JESUS AND THE CHRISTOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS
Clearly the argument put forth by Sparks is dangerous for the traditional view of inerrancy. Sparks’ argument is particularly problematic in that in his rejection of inerrancy (as popularly promoted) he claims to hold to a high view (a better view he would say) of Bibliology. Sparks, it seems, is trying to save the Bible from fundamentalists who promote a dangerous doctrine that makes the Bible appear irrelevant to the broader culture. But in this attempt to present a more reasonable Bibliology, Spark’s reason is incomplete, his evidence drives him to a wrong conclusion, and the doctrinal damage of his view is extremely problematic.
First, perhaps it is best to begin with what Spark’s rejection of inerrancy does to the gospel and to Christology. One of the major problems that biblical criticism presents from a Christian perspective is what to do with Jesus’ clear belief that Scripture (the Old Testament at His time) is inerrant. Jesus repeatedly quotes from the Old Testament identifying its authors. Being that Sparks spends much time attacking Mosaic authorship of the Torah, perhaps it is best to highlight Jesus’ many statements regarding Mosaic authorship. Jesus repeated quoted from the Torah with statements like “Moses commanded” (Matthew 8:4; Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14), “Moses allowed” (Matthew 19:8; Mark 10:3-4), and “Moses said” (Mark 7:10). Also, in Mark 12:26 Jesus cites Exodus 3:6 noting that it is from “the book of Moses” (cf. Luke 20:37). Likewise, in one of His parables, Jesus has Abraham equates the Torah with its author (Luke 16:29, 31; see also John 7;19). Finally, Jesus told the religious leaders that Moses wrote of Him in John 5:45-46.
This is only a partial list. However, this brief list shows that Jesus clearly believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and it is not primarily a document edited together by multiple writers and editors collected over hundreds of years. But this is not all that the Gospels say on the subject. Taking their cue from Jesus’ language, the authors of the Gospels themselves defend Mosaic authorship. For example, Luke calls the Torah the “Law of Moses” (Luke 2:22) and John notes that the Torah is “the law [that] was given through Moses” (John 1:17).
In addition to these, others in the gospels defend Mosaic authorship. Philip states in John 1:45, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”
Finally, Jesus defended the inerrancy of Scripture itself citing Moses as the author of the Torah. In Luke 24:44, Jesus said “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
A similar list could be compiled regarding other attacks on specific books in the Old Testament in which Sparks and other biblical critics attack. For example, Jesus affirms the authorship of Isaiah by the prophet himself by quoting from both halves of Isaiah. In Mark 7:6-13 Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13 explicitly stating that Isaiah is the writer and in John 12:37-41 Jesus quotes from Isaiah 53:1. Sparks, and many other biblical critics, believe that Isaiah has at least two different authors with the latter half of the book being written much later contrary to Jesus’ own statements in the Gospels. Likewise, Jesus affirms Jonah as a historical character even though Sparks allows the book of Jonah to be a myth in Matthew 12:39-41.* Finally, in Matthew 24:15 Jesus states that Daniel himself spoke of the Abomination of Desolation in Daniel 9:27 affirming the historicity and the authorship of Daniel including the apocalyptic sections in which many biblical critics reject.
Sparks admits all of this. He admits that Jesus affirms the authorship of the Torah by Moses, the authorship of Isaiah by the prophet, and the historicity and authorship of Jonah and Daniel among others. This, however, creates a major problem and Sparks is wise enough to admit this. After all, if Jesus is fully divine then how could He not know that Isaiah had at least two writers, the Pentateuch is the by-product of editors, and Jonah was just a myth? And if He did know, then why did He not say anything about it? Why did He, in fact, continue to promote the false notion of their authorship and historicity? Why did Jesus affirm a doctrine of inerrancy that is inaccurate? In other words, being fully divine, why did Jesus not agree with Kenton Sparks?
Being aware of this problem, Sparks argues that one can affirm the Documentary Hypothesis and higher and lower criticism and yet at the same time take Jesus at His word. Essentially, Sparks suggests that Evangelicals, or inerrantists, ought to reconsider, or at the very least look more closely at, their Christology. Sparks writes:
However, we should recall that creedal orthodoxy maintains that Jesus Christ is not only divine and infinite but also human and finite. If the critical evidence against the traditional authorial attributions in the Old Testament is as strong as it seems to be, then it is perhaps evangelical Christology – and not critical scholarship – that needs to be carefully reconsidered. If Jesus was fully human, as orthodoxy demands, then it is likely that he learned – along with other ancient Jews – that Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel wrote their books, irrespective of factual and historical realities. Moreover, even if Jesus knew the critical fact that Moses did not pen the Pentateuch, it is hardly reasonable to assume that he would have revealed this information to his ancient audience. To the extent that Jesus drew upon his omniscience in everyday life and conversation, it would have been constantly necessary for him to pass up opportunities to tell those around him what he knew.**
Here, Sparks makes two arguments. The first is that he highlights the humanity of Jesus as a defense for His affirmation of false realities. To put it another way, Jesus was taught (like all Jewish boys were at that time) wrong things and thus promoted falsities. He simply did not know, after all, Jesus was just human.
This argument is problematic. Though it might be more helpful for many Evangelicals be reminded of Jesus’ humanity perfectly balancing His humanity with His divinity, Sparks forces us to commit the opposite doctrinal error He is responding against. Yes, some Christians do emphasize Christ’s divinity at the cost of His humanity to the point that Jesus is more like Superman than the God-man. At the same time, it is equally wrong and dangerous to suggest that in His humanity, Jesus promoted lies. Scripture is clear that Jesus did have a supernatural knowledge unshared by other humans. This explains why Jesus repeatedly knew what someone was thinking or what was in their hearts (see for example Matthew 9:4). If Jesus knew one’s thoughts before they could speak them, then surely He knew whether or not Moses wrote the Torah. Furthermore, let us not forget that Jesus is eternal with the Father and witnessed from heaven the penning of the Torah, Daniel, Jonah, and Isaiah. Certainly there were some limitations as a result of the incarnation, but it is simply wrong to suggest that Jesus was ignorant of certain things being subject to the false assumptions of His culture especially when it comes to the words the Spirit of God – the Second Person of the Trinity – inspired.
Furthermore, after His resurrection in Luke 24:27, Jesus clearly affirms the authorship of Moses. So even without the many limitations of Jesus as a result of His incarnation were taken away and yet even with a more complete and full knowledge, Jesus continued to hold fast to the authorship of the Torah. It is simply inaccurate, then, to assume that Jesus, if He had only known of Scripture’s errs, would have rejected inerrancy and adopted a view of Scripture more in line of Sparks. Prior to His ascension, Jesus did have a fuller knowledge of the facts and still held onto a traditional view of Scripture.
The second argument He puts forth here is that perhaps Jesus did know that Moses was not the author of did the Torah, but refused to inform his audience. Perhaps Jesus was concerned of the backlash it would cause if such an argument was put forward. This argument too fails miserably. When in His ministry was Jesus ever timid? Was it when He knocked over temple tables or when He began swinging a whip at the money changers and religious leaders? Was it when He boldly confronted the religious leaders of His day calling them names identifying their hypocrisy? Surely, if Jesus knew that the Old Testament is errant, then He would not have been afraid to inform His audience. If Jesus was bold enough to go to the cross for His gospel, then surely He would have been bold enough to be rejected by the Jews for their wrong Bibliology.
But there is a deeper issue here. In both arguments Sparks presents a Jesus subject not just to human limitations, but sin. If Jesus did not know about the truths of the Old Testament writings, then He taught in ignorance and promoted false ideas. On the other hand, if Jesus did know about inaccuracies and contradictions in the Old Testament but did not admit them, then He is a liar. This is a serious charge because if Jesus is a liar, then He is a sinner and if He is a sinner, then He cannot be our substitute.
This argument is actually propagated by Sparks. Later on in the book, Sparks asserts:
[Jesus] would have erred in the usual way that other people err because of their finite perspectives. He misremembered this event or that, and mistook this person for someone else, and thought – like everyone else – that the sun was literally rising. Too err in these ways simply goes with the human territory. These errors are not sins, not even black marks against our humanity. They stem from the design of God, which God has declared to be ‘very good’ . . . The finite, human form of Jesus tells us that Scripture’s authors and their discourse will be finite and human.***
Taken to its logical conclusion, Sparks is leading the reader into a dangerous direction. By emphasizing the humanity of Jesus at the cost of His full deity must lead to a conclusion such as this. To state that Jesus repeatedly erred is a serious theological challenge and is heretical. To err might be human, as the famous statement goes, but Jesus was not merely human. This is why this first point of critique is our first point of contention. To have a wrong Bibliology is to have a wrong understanding of the gospel and Christology is central to the message of salvation. Anytime one challenges and rejects tradition Bibliology, the gospel immediately begins to crumble. Though Sparks claims to hold to an orthodox view of the gospel, of Christ, etc., He is standing on shaky ground that is incoherent. Either Jesus erred when He spoke in Scripture or He did not. If He did err (and sometimes on purpose) then He cannot be perfect.
* See his argument in Kenton Sparks, God's Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 214-215.
** Ibid., 164-165.
*** Ibid., 252-253. Compare this statement to what Sparks has written elsewhere. At the BiosLogos website, Sparks wrote, “Though theologians seldom point this out, the fact that Jesus operated mainly within the horizon of his finite human horizon has other implications. If we assume for the sake of discussion that he was a carpenter like his father, did he ever miss the nail with his hammer? Hit his thumb? Did he think that he left his saw on the bench when, because he was distracted, he actually leaned it against the wall? Did Jesus ever look across a crowded town square and think that he saw his brother James only to discover that it was someone else? And did he estimate that the crowd was about 300 when it was really 200?
To confess that Jesus was fully human is to admit that the answer to these questions must be yes. And if yes, then this observation surely has implications for how we think about Scripture. If Jesus as a finite human being erred from time to time, there is no reason at all to suppose that Moses, Paul, John wrote Scripture without error. Rather, we are wise to assume that the biblical authors expressed themselves as human beings writing from the perspectives of their own finite, broken horizons.”
Kenton Sparks, “After Inerrancy: Evangelicals and the Bible in a Postmodern Age, Part 4,” BiosLogos, accessed 5 November 2010, available at http://biologos.org/blog/after-inerrancy-evangelicals-and-the-bible-in-a-postmodern-age-part-4/; Internet.
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