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eBook Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony ePub

by George Albert Wells

  • ISBN: 0812695674
  • Category: Bible Study and Reference
  • Subcategory: Bibles
  • Author: George Albert Wells
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Open Court (November 26, 2003)
  • Pages: 254
  • ePub book: 1282 kb
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  • Rating: 4.1
  • Votes: 918


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George Albert Wells (born May 22, 1926), usually known as G. A. Wells, is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck . In 2003 Wells stated that he now disagrees with Robert M. Price on the information about Jesus being "all mythical". Wells, is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. After writing books about famous European intellectuals, such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Franz Grillparzer, he turned to the study of the historicity of Jesus, starting with his book The Jesus of the Early Christians in 1971. Wells believes that the Jesus of the gospels is obtained by attributing the supernatural traits of the Pauline epistles to the human preacher of Q.

He embarks on a close analysis of the Book of Acts, questioning its authorship and casting doubt on the events it and the gospels describe. Publisher: Open Court Publishing.

Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony. The earliest refernces to Peter reveal a pre-gospel Christianity which had not yet come to believe that Jesus had lived and died in the recent past as described in the gospels. by George Albert Wells. What emerges from critical reading of the sources is that the real Peter and Paul were bitterly divided, but that later traditions tried to represent them as working harmoniously together, and presented Peter as companion of the newly-composed gospels.

Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony (Open Court, 2004). Wells relates Schopenhauer's view of the primacy of the will to Albert Schweitzer's claiming that the will is a transcendent reality at the basis of self-consciousness that provides immediate certainties - allowing us to connect with the "mighty spiritual force streaming forth from ", needing no longer to rely on the uncertain results of historical criticism concerning.

By George Albert Wells. The gospels included in the New Testament (NT) are widely agreed to have been written between . Can we trust the New Testament? George Albert Wells.

The earliest refernces to Peter reveal a pre-gospel Christianity which had not yet come to believe that Jesus had lived and died in the recent past as described in the gospels. only much later does this legend become elaborated so that Peter is the sole founder of the church of Rome.

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The earliest refernces to Peter reveal a pre-gospel Christianity which had not yet come to believe that Jesus had lived and died in the recent past as described in the gospels. What emerges from critical reading of the sources is that the real Peter and Paul were bitterly divided, but that later traditions tried to represent them as working harmoniously together, and presented Peter as companion of the newly-composed gospels. Peter began to be linked with Rome in the second century A.D., only much later does this legend become elaborated so that Peter is the sole founder of the church of Rome and thus the first pope.In the final chapters, Professor Wells describes how leading church spokesmen have themselves accepted the non-historicity of much of the New Testament, and shows the varied conclusions for Christian faith they have drawn from this disturbing development.


Yananoc Yananoc
This book like all of Prof. Wells's books is simply outstanding. His command and knowledge of the relevant literature is amazing. He makes his points and structures his arguments in a way that is powerful and to the point. If you are interested in why you cannot trust the New Testament, you can't go wrong with this book. Highly recommended.
GoodBuyMyFriends GoodBuyMyFriends
This book is worth owning. While Wells is not employed as a religious apologist, nor does he use his scholarship as a launch pad for religious ax grinding. He is indeed a competent scholar and Professor in his field, and his more than 40 years of rigorous study of Christian origins, theology, and New Testament makes him an authoritative voice urging reason and rationality regarding the question of whether the NT canonical Gospel stories can be trusted as nominally historical. Taking note of the vast chasm in meaning between the preexistent cosmic Christ Jesus being of pure consciousness that somehow became a man in an unspecified time, place, and setting imagined by Paul versus the schizophrenically diverse redactional impressions of late first/early second century Hellenistic Jesus cults, Wells clearly identifies the facts that prove fatal to assigning trust to the NT as history. The silence of the genuine Pauline epistles of any detail of the Gospel Jesus stand with the equally resounding silence of the deutro-Paulines, the general epistles including those of Peter, James, John, Jude as well as that of the anonymous letter to the Hebrews. However, the canonical but pseudepigraphical forgeries, 1st, 2nd Timothy, and Titus, followed by the writings of Ignatius and 1st Clement (regardless of whoever actually did pen them) do show traces of the Gospel stories indicating a time span wherein the details of Gospel Jesus were propagated subsequent to Mark's invention of them. Throughout CWTTNT, Wells refers the reader to supporting arguments in his other books while deconstructing and demonstrating falsification of counter arguments offered by various religious scholars or apologists. Professor Wells also points out the misgivings of many Christian scholars regarding the complete dearth of evidence for historicity of the Gospel Jesus. This short book does answer the question titling it with an unqualified no. The faulty argument of other reviewers notwithstanding.
Rolling Flipper Rolling Flipper

ATTENTION! The banal picture shown by Amazon on this page is NOT the original cover. And this is NOT the edition I bought. Mine is the original one with its elegant picture of a wooden crucified corpse strangely missing its head. You can view the original cover in this product link
Can We Trust the New Testament?: Thoughts on the Reliability of Early Christian Testimony

First, a remark on the disappointing physical appearance of the book (a good justification for taking one star off the rating).

I am befuddled that the publisher, Open Court, and the editor in charge, have decided to use such an inconvenient font. The characters are so thin, and the grey ink so pale that the text loses so much density that it seems to be vanishing. Reading this book imposes an extra focussing effort on aging eyes, making the exercise no longer enjoyable. And makes preserving visual memories of the text nearly impossible.

Such a decision, creating a book so hard to read, is incomprehensible. Was the publisher cutting costs by saving ink in the printing job? Or could it be that my copy was a late one in a very long printing run? It does not seem so, as there's no indication of a high printing run for this highly specialized book.

I compared "Can We Trust the NT?" with my copy of "Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity", a later book (2009), which is noticeably easier to read, with a tighter and darker font.
Back in 1989, "Who Was Jesus?: A Critique of the New Testament Record" [WWJ?] was the first book of Wells published by Open Court, after G.A. Wells had switched from Prometheus to Open Court. WWJ? was using a darker and more legible font.

The physical appearance of "Can We Trust the New Testament?" is thus an oddity in the series of Wells's books printed by Open Court. And it is a shame that the publisher ignored the issue of readability.
At this stage, I wish there was an eBook version of "Can We Trust the NT?", which I would buy on the spot to use alongside my copy of the unreadable print version.
In summary, I find this "Can We trust the NT?" a physically disappointing product, as I expected higher quality.

Overlooking this annoying aspect of the book's physical appearance, this is a highly interesting book, as each book by Wells unfailingly is. It continues with the refinement of G.A. Wells's controversial interpretation of the Origins of Christianity, arguing that the original Gospel of Mark fuses two distinct Jesus figures, rendering it impossible to know anything about a historical figure.

Wells follows his main interest, which is to show how the Christian doctrines developed from the earliest writings, how an early tradition was rewritten later and "transmuted" to make the Christian story "more acceptable to the later writer's beliefs and situations" (p. vii). Wells does not impute "fraud or deliberate misrepresentation" to the early writers.


Wells presents the changes in his conception of the figure of Jesus, "who and what Jesus Christ was".
The earliest writings are not the Gospels, which are wrongly presented first in the order of books in the Bible, they are the early epistles and Revelation.
An essential argument of Wells's is that the later Christian books (after 110 AD) betray a marked discrepancy with the earliest ones, which is "fatal to the claims of the Christian churches, yet few theologians have properly faced it." The evolution from the early writings to the late ones is a product of the "mythological process".


Wells precisely describes how the changes to his own interpretation came about in his previous two books, "The Jesus Legend" (1996) and "The Jesus Myth" (1999).

"In my first books on Jesus, I argued that the gospel Jesus is an entirely mythical expansion of the Jesus of the early epistles. The summary of the argument of the Jesus Legend (1996) and the Jesus Myth (1999) given in this section of the present work makes it clear that I no longer maintain this position (although the change is perhaps not as evident from the titles of those two books as it might be). The weakness of my earlier position was pressed upon me by J.D.G. Dunn, who objected that we really cannot plausibly assume that such a complex of traditions as we have in the gospels and their sources could have developed within such a short time from the early epistles without a historical basis (Dunn, "The Evidence for Jesus", 1985, p. 29). My present standpoint is: this complex is not all post-Pauline (Q, or at any rate parts of it, may well be as early as ca. A.D. 50); and if I am right, against Doherty and Price - it is not all mythical. The essential point, as I see it, is that the Q material, whether or not it suffices as evidence of Jesus's historicity, refers to a personage who is not to be identified with the dying and rising Christ of the early epistles."
("Can We Trust the NT?", 2004, p. 49-50).

Wells recapitulates his well-known thesis. The late epistles [from 110 AD onwards] relate various aspects of Jesus's life that look copied from the Gospels or inspired by their availability.
But the early, pre-Gospel, epistles [pre-60 AD to 90/95 AD] knew nothing of an earthly Jesus and the practical details of his life, not even those related to his crucifixion. Dunn acknowledges this well-known 'relative silence of Paul regarding the historical Jesus.' But he fails to note that all early writers are similarly silent.


The list of the "Early Writings", all written before the circulation of the gospel stories, includes :
- 7 genuine Paulines (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon);
- 3 post-Paulines ascribed to Paul (2 Thessalonians, Colossians and Ephesians - 3 authors);
- the letter to the Hebrews;
- the epistle of James;
- 1 Peter;
- 1, 2, 3 John (2 authors);
- and the Revelation of John (unfairly relegated to the back of the NT).
(p. xi; also "Earliest Christianity", Secular Web, 1999).

Publications of the Christian Bible misrepresent the real chronology of early writings by placing the gospels at the beginning, creating the erroneous impression that the early epistles of Paul and others came after the gospels.


Dunn resorts to the "familiar hypothesis" of DELIBERATE PURPOSE, an argument already refuted in "The Jesus Myth" (1999).

Wells neglects to mention that he had first presented this argument in "The Jesus of the early Christians: A study in Christian origins" ["JEC"], back in 1971. This was used to explain why the historian Justus of Tiberias, writing about AD 80, was equally silent about Jesus and primitive Christianity, for though his books have been lost, Photius, Christian patriarch of Constantinople [810-893], who read them in the 9th century, remarks, with surprise: "This Jewish historian does not make the smallest mention of the appearance of Christ, and says nothing whatever of his deeds and miracles" (quoted in Rev. S[abine] Baring-Gould, "The Lost And Hostile Gospels" London, 1874, p. 10-11).

Wells reminded us (JEC, 1971, p. 195) that Sabine Baring-Gould then went into a long song-and-dance to "explain what he calls 'THE STRANGE SILENCE OF PHILO, JOSEPHUS AND JUSTUS' as due not to 'ignorance of the acts of Christ and of the existence of the Church', but to 'DELIBERATE PURPOSE' (The Lost and Hostile Gospels, 1874, p. 42)".
This "deliberate purpose" has also become the MAIN CLASSICAL EXPLANATION of historicity advocates for the silences of all early Christian documents about the Gospel Christ.


The other standard argument is that Roman Empire critics of Christians never denied the existence of Jesus. The list is long: some 30 well-known writers.
The response: Since Christians were perceived as "followers of a Cynic philosophical lifestyle", the figure of miracle-worker/preacher was a familiar type in the Greco-Roman world, and critics had no reason to question his existence (p. 50-51).


The gospels are assumed to have come or been in circulation around 90-110 AD.
The later documents insert various biographical details of Jesus's life that look copied from these Gospels or inspired by their availability.

They include:

- 3 Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy; Titus - 1 author);
- Jude;
- 2 Peter (probably the very latest of the 27 canonical books);
- the 7 epistles of Ignatius of Antioch;
- the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles);
- the epistles of Barnabas and Polycarp (to the Philippians);
- two epistles ascribed to Clement of Rome (1 Clement, ca. 95 AD; 2 Clement, ca. 150 AD - 2 different authors);
- the apocryphal Epistle of the Apostles;
- the Apology of Aristides;
- the surviving fragment of Quadratus's Apology;
- and the two Apologies of Justin Martyr (ca. 150 AD, the first Christian writer to quote from written gospels.)
(p. xi, 51; "Earliest Christianity", 1999)

Conclusion: "There is then, no doubt that, in the first half of the second century, Christian writers refer to Jesus in a way quite unknown in the earlier documents. I have repeatedly insisted that, until this distinction is accepted as fundamental, there will be no adequate understanding of Christian origins."


Wells reviews the Acts of the Apostles, and examines the stories built around Peter and Paul, the only two apostles who are given some substance in the NT.
The views on Acts vary from "a bundle of legends" to "history whose trustworthiness is unsurpassed" (p. 111). Acts mainly follows the gospels and paints a spectacular beginning for the origins of the cult.
In fact, Dibelius pointed out (1956), the early Christians must have been "as good as unnoticed" in Jerusalem, only gathered in their "common belief in Jesus Christ and in the expectation of his coming again...leading a quiet and in the Jewish sense `pious' existence," sustained only by the "victorious conviction of the believers" (p. 113).

Wells concludes that "Luke", the presumed author of Acts had no real knowledge of Paul. There's no more evidence that Peter ever came to Rome or had known Jesus.


Cephas is Paul's name for Peter, if it is accepted they are the same person. The first good reference is to Cephas/Peter in Paul's epistle narrating the "incident at Antioch", where Paul rebukes and condemns Cephas for jeopardizing Paul's opening to the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14).
Paul and Cephas were antagonistic on the question of conserving the law (Cephas) or jettison it (Paul). But the legendary traditions grew and strove to show them united and working together as a team for the glory of the nascent church.

Peter ended up being credited with 25 years in Rome, and having founded the church, thus eliminating Paul's role as founding apostle.

Wells abides by many conclusions of the scholarship of Oscar Cullmann's "Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr" (1962).

Prior to 150 AD, there is no document evidencing Peter's visit to Rome and his death there. - Paul gives no indication of such a tradition. Cephas in the epistles has no experience of pre-crucifixion Jesus.
- In Acts, Jesus promises "you shall be my the end of the earth" (1:2, 8) to "the apostles whom he has chosen". But "Peter vanishes completely from the narrative" in the middle of Acts, after Ch. 15 (p. 115).
- Justin Martyr, who lived in Rome, says nothing of Peter's polemic against him in Rome.
All kinds of writings have been attributed to Peter: a gospel, an apocalypse, and "acts".

- "1 Peter" is in excellent Greek, with OT quotations strictly from the Septuagint, and good allusions to Greek literature. The mention of "Babylon" has been interpreted as the code name for Rome. But there's no evidence that the writer was identical to the Peter of the NT. Most scholars [Including Bart Ehrman] opine that the letter is pseudonymous.
- "2 Peter" is deemed even more certainly pseudonymous. It contains no reference to Rome, but has an indication of Peter's martyrdom.

Ignatius of Antioch, in the "letter to the Romans" 4:3, mentions "I do not give your orders, like Peter and Paul. They were apostles. I am a convict."
The discussion cites the views of Oscar Cullmann (1962, an expert on Peter); Elmer T. Merrill (1924, an expert on early Christianity); and William R. Schoedel (1985, an expert on Ignatius).
The two apostles were cited only because they were the only two famous names about whom anything was known. Ignatius never names any other apostle. Invoking a "tradition" of their visit to Rome "is not a historical fact". Possibly, the reference was not to the persons of the two apostles, but to their letters, "credited with universally binding pronouncements" (p. 126)

"1 Clement" received its name ca. 170 AD, and is dated to 95 AD. It shows no knowledge of the gospels, of miracles, nor of the Passion story. The death episode is supplied by Isaiah 53 (as it is in 1 Peter). [Alfred Loisy and P.L. Couchoud broke with consensus and dated 1 Clement to 140 AD, a maverick choice.]
1 Clement 5:4 does cite Peter: "Peter, who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one nor two but many labours, and having thus borne his testimony ("marturesas") went to his due place of glory". 
A lot of the discussion revolves around "marturesas", part. of "martureo", "to bear witness". "Martus", n., means "witness".
Later, in the persecuted church, "martus" became "one who witnessed unto death", a "martyr", the foundation of an emerging martyr cult. The vague stories of the past were then given dates and exact locations.

1 Clement 5:5-8 clearly indicates martyrdom for Paul, but 5:4 shows no clear implication of martyrdom for Peter.

Remarkable is the theme of "jealousy and strife" invoked as the cause of the apostles' labours (sufferings). Jealousy was the code word for divisions and conflicts among early Christians and their churches. 24 out of 27 NT books have been shown to be the result of strife among early Christians.

Conclusion: there's no "serious" evidence that Peter was ever in Rome, that he was martyred there, that he was a bishop of the Roman church (a claim made only in the 3d c.) since the bishop structure did not come to Rome until ca. 150 AD.


1) The original reference to Cephas/Peter belongs to Paul's pre-gospel Christianity with no knowledge of a historical Gospel Jesus. The conflict between Cephas and Paul was serious. In Gal 2:11-14, Paul calls Cephas a hypocrite.

2) The conflict was smoothed out in Acts and ended up being replaced by a tale of harmonious collaboration, for the glory of the early church.

3) Active collaboration of the two partners in founding communities 

4) Only much later was the legend amplified to erect Peter as the sole founder of the Roman church and its first pope, pushing Paul out of the foundation story.


Wells does not cite the work by Arthur Drews, "Die Petruslegende, ein Beitrag zur Mythologie des Christentums", (1910, 2d ed. 1924); recently translated by Frank Zindler as The Legend of Saint Peter, A Contribution to the Mythology of Christianity  (1997).
 The translation is very readable as all the citations have been expanded in the notes. Incorporating them in the text itself might have been even better.
Drews complains that "the confusion in educated so great and the posture of Rome so impudent", that the story of Peter has been shamelessly promulgated as fact by the Vatican. Drews takes a radical view of the completely legendary character of the figure of Peter, both in the Gospels and the fantastic history of Peter in Rome.

Note that Wells's perspective and conclusion are similar to Arthur Drews's, even if the relation to "The Legend of St. Peter" is only implicit, and Drews's book not listed in Wells's bibliography.
Knowing of Drews's work as background information is OK, but citing him seems anathema when you want to make a good impression on your fellow NT scholars. Drews's tone is too aggressive for club manners. He was a passionate activist and an untiring militant. It is much more acceptable to cite calm, sedate, modern academics.
But the end result is the same: Exposing Peter as a legend amounts to the complete destruction of a cherished foundational fairy-tale of the Catholic Church.


This chapter reflects Wells's interest in following the contemporary religious landscape, and analyzing trends and most significant events.
Here Wells describes six leading Radical Anglican Theologians, clergy of the established Anglican church, who have evolved towards a more or less radical skepticism of the New Testament. Their names have more resonance in Britain than in the USA.
Wells obviously delights in their far-out British idiosyncracies, and offers some "Responses to Radical Theology" (p. 167-177).

The central issue is the relationship between religion and modernity, and the variety of proposed answers. The ideology that Christian morality is the cement that holds together civilization is no longer tenable.

Wells instances liberation theology, feminist theology, secular humanism (the "secular moralism of the intelligentsia"), the "reduction of Jesus to an ethical exemplar", turning churches into teaching centers for common-place ethical precepts.

Trying to salvage something from the wreck risks ending up with "the grin without the Cheshire cat" (Michael Goulder).
Can it be true that there are an estimated 16,000 versions of Christianity?
Each minister "constructs some understanding of Christianity for himself" and "the result is a religion of private enterprise".

Ever since Reimarus, biblical criticism has sabotaged the repulsive Christian doctrine of hell, and its eternal damnation for non-believers and heretics.
JOHN WILLIAM COLENSO (1811-1899), a Cambridge scholar who became bishop to Zulus in Natal (South Africa), refused to frighten the natives with the prospect of eternal torments unless they were saved by joining Christianity.

Throughout its history, the exclusiveness of the Christian religion (inherited from ancient Judaism) has fostered "murderous intolerance", and launched the Church on a centuries-long mission to persecute and exterminate dissenters, critics and opponents with the charge of demonic possession. [Mark 3: 29. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation: 30 Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.] (See Ramsey MacMullen, "Christianity and Paganism in the 4th to 8th C., Yale Un., 1997). "Anything but the strictest orthodoxy was diabolical, and 'there could be no compromise with the Devil'" (p. 173).

As Wells noted in "Did Jesus Exist?", (1987, Ch. 8, "The Pagan and Jewish Background", p. 201), the "triumph [of early Christianity] was largely due to political conditions in the 4th c. Until then it remained a minority sect." The endorsement by Roman Emperor Constantine made the persecuted "superstition" finally legal (in 313), and later, the annexation by Emperor Theodosius turned it into a state religion.
Once miraculously armed with judicial power, the new Catholic church switched "from defense to attack", and embarked on "forcibly suppressing pagan cults", and, in the same stride, a systematic destruction of the Greco-Roman civilization, including most of its knowledge and art, and "the [traditional] tolerance displayed by the pagan religions it displaced."


The refuge into muddled jargon and vague abstract formulas that deny the plain meaning of words is a current vogue. The aim is to hide intractable issues and confuse "hoi polloi" by encouraging the spread of meaningless language much favored by some theoreticians. Examples: Teilhard de Chardin, Karl Barth, Hegelian phraseology.

This is not too different from the old technique of fancy talk denounced by Jerome:
"There is nothing so easy as by sheer volubility to deceive a common crowd or an uneducated congregation." St. Jerome (Ep. 52, 8: Ad Nepotianum de vita clericorum et monachorum, Epistle to Nepotian. AD 394).

The last resort is hoping for a miracle: the action of the Holy Spirit through which "flawed minds...can recover a vital connection with God by recognizing the NT as revelation". (p. 177).


Heikki Räisänen, a professor at the Un. of Helsinki, is one of Wells's favorite theologians. He points to "the wide diversity of beliefs within the NT itself": Contradictions abound, as well as the cacophony of interpretations.

- Acts constructs a version of the Paul-Peter encounter at Antioch showing the Jerusalem church as endorsing Jewish-Gentile table-fellowship, whereas Paul reports an explosive "incident at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14)."
- Jesus's death is interpreted as "an indispensable part of God's plan for human salvation". But other passages represent it as "the typical fate of a prophet, brought about by men's iniquity."
- In John's Gospel, Jesus existed as God's son in all eternity, but in other passages, Jesus becomes divine only at the Resurrection.
- Paul is torn between his struggle to abandon the Law, "a demonic trap, designed to mislead (cf. Gal. 4:1-3; 8-11)" and his desire to stress his continuity with the OT.
- Some of Jesus's teaching is simply unrealistic.
- Our modern values for "peace" and "justice" are incompatible with the "spirit of enmity" prevalent in the Bible. Suspicion and "hatred of others" run from the Jewish OT and Psalms to Christian Revelation. "The absoluteness of Christ has 'contributed to [rejecting compromise and] the annihilation of those who disagreed, trusting to their own tradition' [i.e. all opponents]." "Casting out" people refusing to "accept Christ", accusing them of demonic possession, has been a constant feature in Christian history. Demythologizing or re-interpreting hostility and fantastic notions "to the point of complete vagueness", modern style, is no real answer (p. 180).

The traditional words are facing "a fundamental incredulity". 
Common sense and careful exegesis lead to "symbolic" theology, for which the key words "Kingdom of God," "resurrection," "redemption," even "Christ" or "God" are just "evocative and challenging symbols". The "Kingdom of God" is no longer a "supramondane future reality" but "a community of morally acting people."

A major break with past understanding is a must in modern times. Räisänen suggests that theology could, for instance, become a sort of poetry, "open to revision" "in endless debates", and theologians "aesthetes" interpreting the bible as "art".

Wells, ever the rationalist, cautions about "nonsensical novelties", with "interpretations which sound "impressive only as displays of ingenuity." The desire for creative novelty makes "sensible originality...progressively more difficult." Inventive speculations can easily overrun common sense. [A comment that is applicable to inventions by popular deniers of Jesus's historicity, as noted by Wells in JEC (1971) and HEJ (1982/88).]

The "issue of honesty" in religious language is primordial. Preachers and scholars are prone to "fudge the issues", delete offensive verses from biblical texts, and retain only "carefully selected" passages.


The "gap between the pew (preaching in order to arouse) and the scholar's study (critical analysis in order to convince) is unlikely to be bridged."

Preaching wants to "stir an audience" and rouse strong emotions, of which there are only a few, including enthusiasm, fervor, anger, fear, hostility, and hatred, which all are an easy way to unite a community -- open to all demagogues.

Scholars, however, face "the immense difficulty of imparting, even to an attentive and selected audience, any precise idea." New ideas, of which there are many (even too many when everybody can self-publish and start a discussion blog), tend to lead to instant divisions and arguments.

Wells likes to recall the case of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer (1533-1556) who, after condemning to death protestants for their radical views on baptism and eucharist, was himself burnt at the stake in Oxford by Catholics.

A similar conflict of ideas is raging today with creationists opposing Darwin's evolution. Fundamentalists fear that negating the biblical notion of man "created in God's image" is tantamount to giving him "license to behave in an animal way".
But many Christians have opted for a reasonable compromise and are now accepting evolution.

Religious faith is a major factor of conflicts in large parts of the present human world.

Its relative defusing in Europe and N. America in the last two centuries has resulted in a "moderately critical attitude" having now become socially acceptable. But this new moderation has been the outcome of a long struggle conducted by scholars to win the license to apply textual and historical criticism to the "holy" texts. [From Lorenzo Valla in the Italian 15th c. and Erasmus in the Dutch 16th c. to the German school of historical criticism in the 19th and 20th c., and to today's scholars.]

Muslims are justifiably wary of following that route because the example of open discussion in Christian scholarship has proved its capability to undermine devotion.
Similarly China continues to carefully control dissent as it has seen what open discussion led to in the Soviet Union.

CH. 6. "EPILOGUE" (p. 187-197)

Wells goes on to analyze some salient contributions of contemporary theologians. A welcome review, as few readers are able to keep up with all the new publications as diligently as Wells.

- BURTON MACK, the University professor who exemplifies critical exegesis (p. 187).
He sees the variety of Jesus portrayals as not reflecting "embellishments of the memories of a single historical person", but different sources. He detects a cynic-like teacher in the earliest layer of Q.
And in spite of all critical demonstrations that every incident in the NT is manifestly unhistorical, the mystique of Mark's gospel remains persistent as the IMPLICIT background of most interpretations of the early Christian story.

- ROWAN WILLIAMS, whose importance is mainly as Archbishop of Canterbury (p. 190).
He tries to circumvent the problems of modern criticism. He "settles for the preached Christ and unhesitatingly affirms that 'Jesus of Nazareth is the face of God turned towards us in history.'" (Whatever that means.)

- EDWARD NORMAN, a "staunch traditionalist" with an uncompromising reaffirmation of "traditional dogma" (p. 195-197).
Obedience is a priority. Non-Christians have "always been destined for ultimate extinction", and will not receive the benefits of faith in the final judgment, "a decisive act of divine discrimination", even though the "symbolism" of hell is no longer credible.
Talk of a "Judeo-Christian tradition" instead of a "post-holocaust rapprochement " is merely "reading the Christian Bible with sentimental naiveté and overlooking 2,000 years of persecution".
Christian doctrine results from Revelation. Folk miracles can be overlooked as products of popular piety, but the miracles of Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension are all too real and not just symbols. "They are no myths, but revelation."
Science and religion are separate domains, and "secular modes of intellectual enquiry" are "sometimes inappropriate when applied to data which derives from Revealed Truth".

The concerns of liberal Christianity "with human welfare rather than with sin and corruption", turning religion into politics instead of submission to God, have led to a "guilty moralism and shame-facedness". This is expressed in the negative assessment and condemnation of past Christian history (Crusades, slavery, subordination of women), "in extraordinary contrast to the assertive view of their Islam and Judaism". "The service of God...has a priority over mere human needs."
Norman sees the future growth of Christianity outside the West.

Wells concludes that, in Britain at least, a majority of "believers" do not share either extreme of criticism or dogmatism, and they "do not wish to distance themselves from religion." Religion is a practical attitude, a convenient fit with society, ranking the Church on a par with social services, like utilities, emergency, police and fire protection.


Wells is following the trail blazed by his mentor, Ronald Englefield, a rationalist philosopher/poet worried by the corruption of language in the modern world, in the mold of George Orwell and his "Politics and the English Language" (1946). Wells has also been a fervent admirer of John M. Robertson.
Throughout his years of study of German culture and Origins of Christianity, Wells has been extremely attentive to the role of language, and is particularly worried by the exploding "abuse of language in literary, religious, and philosophical writing" that has become the bane of contemporary humanities.

"We no longer have an ecclesiastical organization able to impose assent to its ideas on the whole population. Instead there is intellectual anarchy in which the conflict of ideas and principles is often replaced by rival forms of make-believe. Freedom of ideas and of expression is degraded into license to talk at random and make phrases. The resulting fantastic 'explanations' may persist because of their tranquillizing value and the absence of ready means of disproof.
In the concrete branches of science, words and phrases are kept in constant touch with real things, so that nonsense is excluded or easily detected. But in theology -- as also in literary criticism, and indeed in the humanities generally -- what is propounded all too often has no contact with reality, except to be verbally repeated in various combinations" (p. 177).

The misuse of language to feed beliefs and PSEUDO-BELIEFS has now become so insidious and so prevalent that Wells has devoted three additional books of rationalist commentary to the role of language in belief, philosophy, culture, and religion. These books all revolve, not around historical criticism (which has occupied him with 8 books over 50 years of research on Jesus and the Origins of Christianity), but around his central obsession of "Religion and the English Language" -- a title he has never used.

- "Religious Postures: Essays on Modern Christian Apologists and Religious Problems" (1988);
- "Belief and Make Believe: Critical Reflections on the Sources of Credulity (1991);
- "What's in a Name?: Reflections on Language, Magic, and Religion" (1993).

These books of "reflections", i.e. musings of a professional rationalist, continously offer valuable insights on various aspects of Wells's critique of the NT.
These reflections were not incorporated in the historical criticism books and are instead published in separate books, because I suspect that Wells didn't want to mix his personal reflections with the objective progress of his factual arguments.
Naturally, he does make use of these rationalist "reflections" in his historical books, as an integral part of the thinking supporting his demonstrations.

[Note: Also worth reading is Robert M. Price's review of "Can We Trust the NT?" (2005), posted on the Secular Web site. Easy to find by opening "Library", then "Modern", and finally "Robert Price".]

May 5, 2013
very wonderfull