Friday 1 July 2011

Applying modern scholarship to Christian scripture: a fundamental error


Who were the authors of the Gospels; and when were they written?

Was St John the Apostle also St John the Evangelist; and was he/ they the same person as St John of the Revelations; and did he also write St John's Epistles (one or both)?

Was Dionysius the Aeropagite a disciple of the Apostle Paul, or someone who lived some hundreds of years later (the Pseudo-Dionysius)?


Such questions, but especially the methods used for answering them, have had a deeply corrosive effect on Christianity over the past couple of hundred years.

The methods used have been - in a word - scholarly.

And the scholarship has inbuilt secular assumptions.


This means that Christianity is now seen by many to hinge on scholars, and the processes of scholarship, and the funding and fashions of scholarship, and the limitations and specialisms of scholarship...

And, since the process of scholarship is open-ended, and scholarly conclusions are continually being revised - this means that Christianity itself is seen to be undecided, evolving, and at any moment subject to radical revisions due to some unforseen 'discovery'.

And scholarship is secular.

Consequently, Christianity has declined from The Truth, to research findings.


So, we find that major points of modern Christian controversy are being argued on the basis of things like history, translation and archaeology; that is, apparently the modern situation is taht Christian understanding of 'right and wrong' - how Christians are supposed to live - is being (presumably because we believe it ought to be) decided on the basis of very precise scholarly nuances in the interpretation of inferred meanings of certain ancient texts seen in their social context.

All of this has the assumption that we simply discard (and explain away - as a consequence of their social situation) the tradition of Christians for the past two millennia. Because their views are automatically invalidated since they lacked modern scholarly knowledge and methods...

(When St Paul said X, was that really said by St Paul, and if so was this perhaps a scribal error, or a mistranslation, or a later editorial addition, or does the phrase - properly understood - have a double meaning, and anyway what did he mean in the specific context of his time ???... )


Or else we could acknowledge that this whole approach to the scholarly validation of scripture is crazy and misguided.

It is not that scholarship has gone 'too far' but that the whole enterprise was an error: root and branch.

And the whole apparatus of scholarship applied to scripture needs to be discarded.

(Harsh, I realize - but necessary...)


Ask yourself: Is the meaning of Christianity - the meaning, purpose and nature of human existence - to be put into the hands of scholars whose expertise is secular in essence and assumptions?

Whose whole method is based on subtracting the possibility of divine revelation and divine intervention in human affairs?

Whose whole method is non-Christian?


Surely the meaning of Christianity ought to be determined now in the way it has been determined until recently in the 2000 year history; by the discernment of those who are holiest, those who have the greatest understanding and experience of God; and not those who have the greatest mastery of paleography and ancient languages?


It all depends on whether you acknowledge the principle of divine inspiration, and the authority of those Saints and advanced religious who transmitted revelation through the centuries.

If you do not acknowledge the authority of this mystical 'tradition', then you are left entirely in the hands of the modern secular scholars - whose methods make no judgment of, hence exclude the possibility and possibilities of, divine revelation.

(And even if they did not exclude divine revelation, since modern scholars are very seldom (or never) themselves advanced in holiness, they certainly would not be able to make the necessary discernments concerning the validity of revelation.)


So, given that modern-era scholarship is radically incomplete in terms of its evidentiary base and given that it is performed by people inadequately qualified in terms of their sanctity - then it really has nothing whatsoever to say about the authorship of scriptures and holy books.

All that modern-era religious scholarship is doing is playing a subversive game; making the deadly assumption that divine inspiration doesn't exist, is not real, cannot be real; and then treating scripture just like any non-inspired historical text, and seeing what happens...

Then forgetting (deliberately forgetting) that their initial assumption invalidates any and all conclusions...


By contrast, if we go by the idea of the question of divine inspiration being evaluated by those who are themselves divinely-inspired (who are themselves advanced in holiness; and therefore in a position to 'detect', to understand and to evaluate divinely inspired texts) - then there is seldom any problem.

The creation of the canon of Christian scripture, was decided by this means: inspired men evaluating inspired texts.

The decision was that all the divinely-inspired content of the St John's of the New Testament (Gospel, Epistles, Revelation) derive from the authorship of the same man - insofar as that is how they were evaluated by many generations of Holy Fathers whose sanctity far outstrips that of any person alive today.

And the substantive authorship of the texts traditionally attributed to  Dionysius the Aeropagite indeed lies with a disciple of St Paul - and not some figure centuries hence.


And when there is disagreement among the Holy Fathers and Saints, then it needs to be settled by comparisons of their authority and sanctity, and their views of other Holy Fathers and Saints - and not by modern-era scholarship of whatever type.


Once the authorship is established in this fashion, then there is scope for what are really trivial and optional conjectures about how texts may have been transmitted by various combinations of oral tradition, formal teaching, discipleship, copying and translation of written texts, editing and compilation of such texts etc.

All of this (it must be presumed) under some form of divine inspiration such that the revelatory essence is preserved for those competent to understand it.

It ought not to be a big issue, it is not a genuine challenge for faith, because in our era there are few - perhaps none - alive who are competent to make scriptural discernments.


In sum, Western culture has made the logical error of allowing its Christian faith to be eroded by scholarly methods which treat scripture just like other texts.

But, if you believe that scripture is just like other texts, then you do not believe in scripture: indeed you do not believe in even the possibility of scripture.


So, it is not so much the conclusions of biblical scholarship which are erosive, but its assumptions and its methods.

To accept as relevant to faith the scholarly method of treating scripture 'just like other texts' is, in and of itself, to accept the assumption that scripture is just like other texts - to accept that scripture is of merely human authorship - to accept that scripture is not divinely inspired in any meaningful sense.

To base faith on scholarship is to accept that Christianity should hand-itself-over to secular institutions.


We modern men are spiritual pygmies in a low and corrupt era, therefore we can have nothing new and true to say about such matters as scriptural authorship. The proper attitude is to learn and accept the tradition of discernment from those far better than ourselves.



Alex said...

Not all scholarly exegesis of the scriptures is written from a secular point of view. (Unless you mean that all biblical scholarship is inevitably tainted with secular assumptions, which isn't quite the same thing).

For instance, Raymond E Brown, a priest and member of the Society of Saint-Sulpice, is the author of An Introduction to the New Testament - which I have found invaluable.

Bruce Charlton said...

The intractable difficulty about modern Biblical Scholarship (by modern I mean in the modern period - starting from about the 17th century, gathering strength to dominate in the 19th century) is that once it has started it has no place to stop.

A devout modern Christian may engage in modern scholarship, then 'censor' the findings by reference to dogma, comparison, philosophy, prayer or whatever.

But the fact that this censorship needs to be done post hoc is evidence that the procedures are fundamentally misguided.

The dangers of Biblical scholarship can be seen in the premier British exponent of our era, NT ('Tom') Wright - until recently the Bishop of Durham and therefore third in status within the Anglican Church.

NTW's publically perceived persona is that of a politically correct Leftist statist political activist; and as a scholar his method assumes that new discoveries may show that for two thousand years nearly everybody else has always been wrong about nearly everything.

(I exaggerate, but not much.)

But it is possible that NTW has recently come partially to recognize the hazards of his approach, since he has resigned his Bishoprick and become a Professor - where he can do less harm. Would that the Archbishop of Cantrrbury would do the same...

But the approach to scholarship I accept as valid is exemplified by the writings of Fr. Seraphim Rose; from whom I learned it.

James said...

Fascinating and challenging. Your erudition is so daunting (as ever) that it is hard to feel qualified to contribute - but in my simple terms I feel that the 'Richard Dawkins' approach, which fails to acknowledge the possibility of phenomena existing which are inherently inaccessible to scientific proof, is itself irredeemably (and actually rather obviously!) unscientific.

Bruce Charlton said...

@James - I was, from age about 13, a devotee of science: it was my highest value.

But I was always tortured by the problem of understanding *why* science was valid. This was what led me into reading philosophy.

The usual ideas are either that the question is unnecessary because science is *obviously* valid (just look at the modern world compared with the olden days).

Or else that science valdiates science (somehow).

I think the big reason that science is falling to pieces, is that the pragmatic case which used to be so effortlessly compelling is so obviously falling to pieces - since what the general public regarded as very obvious 'scientific progress' has ground to a halt and begun to slide back.

What passes for major scientific breakthroughs are nowadays so obviously fake - so obviously hype and spin and careerism, so obviously due to changing the evaluations, that science is no longer 'obviously' true.

That such obvious nonsense as 'Climate Change' is regarded as a major science, that the Human Genome Project is touted as leading to medical breakthroughs, that massive engineering projects are called 'physics', that there has been nothing new in cancer therapy for 40 years, that there are so many utterly bogus public health scares (like 'new variant' Jakob Creutzfeldt disease supposedly caught from beef)...

(When you have reached the point that people seriously claim that Apple products like iPad are the breakthroughs of our era - well, you are deep in trouble.)

Well, it seems that now a 'belief in science' among the younger generation is simply part of the memeplex of public sector employed Leftism... It is about jobs and status, that's all.

Dave said...

My denomination, the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod, experienced a battle over this very topic in the 70's. (Look up 'Seminex') Those on the side of secular scholarship were expelled and formed the nucleus of the 'mainline' ELCA Lutheran church. The difference in doctrine which has developed over the years is completely obvious, given your post ( throwing out ancient creeds and catchechisms, ordaining women and now gays, open doubt of Biblical truth).

Thursday said...

Was Dionysius the Aeropagite a disciple of the Apostle Paul, or someone who lived some hundreds of years later (the Pseudo-Dionysius)?

The problem is that most of the major conclusions of historical-critical analysis are trivially obvious once pointed out. Take the example above:

1. No citations by anyone, including any Christian authors, until the 5th century.
2. Shows the influence of Plotinus and Proclus, much later authors.

This really isn't the place where Christianity ought to take a stand.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thursday - do you acknowledge the possibility of divinely inspired scripture and other holy writings - that there really is such a thing?

Only those who do acknowledge this as a possibily can have opinions relevant to Christianity.

Once the reality of divine inspiration is acknowledged, and if we acknowledge that the Holy Father's believed that D the A was in that category, then there is no problem at all about devising dozens of possible explanations for 'the facts' as visible to secular scholarship - take your pick, it doesn't really matter *how* specifically it happened.

This really is a very simple matter, and was very obvious to our ancestors.

The whole concept of what constitutes authorship is and must be qualitatively different when discussing divinely-inspired texts.

Wurmbrand said...

Dr. Charlton, would you care to comment on the issue of canonicity?

Absent a list IN the Bible of the books OF the Bible, Christians accept the verdict of people living after the time in which the Biblical books were written, as to what is or is not canonical.

If we are conservative, as I am, we trust that the Fathers who lived in the immediate post-apostolic era have handed down to us a reliable canon. We can be a little more specific and note the books that were universally received vs ones (e.g. 2 Peter, I believe) that were "spoken against" as not assuredly inspired. In passing on divine truth from one generation to the next, the Church draws its teaching from the canon of Scripture as the unique and trustworthy witness of Her faith and hope.

When the Fathers met to discuss momentous theological issues, they set the books of Scripture before them (as I understand).

So Church and Bible go together. The Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, and She has in Scripture the God-given testimony of Her faith and the basis of Her teaching.

With me so far?

A question arises when Christina teachers seeking to establish the Church's doctrine appeal to writings that were never recognized by the Church as canonical. This would be, for me, an issue with using the Dionysian books to settle doctrinal questions. It would seem to me that this is not, in principle, a different thing than what occurs when other traditions appeal to certain sources cherished by them.

Should, then, the Orthodox appeal to Dionysius to establish any Church doctrine?

I'm not here saying that there is any error in Dionysius' writings. Let's suppose for the sake of argument that they were written by a disciple of St. Paul as conservative Orthodox have believed. I'm saying: Even so, granted that they have never been recognized as canonical, as belonging to Holy Scripture, should they ever be used to establish Church doctrine?

Thursday said...

I would second the recommendation of Raymond E. Brown. Suggested works:

The Death of the Messiah
The Birth of the Messiah
The commentaries on John and the Johannine epistles.
Introduction to the New Testament

I'd also like to strongly recommend John P. Meier.

I cannot recommend N.T. Wright.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dale - if you are asking how I personally would set about answering this question (it seems unlikely that I would want to - but supposing I did) then I would go to my small bookshelf of Orthodox writers whom I trust and see what they had to say about the consensus of Holy Fathers.

I don't really think I would be competent to do any more than that - and I don't know of any living person who I would want to ask or whose answer I would necessarily believe.

Brent said...

I agree with you about modern scholars. Both by training and I suspect by inclination they are equipped to mislead, confuse and subvert.

I disagree that the Church Fathers can't be wrong about Dionysius the Areopagite. There are false prophets and teachers now, some of them scholars; there have also been false prophets and teachers in the past. Sometimes truth and falsehood are mixed together in a way that's hard to separate, in the same person's teaching. The Church - pastors and sheep - must exercise very, very careful discernment of true teaching from false, and strive to reach a wise and mature judgement of each teacher's overall soundness and trustworthiness in the light of Scripture. This is true not only for modern teachers and preachers, but also for the ancients.

Wurmbrand said...

My understanding is that conservative Orthodox appeal to St. Dionysius when asserting and defending their position about ecclesiastical hierarchy, over against Christians in other traditions who organize things differently. I take it that Seraphim Rose would say something to the effect that the Orthodox ecclesiastical hierarchy is of divine origin and no other form of organization accords with God's will --- and that in support of this he would point to St. Dionysius, since the Orthodox specifics can't be demonstrated from the canonical Scriptures alone.

My own personal unauthoritative take would be something like this: the Orthodox may maintain their distinctive ecclesiastical hierarchy, as something received from the circle of the Apostles; but they should not refuse, on the specific basis of doctrine and practice as regards ecclesiastical organization, to recognize other Christian communions as members of the Una Sancta with whom they may share in sacramental life. I hasten to add that there may be other issues of doctrine and practice that preclude such sharing. I'm just saying -- tentatively -- that if the ONLY difference were with regard to something that depends on the authority of the Dionysian corpus, then the Orthodox should not make that difference a barrier to fellowship, since those writings were never recognized as part of the canon of Holy Scripture. Conversely, I am saying that the tradition that the writings of Dionysius have, de facto, the authority of Scripture, looks to me like a tradition of men, not part of the paradosis of the apostles.

I realize that in saying how things look "to me" I sound like a Protestant etc etc but I would be interested in an Orthodox response that sticks closely to the issue I have tried to raise.

Jonathan said...

Prof. Charlton, your post seems to imply a definition of "scripture" that is new to me, but doesn't make that definition explicit. The picture I infer from your post is novel to me, but blurry. May I ask: what is scripture?

To give you an example of my confusion: I've always assumed that divine intervention ends when a human finishes transcibing the scripture, and thereafter it comes down to us severely corrupted by people, translation, language drift, emphasis, choice of books, etc. Do I read right that you are implying that there is divine intervention in preserving the scripture as well? Is this what you mean when you talk about "believ[ing] in scripture"?

P.S. I'm also curious whether you know any evidence on the allegation that the Book of Revelations is not divinely inspired, but was dictated by demons or satan, or simply made up by an unholy man.

Bruce Charlton said...

What this boils down to is whom to trust and why.

It is not an assertion of the impossibility of error, but a matter of who is competent to detect error?

Is anyone now alive competent to contradict those who in the past achieved vastly higher levels of holiness?

No - if there is error, then we cannot know this. We simply lack the ability.

We need to be humble about what we can and cannot do.

When advanced spirituality is the pre-requisite for an informed opinion; we moderns are very unlikely to have anything of value to contribute, and are very much more likely to do harm than good.

t.u.d. said...

My reaction to your post was roughly the same of Jonathan's, Mr. Charlton, so I'll chime in on your answer to him.

Is anyone now alive competent to contradict those who in the past achieved vastly higher levels of holiness?

Isn't the question precisely how do we know what happened in the past? "Those in the past" who achieved this holiness are no longer alive, and we have to rely on evidence to reconstruct their lives.

The same with Scripture. I have several editions of the Bible on the shelf next to me. Let me take one, let's see... published in 1980. How do I know that what's written in there is the same thing that was written by the authors? How do I then, ignorant of both Hebrew and Greek, know that what I read in English reflects accurately what was written millenia ago?

Only scholarship can answer that. Tradition is, in this sense, a form of scholarship, but it is not inspired and can go wrong.

Bruce Charlton said...

@t.u.d - on the contrary - it is Biblical and Scriptural and Holy Book scholarship based on secular assumptions ('scholarship' for short) which has made you get stuck in the snare where you now languish.

Scholarship can never answer these concerns, indeed scholarship has caused the questions in the first place - scholarship will only raise ever more questions.

Scholarship takes clear unambiguous statements supported by two thousand years of consensus - and applies the microscope more and more closely until nothing makes any sense any more.

So instead of understanding and doing and perhaps advancing in spirituality - we stop, turn around, and busy ourselves with the questions.

There are a limitless number of such questions, so we can be delayed for ever playing with answering them.


Scholarship makes us ask the wrong questions - makes us frame reality falsely. Yours are wrong questions - the very questions seem almost designed such that they will not allow you to advance in Christianity - but instead to get you stuck on the questions.

Ask yourself - what *good* has two-plus centuries of biblical scholarship done Christian life?


To address your specific question - the answer is that the question is wrongly framed. You cannot pick up a Bible, confident in its translation, because it is impossible that you - unaided - can understand it. You need external help (Grace) to understanding it - so this means you need prayer - repentance, asking forgiveness, humility and so on.

Clearly, Christian life is in a bad way, the world is a very hostile place - mostly due to distractions. Scholarship is one of these distractions.

There are no simple and clear answer - indeed there are no simple and clear questions. The needle Truth lies buried in an almost infinite haystack of irrelevance, errors and lies - it is beyond mere human capability to sort it out - but then that has always been the case. The extra problem now is our cultural arrogance - of which scholarship is an expression.


What to do? Aside from directing efforts to prayer and worship, we need to find something or someone to trust because you believe them to be (broadly) divinely inspired.

I, for example, trust the inspired insight of Blaise Pascal, C.S. Lewis, and Fr Seraphim Rose (to name three) - I trust the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible, I trust in the efficacy of the Jesus Prayer.

Trust does not (of course!) imply a belief that these are free from error, and there are (of course!) incosistencies between trusted sources.

This is human life! And we are equipped to deal with this kind of problem in scripture as among friends and family and colleagues.


Bruce Charlton said...


But on the other hand I don't regard myself as competent to detect error.

What about something like the filioque? How to decide about that?

In the first place, its significance is at an advanced level of spirituality far beyond mine, in the second place its influence has been seen in the long term development of the Church according to their decisino on this question and how they answered it.

So the matter is not of proximate concern to my life. I don't really need to answer it, and should not get hung-up on it.

But suppose I need to answer it for some reason, then how do I do it?

Not by theology, obviously, I cannot do that. Not by claiming superior insight into doctrine. But instead by understanding how the Western and Eastern Churches answered the question - the Western by Papal authority, the Eastern by 1000 years of tradition and consensus.

How do I discover that? From trusted sources - or more accurately from a lineage of trusted sources - plus the discernment of my heart (which must validate choice).

The Eastern seems clearly the proper method, and therefore I accept their answer. And in terms of the divergence of Eastern and Western, I feel the Eastern has (at least until about 150 years ago in Russia) achieved higher levels of holiness (sanctity) - not least because that is what they are *trying* to do, as an ideal, in a clearer and less compromized way.

So I would regard the filioque as an error of the Western Church, symptomatic of a tendency to break with tradition, symptomatic of an excess of philosophy and scholarship over 'theosis' - but I have tried not to make that decision for myself but by tapping into tradition.

Of course to do so involves reading books, indeed reading books with some scholarship - but it is a lineage of inspiration that I have sought - not scholarly qualities.

All you need to get started is a single trusted authority - then you can work backwards and forwards from there, following the lineage of inspiration; testing at each step by prayer and attending to the responses of the heart.

t.u.d. said...

Thank you for your answer, Mr. Charlton. Let me excuse myself for not acknowledging it earlier, as I spent little time on the Internet last week.

I do not deny I am "stuck", as you say, exactly because I lack the trust in the "clear unambiguous statements" (not many of those) "supported by two thousand years of consensus" (even fewer).

But not even I am able to say that scholarship (in the sense you used the word) is the answer to this. Guess I'll have to continue looking for the "single trusted authority"...

All the best to you, and thanks for your thought-provoking blog.

Thursday said...

I thought I should offer some more consdered reflections on this issue.

First of all, it is important to clear out the air a bit. The vast majority of cases don’t have anything to do with prophecy or the historical truth of supernatural events, but with authorship and historical accuracy more broadly considered. Therefore disqualifying something merely because it records something supernatural is mostly a secondary issue for Biblical scholarship. A good example here is the miracles of Jesus. Most scholars, devout or otherwise, simply point out that all the evidence points to Jesus’ close contemporaries regarding him as a miracle worker. Whether or not you accept that his miracles were actually miracles involves broader philosophical and theological questions. You may choose to reject the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles, but that doesn’t have anything to do with biblical scholarship per se.

Anyway, as noted, taking prophecies and the historicity of supernatural events off the table only removes a small set of issues. Historical issues include glaring internal contradictions, conflicts with known archaeological or outside historical facts, etc. Authorship issues include wide divergences in style coupled with quite different theological pre-occupations and historical references. Now if there were only one or two of these issues one might be able to plausibly explain them (though a few of them are so glaring that it would be hard to explain them even just on their own), but there are just so many of them piled one on top of the other that when you try to explain away _all_ of them, it just makes you look completely ridiculous. If you don’t accept any of the conclusions of modern scholarship, the sheer number of serious difficulties to explain begins to make God look like a being who is downright weird if not intentionally misleading, someone who is almost going out of his way to make his revelation look exactly like a fraud. It creates a religion which doesn’t just hope to transcend the rational and recognize its proper limits, but which is actively anti-rational, which expresses an radical hatred of mind. Which is why most people, including the current Pope, by the way, who have looked into these things have taken the scriptures to be valuable for their spiritual insight, as well as, at times, a witness to certain historical events, without holding them to standards of strict historical accuracy.

I would also object to the characterization of these researches as just a glorified parlour game. These researches have very often been undertaken by believers out of a genuine love of truth. They do this because they want to get as close as they possibly to the actual people who carried the faith into the world. Learning how the faith actually came about does offer us insight as to what we are to do today.

As a matter of personal history, I would not that I came to accept most of the conclusions of modern biblical scholarship mostly by reading the arguments against it. If that isn’t telling, I don’t know what is. In any event, the toothpaste is out of the tube and it isn't going be stuffed back in.

Bruce Charlton said...

You are saying that until (what?) c.1750, nobody in the world had noticed any of this - but that *we* have transcended hundreds of years of Apostles, Church Fathers, Saints and holy scholars. Sorry, I don't buy it.

As for the believers with a genuine love of truth... well, compared with believers of the past this is feeble. A few hundred years ago English bishops would rather be burned at the stake then recant, and clerics would resign well paid positions to become itinerant preachers, or live in hiding.

Nowadays, they lead comfortable lives, yet a tut-tut editorial from the Liberal newspapers terrifies them into apologies, U-turns and appeasement.

Why should I grant such weather-vane, timid careerists any *spiritual* authority whatsoever - because they have done a PhD, perhaps?

Toothpaste out of the tube, can't be put back? That sounds like you believe in the permanence of modern scholarship?

But surely the opposite is true -modern 'knowledge' is in a constant state of turnover; and what isn't in the media (whether mass media or scientific media) is forgotten in a very few years.

Nothing gets refuted, there is no need to refute anything - fashions change, the news changes, everything goes down the memory hole unless actively kept alive.

Much has already been lost that was true and important - the quibbles of Biblical scholars wouldn't last a generation without the professional establishment to push them.

Thursday said...

1. You'd be shocked at what people miss, at what knowledge can be lost. Especially if you read bit by bit, the whole thing tends to smoosh together.

Anyway, a lot of knowledge seem like really simple obvious stuff, after its been pointed out to you. That doesn't mean it didn't take a lot of hard work to get there, or that a lot of really smart people couldn't figure it out of their own.

2. It didn't help that many Christians were working with translations, not the original languages. Nor does the way the books were written out, without regard for paragraphing, versification etc.

3. I'd also note that the Jews started noticing things about the Old Testament about 1000 A.D., not 1750.

4. Contradictions in the Biblical text also featured in the debates surrounding the Council of Trent, so there were some inklings about these issues well before the Enlightenment.

5. The main conclusions of Biblical scholarship are not in dispute. There are disputes about things like whether Mark or Matthew were written first or where the common material in Matthew and Luke came from, but there is no dispute about the difference in style and sentence length between the undisputed Pauline letters and Ephesians or about the differences between John and the synoptics. And there is no dispute about many, many other similar issues, and to imply that there is some sort of constant turnover on such things is something close to a flat out lie. It to do what creationists do when they trumpet the disputes between different evolutionary biologists as somehow calling into question the main conclusions of evolutionary theory. The main conclusions of modern biblical scholarship, as opposed to normal scholarly disputes on secondary matters, aren't going anywhere, simply because, once pointed out, they are glaringly obvious and it is impossible to deny them without adopting an extreme anti-rationalist position.

Of course, in order to converse it is necessary to actually know something about details of scholarhip in this area. Raymond Brown and John Meier are good places to start.