Historical-Criticism Critiqued - Part 4

by Etta Linnemann

(Editor's preface: How have conservatives and liberals come to be so far apart? Etta Linnemann has seen both sides, for she was first a student of Rudolph Bultmann and Ernst Fuchs and later a professor of theology at Braunschweig Technical University-until the Lord showed her the falsity of the historical-critical system. ("My ‘no' to historical-critical theology stems from my ‘yes!' to my wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….") This series is taken from Chapter Six of her now-out-print book, Historical Criticism of the Bible-Methodology or Ideology? [Baker Books, c. 1990].) In it Ms. Linnemann reveals not only the false assumptions of historical criticism but also how students are caught up in the system and turned into reproductions of their liberal professors.

Truth and Subjectivity

Increasingly the younger generation of theologians is being infiltrated by socialism. God's saving purpose and eternal redemption in Jesus Christ are replaced by human goals of world improvement. These goals are veiled in arbitrarily selected words of the so-called "historical Jesus," who is interpreted as social reformer or as revolutionary, depending on what the interpreter desires. Preferred texts include the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the discourse on world judgment (Matt. 25: 31-46), as well as Jesus' words regarding the Sabbath (Mark 2:27, 28). In the last passage, the term "son of man" in verse 28 is taken to mean simply man, which is linguistically possible. Jesus' table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners (e.g. Mark 2:15-17) is taken as proof that He changed unjust social structures and that we should imitate Him in this.

Characteristic of this approach is the theory of projection. The Old Testament is for the most part set aside as irrelevant to us because it is, entirely or in part, merely an intellectual construction-a projection. It is regarded as the result of then-current patriarchal social structures, reflecting ancient agrarian production conditions; the Old Testament, it is assumed, had the function of justifying and lending stability to these structures and conditions. According to this theory, even the Ten Commandments are no longer normative for us. Jesus is said to have abolished them with the commandment to love. But what love means is not derived from God's Word, but is rather determined by sensual means.

The prophets are ranked as social reformers. Amos serves as the alibi for this.

Hypotheses Without Verification

Like every science, theology is dependent on hypotheses. A hypothesis is an assumption that something is or behaves a certain way. In the natural sciences empirical observations serve to ground assumptions about regularities in the natural realm. These observations are verified by experiments. In the humanities, by contrast, hypotheses have by no means the same function and cannot be verified in the same manner. Both Old and New Testament studies, as science, have taken up as their own, in addition to other methods, the general approaches used in critical historiography and literary criticism.

Assumptions at Work

In critical historiography, ancient remains and linguistic evidences are used as sources for information about a bygone era, to which one dates the remains and evidences. In such dating, assumptions are already at work. This is an important component in the formation of hypotheses. Two examples will illustrate this:

First, if one assumes that the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) was not spoken by Jesus himself, but rather that it first arose in the early church, then one places it in a different context. It gives information, not about Jesus, but about the early church. To analyze it one compares it to what is known of the early church, not to what is known about Jesus.

Second, if one assumes, on the basis of the differences between John's Gospel and the three other Gospels, that the author of John is not John the disciple of Jesus, then a series of inferences naturally follows: In this case the author himself did not personally experience what he asserts about Jesus. He must have modeled his presentation on earlier sources. This raises the questions about the nature of these earlier documents. And this in turn raises the further question of how John's Gospel is distinct from the sources it is based upon.

Now further assumptions must come into play in relation to the Gospel's theology and bias, as well as the nature of the community which it reflects. Along with this, questions crop up regarding the historical background from a comparative religions point of view; here the task is to distinguish between John's own outlook and that of his sources. What are the major influences on the author of John's Gospel? Gnosticism? Qumran? Judaism with gnostic tendencies? Or is the author taking his bearings mainly from the Old Testament? If his sources are gnostic, how does he relate to them: Polemically? Positively? Critically?

(to be continued)