In God’s Word in Human Words, Kenton Sparks moves on to deal with the New Testament.
In the four gospels there are a number of historical problems, such as the differences between John and the other gospels; the differences between the birth stories in Matthew and Luke; and the ways Matthew and Luke seem to have used Mark as a source and yet have taken creative liberties with Mark’s account.
Therefore, critical scholars do not believe that the gospels give us four precisely accurate historical biographies that you can make to agree. Rather, from a historian’s viewpoint they give us fallible texts, written by fallible authors, and based on fallible sources. The evangelists were not strictly interested in history.
Then Sparks deals with the problem of the authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. He has already pointed out that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. He admits that the evidence against Paul as author of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus is not as strong as the evidence against Moses having written the Pentateuch. But it is still pretty strong.
The grammar and style of the Greek shows that the Pastorals had the same author, but also that the author was different from the author of letters like Galatians and Romans, which were definitely by Paul the Apostle. Besides this there are also historical problems with fitting the Pastorals into Paul’s ministry. Then there are differences in the theology, ethics and notions of church government advanced in the Pastorals and Paul’s authentic letters.
Sparks knows that some respectable answers to these problems exist, but he still believes that the problem of pseudonymity is real and may apply to Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians as well.
Finally, he deals with Daniel and Revelation, books that present massive difficulties regarding authorship, historical setting, and interpretation. But the main problem is that they both predicted the resurrection of the dead and the materialization of God’s kingdom in historical times, and these things have not happened.
He knows that his discussion of both the Old and New Testaments as diverse and sometimes contradictory collections calls for an understanding of what the Bible is that is different from the traditional understanding.
Jewish writers have helped me with this, particularly Israel Knohl who wants to see the Bible as a “divine symphony” with many instruments and with point and counterpoint. So I was glad to see Sparks say that biblical criticism implies that the Bible consists of a range of human voices that sometimes give us different judgments and views of the same subject. He even cites Christopher Wright as saying that we are listening to many choirs singing–and not always in harmony.
“Any decent solution to the problems presented by modern biblical criticism will need to explain how the Bible can be trusted as an authoritative text when it reflects diverse theological perspectives, which differ not only from one another but also from our modern theological judgments on matters like slavery” (p.121).
I look forward to seeing how Sparks works this out.