the head of Christ."? Or what do you make of this verse?

At 5/02/2007 5:39 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

Since the topic has come up … I've never received a serious response to the challenges I posed on the authorship of John, reiterated at intervals throughout your series on Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

The basic problems are well known:

• Jesus' speaking style changes completely (pithy in the synoptics, rambling discourses in John);

• virtually no mention of the kingdom of God in John, when it is Jesus' major theme in the synoptics;

• substitution of a different major theme in John: namely, Jesus is constantly talking about himself, whereas in the synoptics Jesus constantly points away from himself to God and God's kingdom;

• no reference to pre-existence in the synoptic Gospels, which emerges as a major sub-theme in John.

• John's presentation of Lazarus's death as the climactic event of Jesus' ministry, the event that caused "the Jews" to kill him; whereas the synoptics make no mention of this miracle and imply it was Jesus' cleansing of the Temple that precipitated his execution.

Those are serious inconsistencies. The more one defends the historical accuracy of the synoptics, the less historical John looks.

I maintain that Bauckham undermines his argument in favour of the historicity of the synoptics by trying to defend the historicity of John on similar grounds. His arguments fail with respect to John (since I think it impossible to maintain John's historicity in light of what is said above).

Therefore the arguments are of questionable utility when Bauckham applies them to the synoptics. Since this analysis undermines confidence in Bauckham's thesis, I figure my critique deserves a response. I'm sorry if that sounds arrogant — I'm a complete nobody, but it seems to me that my argument is coherent.

At 5/02/2007 9:42 PM, Anonymous Josh McManaway said...

I believe it's in Chapter 5 that Bauckham deals with this. When the disciples were looking to choose for themselves a replacement for Judas, they had set criteria in Acts:

Therefore it is necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us— 22 beginning with the baptism of John until the day that He was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection." 23 So they put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias.
Acts 1:21-23 (NASB)

Bauckham raises a good point here. Only two were chosen, but out of all of Jesus' disciples, they were probably not the only ones who met these qualifications.

Also, the fact that John the Elder is lesser known doesn't seem very strong. For one, if the correct author of the Gospel of John is John the Elder, then perhaps the early church got it wrong and so we've been speaking about John, the son of Zebedee for 2000 years. Naturally, John the Elder got moved into the background.

At 5/02/2007 11:56 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Volker, I wasn't thinking of that specific verse, no- and we both know the problems associated with the translation of the 'head' / 'source' there! But others like it, where Paul speaks of teh God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and other passages such as those in 1 Cor 15.

Stephen, thanks for your comment. Bauckham isn't simply trying to defend the historicity of John. He recognises the creative, inventive and interpretive element of that Gospel in a way that marks it out as unique. However, it was because John's Gospel was the only one written by an eyewitness (if B is right) that gave the author the right to interpret his witness so, by modern standards, so extremely. This was historiographical practice, and also why the synoptics couldn't enjoy the same flexibility. B's thesis, then, accepts and allows for John in precisely the ways you list. What think ye?

At 5/02/2007 11:58 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for that, Josh. If B is right, it was indeed the later mixing together of John the Elder with John son of zebedee that, as you point out, can give us a false impression these days.

At 5/03/2007 8:29 PM, Anonymous Stephen said...

What do I think?

In effect, the argument is an admission that John is unhistorical. Jesus didn't really talk about himself all the time, and he didn't really claim preexistence. But because of the resurrection we know better than the earthly Jesus did.

We know that Jesus has existed, in a state of divinity, since before the cosmos existed, even though he made no such claim; and we know it would have been appropriate for him to talk about himself all the time, even though he didn't do so. I've crafted my Gospel accordingly.

To put it kindly, the analysis is counterintuitive. The only Gospel written by an eyewitness is unhistorical, while the Gospels not written by eyewitnesses are (relatively) historical. Not so kindly — I would call it special pleading. I haven't read the book, but the thesis seems more than a little dubious.

You had hoped this book would break up the scholarly paradigm. Maybe I'll be surprised.


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