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Archive for February 13th, 2014

Part 1 of this critical review can be found here.  There was so much I had to think through that I made this review in two parts.

Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

(Available on Amazon)

This book was provided to me free by Baker Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Chapter on the Deuteronomic Torah and Israel’s covenant theology

Similar to the chapter on Exodus, the chapter on Deuteronomy’s origin was equally frustrating.  The writers felt that denying the singular authorship by Moses shouldn’t pose that big of a problem since the creeds of the early church “hardly address this matter” (84).  But this is rather weak since it commits the logical fallacy of argument from silence.  This chapter also advocated the idea that authorship is not important for the authority of Deuteronomy but it’s authority lies with within the content of the book itself that the Spirit utilizes: “When Deuteronomy’s authority as Christian Scripture is located in the content of the document in general and the Holy Spirit’s work through authorized tridents in particular, even the most trenchant attacks on its Mosaic origins fail to usurp its authoritative status or muffle its revelatory voice” (94).  I agree that the content of Deuteronomy itself is self-authoritative but it doesn’t seem to follow that one can go ahead and embrace the view that Deuteronomy was not written by Moses.  It’s ironic that the chapter stresses the content of a book in the Bible is the source of the book’s authority and yet the content of other passages of Scriptures imply the Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy.

 

Chapter on Problems with Prophecy

I found the book’s most disturbing chapters were “Problems with Prophecy” and “Pseudepigraphy and the canon.”  The chapter on prophecy was open to things like Vaticinium Ex Eventu (prophetic declaration of the fact) and “failed” prophecies.  There were several arguments given for the writers’ view that to me seem like it does not necessarily follow.  For instance on page 98 the writers argue that the Old Testament “kept” allegedly failed prophecies within the text suggests that the Jews had a more tolerable view of unfulfilled prophecies than we do in our Western culture today.  The conclusion doesn’t seem to necessarily follow.  Wouldn’t it be better to see the retention of difficulties biblical prophecies as indicative of the scribe’s more general philosophy of faithfully copying difficult passages despite our desire to harmonize the passage and yet a humble willingness to understand our limitation of understanding it at the moment?  That is, what’s driving the Jewish scribes is not necessarily a more dynamic understanding of “prophecies” but a desire to retain God’s Word as God’s Word.  This has a greater explanatory power that account for the scribes faithful textual transmission of other difficult passages such as keeping textual error of numbers in narratives genre, etc.  Again one must be careful in observing the textual criticism of difficult Hebrew prophetic texts and concluding that this must mean a certain understanding of prophecies driving Jewish hermeneutics.  Another Non sequitur can be found on page 101: “Once it is perceived that prophecy is generated from and oriented toward God’s ultimate kingship of the world, the relationship between the prophetic utterance and human history becomes more dynamic, nuanced and unpredictable.”  However it does not logically follow that just because prophecy stems from God’s ultimate kingship of the world that it means prophecies must be more “dynamic” and unpredictable.  The chapter also made a good case that there are conditional prophecies but does one have to subscribe to the historical critical method in order to come to this conclusion?

In discussing about Vaticinium Ex Eventu the book states: “It should be noted that there were voices dissenting from the traditional Christian approach described above even in the earliest days of the Church’s exegesis,” and then the example given was the third century philosopher Porphyry who “in his Against the Christians, wagered that the author the book of Daniel could not have been the sixth-century Hebrew Daniel” (105).  But Porphyry was not a Christian but a Neo-Platonists and hardly an example of the early church’s exegesis.  The chapter devoted considerable length exploring whether Vaticinium Ex Eventu can be observed in the book of Daniel (106ff).  The author tires to make the case that there were texts in the Ancient Near East that employed Vaticinium Ex Eventu but the case for one particular example of the Uruk prophecies appear rather weak (107-08).  Ironically, the author has been arguing that one should not force events to fit into prophecy but the authors end up doing the same thing by forcing certain ANE kings to fit into the prophecy, that in the end, is to establish Vaticinium Ex Eventu and prophecies being more dynamic than an historical grammatical direct history reading.  Another argument to support Vaticinium Ex Eventu is the writers’ observation of Daniel 12:11 and 12:12 where the first predicts 1,290 days while the latter 1,335 days.  After saying “it is not sound exegetical practice to reject the plain sense of the text in favor of a prior theological convictions,” the chapter states “It seems natural to suggest that, after the initial 1,290 days have elapsed, the writers would have revised their expections by positing a slightly larger number (1,335 days)” (111).  As a response, it must be noted that the contributors to this chapter themselves are not entirely neutral as one may think and it’s easy to just see theological convictions in others while being unconscious of one’s own pre-commitments.  Historical critical presuppositions have been imported.  But this higher critical interpretation is not anything natural in the way the two different duration of days are understood for if Daniel 12:12 is a revision of Daniel 12:11, why was not Daniel 12:11’s “1,290 days” not deleted?  Isn’t that an easier way to “revise” the prophecies if the Jews were “revising” it?  Furthermore, if the 1,290 days elapsed why revised it to a slightly bigger numbers in terms of days instead of a greater number say in terms of months and years in order to avoid the tension of it being unfulfilled again?  This speculation of “revision” by the “writers” also make the claim in the beginning of the chapter suspect:  Were the Jews really that dynamic with understanding the relationship of prophecies and history if they saw the need to revise the duration of days since historical expectation were not met?  That is, if the Jewish recipients did see prophecy in a less literal and more dynamic way it would not explain the supposed phenomenon for why supposedly they would see the need for an Vaticinium Ex Eventu update in the first place.

I felt this chapter was somewhat intellectually schizophrenic:  On the one hand those who hold single, fixed and historically factual understanding of prophecies are “children of the modern age” (118) yet on the other hand one finds this incredible quote on page 116 admitting that earlier prophets interpreting antecedent prophecies historically and chronologically literal as well: “Earlier figures like Zechariah could afford to be optimistic about the veracity of the prophecy.  But as the years unwind, Ezra and Nehemiah have to fudge their numbers, construing 70 years as the ‘beginning of the end’ of the exile.”

It’s also interesting to consider the methodology behind the essay on prophecies:  The chapter is seriously deficient since it only exclude itself to the difficult passages of prophecies (that is, the passages where there are questions of whether or not it’s fulfilled yet or the dating of its fulfillment).  There is no interaction with the subset of Old Testament prophecies that are clearly fulfilled already.  One must not forget the maxim that it’s dangerous to develop a system base upon exceptions or hard cases.  One should always operate from the clear to the unclear.

One minor note: There is also an attempt to refer to Matthew 16:27-28 to argue that “this generation” is Jesus’ contemporary but it seems like the writers are unaware of other Evangelical interpretation of this passage be it Premillennialists or Partial Preterists, etc.  It’s kind of hard to argue that Evangelical and Historical Critical methodology are compatible if the writers are only in conversation with historical critical voices but not other Evangelical voices.

 

Chapter on Pseudepigraphy and the Canon

The beginning discussion of the chapter on Pseudepigraphy indicates that it already presupposes that the Pentateuch had multiple “authors” and redactors.  The chapter argues that “since the expressions concerning Moses’ association with the Pentateuch elsewhere in the canon fall short of identifying him as the ‘author’ of the compendium in the modern sense of the term, appears that these designations simply indicate the Pentateuch or specific materials within the corpus are about Moses or linked to a Mosaic tradition” (132).  While the term “author” might not be in the text one does see elsewhere in the Canon where quotations from the Pentateuch are attributed to being from Moses who “wrote” it: see Mark 12:19, Luke 20:28, etc.  The writers argues that this only show some writing from Moses as a source definitely survived in the Pentateuch, but nowhere do we see in Scripture the teaching that the Pentateuch as a whole is written by Moses; but it is a hard statement to square with John 1:45.  In talking about Isaiah, the writers believe that there is already a scholarly consensus that Isaiah is made up of three parts written pre-exilic, exilic and post-exhilic and that even Conservative scholars have likewise given in.  Who are the examples of these conservative scholars?  One book by Bruce Waltke is mentioned which is far from establishing that there is a universal consensus among Conservative Evangelical scholars.  The essay realizes the difficulties of New Testament passages that teaches on Isaiah as a single entity such as John 12:41; the attempt to dismiss the New Testament data is with the following argument: “The available evidence on early Christian views suggests that it was not hospitable to deceptive pseudepigraphy, though scholars often take this position with respect to the Gospels and epistles, texts of a different genre from prophetic books” (140).  But this is dubious since there’s nothing in prophetic genre that necessitate more than one author or pseudepigraphy is acceptable.  The chapter does admit the difficulty in determining pseudepigraphy on pages 149 on the basis of stylistic observation of the epistles.  On page 149 the writers also acknowledge that 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 indicates concern with false letters but doesn’t do anything to reconcile their theory to this passage which is rather ironic since they are charging conservatives for “subjecting Scripture to our own autonomous standard of perfection, instead of seeking the perfection Scripture has in a historically a posteriori act of discipleship” (155).  One wonders why historical critical standard receive immunity.  Perhaps a fear of man is indicated on page 155 when the writers acknowledge that conservative “solutions tend to be viewed with suspicion in the broader academic guild…”

 

Chapter on the Historical Jesus

The chapter on the historical Jesus focused on whether or not it is possible to be an Evangelical and hold to the idea that Jesus in His humanity might not have known He was God even though He was God.  The issue is whether Jesus’ own self-portrayal indicates He knew He was God.  It’s sad that the chapter fail to take into account passages such as John 8:58 where Jesus display a conscious assumption that He was God.  This is also hard to square with an observation that the author made on page 168: “Jesus’ calming of the storm may be taken as evidence of his divinity (Mark 4:35-41 seems to imply as much)…”  If Jesus’ walking on water in the storm is an evidence of His Divinity, wouldn’t this also mean that Jesus Himself knew He is God since He sees this miracle of Himself walking on water?  It seems to deny this would make Jesus much more intellectually challenged than His disciples, something that goes against the New Testament portrayal of Jesus.

While the chapter on page 167 acknowledges the role of naturalistic worldviews operating among some critical scholars’ rejection of Jesus’ miracles, the chapter failed to engage with the philosophical problems inherent to naturalism.  Instead, the chapter goes on to say that “assuming the existence of God does not necessarily mean that each Gospel account of a miracle is historical.” One is bothered by the authors’ approach of seeing how far one can go in denying the historicity of miracles in the Bible.  Note this excerpt:  “One could conceivably understand Jesus’ walking on water or calming of the storm as a post-Easter fabrication and still believe that Jesus is the fully divine and fully human Son of God” (168).  The chapter is not arguing for a categorical rejection of the historicity of the entirety of Jesus’ miracles, but instead argues some miracles can be denied and one still be okay (169).

Sadly, one miraculous problem the chapter points to is the virgin birth.  The book claims that “there are a variety of historical problems surrounding the infancy narratives.  For example, the claim that Quirinius was governor of Syria near the end of the reign of Herod the Great (Luke 2:2) does not seem to fit easily with our other sources from the time period.  So also, scholars are unable to find corroborating evidence for the claim that Herod ordered the whole-sale slaughter of babies in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:6), which one might imagine would have captured the attention of at least one other ancient historian” (170-71).  First off, it’s sad to see the simple regurgitation of stock liberal criticism.  Second, this statement is problematic for committing the fallacy of argument from silence.  Thirdly, it’s sad to see that in an earlier chapter the book was arguing that one should avoid maximalism and minimalism but here the book is operating upon a minimalistic methodology where one assume something is ahistorical unless verify by other sources.  The lack of attention to methodology is concerning.  While I don’t have to flesh out my argument, I would say for an Evangelical, the virgin birth is important, being a fulfillment of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that testified that Jesus is the Christ.

One redeeming aspect of the chapter is that it provides a good survey of various scholars’ opinion about the resurrection for Christians to be familiar with.  I’m glad the writers put their foot down concerning the historicity of the resurrection.  It was a pleasant breath of fresh air from much of the content in the book.

Chapter on Paul of Acts and Paul of the Epistles

The chapter on Paul was surprisingly enjoyable since the author was more conscious of the pitfalls made by some practitioner of the historical critical method when it comes to the question of the Paul of Acts versus the Paul of the Epistles.

Chapter on Faithful Criticism and a Critical Faith

The conclusion stated that “some critical opinions are deleterious to the life of faith, and we believe that our evangelical professors and colleagues can answer those views” (206).  I wished the book would have “answered” those views more.  It is stresses the authors want readers to have a critical faith, where “critical” means discernment—but it seems to me the authors could be more discerning with higher criticism’s methodology and presuppositions.  The chapter on Paul is a good exemplar of what that looks like.

CONCLUSION: I would not recommend this book for the lay person in the Pew.  For those with a good foundation already and have some exegetical and a historical grammatical hermeneutics experiences this work can be something to read through to see the “other side.”

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