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What does it mean to say that John "tweaks" history?

My new book, The Mirror or the Mask: Liberating the Gospels From Literary Devices, will be available for pre-order very, very soon and fully "out" by December 10. In it, as readers of this blog know by now, I rebut claims that the Gospel authors knowingly and deliberately altered facts for literary or theological reasons. I also present and defend a nuanced, positive view of the Gospels' historicity that I dub the reportage model.

Another book, no doubt much more widely anticipated than mine, that was in press at approximately the same time and has recently come out is Christobiography, by eminent New Testament scholar Craig Keener. Because the two books were in press at overlapping times, I did not have access to the particular wording of his work that he put into Christobiography until after my own book was typeset. (I did give Dr. Keener the heads-up about my own work more than a year ago and urged him at that time to read it in blog post form.) The result of this partial overlap in the processing of the physical books is that my own research on Keener's work was based on a more scattered set of his many works--his commentaries on various books of the Bible and a 2016 anthology called Biographies and Jesus that he both edited and contributed to on the subject of the genre of the Gospels.

In Christobiography Keener has gathered up and summarized many of his views on these subjects, and I have now verified that he does not contradict his earlier writings on the topics I am discussing nor show a change in his views. I am also unable to find anywhere in this book where Keener anticipates my objections, answers them, or requires me to change my arguments. In fact, he repeats several of the points that I critique in The Mirror or the Mask, sometimes in similar wording. I just had to find them while writing The Mirror or the Mask by more arduous labor in his other works. He also expounds these views in more detail in the other works I have used for research. In Christobiography he also provides no new evidence for the claim that the Gospels are Greco-Roman bioi. Rather, as in the anthology Biographies and Jesus, Keener takes that genre as a given and seeks to place the Gospels' reliability within the range that he, Licona, and others believe was the normal range of historical reliability allowed by that genre. Christobiography also, even more than any of Keener's earlier works, defers explicitly to Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, with numerous footnotes that "punt" to Licona's claims. Hence my detailed critique of Why Are There Differences in The Mirror or the Mask is pertinent to Christobiography as well.

Because Christobiography is so new, interviews and posts about it are popping up around the Internet, and these usually take the form of implying that the emphasis of the book and of Keener's theories and statements is entirely a positive one for the reliability of the Gospels. This article by Dr. Keener himself in Influence is an example.

And indeed, like many of Keener's other works, Christobiography claims that the Gospels are reliable. What is odd, however, is the combination of that statement with the repeated deference to Licona's views that the evangelists (frequently, according to Licona) considered themselves licensed to change the facts. And Keener himself, though seldom giving specific examples, will frequently move back and forth between strong statements about how reliable the Gospels are and vague allusions to flexibility and freedom in narration. (See esp. his Chapters 5, 11, and 13.)

Occasionally he actually comes down to specifics, though this occurs more often in his commentaries. And these specifics are troubling. He does so most of all (though not, I want to emphasize, exclusively) for the Gospel of John. His most recent common word for what he thinks John did with history is "tweaking."

My concern is that the ambiguity of Keener's writing (often more ambiguous than that of Licona) may cause readers to be unaware of what he is getting at and to think that his emphasis upon reliability is entirely solid and is qualified only in ways that no one but the wildest extremist could possibly object to. That is simply not the case. I have given some concrete examples in this earlier post.

A brief digression is probably necessary here about the fact that Dr. Keener wrote the foreword to my early 2017 book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. I am of course very grateful to Dr. Keener for that foreword and glad that he liked Hidden in Plain View. (Indeed, I hope that the sorts of considerations that he apparently appreciated in that book will eventually move him to change some of his other views.) At the same time, I do not regard a scholar's having written an endorsement of a book as a permanent bar to public criticism of that scholar's work by the author of the book. Keener himself is enough of a professional that I doubt very much that he would say that I should never publicly criticize his work because he blurbed an earlier work of mine. But my experience with the ardent followers of Dr. Licona indicates that some of them are likely to imply precisely that. Just as book endorsements are endorsements of ideas rather than mere expressions of positive personal feeling about the author, so too with disagreements. My criticisms of ideas are never attacks on persons, just as I do not ask for endorsements merely because people are my personal friends. I have done an enormous amount of research since Hidden in Plain View came out, especially in Keener's work. I have meticulously followed up his footnotes to original sources; I've found specific examples of his generalizations to discover what he means by them. This has been careful, thoughtful, time-consuming work. He and I have also had some personal e-mail communication. I realize now that Keener's work is a combination of statements that seem to me correct and statements and methodology that seem to me seriously flawed, and I think that it would be wrong to "play favorites." Indeed, Licona himself has repeatedly complained about "critics" (probably there referring to Dr. Geisler back in 2011 and following) who, Licona says, publicly criticized his work while giving others who agreed with him a free pass (perhaps there referring to William Lane Craig's endorsement of the proposition that John moved the Temple cleansing dyschronologically). As a post I just put up recently makes clear, Licona's own judgement about who agrees with him is far from infallible, since (since Dr. Geisler's death) he is unexpectedly trying to say that that arch-opponent actually agreed with the idea of fact-changing literary devices! But there is some truth to the claim that people do not always realize that there are high-profile evangelicals who do share at least some of Licona's views. I have therefore always tried to be consistent and even-handed in my willingness to disagree publicly and to criticize publicly and in detail, even if the person in question is someone whose capitulation to literary device theory surprises and grieves me. I'm under no illusions that doing so will gain me credit for fair-mindedness and consistency from Licona and his followers. I'm more likely to be tasked with ingratitude for daring to criticize Keener after he blurbed my earlier book! I can only make it clear that, no, I haven't forgotten that Keener wrote the foreword to Hidden in Plain View and that, nonetheless, it is more important to maintain clarity and to write in a scholarly fashion about serious problems where I see them. End of digression.

Keener's recent terminology for the changes that he thinks John made to history tends to downplay his own views. He refers to John's having "emphases" and exercising a "storyteller's surprise" and "tweaking" history. He says that John is "simply using a storyteller’s surprise, tweaking some details in the traditional passion narrative for theological points[.]" None of this is sufficiently clear. He does have a partial list of examples in the Influence article:

John omits the role of the disciples in Jesus finding a donkey (Mark 11:2; John 12:14).

John skips Jesus’ words about His body and blood and depicts Jesus as the Passover Lamb more directly (John 13:1, 18:28, 19:36).

In John, Jesus dips the bread and gives it directly to Judas (John 13:26) instead of Judas dipping it (Mark 14:20).

In John, Jesus rather than Simon carries Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21; John 19:17).

Jesus’ final recorded cry in John sounds triumphant rather than pitiful (Mark 15:34; John 19:30).

Several of these are so trivial that it is only in the mind of an excessively literary theorist that they could be thought of as historical "tweaks" at all. The reference to Jesus as finding the donkey in John 12:14 is the most unremarkable abbreviation of the longer story told in Mark and is not remotely intended to give the impression that Jesus went personally, walked about, and found a donkey. This is a non-fictionalizing use of so-called transferral, which must be sharply and consistently distinguished from trying to make it look like person A did something when he really had someone else do it for him. There is not the slightest reason to think that it has any theological significance whatsoever. And the same for dipping the sop in the dish, as I discussed in the earlier post. Lots of people were doing a lot of dipping, and Jesus is merely referring in the Synoptics to the fact that his betrayer is eating with him at the table. John isn't trying to tweak anything there for any reason, much less a theological one.

I discuss at length both in the earlier post and in The Mirror or the Mask Keener's extremely strange idea that John deliberately suppresses the role of Simon of Cyrene so as to give a bent impression of history (that Jesus carried his own cross farther than he actually did) and thus make a theological point.

Here I want to focus on one item in this list, because it is so obscurely worded that a person who had no idea of Keener's other writings would simply not know what he means here. It is this item:

John skips Jesus’ words about His body and blood and depicts Jesus as the Passover Lamb more directly (John 13:1, 18:28, 19:36).

Okay, so John doesn't in fact narrate the institution of the Lord's Supper and he does in fact explicitly mention that John the Baptist called Jesus the lamb of God (John 1:29). Interesting that that isn't one of the references here. But why or how would one consider those to be "tweaks" in history? What is this item doing in the list along with the implication that John had Jesus dip the sop "instead of" Judas dipping it, and so forth? What is this item even about?

To know that, you have to read other places where a similar list occurs in Keener's works and his discussion elsewhere. Here is a similar list in his John commentary:

A close examination of the Fourth Gospel reveals that John has rearranged many details, apparently in the service of his symbolic message. This is especially clear in the Passion Narrative, where direct conflicts with the presumably widely known passion tradition (most notably that Jesus gives the sop to Judas, is crucified on Passover, and carries his own cross) fulfill symbolic narrative functions. (The Gospel of John: A Commentary, pp. 42-43)

Here is one in his Acts commentary. First, the main text:

Luke seems more likely to report the events as he has them from his tradition than does John. John takes significant liberties with the way he reports his events, especially in in several symbolic adaptations in the passion narrative ([footnote] 105), whereas Luke follows, where we can test him..., the procedures of a good Hellenistic historian....Keener, Acts: An Exegetical Commentary, vol. 1, p, 793

I note the phrase "significant liberties" which perhaps would not have fit so well as "tweaking" or "emphases" into the Influence article.

Here is footnote 105:

E.g., Jesus gives Judas the sop (John 13:26; contrast Mark 14:20); he appears to be executed on Passover (John 18:28; contrast Mark 14:14); he carries his own cross (John 19:17; contrast Mark 15:21).

I now note that the references Keener gives in the Influence article for claim that John "depicts Jesus as the Passover lamb more directly" are precisely those references that several NT scholars, including Keener in his other works, take to mean that John has changed the day of the Last Supper and Jesus' crucifixion. John 18:28 is listed in the Acts commentary to support the claim that in John, "Jesus appears to be crucified on Passover." That is clear enough, since Keener is definite that he is not crucified on Passover in the Synoptics. This is allegedly a "direct conflict."

Keener teaches in his John commentary that John deliberately narrated in such a way as to make it appear that Jesus was crucified on the day when the Passover lambs were killed, the first day of Passover, in contrast with the Synoptics, who indicate that he was crucified on the day after the Passover lambs were killed. This theory of counterfactual change in John's narrative is (unfortunately) quite popular even among some evangelicals, and Keener is a proponent of the view that John altered the day in order to emphasize the theological point that Jesus is the Passover lamb.

In his discussion in the John commentary he also tries to connect this with John's omission of the institution of the Lord's Supper. Here are some long quotes from his John commentary:

The announcement of both the “day of preparation for Passover” and the “sixth hour” (19:14) is significant for developing a Johannine hermeneutic consistent with the specific character of the Fourth Gospel’s intrinsic genre. This announcement signals to us that the Fourth Gospel’s passion chronology differs from that of the Synoptic tradition, probably already popular in John’s day (Mark 15:25).... Given John’s literary method elsewhere, we incline toward reading John symbolically rather than Mark. Members of John’s audience familiar with the traditional passion story presumably behind the Synoptics and Paul would have already noticed the difference at 18:28, a difference linking Jesus more directly with Passover. No longer do the symbolic bread and wine of the Last Supper represent Passover, but the death of Jesus itself does so directly (6:51–58). Biographies could exercise a degree of chronological freedom (see introduction, ch. 1), and John may adapt the chronology to infuse it with his symbolic message. In this Gospel Jesus is delivered over for crucifixion on the day the Passover lambs are being slaughtered (18:28). The Gospel of John: A Commentary pp. 1129-1130
[I]t seems better to read John’s final Passover chronology symbolically. Passover began at sundown with the Passover meal. Whereas in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is executed on the day of the Passover sacrifice preceding the evening meal (18:28; 19:14), the Synoptics present the Last Supper as a Passover meal, presupposing that the lamb has already been offered in the temple. Both traditions—a paschal Last Supper and a paschal crucifixion—are theologically pregnant, but we suspect that Jesus, followed by the earliest tradition, may have intended the symbolism for the Last Supper whereas John has applied the symbolism more directly to the referent to which the Last Supper itself symbolically pointed....John probably does know the same tradition as Mark. Whatever the traditions behind the Gospels, however, Mark’s and John’s approaches at least imply (perhaps for theological reasons) the Passover on different days, yet derive from it the same theology. The Gospel of John: A Commentary pp. 1100-1103

This, then, is what Keener's extremely cryptic reference in the Influence article means: John changed the day of the crucifixion (and hence the Last Supper) in his Gospel to something that was not factual, though he narrates it in what appears to be a realistic fashion. For some reason, though Keener says this clearly enough in his other writings, in the Influence article ostensibly saying how reliable the Gospels are, he refers to it in a manner so oblique that it is literally impossible to interpret without the help of his other works. A reader who tried to figure out why this is any kind of historical "tweak" at all, without access to the other things Keener has written on the subject, would be unable to do so and might think that Keener is not suggesting that John changed history at all.

Notice too that Keener tries to use the genre of Greco-Roman biography in his commentary to give readers the impression that they should expect such realistically narrated chronological changes in a biography. (I respond to these types of claims in great detail in The Mirror or the Mask.) But the impression one would get from the advertisement for Christobiography is that the identification of the Gospels as ancient biography strongly defends the historicity of the Gospels, not that it leads us to expect historical changes.

Another brief digression, since readers may be wondering: I don't think there is any real problem with the day of the crucifixion or Last Supper. Those who take John 13:1 to mean that the Last Supper as a whole took place before the Passover are both over-reading and mis-reading what that verse says. Those who take 18:28 to mean that the crucifixion took place on the first day of Passover are missing the fact (as Craig Blomberg points out in The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, pp. 237-239) that if the leaders had contracted a ceremonial uncleanness from entering Pilate's hall they could probably have taken care of it by washing at sundown. This conclusion is supported by rules concerning ceremonial uncleanness in Leviticus 22:4-7 and Numbers 19:22. Therefore the ceremonial uncleanness they are concerned about is apparently one that would prevent them from eating a meal during the day rather than one that would prevent them from eating an evening meal. Therefore they appear to be concerned about some meal other than an evening Passover. Merely by putting John alone together with some Old Testament information one can conclude that John is not portraying this as the day when the Passover lambs were killed. Note that this point does not arise from a felt need to harmonize with the Synoptics but from informing one's understanding of John alone by OT information in order to understand what is really the most natural interpretation of John 18:28 all by itself and hence John's probable meaning. This point is one that neither Licona nor Keener addresses. John is narrating so artlessly that he isn't even considering that anyone (much less a largely Gentile set of readers looking for contradictions 2,000 years later) would think that by the reference to eating the Passover in 18:28 he is portraying this as the day when the Passover lambs were killed.

Consider, too, just how deviously John is supposed to be narrating here if he is really using 18:28 to "put" Jesus' crucifixion non-factually on the day when the Passover lambs were killed. He would have to be inventing an obscure scruple on the part of those conspiring against Jesus which they did not actually feel or express at the time and inserting this invention into the narrative as a hyper-subtle cue about what day this was in an attempt quite indirectly to make a point about Jesus as the Passover lamb.

"The preparation of the Passover," the phrase used in 19:14, is actually quite reasonably read as Friday in Passover week. "The preparation" is quite common as a designation for Friday. (See Blomberg, pp. 246-247.) Craig Blomberg has done an excellent job bringing together these relevant points and forcefully countering the idea that John goes out of his way to try to make this look like Jesus was crucified on the day when the Passover lambs were killed. Nor is Blomberg the only scholar to take this position. These arguments have been around for a long time and also seem to have convinced Andreas Kostenberger and D. A. Carson as well as older authors. End of digression.

Keener also believes and argues quite emphatically in his commentary that John (dyschronologically) moved the Temple cleansing. Keener is even dismissive of St. Augustine's opinion that it is "evident" that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice. (But remember: It's those of us who harmonize who are terribly anachronistic and don't understand ancient rhetorical standards!) I realize that the view that John dyschronologically moved the Temple cleansing has become increasingly popular; it is one of two fact-changing literary devices that even William Lane Craig has explicitly endorsed. But that shouldn't make us so ho-hum about that we don't pause to think about how odd it is for someone to be so confident of that (and Keener is extremely confident about it) and to base it upon the alleged genre of the Gospels and standards of the time (as Keener also, erroneously, does) while simultaneously confidently declaring the Gospels to be historically reliable because of their genre!

As discussed in the earlier post, Keener also has less common views about factual change--less common at least among evangelicals. He, followed by Licona, casts significant historical doubt upon the incident where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, "Receive the Holy Ghost."

This last point sits especially uneasily with Keener's assurance to the readers of the Influence article that authors of biography were "were not supposed to make up events like novelists did." Does Jesus breathing on his disciples not count as an "event"? One hopes that Keener and others would not nitpick concerning the word "event." After all, what is the point of assuring people that the Gospel writers did not make up events if an entire, theologically freighted sub-incident in the course of one of Jesus' post-resurrection appearances might well be made up?

But more: Keener says in his Matthew commentary that Matthew duplicated an entire healing of two blind men, placing the duplicate incident early in Jesus' ministry, even though that incident did not happen at that time, and also narrating a healing of two blind men in Jericho later in Jesus' ministry. (The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, pp. 282, 306-307) If this duplication (creating an entire extra healing) does not count as making up events, what does? He also on the same pages says that Matthew duplicated blind men within the healing (in both places?) and the demoniacs healed in Matthew 8, a position that he alludes to more cryptically in Christobiography, pp. 317-318. Should we think of the Gospel authors as reliable if they made up people within events?

As I have often said, a major problem with the way that the "Greco-Roman biography" thesis is used, aside from the historical question of whether it is true, is that scholars like Licona and Keener use it to set a ceiling for how historical the Gospels are. They present the thesis as entirely a defense of the historicity of the Gospels, but they use it again and again to argue that the Gospels should be expected to contain at least such-and-such an amount of deliberate factual alteration. That is what I mean by setting a ceiling on historicity. In fact, Licona has said this:

The majority of New Testament scholars agree that, at minimum, the Gospels share much in common with the genre of Greco-Roman biography. Therefore, it should be of no surprise to observe the Gospel authors using the compositional devices that were part-and-parcel of that genre. In fact, we should be surprised if we did not observe it.

In other words, we should positively expect to find some realistically narrated, deliberate factual changes in the Gospels if they are in this genre or even have much in common with this genre. Keener in Christobiography appears to concur, a conclusion that might well surprise readers of the recent reviews and announcements of the book.

For that isn't exactly the impression readers would get from the Influence article about Christobiography. Most troubling of all are euphemisms and deeply coded statements that obscure the content of Keener's claims. A scholar purporting to educate laymen about the flexibility that the Gospel authors had in their narration at least should tell his readers in plain English what he is saying that the authors did. He should do that even if using plain language creates tension with the overall message he wants to convey--namely, that he is defending the reliability of the documents. His audience has a right, at least, to clarity. If they then begin to have their doubts about the reliability of documents in which authors are expected to make such deliberate, invisible changes, that is their right as well. Then, perhaps, they can begin to ask themselves whether these claims about genre and flexibility are true and justified after all. For information on that question, I recommend The Mirror or the Mask.

Comments (7)

Whenever John's Gospel was written, there were lots of Jews in a position to know when Jesus was crucified. Although the generation of eyewitnesses was drying up, you'd only have to go back one generation to have many Jews living in Jerusalem at the time who remembered the day, something they could pass along to their kids. So if John redates the Crucifixion, there were Jewish readers who could say, "Uh, no, that's not when he died!"

But, Lydia, If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true, so why get hung up on these pesky secondary issues? :-)

Whenever John's Gospel was written, there were lots of Jews in a position to know when Jesus was crucified.

Steve, while I am all in favor of being particularly cautious in examining theories that John moved the day before accepting them, I am not sure your suggestion is much help. First, If John was written in the 90's, i.e. 60 years later, then the people who were alive and might have remembered would be in their 70s at least. Is there any strong reason to think that they would be confident and reliable if they said "heck no, it wasn't Friday, I remember quite clearly it was Thursday..." Let's ask people: do you remember what day of the week the Columbia shuttle blew up? Could you testify that if someone said "it was Thursday", you would be confident they are wrong, and that we could rely on your memory of it against theirs? (And that was considerably less than 60 years ago). I can't remember the day, even though I can remember that I was at work and therefore it would have been a weekday.

(On the other hand, if John was written by "the Johannine Community", or at least tweaked and redacted and adjusted by them, that could have gone on even later than the 90's and who knows if there were any Jews around who remembered?)

Or, if John was at Ephesus when he wrote the Gospel, how many Jews were there who could say no to the day? Or, regardless of where he was: after Jerusalem was destroyed, how many Jews of Jerusalem were still alive who knew the day from their own memories?

In general, I would grant much more credence to the detailed reliability of the earlier gospels, based on the fact that along with other eye-witness disciples, others of the Apostles and were still alive and could have (and had the authority to say and be believed), "no, it didn't happen that way." But for the last of the Apostles, and (arguably) among the last and longest-lived of the eye-witnesses, this particular piece of evidentiary support is a lot weaker.

If John had actually wanted to "make" Jesus be crucified on the day the Passover lambs were killed, it's enormously unlikely that he would have done so in such a hyper-subtle way, a way that would probably be missed by many readers (especially Gentiles) and that would create confusion even among Jewish readers given the possibility of purification via washing at sundown. Making up a fictional scruple on the part of the religious leaders is an incredibly roundabout way to make such a point. He could much more easily have inserted a direct reference in the narrative voice to the death of the Passover lambs. After all, the Synoptics directly state that the Last Supper took place on the evening of the day when the Passover lambs were slain. The whole theory is just over-literary to the point of absurdity, *even if* John were the sort of person to make such literary changes. And we have plenty of evidence that, on the contrary, he was deeply committed to literal historicity.


"First, If John was written in the 90's, i.e. 60 years later, then the people who were alive and might have remembered would be in their 70s at least. Is there any strong reason to think that they would be confident and reliable if they said "heck no, it wasn't Friday, I remember quite clearly it was Thursday..."

i) Actually, I incline to the minority position that John's Gospel was probably written in the 60s. I think the best explanation for the Prologue is that it was occasioned by the death of Peter.

ii) However, my argument doesn't hinge on that. I anticipated your type of objection. My argument doesn't depend on whether there were eyewitnesses still alive at the time the Gospel was written. Rather, there were tons of people alive who knew eyewitnesses. Grown children of Jews, whose parents were living in Jerusalem during the public ministry of Christ. They'd have access to information about Jesus the same way our late parents told us about events before we were born which they lived through.

"Let's ask people: do you remember what day of the week the Columbia shuttle blew up? Could you testify that if someone said "it was Thursday", you would be confident they are wrong, and that we could rely on your memory of it against theirs? (And that was considerably less than 60 years ago). I can't remember the day, even though I can remember that I was at work and therefore it would have been a weekday."

i) Equivocal comparison: I'm not necessarily discussing a calendar date but the day of a major Jewish festival (e.g. Festival of Matzahs). I don't remember the date of Easter 2019, but doesn't mean I can't remember if something dramatic happened on Easter 2019.

ii) I'd add, though, that some festivals have fixed dates. By definition a Sabbath or high sabbath falls on Saturday while, by definition, Christmas falls on Dec 25. Likewise, the date for the Festival of Matzahs is fixed.

iii) If John redated the Crucifixion from Nisan 14 to Nisan 15, that's like saying that something happened on Christmas which really happened on Christmas Eve. But we remember things by association. If something dramatic happened on Christmas Eve, we remember it in relation to Christmas Eve. If someone redates it to Christmas Day, that conflicts with memory.

Relative chronology can be memorable even when absolute chronology is forgettable.

"Or, if John was at Ephesus when he wrote the Gospel, how many Jews were there who could say no to the day?"

The Jews remembered things about Jesus. Take the Talmudic tradition that they executed Jesus on a charge of sorcery and incitement to idolatry.

The author of John would be running the risk that Jews could discredit his Gospel. that would be fatally damaging if exposed.

The author of John would be running the risk that Jews could discredit his Gospel. that would be fatally damaging if exposed.

Keener is sufficiently involved in his own literary theories that he would say that if they figured that out they would then discern John's theological theme by way of figuring it out. In fact, I think Keener believes that some (even many?) audience members did exactly that. That is what he means by "storyteller's surprise." And he repeatedly refers to the "well-known Synoptic tradition." The idea is supposed to be that the audience members were engaging in an elaborate form of critical comparison of John with Mark and then saying, "Oh, that's really cool! I see what you did there" merely by noting these supposed conflicts with Mark!

He does not really seem to grasp the enormous implausibility of this theory, because he brings it up repeatedly. John's "story world," he acknowledges, is realistic internally. But the audience is supposed to be so savvy that they literally think just like Keener himself does--like a modern literary Gospels critic. They supposedly noticed every tiny difference from Mark, concluded (as Keener does) that there would be a conflict if one took John historically, further concluded (as Keener does) that this means that John changed history for theological reasons, and then concluded (as Keener does) what specific theological point John was making by the change.

If anyone thinks that this is a reasonable way to save John from the charge of being deceptive, I have several bridges to sell him.

And yet I note, once again, that allegedly it is those who disagree with these theories who are said to be anachronistic.

I will definitely have to read your books. I'm just a lay person but was going to buy one of Licona's books as it had great ratings. Then I watched his debate on YouTube with Bart Ehrman and I was so disappointed. Licona agreed with Ehrman that many things in the gospels were fictionalized. Things like at Jesus death he didn't believe tombs were actually opened and saints walking around or the temple veil was torn to name a few.

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