Lincoln, Testimony, and Criticism

The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel

A. T. Lincoln, in his book emphasizing the trial/witness motif in John’s Gospel, has some helpful comments concerning critics of the biblical canon.  He talks about testimony, and how everyone relies on quite a bit of testimony without evaluating in full the scientific truth of the testimony.  (Example: a person asks “Where is the Post Office?” The answer, “Go straight for 3 blocks — its on your left; you can’t miss it” is usually accepted without checking a map, or asking 100 other people to see if the testimony is absolutely true.)

Lincoln, on that same note, exposes an inconsistency found in criticism: “Criticism that rejects the theological claims of the [biblical] text is also, in its own way, just as much accepting of some other overall truth claim, whether it be that of Enlightenment positivism, with its ideal of autonomous reason, or of postmodern suspicion of all truth claims, which is in itself a truth claim” (emphasis mine).  So far, so good.

Lincoln gets better. “Thus, casting aspersions [derogatory remarks] about naive willingness to accept some particular truth claim is hardly to the point.  Champions of the autonomy of critical reason in interpreting biblical texts are, in this sense, no lest fideistic than those they accuse of being uncritical.”  Excellent.  In other words, skeptical critics accuse less skeptical and less critical people of being naive to accept truth claims found in Scripture, while these same critics are similarly accepting “truth” claims found outside of Scripture.

What about those of us who are not quite so critical?  “The abandonment of belief in the autonomy of critical judgment does not mean the abandonment of critical judgment.  The latter [critical judgment] now takes place within a perspective that is open to trusting the claims of testimony.”  In other words, no one is free from being somewhat skeptical or critical; some are minimally skeptical/critical while at the same time very open to trusting truth claims of Scripture’s testimony.  (Example: “I’m not 100% sure that this woman was telling the truth that the Post Office is just 3 blocks away; yet I’ll accept the testimony because I have no reason to believe she’s duping me.  After all, she most likely does know where the Post Office is, because she’s driving a mail truck!”)

I. Provan also has some helpful comments on this line, in chapter 2 of his co-authored (with Longman and Long) A Biblical History of Israel.  (See also Kevin Vanhoozer, Drama of Doctrine.)

All of Lincoln’s above quotes are from Truth on Trial (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), 357, 359.


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