Inerrancy Part 3-Historical Criticism

Another scholar that objects to the methodology of historical criticism is Barry Smith. It is important the methodology used be known, or a scholar unknowingly may venture into an arena that conflicts with his basic foundations of faith. Smith states, “It can happen, therefore, that a Christian biblical scholar, without being fully aware of it, proceeds methodologically in a way that is incompatible with his or her religious beliefs.”[1] In particular, Smith asserts, “My position is that faith in Christ is incompatible with the use of the historical-critical method, as I shall define it, and as a result Christian scholars ought to distance themselves methodologically from it.”[2]

Smith goes on to state some of the issues with historical criticism. He quotes Semler, the father of modern historical criticism, “For him canon does not denote a set of divinely inspired texts but merely collections of books chosen by churches as suitable for public reading.”[3] It is within the presupposition of historical criticism that the concern among conservative evangelicals exists, “Again, since the biblical texts are not to be viewed as divinely inspired, it is axiomatic that the truth claims made by a biblical text be open to refutation. There can be no instances of special pleading; all texts are treated alike. In other words, the biblical texts are to have no a priori authority.”[4]

Smith further points to some of the severe outcomes using this methodology:

Thus there have been numerous attempts to reconstruct a non-messianic Jesus. G. Vermes, for instance, depicts Jesus as a typical charismatic Jew, similar to Honi the circle-drawer and Hanina ben Dosa, and rejects the Christological context in which Jesus’ charismatic activities and his preaching of the Kingdom were placed by the early church, as reflected in the gospels. Other examples of a non-messianic Jesus are those of Sanders and Borg, although they differ significantly from each other in other respects.[5]

[1] Barry Smith, “The Historical-Critical Method, Jesus Research, and The Christian Scholar,” Trinity Journal 15, no. 2 (1994): p. 199, citing Krentz, p. 18.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 202.

[5] Ibid., 212, citing E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985); M. Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus (New York: Edwin Mellen, 1984).


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