08 August 2006

Book review: Reinventing Jesus, by three guys with long names

by Dan Phillips

Reinventing Jesus, by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace (Kregel: 2006; 347 pages)

Like the movie Memento, let's start at the end.

Conclusion: I enthusiastically recommend this book. I say that, not because I am vying for J. I. Packer / F. F. Bruce "Pan-Endorser" status, but because Reinventing Jesus informed, educated, and encouraged me, and reinforced my confidence in Scripture. Being me, I'll pick at this and that little bone, but wish to make clear at the outset that I heartily recommend the fish.

What's it about (—to dangle a preposition)? We are all aware of the breathless, breaking-news assaults on the reliability of the New Testament that keep boilerplating themselves about the internet and book-stands. The constant progression of NT scholarship over the past century-plus in confirming its reliability scarcely creates a media ripple. But let someone with personal issues about Jesus rehash a theory, and he's News. Since the mainstream media knows nothing about the Bible except that (1) it's Bad and (2) might make you vote Republican (on which, see reason #1 again), these theories tend to be reported uncritically and bereft of the slightest hint of historical context.

Take the Jesus Seminar (which I parodied here). Now, there is a case of cutting-edge 19th century radical German scholarship. I have the feeling that even Rudolph Bultmann, were he alive, might say, "Whoa—you guys are nuts!" Its "scholars" speak and write as if floating (and bloviating) in a vacuum, as if the last century-plus of archaeology and research never happened. Worse, they write as if their readers are unaware. Worst, they're probably right.

Enter Reinventing Jesus, a recent and eminently helpful volume from Kregel Publications. When I worked in Christian bookstores during the seventies, I mainly saw Kregel as publisher of reprints. For years, however, they have been producing more substantial, serious, contentful contributions. Reinventing Jesus is certainly a showcase piece.

The book wades into not only The Da Vinci Code and related blitherings, but has asides about the Jesus Seminar, Bart Ehrman, and all the periodically-recycled nuttinesses about how the Biblical history of Jesus Christ is really just one repackaged pagan myth or another.

The authors deliver a well-documented, yet eminently-readable broadside response to these dismissive or deconstructive approaches. They deal at length with the historical reliability of the Gospels, the manuscript tradition that undergirds our New Testament, the formation of the New Testament canon, the Biblical portrayal of Jesus, and the NT's alleged indebtedness to pagan myths.

Who's it for (—to dangle another)? First, hear the authors:

This book is not written for scholars but for laypersons—motivated laypersons. While we have tried to capture the essence of arguments and avoid technical jargon, we realize that the material will stretch many of our readers. ...as one automotive manufacturer says, "It's not more than you need. It's just more than you're used to."

That's a fair statement. Anyone who profits from Pyromaniacs should enjoy this book. You do have to be able to read at a certain level (i.e. somewhere above Goodnight Moon, but well below anything by John Owen). Yet the book's style and contents are not too advanced nor technical, and no specialized education is required.

For that matter, the intended audience is not necessarily Christian. While Pyro regulars could read the book and gain from it, anyone could equally give it to his non-Christian friend or coworker. You know that relative who imagines that Ehrman or Dan Brown or any of their ilk has actually said something genuinely damaging about the New Testament? Give it to him or her.

This is all in keeping with the stated design of the book:

...our primary objective is to build a positive argument for the historical validity of Christianity. We contend that a progressive case, built on the following sequence of questions, undermines novel reconstructions of Jesus and underscores the enduring essence of the Christian faith (p. 17)
Does it deliver? Stylistically, yes. My copy arrived just before my wife and I left for a few days in the Sierra, and it went with us. In no time, I'd read the first hundred pages, and chatted over some of the highlights with Valerie.

Contentwise, again I'd say the book delivers. While much of the contents were not brand-new for me, the angles and observations often were, and the way of explaining was fresh and memorable. The writers face tough questions head-on, and give substantial answers. Some of the issues they tackle include:
  • How could records written decades after the events be accurate?
  • What sort of textual basis does the New Testament have?
  • Isn't it impossible to get at the original text?
  • How much of the text of the NT is in doubt?
  • Do textual variations challenge major doctrines?
  • Don't Real Scholars have excellent reasons to doubt the Gospels?
  • What was the real Jesus like?
  • Weren't forgeries common and accepted in the first and second century?
  • Isn't Jesus pretty much only a New Testament figure, unnoticed in secular history?
  • Did Constantine invent the New Testament canon, and the deity of Christ?
  • Did the Council of Nicea almost reject the deity of Christ?
  • Aren't there earlier pagan stories just like the birth and resurrection of Christ?
Any reservations? Oh, I always have reservations.

To start with the pettiest, I am really, really bothered by endnotes, and this book has them. I think publishers feel that footnotes scare people away. They must know their trade better than I, but I'd think that people who don't like footnotes can just skip them. Meanwhile, the rest of us are forced to keep two bookmarks, and keep paging back and forth. Very irritating. And I can't believe that the authors love their careful documentation being moved to the back.

But I'd rather endnotes, than no-notes.

And then, this and that make me twitch a bit. Take this assertion: "The Gospels, by any reckoning, were written some decades after Jesus lived" (p. 25). Oh? Yes, I'm fully aware that this is very broadly assumed. I do not however know that it has been proven. (To be clear: the authors argue forcefully for the reliability of the Gospels.)

My more substantial disagreement is philosophical. The authors make statements like these, emphases original:
...our starting-point is not belief in the Bible as divinely inspired or infallible—or anything similar. We believe that when the tools of the historian are applied to the biblical text, it builds its own case for its unique character. Or as one [unnamed] British scholar said, "We treat the Bible like any other book to show that it is not like any other book" (p. 18)
...none of this suggests that we have proved the historical veracity of the Christian faith. After all, the events of history cannot be tested repeatedly in a controlled environment with consistently identical results. But when evidence that is strong and pervasive can be adduced, past events can be reasonably deemed probable. An ounce of evidence is worth a pound of presumption. But in this case, we have much more than an ounce of evidence. Indeed, probability is very much on the side of the Christian message (p. 260)
If the evidence for the historicity of Christianity could be interpreted with 100 percent certainty, there would be no need for faith. And make no mistake: belief in the biblical Christ requires a step of faith. But a step is nowhere near a leap (p. 261)
This is indeed classic evidentialism, of the John Warwick Montgomery variety. It's venerable, widely-held, respectable, and what it produces is very useful.

I just don't think it goes far enough. It doesn't quite leave the reader without excuse (Romans 1:20). It doesn't quite demolish the stronghold in which he trusts (Proverbs 21:22). It doesn't quite tear down, pluck up and destroy (Jeremiah 1:10).

This isn't the place for a fullblown theory of apologetics, but I'll very briefly try to lay out what I mean. I mean that the authors could have said that the NT presents itself as more than just a book. They further could have established convincingly that every reader approaches the NT with presuppositions as to that proposition—no exceptions. They could have said that their intention was to show that the position that begins with the acceptance of that proposition both displays inner cohesiveness, and accords with the evidence; whereas the contrary position does neither.

(Talk is cheap; to see me actually try to do something like, check THIS out. Perhaps readers will link to articles which do a better job.)

Now, having said that, I think that the authors admirably provided the tools for doing just that, and this is why I can enthusiastically recommend the book.

Summary: Reinventing Jesus is solid, readable, informative, useful, fresh, up-to-date, clever, and sometimes even funny.

Pyro rating: 4.5 matches out of 5.

Dan Phillips's signature


LeeC said...

Sounds like I'll be getting that. I know of several non-christians that it would make a great gift for.

Your last critique is a bit disheartening, but not suprising really, as you have said the evidential approach is "It's venerable, widely-held, respectable, and what it produces is very useful." but a touch of presuppostitionalism could make the case so much more strongly. (We realy need a friendlier word than that, "Presuppostionalism" yech!)

DJP said...

...and that wouldn't be a bad description of the position I've come to: "a touch of presuppositionism."


Kay said...

End-notes are mildly annoying, but footnotes are distracting. I find myself constantly battling to focus on the main text, especially when there's a footnote that's so big it's halfway up the page.

End-notes at least give you a gleeful feeling of finding an extra chapter when there's a large notation.

Oh, and is this the Phil'n'Dan show now? Where's Frank dropped off to? Or has he decided that pithy comments in the meta are his forte for now?

DJP said...

Oh, well, then, just put a napkin over the bottom of the page, Libbie! Goodness!

As to Frank... don't tempt him. I've just posted. None is safe.

(And besides, how nice is that? I suppose when your friends visit, you look over their shoulder and murmur, "I wonder why Margaret never calls...."?)

Kay said...


Carrie said...

A book review?

I was trying to get to the Pyro site but must have ended up at Challies instead.

Some sort of blogger Freaky Friday thing I guess.


DJP said...


Now Libbie and Carrie are my own personal Statler and Waldorf.

Steven Dresen said...

You gotta admit the book endorsing deal has to be sweet, write a blurb and get a free book, that's a dream there.mmmmmm free books.

FX Turk said...

We need graphics for the rating system.

I'm sure Phil doesn't have time to do it, but it sure would be cool to have matchstick graphics that are on a scale of 5, with 5 burned-out sticks being the worst and 5 good-for-striking matchstick as the best.

Phil would never put that together though. He's too busy. I'm not even sure he knows how ...

DJP said...

I thought that same thing (except for the burnt matches -- genius!), but just couldn't force myself to be selfish enough to throw yet another burden on Phil.

Thanks for being there for me, Frank.


donsands said...

"Oh, I always have reservations."

Is it possible to have reservations about your reservations?

Looks like a good book to have. May even be a godd Christmas present.
Thanks for the review.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

FYI: Denny Burk has a podcast where he interviews Daniel Wallace about the book.

Brad Williams said...


If you want to start a "Death to Endnotes" club, I will sign the charter. I hates them.

Brad Williams said...

While I'm going on about footnotes/endnotes, I'll go a step further. I'll also join the "Be Proud of Footnotes" club. What I mean is that if you are going to do footnotes, be proud enough of them to make them readable. In the Pleasures of God, I had to bust out my magnifying glass to make out the fine print.

DJP said...

Well, and Back in the Day, at least there was the excuse that they made for harder typesetting.

But now it's SOFTWARE! You push a button! How hard is that?!

Argh, don't get me worked up. I really do hate endnotes.

Solameanie said...

Let me amen your endorsement! I recently had one of the authors (Wallace) on my radio program and he was great.

I hope Kregel keeps churning out material like this. At many of the other Christian publishing houses, it's sadly not the case.

FX Turk said...

Yeah, Phil just doesn't have that kind of time. It's not like this is his blog or anything. It's our blog and our Warnie, and if we want something done he doesn't even have any server capacity to serve a set of graphics to assist in a ratings system.

He certainly doesn't have the image editing software, or the inclination. He'd never waste time like that ...

Phil Johnson said...

Done. Check the test blog.

Kim said...

I'm sorry to speak against a fellow home school mom, but I agree with Dan on the end-note thing. I find that it's easier to ignore the end notes than the footnotes. I am reading a book right now that has end notes, and I end up either flipping back and forth, or ignoring them. The book Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church had footnotes, and I read them all.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your writing as well your good stand for our Lord. Clarity is so under-appreciated!

DJP said...

LOL; Phil, that's wonderful. Thanks.

DJP said...

I've read some statements of Wallace's that I haven't loved, as well.

You'll note I reviewed the book, not Daniel Wallace.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...

Paul Doutell wrote:

“Fair enough, Dan. . . . I was reviewing Daniel Wallace, not the book.”

But is it fair, Paul, to review the man without considering his body of work? Surely, any review of Dan Wallace should include, among other things, Reinventing Jesus.

Paul also wrote:

“All I'm saying is to be careful with Daniel Wallace--you may end up places with him that you'd never go on your own.”

There must be some reason that theologically conservative folks like James White, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, J. P. Moreland, Gary Habermas, and many others have endorsed or recommended Reinventing Jesus. I don’t get the impression that these men are too worried about the places at which our readers may end up!

donsands said...


Appreciate the input. Thanks. We need to wise as snakes, and as harmless as doves.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...

Thanks for the nod, Dan!

Like me, you’re one of those poor, tortured souls that must read the fine print in everything! I sympathize with the angst of reading a book while keeping a finger stuck in the back and constantly flipping its pages (especially if you’re trying to mark the darn thing up!). But brainiacs like you (and obsessive compulsive folks like me) aside, feedback has convinced me that most readers of popular-level books don’t study the notes as they’re plowing through the main text. They’re content to simply know that the notes are there, just in case they get the itch to do further research down the road.

As for apologetic methodology, each of us authors is, in reality, rather eclectic. We simply thought that the circumstance which gave rise to our book (namely, the historically-driven discussions surrounding things like The Da Vinci Code and Misquoting Jesus) made a certain approach prudent. You’ll notice that we specifically shied away from any pronouncements of absolute certainty, since certainty cannot be had on purely historical and intellectual grounds. As you know, a person exercises faith in Christ by means of the Spirit and has assurance through the inner witness of the Spirit. But this wasn’t, in our opinion, the book to reflect our beliefs on such matters.

In the end, we believe strongly enough in the sovereignty of God that we were comfortable leaving the reader with an open-ended invitation to consider the historical Jesus more closely and carefully. Consider our book a seed, if you will, that God may choose to nurture through other means.

[By the way, since Amazon has not yet enabled the “Look Inside” feature for Reinventing Jesus, Pyromaniac readers might be interested to know that the introduction to the book is available for viewing at www.reinventingjesus.info.

FX Turk said...


You're such a mark.

FX Turk said...

I'd also add that Damiel Wallace is known as a brilliant Greek scholar -- which is not the same as a brilliant NT scholar.

The other thing to add is that Ed sent me a digital copy of his book when it first came out -- and all I did was sell it at my bookstore! What a clown I am!

donsands said...

Who would be some of the top notch NT scholar in the Church today? If that's not too far off from the discussion. I know D. A. Carson is considered one.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...

I’m not sure I follow your train of thought, Frank. Dan Wallace is one of the premier scholars writing about biblical Greek today, and his first book, which has been internationally acclaimed, was about the use of Greek grammar in New Testament exegesis. In other words, he’s considered by his peers, even when they disagree with him at certain points, to be an expert in New Testament interpretation.

What’s more, the guy has a four year master’s degree in New Testament studies and a PhD degree in the same field. This means he’s had a boatload of formal training in New Testament language, literature, history, theology, and interpretation. His status can hardly be relegated to one of a Greek teacher.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...

Paul Doutello said:

“I think my extensive quotes justify my concern. I didn't make a general statement. I quoted specific things he said. If you follow Wallace where he goes with his treatment of the gospels, you will be left speculating when you read the gospels: did Jesus really say this, or did the gospel writer make it up to help the Lord out?”

Paul, it’s not altogether fair to quote (or, more accurately, to summarize without a context) Dan Wallace’s points in an academic paper that can neither be verified nor fully comprehended by a general readership. If we were putting things in the Jesus Seminar’s terms, I know that Dan would always vote red or pink on all of Jesus’ sayings. In other words, everything that the Gospels record Jesus as saying certainly goes back to him. Whether it always goes back to him verbatim is a different matter, and virtually all New Testament scholars would deny that as a probability. The readers of this blog would perhaps be surprised to learn of the many conservative New Testament scholars who have agreed with Wallace in his general principles on the Gospels. And to be specific, D. A. Carson (mentioned earlier [and rightfully] by Don Sands as a preeminent New Testament scholar) takes a similar approach to the Gospel of Matthew in his commentary.

Dan Wallace’s deepest concern for the body of Christ is that it not forget its Lord (I’ve heard this a lot from him in our decade-long friendship). In part, what he means by this is that we should not take an approach to the Bible that relegates the incarnation to a second-place status. Dan has often said that the evangelical church has less than 50 years of life left if it does not change its direction. Specifically, two areas always come up: we need to return to the incarnation and transcendence of Jesus Christ, exalting him as Lord and Master above all creation, as the one who took on human flesh to save us from our sins, and who is now reigning in heaven; and we need to quit marginalizing the Word of God. In regard to this thread of comments, he would, I’m sure, see some folks as elevating the Bible above Christ, rather than seeing the Bible as the inerrant signpost, the inspired guide, that leads us to Christ. I admit that Dan’s academic writings are not always easy to grasp, but I know one thing for sure: he is devoted to Christ. Precisely because of this, he has a high view of the Bible. He embraces it as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

Yet woven throughout Dan’s writings and teaching is a concern that we take seriously the fact that the Bible is both the Word of God and the words of men. And just as the ancient church rejected a view of Christ that only embraced his deity, so also we must reject a view of the Bible that only embraces its divine origins. The incarnation not only invites us to examine the historical evidence; it also demands that we do so. This is the very thing that Dan is wrestling with in his academic pieces. Some evangelicals are uncomfortable with his prodding, while others warmly embrace it. Dan didn’t post on the Internet his piece on ipsissima vox that he read at an academic conference precisely because of the lack of preunderstanding of the issues that most readers would come with. For you, Paul, to rip non-contextual snippets from it (and readers should know that not all are actual quotes, by the way) and to mention these as though Dan Wallace is some sort of bogeyman is not only unfair, it is also irrelevant to this blog entry. Reinventing Jesus is a book meant for a general readership and its merits can be judged by the many positive reviews from across the theological spectrum and by its contents. Readers should not fear that this book will cause them to question their faith! Indeed, the opposite is true. It will strengthen it.

Caddiechaplain said...

The best "footnoter" in the world is John Frame. . . he also provides copious references to biblical texts on particular subjects better than anyone that I have read later (I have been reading his book, The Doctrine of God," for almost a year).

J. Ed Komoszewski said...

Well, Lots, all I can say is that I hope you’ll pick up Reinventing Jesus and decide on the basis of its content (1) whether my words have any value in spite of the fact that you haven’t heard of me, and (2) whether Dan Wallace really is a wolf in evangelical clothing. But I also hope that you’ll withhold judgment (especially regarding the latter) if you choose not to read the book. It would, after all, be the intellectually honest thing to do.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


I’ve really tried to be nice about this. But, apparently, grace is not a trait you value when it comes to dialog with or about a brother in Christ. So I’ll simply share a few terse thoughts and let this matter rest.

First, my comments about Dan’s training were directed toward Frank. They weren’t an attempt to answer Dan’s position on ipsissima vox. Nice spin, though.

Second, I told you more than the fact that Dan loves Jesus. I told you that numerous, highly conservative evangelicals agree, in large part, with his approach. And I told you, in so many words, that he’s wrestling with historical-critical methods in Gospels studies because he’s troubled by much of evangelicalism’s largely docetic bibliology. You made no acknowledgement of the former and no attempt to understand the latter.

Third, you have indeed grossly misrepresented Dan’s ETS paper. I have his paper in front of me, and it’s clear that you’ve taken words out of context, giving different impressions than the ones he intended.

You say you stand by your comments, Paul. Very good. I’ll stand with the Evangelical Theological Society, Dallas Theological Seminary, the Biblical Studies Foundation, the handful of evangelical schools constantly pursuing Dan, and a long list of conservative, evangelical scholars who all find his views to be wholly orthodox. There are plenty of checks and balances in place.

Finally, I’ll end by confessing that I find it highly disingenuous of you to sound an alarm about Dan in a blog entry reviewing a book that you’ve admittedly never read (and, by the way, a book that contains three full chapters reflecting Dan's true convictions about the historicity of the Gospels). That, as the lawyers say, speaks for itself.

FX Turk said...


The distinction I am drawing is this (and it's opinion, not necessarily fact or the means by which we drum Dr. Wallace out of good company, so let's not start a fight): Dr. Wallace is the gold standard for reading Greek as a language, especially in the context of the NT. He understands the language of the NT.

The remarkable thing that follows that, however, is that he doesn't seem to ponder its doctrines (that is, what it teaches in all that saying) the way most people would understand. He's not renoun, for example, for a series of exegetical commentary on the letters of Paul: he's known for his Greek texts and his work understanding the use of Greek for the modern reader.

He's not a theologian: he's a linguist. Which, in my book, is very fine -- something to be commended, to be sure -- as long as we don't confuse the two things. Specifically, you make the point yourself that his writings referenced here about the NT have to do with the human origins of the NT, not with the matter of inerrancy, inspiration, or the authority or sufficiency of Scripture. Well, when all of that is set aside (and it can be -- the Bible is a written text after all -- even if that's like eating the bread and leaving the PB&J untouched) and we want to talk about whether Matthew or John "remembered" Jesus' words or -- like many ancient historians -- composed Jesus' words to make a specific point, based on what they could remember him saying, (which is reductive of the kind of point Dr. Wallace makes, I admit) we are now talking about critical theory which, at best, runs on a parallel path to theology.

Some people would take this kind of thinking to be an abject denial of inspiration, but I'm not one of them. The motive, as you have alluded to, is to better grasp the historical context of the text in order that we can better apply the hist/crit method of exegesis. That's fair enough, I think. However, it also deals in things which are (and forgive me if this isn't a great way to say this) more art than science. (doh! the great spectre of modernity casts her moribund shadow on the discussion!) It is a highly technical discussion, as you rightly say pretty much above the heads of a lot of people, (and I may be one of them) and its conclusions are not likely to create a band of t-shirt-wearing fanatics.

The people who read this blog tend to be t-shirt-wearing fanatics -- good people, bright, love the Lord, and non-academic. Dr. Wallace's work, as you admit, is not for us. But the reason why is not that it's evil: it's in a different field of study than we are excited about.

I'm not sure that cleared up what I was saying any, but in the end, Dr. Wallace has one kind of expertise which we have to understand it as that kind of expertise and not as something it really doesn't pretend to be. When he says Luke "altered the meaning fo Jesus' words" in a particular passage, for example, we have to wonder if he's saying "thus Luke cannot be inspired" or if he's saying "thus Luke was trying to make a specific point." If it is the latter, we can't break out the pitchforks and torches when they guy is not even talking about theology or doctrine: he's talking about how to read a specific passage.

I didn't intend any slam on Dr. Wallace, and if it came across that way, I apologize for being careless in my post.

marc said...

You've provided a fine defense of Dan Walace so far, but how do explain his use of testosterone to improve his teaching performance, his running of a whiskey still during prohibition, and his involvement in planning the attack on the World Trade Center? Answer that if you can!

Paul said...


I sure am glad that I have already seen Memento, since you totally blew the ending.

"Like the movie Memento, let's start at the end."


FX Turk said...


Your pitchfork and torch is in the mail.

DJP said...

Oh, now, Paul, you know that within three minutes.

Phil Johnson said...

J. Ed: "apparently, grace is not a trait you value when it comes to dialog with or about a brother in Christ."

I don't think that was called for.

Mr. Doutell has been persistent but polite. He documented what he said. If you thought he butchered the context and you have the article in front of you, why don't you do what he did and document some actual statements from the article that you think make your point?

PS: On the ipsissima vox issue (though not Wallace's article specifically), Here is an article from a comrade of mine. Worth reading.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


You’re far too smart to really think that, by any reasonable standard, Paul has documented anything.

Rather, in a style more befitting of Bart Ehrman than someone genuinely pursuing truth, Paul has strewn together a list of statements obviously picked for their shock value, all the while remaining silent on their contexts. I’m sorry, but that’s not good scholarship where I come from.

What’s more, Paul made unsubstantiated, over-exaggerated claims like these:

“If you follow Wallace where he goes with his treatment of the gospels, you will be left speculating when you read the gospels: did Jesus really say this, or did the gospel writer make it up to help the Lord out?”

This is news to me. And it would be news to Dan Wallace, who, as I pointed out earlier, vigorously embraces the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the biblical text. His entire body of writings, both academic and popular, attest to his extraordinarily high view of Scripture.

So perhaps we should take a lesson from basic hermeneutics and wrestle with Dan’s hard statements in light of the clearer ones. And perhaps, just as we avoid building our theology on isolated problem passages, we should take Dan’s numerous, clear affirmations of the biblical text that are plentiful in his writings and suspend judgment on a few isolated (and, in some cases, liberally paraphrased) ones.

I maintain that the burden of proof still rests with Paul (and anyone else who’s itching to charge Dan Wallace with a heterodox handling of the Gospels). And I remain utterly disappointed with the knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t think it wise to try to truly understand where a confessing brother with a proven track record and long line of evangelical vouchers is coming from.

I still say some here could exercise a little more grace.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


I understand what you’re saying. It’s true that Dan Wallace is primarily known for his knowledge of Greek grammar and New Testament textual criticism. And I agree (as Dan would, I’m sure) that he’s an exegete first and a theologian second. But I think it’s taking things too far to say that Dan’s not a theologian at all.

No, Dan has not yet published any commentaries on books of the New Testament. No, he hasn’t written a systematic or biblical theology for mass consumption. But please remember, Frank, that Dan does teach graduate and postgraduate courses on things like the Gospel of Mark, Romans, Ephesians, the Thessalonian Epistles, Jude, the Petrine Epistles, and (gulp!) New Testament theology. In other words, Dan works extensively in fields other than those involving Greek grammar and manuscripts.

Something that troubles me, Frank, is that readers of this blog are eager to prepare the stake for Dan because of his perceived views on the Gospels, and they’re ready to quickly dismiss him when it comes to theological reckoning of any kind. But my guess is that the vast majority of those same readers would rise up and call Dan “blessed” if they were to hear or read his exegetically and theologically nuanced arguments for things like cessationism, believer’s baptism, complementarianism, or the doctrines of Reformed soteriology. If my hunch is correct, it doesn't strike me as altogether fair.

That said, I deeply appreciate your spirit of fairness, Frank, as specifically reflected in the following blurb:

“When he says Luke "altered the meaning of Jesus' words" in a particular passage, for example, we have to wonder if he's saying "thus Luke cannot be inspired" or if he's saying "thus Luke was trying to make a specific point." If it is the latter, we can't break out the pitchforks and torches when they guy is not even talking about theology or doctrine: he's talking about how to read a specific passage.”

Even more specifically, you show a great deal of maturity and charity when you say, “we have to wonder if. . .”

I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with Dan Wallace. Heck, there are secondary issues over which Dan and I routinely argue. But I’d like to think that, as I’ve grown over the years, I’ve learned more and more to give the man his due hearing. After all, he’s proven to be a devout, careful scholar with a tough mind and a soft heart for Christ. And he’s unabashedly driven by the pursuit of truth to the glory of our Triune God. Besides, maybe, just maybe, he’s right and I’m the one who needs a mental adjustment. But I’ll never know that unless I take the time to truly “wonder if. . .”

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


You charged me with being inappropriate and followed that by saying Paul has been “persistent but polite.”

Here’s a specific example of what prompted my comments about Paul's lack of grace:

“I'd hide the paper from my web site, too, if I had written it.”

This is a cheap shot, plain and simple. In addition to being devoid of substance, it undermines the pastoral sensitivity which led Dan to withhold posting the ETS paper on the Internet and it implies some sort of deception on Dan’s part. This is hardly what I would call “polite.”

The fact is that Dan has nothing to hide. He’s simply mature enough to know that some people, lacking the requisite background to a given subject, might walk away with wrong impressions and thus an unnecessarily weakened faith. Ever concerned about the sheep and their confidence in holy writ, Dan didn’t want any misunderstandings to turn into stumbling blocks.

There’s wisdom in knowing where and when to say what.

farmboy said...

As I understand it, the essence of Paul Doutell's comments regarding Daniel Wallace's paper is that in his paper Mr. Wallace makes the case that the human authors of the gospels took liberties when recording the words of Jesus Christ (the second person of the Godhead).

Regarding these comments and the discussion they generated I have one question: What about the role of the Divine author of the gospels (The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead)? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote as they did in accordance with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The words they wrote are as much God breathed as are the words Jesus Christ spoke during the time He walked the earth.

Given the above, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and/or John fail to accurately reflect the words of Jesus Christ, it follows that the Holy Spirit also fails to accurately reflect the words of Jesus Christ.

On a different topic, let me vent a bit about the ETS. J. Ed Komoszewski offered the following: "...I’ll stand with the Evangelical Theological Society..." With regard to the ETS, that organization lost at least a bit of credibility as a guardian of orthodoxy after it failed to muster enough votes to expel John Sanders for his rather novel understanding of inerrancy.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


Dan Wallace (or, to my knowledge, any other evangelical who embraces ipsissima vox to some degree) is not saying that the Gospel writers “fail to accurately reflect the words of Jesus.”

If you or any other blog readers are interested in seeing what a conservative evangelical has to say about ipsissima vox and the words of Jesus, I’d recommend starting with Darrell L. Bock’s fine article, “The Words of Jesus in the Gospels: Live, Jive, or Memorex?” It’s found in the Zondervan title, Jesus Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents the Historical Jesus, edited by Michael J. Wilkins and J. P. Moreland.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


You’ve told me twice now how well read you are. But do you think that the average lay person, like you, has read both Bock and Green, for example, on ipsissima vox? I’m not asking about your acquaintances or people who may be in your church. I’m asking, in general, do you think the average English-speaking Christian is well grounded in biblical and theological studies?

Please remember, Lots: Dan’s decision to withhold the paper from public consumption was not made with you serving as the prototypical reader.

Phil Johnson said...

J. Ed: "Rather, in a style more befitting of Bart Ehrman than someone genuinely pursuing truth, Paul has strewn together a list of statements obviously picked for their shock value, all the while remaining silent on their contexts. I’m sorry, but that’s not good scholarship where I come from."

1. The comments-thread of a blog typically doesn't need to try to maintain an academic standard equivalent to that of a scholarly paper or theological journal.

2. I'm certain you understand that, because as a matter of fact, your sarcasm about Mr. Doutell's supposed gracelessness was hardly the paragon academic excellence, even by Bib Sac standards.

3. Even if the quotations Doutell cited don't quite meet the documentary criteria of a Cambridge doctoral dissertation: a) I thought they were more effective and more convincing evidence than the quotations you didn't cite in support of your assertion that Mr. Wallace was misrepresented; and b) no one has claimed that Doutell misquoted anything.

4. If it's so easy to explain away the obvious problems those statements raise, you should've done it in at least shorthand fashion before attacking Mr. Doutell's character. I looked but couldn't locate the paper online. Since you have it right in front of you and are so concerned about scholarship, why not explain how those statements might be understood in an innocuous sense?

5. It's ironic that you mention Ehrman. What makes me less than disposed to give Mr. Wallace the benefit of the doubt regarding whether his opinions on biblical inerrancy are perfectly sound and well within the boundaries established by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is the way Wallace utterly fumbled the inerrancy issue in his article dealing with the decline and fall of Bart Ehrman. Essentially, Wallace argues that evangelicals are at least partly to blame for Ehrman's apostasy—specifically because they put too much stress on the idea of biblical inerrancy. In the rarefied academic climate to which Mr. Ehrman ultimately ascended, his faith began to be shaken first of all when he was called upon to defend the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. Wallace clearly thinks conservative evangelicals helped drive Ehrman to apostasy, and the remedy for that, he suggests, is to move our commitment to inerrancy out of the center and more to the periphery, "learn to nuance our faith commitments a bit more," and stop thinking of the non-inerrantist position as a slippery slope.

That argument only works if in your own heart you suspect that Scripture is not inerrant.

For those who were part of the Council on Biblical Inerrancy or took an interest in the Battle for the Bible a generation ago, it's galling to see self-styled "evangelicals" who had no role in that struggle relinquish that hard-won ground so blithely.

Sorry if you think my opinion "graceless," but contra Mr. Wallace, I don't think inerrancy is a truth we can afford to set aside—or subjugate it to someone's standards of academic collegiality; the intellectual qualms of every Doctor of Divinity from Princeton; or even the heckling of an Emerging generation who, like Mr. Wallace, find it convenient to blame conservative ideas for every radical aberration rebellious hearts want to embrace.

DJP said...

Lot -- I just did you a favor. Your 5:35 PM post went over the line of civility.

Here is an edited-by-me version. If you object to the edited version being up, say so, and one of us will also remove this post.

Here is part of what Lot wrote:
Lot said...
j. Ed,

I couldn't say whether most layfolks, like myself, have read Bock and Green on ispissima vox. I hadn't read Green until just recently ... stumbling upon it in this thread. What I do appreciate, though, is Phil's kind of condescension — linking the article for those who want/need to know more. What I do NOT appreciate is the other kind of condescension — assuming folks haven't read, or don't want to know, and couldn't care less, and thus keeping all the strong stuff on the high shelf ... away from the children. After all, you wouldn't want to give the hard stuff to a minor, right?

...You can HAVE your doctorates, if that is where they lead!

Now ... my final comment on the whole thing (which is already more than I have ever commented on ANYONE's blog-site ... ever!) ...

I don't mean this to be a personal attack ... I'm pretty much just venting about this academic elitism that SEEMS to ooze from behind some of your comments which feign humility, wisdom, and kindness towards the unenlightened. I'm going to CHOOSE to believe I have misread you (against my better judgment, but for sake of Christian charity)....


5:35 PM, August 09, 2006

farmboy said...

The article referenced by Mr. Johnson, "The Gospel according to Bart," contains the following quote by Mr. Wallace: "And they need to have a doctrinal taxonomy that distinguishes core beliefs from peripheral beliefs. When they place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core..."

In contrast, Mr. Komoszewski observes the following about Mr. Wallace: "This is news to me. And it would be news to Dan Wallace, who, as I pointed out earlier, vigorously embraces the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the biblical text. His entire body of writings, both academic and popular, attest to his extraordinarily high view of Scripture."

I suppose it's possible to vigorously embrace more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration. This allows one to reconcile the above two quotes. Assuming, however, that one more tightly embraces central doctrines, as opposed to peripheral doctrines, it seems that an adjective such as "vigorously" would be reserved for central doctrines. Thus, I'm left without an effective way to reconcile the above two quotes.

How can the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture be anything but primary, central doctrines? If Scripture is not inspired and not inerrant how can we trust the content of Scripture? If we can't trust the content of Scripture, then how can we trust any of the doctrines that flow from the content of Scripture - including the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)?

Mr. Wallace states the following in the next to last paragraph of "The Gospel according to Bart": "If our starting point is embracing propositional truths about the nature of scripture rather than personally embracing Jesus Christ as our Lord and King, we'll be on that slippery slope, and we'll take a lot of folks down with us." Yet, how is it that we know we are to personally embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and King? We know this because it is revealed in a completely trustworthy source, the Divinely inspired, inerrant word of God, the Bible.

If you concede inspiration and inerrancy, how can you hang on to anything else?

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


I think there’s a big difference between making an off-the-cuff observation about someone’s behavior (which I gave supporting evidence for) and throwing out non-contextual snippets from an academic article in an attempt to build an argument. In the case of the latter, an intellectually honest assessment demands a context (especially when the snippets are posted for shock value).

I’m not going to provide that context, for the same reasons that Dan Wallace did not post the paper on the Internet. I don’t want to launch into an extended discussion (which will surely follow) of the issues in front of a large, faceless audience (especially when I don’t have the time to stay on top of it). It’s a pastoral concern. Lots Tusej and others can impugn whatever motives of scholarly elitism to me that they like. God knows my heart. I stand by my conscience.

You may or may not be interested to know that when students at DTS ask Dan for a copy of his paper (which, by the way, is the second in a two-part series, the first of which defends the historicity of the fourth gospel!), he tells them they can have it on one condition: they must come and talk to him after they’ve read it. This is so that graduate students, who are still wrestling with how to think through things for themselves, don’t leave without having their questions clarified.

I told Paul Doutell that he was misrepresenting Dan’s paper by so loosely and selectively citing it. That was for Paul’s benefit, and his alone, since he apparently has a hard copy of the paper available to him (and I assume no one else here, at present, does). If, when I had clicked on Paul’s profile, I had found an e-mail address or website through which I could contact him, I would have made the remark privately. I do still hope that Paul revisits the paper and asks whether he’s being as honest as he can be in his portrayal of it.

Anyway, as far as arguments go, Paul’s ultimate one, which is one of the main ones I am concerned with in this thread, is that Dan Wallace cannot be trusted as a guide through the Gospels. It’s hard to see this as anything other than an implicit attempt to cast suspicion on our book (in the least, that’s the practical upshot), since it is, after all, the subject of this blog entry. Yet, ironically, the most outspoken folks on this matter haven’t read the book.

If you find problems with Reinventing Jesus, if you see places where you think some sort of covert, liberal agenda is at play, if you’re concerned that we’re “giving away the farm” in our views of Scripture, then, by all means, let me know! I am more than happy to discuss those sorts of things as my schedule allows.

But, again, let’s bear in mind that theologically astute and discerning folks like Justin Taylor, Marc Heinrich, James White, Dan Phillips, John Hendryx, Steve Hays, Frank Turk, and Tim Challies have promoted, in one way or another, our book. Yes, it deals extensively with the Gospels and the words of Jesus. And, no, we haven’t received any complaints about it undermining inerrancy or the like. [Indeed, the primary complaint we’ve gotten from evangelical scholars is that we are too conservative in our dating of the Gospels!]

As for comments on Dan Wallace’s treatment of Ehrman, I personally see a big difference between saying that inerrancy isn’t as important as Christology and actually doubting the latter. If you find Dan’s comments to be confusing, then why don’t you write to him and ask him for clarification rather than publicly claiming the ability to read his mind and heart (as in your emboldened comment on inerrancy)? I know that Dan finds it hurtful to know that people are so quick to castigate him when they know so little about him and his actual beliefs. Besides, Dan is one of the most accessible and responsive professors on the planet. He’s always happy to dialog about matters of the faith.

I appreciate your tenacity for truth, Phil. I really do. But don’t you think that the rhetoric is getting to be a bit much (i.e., the Bib Sac comment, which relates to nothing going on here)? And don’t you find it a bit problematic that your blog has allowed a fellow believer to be skewered first and (maybe) understood later?

Exblogitory said...

I do appreciate many of the comments on this blog. Even though I have never met Daniel Wallace, I have a great deal of respect for him as a Greek scholar (His book "Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics" is a gem). I believe many of his articles on Bible.org are well written (As a dad I really liked this one http://www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=1326). With that said, there was one article that took me off guard a bit.


I was not looking for anything horrendous, just enjoying reading about his adventure to Wittenberg until I got to the bottom of the article. In the section "final thoughts", it seems that he was lending credibility to the theory (or shall I say myth?) that Paul may have not seen eye to eye with either James or Peter. Or as he says in the second to last paragraph of the article:

"Indeed, when we go back to the scriptures, it does indeed seem clear that Paul has a doctrine of justification by faith alone. But that doctrine is not as easy to find in James, Peter, or Jude. Yet Paul seemed to accept these other apostles, along with their theological commitments, as genuine and true. But if they did not see things quite the same way as Paul did, who are we to insist on beliefs and formulations that just might exclude even some of the apostles?"

Now I will grant that this is not a wholesale admission by Dr. Wallace to the truthfulness of the theory. The problems lies in it's subtleness which, to me, is worse since he is a well respected conservative scholar. You see, I don't believe he meant to cast doubt on any part of scripture, but he does seem to lend some credibility to the idea that it could be true.

This is not meant to be a jab at Dr. Wallace but to just say that a lot of the comments already made have confirmed what I thought after having read the above article. He is a great Greek scholar and seems like an all around nice guy, but does not seem to hold as firm or staunch a view of the perspicuity or inerrancy of scripture as, say Piper, MacArthur, or James White would.

Phil Johnson said...

J. Ed: "If you find problems with Reinventing Jesus, if you see places where you think some sort of covert, liberal agenda is at play, if you’re concerned that we’re “giving away the farm” in our views of Scripture, then, by all means, let me know! I am more than happy to discuss those sorts of things as my schedule allows."

To be clear, I have raised no such concerns about your book. (Nor did anyone else, as far as I could see.) I haven't so much as mentioned your book, because I haven't had the pleasure of reading it yet. I'm sure it's a fine book. Otherwise Dan (and the list of friends you gave) would not have rated it so highly. I look forward to reading it.

Notice that I made no comment at all in this thread and had no plans to do so until your "terse" (your word, not mine) reply to Mr. Doutell struck me as a deliberate evasion of the issue he had raised. That, combined with the Ehrman piece (which troubled me greatly when I saw it posted on DTS's home page a couple of months ago) makes me think perhaps Mr. Doutell's questions might not be altogether unjustified.

J. Ed: "As for comments on Dan Wallace’s treatment of Ehrman, I personally see a big difference between saying that inerrancy isn’t as important as Christology and actually doubting the latter."

I might agree in a limited sense—except that Wallace did not merely say "inerrancy is not as important as Christology;" he expressly said that inerrancy and inspiration are not even core issues, and he scoffed at the notion that abandoning one's faith in the absolute authority of Scripture is a dangerous slippery slope. Then he argued that belief in inerrancy may be an even more dangerous kind of slippery slope.

For the record, I didn't find that "confusing"; I found it shocking.

J. Ed: If you find Dan’s comments to be confusing, then why don’t you write to him and ask him for clarification rather than publicly claiming the ability to read his mind and heart (as in your emboldened comment on inerrancy)?

Correction: I read and cited what his article (not merely his "heart") says. But "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 13:34). Wallace's suggestion that verbal inspiration is a "peripheral" doctrine is a repudiation of one of the central principles of historic evangelicalism.

Wallace, not I, said he counsels his own students not to "place more peripheral doctrines such as inerrancy and verbal inspiration at the core, [because] when [not "if"] belief in these doctrines starts to erode, it creates a domino effect: One falls down, they all fall down."

Now think about this rationally: as I said, Wallace's argument has no weight whatsoever for anyone who is confident of Scripture's inerrancy. As a matter of fact, if I made a similar argument about the deity of Christ, you would rightly doubt my commitment to the doctrine of Jesus' deity:

sock puppet: Tell students that the deity of Christ is essential, and if they begin to doubt that, they'll abandon Christianity completely. We need to learn to nuance our faith commitments a bit more, and stress the principles Christ taught (rather than ontological propositions about Him).

Pheh. No one who really believes in the deity of Christ is going to be the least bit persuaded by that argument.

Since I absolutely believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, I'm similarly unimpressed with Mr. Wallace's argument, and appalled by his eagerness to consign the inerrancy and verbal inspiration of the Bible to the periphery of the Christian worldview. And I am convinced that the truth of biblical authority arising from those principles is absolutely essential to authentic Christianity.

Since Dan Wallace is obviously already aware that good men have serious concerns about his stance on inerrancy, I think he ought to explain himself very carefully somewhere and make it as easily available as the Ehrman article. I know for a fact that I am not the only one who has expressed shock and dismay that the statements in his Ehrman article were issued from within the hallowed halls of DTS. Those views would certainly not have not voiced aloud or tolerated among the faculty there 15 years ago.

In fact, the DTS doctrinal statement begins by naming inerrancy as one of seven "essentials," under the heading, "CORE BELIEFS." Wallace's argument looks very much like an explicit denial of DTS's doctrinal statement!

Again, I know for a fact that I am not the only one who has noticed that or called attention to it. If Wallace's defense is that he has been badly misunderstood by his readers, he owes it to them to clarify.

J. Ed: "And don’t you find it a bit problematic that your blog has allowed a fellow believer to be skewered first and (maybe) understood later."

Well, as a matter of fact, I'm kind of surprised at all the pitchfork and skewer metaphors after so little negativity was directed at Wallace's views in the wake of a positive review of your book. (Did anyone other than Doutell actually post a criticism before you decided you had had quite enough of "[trying] to be kind" about this?)

I decided to pursue it because I didn't want what seemed to be a valid question to be silenced by mere intimidation and insult. This current entry constitues probably the closest thing to a "skewering" yet. But notice: I'm still just pleading for explanation and elaboration—and trying hard to explain why I think that's a valid request that you oughtn't try to shout down.

No one actually has threatened to draw blood or called for anyone's head on a platter yet. Mr. Doutell's statements, which you characterized as "graceless," were well stated, I thought, except for the one wry comment you took offense at. And Doutell replied to every question you asked him.

I get a worse "skewering" than that almost every time I blog. It's a daily event. Publish an opinion on the Internet, and criticism of some sort is almost guaranteed—sometimes even when you say nothing controversial.

But publish an article on the home page of DTS's website suggesting that evangelicals must move inerrancy and inspiration to the category of "peripheral issues" or risk producing more Bart Ehrmans, and I guarantee you're going to have some 'splainin' to do.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...


I wasn’t suggesting that you (or anyone else here, for that matter) have specifically taken issue with Reinventing Jesus. The point I was trying to make is that that’s the only discussion, if actually commenced, I’m willing to hang around for. After all, if Dan Wallace will truly lead people to a deficient view of the Gospels, as Paul claimed, then it follows that you should expect to find evidence of that in Reinventing Jesus. I’ve addressed my concern regarding potential misperceptions about the book as a result of discussions here, and I’ve said my piece on the way people here tend to go about business (which, by the way, is hardly justified in mature believers simply because the general populace of the Internet acts the same way).

As I’ve urged you twice before, Phil, contact Dan if you so strongly desire a response on specific statements in his writings. He’s easy to find and engage, and original sources are always to be preferred.

If anyone wants to contact me for any reason, I can be reached through the website in my profile.

Phil Johnson said...

J. Ed: "As I’ve urged you twice before, Phil, contact Dan if you so strongly desire a response on specific statements in his writings. He’s easy to find and engage, and original sources are always to be preferred."

Let me make my position clear again: I'm not asking for a personal "response on specific statements in his writings." I'm simply trying to make the point with you that the questions that were raised here are honest and legitimate concerns. Getting angry that the questions came up in the first place is not, technically, an answer to the questions.

Dan Wallace didn't express his opinions on inerrancy and inspiration privately; it hardly seems fair to demand that all questions or criticisms about what he has published on the front page of the Dallas Seminary website or delivered at an ETS meeting should be brought to him privately.

Solameanie said...

This illustrates a concern I have had for some time in connection with the Emergent Church debate. While I enjoyed "Reinventing Jesus," it is clear that Wallace's other writings and statements have raised concerns as to how he stands on inerrancy and other key issues. It is right to raise those concerns.

In the EC, you hear the frequent (and tiresome) refrain that you must dialogue privately with each EC author/spokesman/teacher before commenting publically on their theology.

Pure bunkum. Publically disseminated error requires publically disseminated correction. It is not a situation where Matthew 18 applies. When someone writes or says something in a public forum that causes question or controversy, it is the responsibility of the one who said it to come out and clarify (or correct) matters. If they let their writings or statements stand without clarification or correction, then they are fair game.

"Reinventing Jesus" is a commendable book. However, those raising concerns about Wallace's position on inerrancy are doing the church a service. Remember the example of the Bereans.

Brad said...


Good review. I've been looking for a book like this.

Re.the meta: It's such an inspiration to see men of God in loving communion. I hope there wasn't anyone drifting by the blog today who needed saved.

Brad the lesser

Carrie said...

I hope there wasn't anyone drifting by the blog today who needed saved.

If they do, hopefully they won't get hit by a stray stone either.

J. Ed Komoszewski said...

Some folks here will be interested to know that Dan Wallace has weighed in on the controversy surrounding his bibliology.

His article entitled “My Take on Inerrancy” can be found here:


Carrie said...

Brad and Carrie:
Will any one be saved in the future if the inerrancy of scripture is no longer believed?

Actually Tom, my comment was meant for Brad (I disagreed with his comment). I get a bit tired of the grace police and their citations.

Sorry, I guess I should have been more clear. I think the inerrancy of scripture is more than worthy of a little debate.