Monday, April 02, 2007

John or The Fourth Evangelist: Part I

[The point of this post is to draw in both Critical and Conservative Bible scholars for, particularly, a discussion of The Gospel of John. I am not such a scholar, and I am posting my view on this - based on the work of others- to kick off that discussion. Certainly, it would be nice to have a good discussion of this here - or an "elsewhere" I am looking to create]

I have a pet peeve towards folks who ascribe in some degree to Higher Critical views of the Bible. Let me define that as well as I can: I am not talking about textual, or lower, criticism, which is working hard at reconstructing, as much as possible, the original text of the Bible - very necessary and very good. I am talking about the "Higher" Criticism of the last two centuries:

Higher criticism, in particular, focuses on the sources of a document and tries to determine the authorship, date and place of composition of the text.
In particular:
Higher criticism originally referred to the work of German Biblical scholars. After the path-breaking work on the New Testament by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), the next generation which included scholars such as David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874) and Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 – 1872) in the mid-nineteenth century analyzed the historical records of the Middle East from Christian and Old Testament times in search of independent confirmation of events related in the Bible. These latter scholars built on the tradition of Enlightenment and Rationalist thinkers such as John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Gotthold Lessing, Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Hegel and the French rationalists.
Let me make this clear: my pet peeve isn't that folks question the authorship and authority of the Bible: I expect that from materialists and rationalists. It isn't even that folks who consider themselves followers of Christ take up some of the materialist and rationalist pre-suppositions and arguments of Higher Criticism. My pet peeve (its name is Pooky) is about the arrogance/ assumptions of some of those Christian adherents (the non-Christian ones are not the issue here) who seem to believe true scholarship rests in the Critical camp; and that Conservative scholars aren't. Examine these recent comments in threads I have been involved in: First this

Given the currently presumed dates of composition of the canonical gospels, with Mark thought to have been written some 50 years after Jesus's death, and the others somewhat after that, there are many (including me) who feel that in the interest of verisimilitude, it might be more appropriate to refer to the gospels as written by the "Markan" community, the "Matthean" community, the "Lukan" community and (especially) the "Johannine" community, each of whom wrote - rhetorically, as was all current testamentary material of the time - to express their particular understanding of the events the gospels describe, as well as the doctrinal position taken by each of these communities toward those events.
and then this

I'm willing to concede more room than many of my colleagues for 'apostolic' authorship of many contested NT texts, but it is almost inconceivable (based on internal evidence alone) that, for instance, the Fourth Gospel was written by the Beloved Disciple who was John son of Zebedee.
These are only a taste. I have bumped into this same argument, and its variations, many times with assumptions by the makers that this is "just a known fact". The first quote presents these books being written by "communities of believers", or disciples, of these authors long after the event, and the fall of Jerusalem (a very critical event in this discussion). The second quote presents it as being "almost inconceivable based on internal evidence alone" that John was written by the Apostle John. Ben, in an unquoted part of this comment, also implies that all "scholarship" supports this conclusion. However, Conservative scholars find this Critical conception inadequate to overcome the universal, and early, belief in the Apostle John as the author of John. So, are the Critical scholars true scholars and the Conservative scholars some group of anti-intellectual apologists living on beachfront property on DeNile? That is the discussion I want to start.

Dating outside The Gospel of John

First, about that "Mark thought to have been written some 50 years after Jesus's death" comment above: this is important because Mark is generally thought, by both Critical and Conservative scholars, to have been a source available used in writing Matthew and Luke; and perhaps John. So, if Mark wasn't written until the 80's - that pushes everyone else farther back. However, certainly Conservative scholars do not push Mark back that far - the conclusion of this very good review, written by Daniel Wallace of the dating issue (as well as the internal and external evidences of authorship):

In sum, Mark should be dated before the production of Luke’s gospel which we date no later than 62 CE. Sometime in the mid-50s is most probable
So, first we have Mark in the 50's (25ish years after Jesus' death), while Peter (who Mark recorded) was still alive. In scientific support, a piece of Mark was found in Qumran cave #7 - 7q5 - and is dated as pre-70 AD.

Now, Luke is dated by Conservative scholars no later than 62 AD (29 years after Jesus' death); because otherwise its companion work (which it must have proceeded), Acts, would not have mentioned Paul's final imprisonment, but not his death that came as a result. Wallace (from the Acts link below) does not find the two Critical explanations of this satisfactory:

  1. He did not want to mention the trial’s outcome. The opinions put forth for this refraine are very numerous—a telling argument against them. Some argue that it would put too much emphasis on the man rather than on his mission; that it would hint at a parallel with the death of Christ, which would be inappropriate; that the readers knew the rest of the story and hence Luke did not need to go on; etc. As Guthrie remarks, “It is not sufficient, on the other hand, to propose a theory of the author’s intention without supplying an adequate motive for the intention, and it may be questioned whether this condition has been fulfilled

  2. Luke intended to write a third volume. This was the view of Spitta, Zahn, Ramsey, and W. L. Knox. It is based on the use of πρῶτος in Acts 1:1—a word which, in classical Greek, indicated “first of at least three.” That it does not do so in hellenistic Greek is quite evident from the data supplied in BAGD; further that Luke does not use the superlative as a true superlative is evident from his discussion of the first census of Quirinius in Luke 2:2: scholars have had enough trouble trying to locate two censuses of Quirinius, let alone three! Further, even if Luke did use πρῶτος as a true superlative on occasion, why would he break his three-volume work here? This explanation seems a quite desperate expedient.
All in all, that Acts ends where it does is a great embarrassment to those who do not maintain a pre-64 date. Robinson, who bases much of his Redating the New Testament
[Bishop Robinson, a theological modernist whose "Honest to God" made him controversial within the Anglican communion, began this book as what he labels "a theological joke": "I thought I would see how far one could get with the hypothesis that the whole of the New Testament was written before 70", the year in which the Roman army sacked and burned the Temple of Jerusalem. As it turned out, he got much further than he had ever expected, a journey made more impressive by his lack of any predisposition toward a "conservative" point of view. - commenter at Amazon

he wrote in his work . . . that past scholarship was based on a "tyranny of unexamined assumptions" and an "almost willful blindness".]
on an early (62) date of Acts, argues ably for this view. In particular, he points out that Adolph von Harnack, “whose massive scholarship and objectivity of judgment contrast with so many who have come after him,” is still worth quoting precisely because “on this subject he was forced slowly and painfully to change his mind.” Two snippets from Harnack’s The Date of Acts will have to suffice: “Throughout eight whole chapters St. Luke keeps his readers intensely interested in the progress of the trial of St. Paul, simply that he may in the end completely disappoint them—they learn nothing of the final result of the trial!” “The more clearly we see that the trial of St. Paul, and above all his appeal to Caesar, is the chief subject of the last quarter of Acts, the more hopeless does it appear that we can explain why the narrative breaks off as it does, otherwise than by assuming that the trial had actually not yet reached its close. It is no use to struggle against this conclusion.”
However, this flies, as does Matthew, in the face of the great underlying pre-supposition of German Higher Criticism: that miracles and prophecies are impossible and therefore Jesus could not have prophesied the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD in the Olivet Discourse. In fact, it is this rationalist anti-supernaturalist presupposition that marks Higher Criticism in general; and can be seen in the theology of many scholars of the school generally. Read both "Luke: Introduction, Outline, and Argument" and its Acts counterpart for a continued discussion of the authorship and dating of Luke and Acts

Of course, if Luke can get away with the Olivet Discourse as prediction, so can Matthew. If you are a Critical scholar who operates under the presupposition that prophecy is impossible, then Matthew cannot. Again, there is scientific support for a pre-temple destruction Matthew: The Magdalen Papyrus (P64) with a piece of Matthew 26 which has been re-dated by new scientific technologies and handwriting analysis to 30-70 AD. Also, the solution to the "Synoptic problem" favored by Wallace in his pieces quoted here is that, while both Matthew and Luke had access to Mark, Matthew and Luke wrote without seeing each other's work - and therefore they believe they were written in the same period of time.

The conclusion is that Mark, Matthew, Luke and Acts were written between 55 ish AD and 62 AD; or the authors intentionally wrote them that way in order to pass them off as pre-destruction texts. This dishonesty would really make them unworthy of authority or reading; but there is no real reason to believe this about them - and no indication that any 1st or 2nd century church father viewed any of them as written by anyone but the Apostle Matthew, the doctor Luke as a companion to Paul, and John Mark as a companion to Peter.

I have looked at the three synoptic Gospels to lay the groundwork for the real point of this post: John - I think the assumptions and mistakes of Critical scholarship are highlighted better in these works because John creates more difficult problems for Conservative scholars.

And, of course, to pet my peeve Pooky. At the end of Part II we will discuss that peeve a bit more.

[Comments, BTW, will be open at the end of Part II only]