Book Reviews Controversy

Faulty Fundamentalism: A Partial Book Review

Here are some comments on a book I happened across. I am glad I didn’t spend any money on it.

What Every Preacher Should Know!

The Pastor’s Success Handbook

by Hugh F. Pyle (SWORD of the LORD Publishers, Murfreesboro, TN 1981).

There is obviously a grave problem here. It is that the book sets out to do what its title promises: it tells you how to be a successful pastor. Now success seems to be defined primarily along two lines: soul-winning and church attendance (other points such as finances are means to these ends).

That soul-winning is a measure of success is seen in this statement from pp. 361,362: “After we got them saved most women looked around and realized that our ladies wore dresses to church. And most boys when they became Christians went out and got a haircut. If they didn’t they would often drift on to another church, but at least we had a chance to evangelize them first”

And to demonstrate that the size of the church is a measure of success to which other elements are subordinated see: the chapter, “Making Sunday Night Services Sparkle!” –the reason for attempting this is so that people return; p.89, which begins the chapter “Make a Joyful Noise!” which is about how to obtain a high profile for your church; p.103 “As you become successful and your church grows….”; he states this on p.317 saying with regard to the designing of bulletins, “…the Sunday morning crowd is already there when they get that bulletin. The big thing is to get them back that night!”; or the long discussion on naming your church on pp.341-343 introduced with the words, “Names can help to make or break a church. Think of the churches you know that are big and flourishing and then study their names.”; or this sage counsel: “Expository preaching—preaching through a book in the Bible—is another way of keeping things going, either on Sunday morning or Sunday night, and you may be able to go longer than two months on such a series. This is also true for Wednesday night studies. But watch your people. If the crowds begin to diminish and interest lags, I would abandon or postpone the series and move over into greener pastures.” (p.137)

A global statement is found on p.102: “A bus ministry will be rewarding. Souls will be won, families will be reached, children will be kept out of trouble, Christians will have a good opportunity to serve, people will know you love them, and your church will grow.”

Stemming from this telic error, the pastor is encouraged to follow a business model for his church. This can be seen in the book recommendations: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (p.22); or the instruction to occasionally read “a self-help book by an outstanding motivator in the business world. Or listen to the tapes of men like Clement Stone, Zig Ziglar, or “Tremendous” Jones” (pp. 53,54); again, on p.73: “Be Sure the Money Is Handled and Used in an Honest and Businesslike Manner” –a section heading which by itself is perhaps not objectionable: but in combination with his other statements reveals that he does consider the business world a model for the church. The recommendation to read motivational authors is emphasized again on p.238, speaking of books that it is good for the minister to have: “Every preacher should read some self-help and motivational books. One of the very best is See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar. Get it!” Or consider this quotation from p.371:

(25) Q: HOW DOES A PREACHER BUILD SELF-CONFIDENCE? A: Nothing succeeds like success. Keep working at those sermons and at that visitation until you see some results. Every victory should spur you on. Then read Zig Ziglar and other motivators. Listen to their tapes. Read Jack Hyles. Read Proverbs. And by all means, read the successful men of the Bible—Paul, John, Moses, David, Samuel, Abraham. It is not as much self-confidence as it is God-confidence!

Finally, here is a clear statement from p.64:

By the time the choir or quartet takes their seats, the pastor should already be making his next introduction or the song leader should be starting the next song. If there was as much “dead space” on television productions as in the average church service the sponsors would lose millions of dollars in advertising time.

Obviously it is a book of techniques, of methods for accomplishing your goals. As such the book itself, perhaps, cannot be criticized for not justifying the ends proposed or setting out the theology undergirding them: but the assumptions that emerge are a profound indictment of what “the Lord’s work” was conceived to be among the fundamentalists who bore the brand of The SWORD of the LORD”.

The good theology is conspicuously absent –to a woeful degree. Consider his book recommendations, from the chapter, “The Books I Would Not Part With” (pp.323-331). There is only one systematic theology, Chafer’s, which was recommended by another pastor. He cautions against A.W. Pink’s “extreme views on the sovereignty of God” (p.325); and there are only a few books that he mentions that I would consider worth reading: Pilgrim’s Progress, Young’s Analytical Concordance, Spurgeon’s Lectures to His Students, An All-Around Ministry, Memoirs of McCheyne, Matthew Henry’s Commentaries. He also mentions Baxter’s Saints Everlasting Rest as a book his readers should own, but follows up immediately: “…along with Finney’s Lectures on Revival and his autobiography.” We might think he is simply unaware of the issues dividing some of his recommended authors from others: but we should observe that he does note: “Keep in mind that I do not recommend all of the books mentioned for their doctrinal content, but many of them for their practical value.” But this is not all of the evidence. He comments on p. 152: “One noted British preacher and writer has stated (in a book I just finished reading) that does not believe in nor practice the public invitation!” Or consider this, from p. 153:

One advantage of the personal workers’ starting to move at the beginning of the invitation is that, psychologically, the movement is already right and sinners find it quite easy just to move out into the flow of those who are going forward to deal with others. That way the sinner cannot feel that he is all alone and that every eye in the congregation is upon him. He may even think that some of those going forward are making the decision he should be making and his resolve to go forward may be increased and made easier.

Perhaps more shocking is this, from pp. 154,155:

Don’t let the song leader change hymns during the invitation. If a change is to be made the pastor (or whoever has been preaching) will be the one to make such a decision. Sometimes, when no one is moving on “Just As I Am,” you might find it best to switch to “Almost Persuaded” or “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow”. This advice is repeated on p.156, where we also have this somewhat moderating statement: “If no one comes after several verses are sung, and you feel you have delivered your soul and done all you can, then there is nothing to do but leave the rest up to God and conclude the invitation.”

This is not to deny that he says some true and accurate things. He is obviously sincere and well-intentioned. But that is scant comfort, for it means that he believes he is doing God service. He doesn’t seem to be a religious charlatan, in that he can make such statements as these (p.132):

They may not think of you as a jolly good fellow, or a good builder, or a fancy talker or a sharp administrator—but whatever else they think, make sure they think of you as a man of God! There is no substitute for that. And there’s a wide open market for such men. Be a prime minister!

“The man preaches as if God were at his elbow,” was said of one Spirit-filled preacher. Never forget that. You are representing Him. When you preach the truth it is God’s truth. You never have to apologize for that! Give them what God says. “Speak. . .all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word,” God told Jeremiah (Jer. 26:2). Notice, “diminish not a word“—don’t water it down, don’t softpedal the truth, don’t spread cool whip on the cancer of sin.

Still the other side of the book remains. The author seems quite unconscious of any tension: indeed, his lack of self-consciousness is one of the alarming features about this whole thing. It would seem that he has no qualms in instructing ministers whose ambition is success (defined in very visible terms) and whose model is business on how to use techniques built on a very inadequate doctrinal foundation to accomplish their goals.

So that ultimately the problem is that there is an essential and unrecognized worldliness about these separated, fundamental brethren.

And yet, I confess to a certain fondness for Dr. Pyle (Doctor of Divinity from Tennessee Temple –p.7). His style at times is racy and vigorous, and always energetic (“hillbilly whang”, p.108; “Print an Attractive Card on Slick Stock and Salt the Town Down With It”, p.101.; [of visitors] “They will be less likely to be embarrassed to give you their card and meet the pastor this way than to have to be “shown off” and introduced to the entire twelve tribes of Israel at the morning service”, pp.52,53). What with one thing and another, though, in spite of such occasional flashes of earthy brilliance, I can’t bring myself to finish the book. Even the suspicion that I have, perhaps, through such foolhardiness consigned myself to unsuccessfulness does not cause me to move forward.

Book Reviews

Paul’s Interpreters Interpreted by Schweitzer

Here is a little review of Albert Schweitzer’s Paul and His Interpreters. I don’t have the book (I borrowed it from the library) so I can’t put in page numbers, etc. It was interesting to read.

Scwheitzer is not really attempting to deal with Paul –that is reserved for The Mysticism of Paul. Here he is simply reviewing the differing approaches to Paul. It is obvious that none of them wholly commend themselves to him, though Grotius, Baur & Lipsius seem like the most worthwhile so far. The difficulty seems to revolve primarily around the understanding of Paul with regard to justification and sanctification. Paul seems to have a juridical aspect and a physico-ethical or mystico-ethical aspect, but how do they combine? Complicating the issue are subsidiary questions such as Paul’s relation to the other apostles, the Old Testament, Jesus Himself and then the relationship of later theology to Paul. Schweitzer is obviously against the Reformation, as he thinks their exegesis twisted Scripture. But in an interesting passage he confesses if not his own at least the liberal scholars lack of understanding of Paul:

The odd thing is that they write as if they understood what they were writing about. They do not feel compelled to admit that Paul’s statements taken by themselves are unintelligible, consist of pure paradoxes, and that the point that calls for examination is how far they are thought of by their author as having a real meaning, and could be understood in this light by his readers. They never call attention to the fact that the Apostle always becomes unintelligible just at the moment when he begins to explain something; never give a hint that while we hear the sound of his words the tune of his logic escapes us. What is his meaning when he asserts that the law is abolished by the death of Jesus—according to other passages, by His resurrection? How does he represent to himself the process by which, through union with the death and resurrection of the Lord a new creaturehood is produced in a man, in virtue of which he is released from the conditions of fleshly existence, from sin and death? How far is a union possible between the natural man, alive in this present world, and the glorified Christ who dwells in heaven; and one, moreover, of such a kind that it has a retrospective reference to His death? The authors we have named [Reuss, Weiss, Pfleiderer, Holsten, Renan, Sabatier, Ménégoz, Weizsäcker] do not raise questions of this kind. They feel no need to trace out the realities which lie behind these paradoxical assertions. They take it for granted that Paul himself has explained has himself explained his statements up to a certain point—so far, in fact, as this is possible in the world of feeling to which religion belongs. This self-deception is made the more easy for them by the fact that they are accustomed to clothe their own religious views in Pauline phraseology, and consequently they come to treat as the authentic logic of Paul, arguments which they have unconsciously imported into their account of his teaching. They fail to reckon with the possibility that the original significance of his utterances may rest on presuppositions which are not present to their apprehension and conception. For the same reason they all more or less hold the opinion that what they have to do with is mainly a psychological problem. They assume that the Pauline system has arisen out of a series of reflexions and conclusions, and would be as a whole clear and intelligible to any one who could succeed in really thinking himself into the psychology of the rabbinic zealot who was overpowered by the vision of Christ on the road to Damascus.

While the point about not understanding Paul precisely because of the custom of using Paul’s language was keen, and while one does not doubt that his general criticism of the authors in question is correct, it does rather tend to cross the mind that perhaps Paul is not so opaque to everyone as he is to Schweitzer. He remarks of these same works, “The welcome which these authors’ works received from their contemporaries shows that the latter saw in them an advance in the knowledge of Paulinism. They felt them to be satisfactory. That only means that the readers’ presuppositions and requirements lay within the same limitations as those of the authors.” Again a keen general point; yet it is also possible that either in those work, or those (more likely in my estimation) from a Reformed perspective some real knowledge is gained of Paulinism, which Schweitzer does not appreciate precisely because he lacks the correct presuppositions.

He grumbles about the lack of attention paid to Pauline parallels in Enoch, Apocalypse of Baruch, Apocalypse of Ezra and to a lesser extent in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs. A summarizing criticism of the Pauline studies from Baur to Holtzmann is that the “claims of Late Judaism on Paul were therefore taken to be discharged when his Rabbinic dialectic and exegesis, and to a certain extent his eschatology also has been ascribed to it.”

It is interesting that he and other scholars are constrained to admit Paul’s genius, while still reflecting on the “verbal comparison and contrast of passages which he practises, and the illogical and fantastic reasoning which appears in his arguments” as always having been “distasteful to theological science.”

Everling’s exposition of the Pauline doctrine of angels and demons is thought-provoking. Schweitzer gives it in these words:

In the result it appears that the Pauline statements about angelology and demonology have not sprung from his own imagination, but all have their earlier analogues in the Late-Jewish theology, or at any rate can be understood as inferences from the conceptions there laid down It further appears that his statements stand in systematic connexion and mutually supplement one another. In its main lines the Pauline doctrine of the angels shows us the following picture. Spiritual beings who, in accordance with the hierarchic arrangement adopted in Late-Jewish theology, are divided into various classes, played a prominent part at the giving of the law. From that time forward they acted as overseers of the chosen people, and also as the real powers behind the gods of the heathen. By the death and resurrection of Christ their power has been in principle abolished, although it continued to be still in some way exercised upon those who offer sacrifices to idols or submit themselves to the law. Believers in Christ, however, stand over against them as a class of men who are liberated from their sway, and who possess a wisdom which understands better than their own the great events in which the history of the world is about to close. These angelic existences feel that their domination is threatened, and fight with all the weapons at their command. It is at their instigation that the attempt is made to corrupt the Gospel by legalism; all the difficulties which the Apostle encounters, all the corporeal sufferings which he has to bear, are to be attributed to them. It is on their account that women must be veiled when attending the services of the Church, since otherwise they run the risk of becoming the victims of their lust, as of old their mother Eve was seduced by the devil. Most dangerous of all is their skill in deception: Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light.

Schweitzer then proceeds to expand on the importance of these views for Paul’s theology:

Everling had shown that angelology and demonology were, as a matter of fact, component parts of Paul’s cosmology. That they consequently also entered into his fundamental conception of redemption was a point which he had not especially emphasized. But the fact was written in giant characters across his work. From the moment when Paul’s statements regarding God, the devil, the angels, and the world are apprehended in their organic connexion, it becomes abundantly evident that for him redemption, in its primary and fundamental sense, consists in a deliverance from the powers which have their abode between heaven and earth. It is therefore essentially a future good, dependent on a cosmic event of universal scope.

Then comes an analysis of Kabisch’s work:

‘Salvation,’ so runs his argument, is thought of by Paul as ‘deliverance’ from judgment and destruction. ‘Justification’ and ‘reconciliation’ are subservient to this deliverance and do not describe a state of salvation independent from it. The spiritual goods which are characterized by many theologians as the object of the Apostle’s wrestling and striving are in reality only the anticipatory first-fruits of the blessedness which the future has in store. This blessedness consists in the believer’s being freed at the parousia from the fleshly body in order to put on the heavenly robe of glory. Thus eschatology is the foundation both of the dogmatics and ethics of the Apostle.

Kabisch, however, makes Paul’s doctrine of the Spirit to be this:

A super-earthly substance enters into the corporeity of those who in virtue of the unio mystica with Christ have entered into the experience of His death and resurrection. It produces in them a new being, and gives them a claim to the future perfected glory, and this while their fleshly existence still continues to the outward eye unaltered.

In Schweitzer’s opinion, Kabisch is the first to clearly point out and describe Paul’s great paradoxes.
Some shorter things worth remembering:

“It has, indeed, always been weakness (sic) of theological scholarship to talk much about method and possess little of it.”

Of modern dogmatics, “As the Pauline theology has, if possible, less affinity with the latter [modern dogmatics] than with the Reformation theology….”

He gives some examples of scholarly stupidity. Kabisch, for instance, after studying Paul’s eschatology comes to the conclusion that there is only a resurrection of the righteous; therefore the righteous enter the kingdom without experiencing judgment; therefore the judgment always refers to the destruction of the wicked at the Parousia. Schweitzer comments aptly: “That is to make the Apostle contradict not only Jewish apocalyptic, but his own utterances.”

There are some interesting, if not trust-inspiring statistics on Paul’s use of the LXX drawn from Kautzsch. “Out of eighty-four quotations which occur in the epistles thirty-four agree exactly with the Septuagint, thirty-six show small deviations, and ten depart from it more widely. Two others show a considerable difference,without however, throwing doubt upon the author’s acquaintance with the wording of the ordinary translation; two other, again, from Job, differ from it entirely,” A little later Schweitzer concludes (though whether as his opinion or that of Vollmer is not clear) that “It is in any case certain that the Apostle always makes use of Greek translations; and it is further certain that he argues from peculiarities in their wording which for one who knew Hebrew, as he also certainly did, must have been recognizable as mistranslations. He therefore goes so far as to ignore the original. (…) In all historical cases of theological bilingualism the same fact is to be observed. Scripture is never ‘personally’ translated, but always cited in accordance with a recognized version.”

Book Reviews

Review: “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail”

Robert Webber’s book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, is a book of testimonies: chiefly Webber’s own, but backed up by subsidiary testimonies from various other people, purporting to explain why some evangelicals have become Anglicans.

The criticisms that Webber makes are powerful and cogent to churches that are non-Reformed.  No doubt they could also apply to some nominally Reformed churches: but the plea for a God-centred worship and a proper sacramental conception (from which he departs by allowing too many sacraments) is one that should not only be echoed by the Reformed, but actually experienced among them.  His rejection of system because God is a maverick who will not be contained could indicate two things: one, that his system was inadequate; two, that his system was adequate and incorrectly apprehended.  If a system is based on divine truth God will not be boxed up in it, for two reasons.  In the first place, because it has made an accurate transcription of at least the edges of His ways; secondly, because it will have explicitly allowed for the freedom of God.  His identification and affirmation of the different kinds of spirituality (conversion, dos and don’ts, believing the right thing, ethical and experience) is helpful:there are different emphases in spirituality, and we need a full-orbed spirituality.  I believe he is wrong, however, in his analysis of a spirituality of experience, and also in his location of that spirituality as the one which comprehends all others.  As Lloyd-Jones remarked long since, if Christianity is only an experience then we have no answer at all to the cults.  This infringes already on the presuppositional objections to Webber’s position, of which there are three.

Most importantly, experience is made the grand arbiter.  There is nothing to describe how we are to understand or interpret our experiences.  He does not like a proof-texting Christianity, yet he is comforted because the early church viewed things the way he does.  Now what is this but to proof-text the early church?  Proof-texting is objectionable when it is done badly, or when it reduces the Bible to a polemical textbook.  Without a certain degree of proof-texting, however, not only do we have no doctrine or standards, we have no method with which to understand our experience.  This reveals itself in his emphasis on how the Episcopal church works for him and some others, but is by no means the only thing that works.

This leads into the next consideration, which is the centrality of human need, human wants, and human feelings in his whole approach.  He was dissatisfied with this or that.  Well: dissatisfaction is no doubt unpleasant; but a malcontent can be dissatisfied with what is perfectly wholesome.  I do not accuse Webber of being a malcontent: but dissatisfaction by itself is not an indication of the sufficiency or insufficiency of any given thing.  The dissatisfaction must again be evaluated.  Furthermore, arguing for a God-centred worship from a man-centred dissatisfaction may indeed be the right approach: but it can only be shown to be the right approach on the basis of Scripture.  Without the teaching of Scripture of our having been created to worship God, we would laugh our dissatisfaction with not being God-centred as another manifestation of man-centredness.  What is more focussed on my preferences than acting as my dissatisfaction dictates?

Finally, given its approach, the book is of course very weak.  It would not, perhaps, be effectively refuted by a work in a similar vein describing a person’s pilgrimage from Canterbury to Winona Lake  –but it could offer little to counter such a pilgrimage.

Book Reviews

Review of E.P. Sanders’ “Historical Figure of Jesus”

Obviously there is a glut of titles about the historical Jesus, since the title features the rather gratuitous word “figure”, evidently to have a nondescript title that isn’t exactly like any other.

Sanders is a well-informed and talented at popularizing liberal whose liberalism is not so virulent as to have destroyed all common sense (he admits that Luke and Acts are by the same man). He demonstrates no spiritual perception (for instance, finding the temptation for Christ to throw himself off the temple the hardest to explain of the temptations). He destroys much confidence in his observance when he blunders as to so basic a narrative fact as the healing of the man with the palsy (stating that Christ healed him by saying “Son, your sins are forgiven”), and includes egregious nonsense (the “Twelve” was a symbolic number with the actual number of the disciples being more or less and used symbolically –which is true enough, but he fails to observe that the symbolism of a man referring to his sixteen disciples as twelve is symbolic more of being mathematically challenged than eschatologically self-conscious: also the references to the ‘eleven’ after the death of Judas militates somewhat against the symbolic twelve, as well as the election of Matthias to keep up the number). With regard to miracles he accepts that the ancients had a different view than we do, but will insist on drawing the line of credulity where modern medicine would. While in such a work he needn’t examine presuppositions, and while he seems to try to offend conservatives as little as possible, his rationalistic biases emerge, and are even admitted with an approving quotation from Cicero. His acceptance of early dates for the material of the Gospels seems to bring him to a dilemma –they were written while the apostles still lived, but could not be eyewitness accounts! However, he does raise some interesting knots which cannot be untied superficially, as: Mark’s rapid survey of material spread out in Matthew; the differing response on the part of the disciples to the walking on water, inter alia.

Interesting facts and ideas: the Roman presence in Palestine at the time of Christ was not great (no official presence in Galilee and only a small one in Judea, concentrated in Caesarea and careful of provoking the Jews at Jerusalem); pseudo-Matthew took Isaiah 1:3 and on that basis had an ox and an ass adore Christ at His birth; there are no exorcisms or parables in John, and no symbolic metaphors in the synoptics; names are not attached to the Gospels until about 180; Mary Magdalene could have been 86, childless, and eager to mother unkempt young men; Judaism elevated all of life to the same level as worship of God; the Herods were fairly careful about abiding by rabbinic understandings of at least the ceremonial parts of the law: for instance, Herod provided pools for immersion for himself, family and servants, and issued coins with only agricultural symbols; the claim of an anonymous history was higher than that of a named work, because it implicitly claimed complete knowledge and reliability; fasting does not necessarily mean complete abstinence from all sustenance, Jesus did not refute the devil by saying “That is not the way I do things” but rather, “That is not according to God’s will as it is revealed in the scripture”.

Some quotes:

The Greek god Asclepius, who specialized in healing, had shrines throughout the Mediterranean world. Dozens of brief accounts of his healings have survived. The priests at his principal cult site, Epidaurus in Greece, copied inscriptions from wooden votive offerings in to large stone stelae, which have survived. A modern physician would regard many of these healings as quite believeable. A woman who had been unable to become pregnant went to his shrine and slept overnight in the dormitory. During the night she dreamed that one of Asclepius’ sacred snakes entered her. She arose, went home, and immediately became pregnant. The modern medical explanation would be that her inability to become pregnant was psychosomatic and that the vision overcame the mental block, so that her body would function in the normal way. Sigmund Freud, of course, would have a lot to say about the sexual symbolism of the serpent. Other reports of healings, however, are completely incredible by modern scientific standards. A man who had lost his eyes and had only empty sockets dreamed that the god poured ointment into his eye sockets; and when he awoke he had eyes and could see.

The interesting thing is that these stories stand side by side, the priests apparently not seeing that some of the healings are not only more believable than others, but that some are completely impossible. That is, they did not draw boundary lines between credible and incredible where medical science today would draw them. If the god could produce one kind of miracle, he could produce another. The modern reader is inclined to make distinctions: stories that we find credible are regarded as possibly ‘true’, while those that are incredible are ‘fiction’. ‘Fiction’ usually implies a moral judgment: dishonest. Although ancient people knew about fraud and dishonesty in religious claims, and were often suspicious of fantastic stories, they did not draw the line between truth and fiction precisely where we would. They did not regard it as impossible for spiritual forces to influence the physical world in tangible ways, and this view meant that tales of miracles could develop in the circle of sincere and honest people. Today a lot of people regard spiritual forces and miracles in the very same way and do not accept the standards of medical science. Consequently, there are still stories of miraculous cures, many of which emanate from Lourdes and other places of religious pilgrimage. My own assumption about such stories is that many of the ‘incredible’ ones are based on wishful thinking, others on exaggeration, and only a very few on the conscious wish to deceive. I take the same view of the stories told by the pious devotees of Asclepius. The most important points for the reader of this book to bear in mind are that miraculous stories were common in the ancient world and that we should hesitate before assigning them to either ‘truth’ or ‘deliberate falsehood’.

In order to see Jesus as he really was, we must recognise that the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount does not tell the whole story. He was not just a teacher or a moralist. According to Mark, his fame derived from healing, and especially from exorcisms. This, in turn, raises the question of Jesus and magic and erratic behaviour.

A good list of ways to disagree about law (a. a written law is wrong, should be repealed and disobeyed, b. a written law is wrong and should be repealed but should be obeyed until it is, c. make a claim of mitigating circumstances in order to justify transgression, d. interpret the law so as to change it, e. avoid/evade laws without repealing them, f. criticize the law for not going far enough and thus believe that it should be extended, g. create supplementary rules and practices that govern precisely how the law is to be obeyed) is followed by some good words on Jesus and the law:

New Testament scholars have often said that Jesus opposed the law, or that he opposed parts of it. The most common suggestion is that he opposed the ritual law but favoured the moral law. The people who make such suggestions rarely clarify in what sense Jesus opposed the law. That is, they seldom deal with the distinctions that are necessary if one is to discuss the law at all. Do they mean to say that, in Jesus’ view, God did not give the law to Moses? That Jesus disagreed with a particular interpretation? That he sometimes avoided individual laws? (…) …we ask only if Jesus opposed the law. The short answer is that he does not: rather, he requires a stricter code of practice. No one who observed the admonitions of Matthew 5 would transgress the law, and Jesus does not propose that any part of the Mosaic code should be repealed.(…) This section of Matthew has often been cited as showing Jesus’ ‘opposition’ to the law. But heightening the law is not opposing it, though (as we just saw) it implies a kind of criticism. (…) In view of the indisputable fact that Jesus thought that the Jewish scripture contained the revealed word of God, and that Moses had issued commandments that should be followed, we should be very hesitant to accept the common view of New Testament scholars that he had actually opposed the Jewish law. This is all the more true, of course, since the passages in which there are disagreements about the law reveal no direct opposition to it. (…) Although he did not oppose the law, he did indicate that what was most important was accepting him and following him. This could eventually lead to the view that the law was unnecessary….

A.B. Bruce has better explanations of Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees about the Sabbath. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Sanders seems to think a) that other documents have more historical value than the NT, and b) that if he doesn’t know about a law or interpretation that it could not have existed, thus assuming finality of historical knowledge and using this as a foundation to judge the reliability of the gospel narratives. He does not see that Mark shows a principle in operation without chronological concern, but rather cites similar incidents together (he recognizes that it is not chronological, but thinks Mark meant to present it as though it were). If his historical statements about the tolerance for different interpretations and traditions is true, his point of view still fails to take into account that fact that enmity against a person results in any stick being good enough to beat him with. Errors in detail, like stating that Luke’s story of Peter’s vision in Acts 10 means that according to Luke Jesus did not teach His disciples that all foods were clean (quite forgetting that Jesus told His disciples many things that they did not understand), make one suspicious of the value of other conclusions which one hasn’t the means so ready to hand to judge. He shows the weakness of liberalism. By hypothesis they limit Christ to being an ordinary mortal, and on the grounds of that gratuitous assumption which runs contrary to the whole tenor of the gospels, rule out or allow what appears to them to be probable. This makes the line between scholarship and gas too fine for the liberals to observe. By what authority do they determine the grounds of probability?