Historical Criticism: A Brief Response To Robert Thomas’s “Other View” -- By: Grant R. Osborne

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:1 (Mar 2000)
Article: Historical Criticism: A Brief Response To Robert Thomas’s “Other View”
Author: Grant R. Osborne

Historical Criticism: A Brief Response
To Robert Thomas’s “Other View”

Grant R. Osbornea

Thomas’s basic thesis has merit: the view that the Gospel writers wrote independently from one another should be taken much more seriously than it has of late, and evangelicals should be careful to make certain that when using the techniques of historical criticism they don’t fall prey to the non-historical presuppositions of the higher critics. The problem is that the article characteristically overstates its position and is presented in a polemical style that does not invite dialogue. Thomas’s position seems clear—all of us who use form or redaction criticism in any sense or who hold either to Markan or Matthean priority are de facto denying the historicity of the Gospels. Several of us—including more than one past and future president of the society—must take issue with these charges. So let me respond by interacting with the article one point at a time.

It is true that the independence view predominated for 1700 years. It is also true that many like Thiessen and Tenney in this century have accepted that view. But we do not determine whether a view is right or wrong by how long it is held, nor by naming people who champion it. A position is decided on the basis of its merits, by comparing its strengths and weaknesses with the arguments advocated by opposing scholars. No issue or doctrine is held on the basis of longevity. If that were the case, Dr. Thomas could no longer be a dispensationalist, since that position is only 170 years old. It is the view of many evangelicals, including myself, that the data itself favors a literary dependence view. Arguments for the superiority of the independence view must proceed on that basis rather than an a priori assumption that dependence must of necessity deny historicity.

Thomas’s recitation of the “recent debate” (pp. 99-100) is also highly suspect. What is missing in his potted survey is the acknowledgment that after 1985 there was a markedly different tone in ETS regarding the viability of an evangelical using the critical tools from within a framework of inerrancy. In the fourteen years until The Jesus Crisis appeared, there were no attacks on the orthodoxy of evangelical redaction critics. To me this is the most troubling aspect of the book. Is a new period of inquisition being established in which the criteria of heterodoxy are set by one group of scholars? It is one thing to disagree regarding literary dependence and the use of critical tools; it is quite another thing to declare that such positions entail a denial of the historicity of the material.

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