Historical Criticism And The Great Commission -- By: Robert L. Thomas

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 11:1 (Spring 2000)
Article: Historical Criticism And The Great Commission
Author: Robert L. Thomas

Historical Criticism
And The Great Commission

Robert L. Thomas

Professor of New Testament

A difference of opinion is emerging among evangelicals about the degree of historical accuracy of the Synoptic Gospels. A historical survey of how various individuals explain the Great Commission illustrates that difference of opinion. An examination of how the church at different periods has viewed this Commission gives perspective regarding how and when this difference developed. The early church took the words of the Commission at face value, assuming them to be spoken by Jesus. The post-Reformation church did the same until the impact of the Enlightenment, which generated the ideology of Historical Criticism. Radical Historical Criticism questions the basic historicity of the Commission, Jesus’ claim of all power, His command to go to all nations and baptize, and His use of the trinitarian name in connection with baptism. Evangelical Historical Criticism questions the historicity of the same parts of the Commission, though usually not to the same degree as radical Historical Criticism. This evangelical approach to the Great Commission poses a serious dilemma for evangelical preachers and teachers in their handling of the Great Commission.

* * * * *

Since the release of The Jesus Crisis1 in October of 1998 a number of informative developments have come. Response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive,2 but a few have reacted strongly against it.3 Some are yet undecided as to how to respond to it.4 The differences in response have magnified a significant difference of opinion about the accuracy of the Synoptic Gospels that exists in the evangelical community at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The diversity of opinion about the Gospels raises interesting questions:

What difference does it make in terms of Christian ministry? Does it matter that some evangelicals understand the Gospels to be historically accurate down to the last detail, and others see the Gospels as only approximations of what Jesus said and did? Does it affect how people will preach and teach those Gospels during the next century?

A historical survey is often helpful in evaluating contemporary practices. For purposes of such a survey, the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20) is a good passage to consult in comparing how various groups have handled and ...

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