June 2011
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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • Immune to Evidence

    Recently I finished teaching a study of the Gospel of John. This class took two year (with summers off) so we spent considerable time in John.  The class elected to study the letters of John next and so in preparation I have once again been reviewing the preliminary question of authorship, which for the letters is strongly intertwined with the Gospel.

    Usually I deal with such questions at the start of a study, but coming back to them having just finished the Gospel really drove home how utterly basis were the claims that the apostle John was not the author.  The problems here are an example of what is wrong with so much of academia.

    Without going into too much detail, there are several things one can look at when trying to determine authorship. One is external evidence, which in the case of the Gospel of John is very clear and strong, linking back to those who personally knew and worked with the apostle.   Then there are several types of internal evidence.   The first is what the Gospel claims for itself.  The Gospel of John says it was written by “disciple whom Jesus kept loving” (John 21:20-24 ISV) and when the statements about this disciple are examined, it turns out to be John.

    From all of this it would seem pretty clear that the apostle John was the author.  And yet many, if not most, scholars not only reject the authorship of John, but claim instead John was the work of many authors.  Now if there were some clear changes in style or language, another type of internal evidence, which pointed to multiple authors, then one could understand such claims. But as D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris point out in their “An Introduction to the New Testament”,

    The stylistic unity of the book has been demonstrated again and again as concrete evidence against this or that source theory.  Even the prologue (1:1-18) and the epilogue (chap 21) exhibit a style remarkably attuned to the rest of the book. (p 152)

    Again, having just completed an in depth study of the Gospel, and having just recently looked in detail at all the evidence for chapter 21, it drove home how true this statement is.   So why then, given the solid external evidence, the claims of the book itself, and the internal consistency, is the authorship of the apostle John even an open question, but less rejected?

    The answer seems to be that before a lot of this evidence was established, scholarly opinion dated this, and the other gospels, well into the second century, some dating it as late as  170, well beyond the lifetime of the apostles.   If the apostle did not write it, then someone else did, and this someone must have gotten the material they wrote from somewhere.   As a result, scholars spent considerable time trying to determine the sources of the Gospels and multiple sources have frequently been seen as multiple authors.   A real problem, however, is that unlike the other evidence, attempts of find sources is much more problematic, subjective, and thus error prone.

    As a result, elaborate speculations were developed about a Johannine tradition, community or possibly even a school, which was responsible for the creation of the Gospel of John and the letters.  Over time these speculations became theories, which with succeeding generations of scholars came to be seen as established fact, based more on the reputation of the earlier scholars, than any actual evidence. Under close examination they remained little more than speculations, with very little if any actual evidence to support them.  The earlier speculations then came to be the foundation for even further speculations by succeeding scholars, until a large and elaborate framework of speculation was developed.

    Since then, however, the late dating of the Gospels has run into serious problems, not the least of which have been that a fragment of the Gospel of John have been discovered that dates from around 125, well before the speculations about it authorship had claimed it was even written.

    And yet, even though the evidence now show the Gospel was written within the lifetime of the apostle John, many scholars continue to reject his authorship, preferring instead the theories/speculations that it was written by Johannine community.   In short, they reject the actual objective evidence that points to the apostle John, and instead support what are really little more than speculations that depend mainly on scholarly inertia and group think.

    This problem is not limited to Biblical Scholarship.  With the possible exception of the hard sciences, which have the ability/burden to actually objectively test their theories, it is found throughout academia.  Once the bastion of the exploration of new ideas grounded in reason and evidence, academia have become increasingly unified and closed mined, wedded to scholarly speculations and immune to the evidence.

    As in, biblical scholarship, students in the various disciplines are discouraged from thinking critically about the prevailing views of the disciplines, but instead to accept them, in some cases as dogmatically as any medieval doctrine.   Slowly, any existing critical thinking and common sense are drummed out of the student, replaced instead by the new gospel of truth, the study.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with studies, and the point here is not to attack them per se.  But like everything else, they have their strengths and their weaknesses.  Yet, I have actually heard professors claim that they will not believe anything unless there is a study to support it. This is an absurd claim, but the very fact that a supposedly learned person could make such a statement, and make it proudly, shows one of the problems with academia.  Pointing to studies is a way to avoid actually thinking.  If the study says X, then you don’t have to think about X any longer, you can just accept the study.

    One only has to consider the problems of conflicting studies, to realize the problems with such a claim.  But the problems are much deeper.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s there were no studies that show men and women were different.   The common sense view that they were different was rejected as being based on common sense.  So men and women were declared the same.

    As a result of advances in our knowledge of biochemistry and how the brain works,  we now know for a fact that men and women are not only different, but significantly different in the way they  think and react.  But as with the evidence for the authorship of John, this is largely ignored and the view that men and women are the same continues to shape much of society even today in everything from how we dress, to how the sexes interact,  to how we raise our children,  to marriage, and same-sex marriage.

    Some might ask: So what? Where is the harm?  When pressed, such questions usually are little more than a demand for evidence from yet another study.  But, it is also a further problem with the group think-study based view of academia.    Most studies are so narrow that they only seek to answer the question the scholar asks.  If your knowledge is based on studies, then your knowledge will be limited to what is researched.  Thus if they don’t look for the problems, the studies will not find them.  The group-think that controls so much of scholarship passively, and sometimes even actively, limits what will be researched. Even when studies are done, that show problems, the group think mentality tend to relegate them to obscurity.

    In short we live in a world increasingly under the sway of an academia that through the schools and in government are reshaping society to fit theories that are increasingly cut off from reality. This is a prescription for disaster.

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