Historical Criticism And The Evangelical: Another View -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:1 (Mar 2000)
Article: Historical Criticism And The Evangelical: Another View
Author: Robert L. Thomas


Historical Criticism And The Evangelical:
Another View

Robert L. Thomasa

Throughout the centuries of the Church’s history since the earliest written records, leaders of orthodox Christianity have championed a view of Gospel origins that conceives the Synoptics in terms of literary (inter) dependence. Without exception, 1 they have reported that the three Synoptic Gospels were literarily independent of each of other. In other words, no author copied from the work of another Gospel author, nor did any two of the Synoptic Gospels depend on a common written source.

The perspective in the Church for 1800 years was that Matthew, an apostle of Jesus Christ and an eyewitness to much that he reported, wrote the first Gospel. It held that Mark, a close disciple of Peter the apostle, wrote the second Gospel, and in so doing, reproduced the preaching of Peter. The continuing tradition said that Luke wrote his Gospel in dependence on the apostle Paul with whom he was closely associated. Advocates of the independence view from the recent past include such evangelical scholars as Louis Berkhof, 2 Henry Clarence Thiessen, 3 and Merrill C. Tenney. 4

This view of Gospel origins prevailed in the church until scholars during the Enlightenment began to question the literary independence of those three Gospels. 5 Being of a philosophical bent driven by questionable hypotheses and viewpoints, these scholars could not explain the close similarities in wording and sequence of events in the three without resorting to some type of copying among the authors. That was the beginning of theories of literary dependence.

The independence viewpoint explains the similarities among the Synoptic Gospels by recalling that the sources of the accounts were eyewitnesses whose sharp memories in many cases reproduced the exact wording of dialogues and sermons. Their memories received additional stimulation

through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of their writings in accord with Jesus’ promise (John 14:26). Literary independence theory accounts for the differences between the Gospels by allowing that different eyewitnesses reported the same events in different but not contradictory ways. This created a diversified, non-homogeneous body of tradition without definable limits from which the writers were able to draw. Coupled with t...

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