The Nullification of History

July 31, 2018 — Leave a comment

Guest post by John Moore.

Critics of the Bible like to engage in skeptical games, one of them I like to call ‘nullification of history,’ that is, if one example of bad conduct is shown, then just about everything can be rendered uncertain.

There is no doubt that certain ancient historians, like Thucydides (circa 460-400 B.C.), have often been accused of personal bias. But does that automatically cast doubt about all transcribed accounts of personages in the past?”[1]

Unfortunately, higher criticism too has obfuscated the real problem. ‘At issue are, not doctrines, myths, or speculations, but the facts which took place in the clear light of history at a specific time and place, facts which can be established and on which one can rely’[2].

Note that there is no basis for any arguments about subjective experiences concerning events during the earthly and post resurrection ministry of Jesus, or after His ascension[3]. Nor is ‘witness’ a subjective category, as in Aristotle’s book, Rhetoric[4].

So what is the solution to this problem?

The New Testament was written in the common language (Koine) of ordinary people: it too is dependent upon earlier linguistic usage[5], that it might be easily understood by its audience. That is important because the courtroom model of an objective proof [6] is also clearly intended to convince the readers of the Gospels [7].

The Apostles clearly understood that they would have to confront the unbelieving world with truth. They took the message of Jesus to the world (Mt. 28:16-20) without any fear of being contradicted by detractors.

The case for objectivity has been defended by a scholar thusly: “The Christian faith is an historical faith based on God’s revelation in history; it is based on facts[8].”

Even in a postmodern age, the concept of evidentiary proof is still valid.

The Gospels are not mere opinions about the past; they are a ‘witness’ in a specialized sense; presented in a literary/judicial format, genre de style; still worth upholding as an apologetic method.


Notes & References:

[1] Note the vernacular of testimony The common Greek noun martus and the verb marturein are used by orators (Antiphon, Demosthenes, Lysias, Andocides) and historians (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Dion of Halicarnassus). For examples see Henry Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek English Lexicon, (1883), pages 922-923.

[2] Suzanne de Dietrich, ‘You are My Witnesses.’ A Study of the Church’s Witness, Interpretation, Volume 8, Issue 3, July 1954, page 278.

[3] This point is especially seen in the post Resurrection appearance of Jesus in Luke 24:44-48 where the disciples are to be witnesses to the historical events of the death and resurrection of the Messiah. “As such they were to proclaim the facts (vs. 48), and the repentance and remission based upon them (vs. 47); and thus be the fufillers of the prophecies summed up in vss. 45-46.” Matthew B. Riddle & Phillip Schaff, A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, (1879)

[4] For a discussion, see Hermann Strathmann, Martus, TDNT, (1967), vol. 4, pp. 474-478.

[5] For an overview, see H. Strathmann, op. cit., pp. 474-515.

[6] See the Greek examples in Liddell and Scott, loc. cit. “The elemental meaning of martus is a legal one, where someone who has observed an event, or heard words spoken, or seen the signing of s deed, appears in court to authenticate such. To witness, therefore, is to rehearse what one has seen or heard, to verify the factuality of something.” Donald G. Miller, Some Observations on the New Testament Concept of ‘Witness,’ The Ashbury Theological Journal, vol.1, (1988), p. 57. Deuteronomy 19 :15 is the set rule of confirmation used in both Testaments. “According to the Old Testament idea of justice a statement is considered valid in law only if it is confirmed by two or three witnesses,” Robert Koch, Witness, Sacramentum Verbi, vol. 3, p.984.

[7] “Here clearly the idea of witness is used in a twofold sense, just as in secular Greek literature and the Old Testament lawsuit. The apostles are both witness to facts and advocates who try and convince their opponents of the truth of the Christian position. Consequently, their testimony concerns not only the reality of historical events which they have seen and heard, but also a conviction as to what these events signify, namely, the saving activity of God in history,” Allison A Trites, The Concept of Witness in the Synoptic Gospels: Some Juridical Considerations, Themelios, 5, (1968), p.25

[8] Suzanne de Dietrich, op. cit., p.278.

Photo credit: Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


John lives in America. He is passionate about all things Søren Kierkegaard, and has a deep understanding of the theology of Karl Barth. He currently runs the Facebook page, Theological Scholarship and contributes a welcome scholarly passion to other academic platforms.

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