Review: Jesus and Scripture

Title of Work:

Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Author of Work:

Steve Moyise


Pastor Steve Bauer

Page Number:

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Jesus and Scripture: Studying the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, by Steve Moyise. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010. 147 pages.

SS.42.Jesus and Scripture.LgSteve Moyise is Professor of New Testament at the University of Chichester. He is author of The Old Testament in the Book of Revelation (1995), The Old Testament in the New (2001), Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (2008) and Paul and Scripture (2010).

Jesus and Scripture is a small, tidy book which seeks to “describe Jesus’ use of Scripture” (5). In order to arrive at his goal, Moyise tells us: “If we are to understand Jesus’ use of Scripture we must engage in historical criticism to decide what Jesus must have said to give rise to the various accounts we find in the Gospels” (5).

What follows after this is an attempt to explain how various theological camps try to arrive at what Jesus must have said. He outlines three approaches. The maximalist approach takes God’s Word as being true and the Gospel writers reliable. The moderate approach sees some of what the Gospel writers record as being true and reliable. The minimalist sees very little, if any of the gospels as being true.

After explaining these three methods of approaching the Bible he then skims over the top of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John applying his own ideas, which is something of moderate view (121).

As one can easily conclude, when he so clearly states in his introduction that we “must engage in historical criticism to decide what Jesus must have said,”, even though the title of the book is Jesus and Scripture, a more apt and fitting title would be ‘Jesus vs. Scripture.” From the opening pages he pits Mark against the “true words” of Jesus (14 et al). Then he proceeds to pit Mark against Matthew and Matthew against Luke. He concludes by positing that John isn’t even worthy of considering when trying to assemble what Jesus actually said, since “few scholars believe that we are dealing with something Jesus actually said” (70, 72, 77).

At this point it would be good to look at a specific example to see his approach. As he evaluates Mark’s gospel to ascertain what parts are really the words of Jesus he focuses on Mark 14:24-26. He writes,

The traditional view is that Mark thinks that Jesus is referring to his second coming, that is, his return to earth in judgment (Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:14). The difficulty with this view is that Mark 13 says nothing about Jesus coming to the earth, and if the allusion to Daniel 7:13 is deliberate, then it evokes the image of a figure going to God, not coming from God. (26)

Throughout the book, Moyise goes to great lengths to prove that Jesus never spoke about a return to judge the living and the dead. This, then, is the foundation on which he builds his conclusion (27).  There are, however, flaws in his foundation. In the Aramaic of Daniel 7:13 we read, וַאֲרוּ עִם־עֲנָנֵי שְׁמַיָּא כְּבַר אֱנָשׁ אָתֵה הֲוָה, “Look! He is coming on the clouds of heaven, one like a son of man.” In the original it simply says, “coming” (a peal participle). It doesn’t say “coming to heaven.” It is perfectly acceptable to take these words the way that Daniel writes them. First Jesus comes to judge. Then he approaches the Ancient of Days.

There are many pages and places in his book where, without substantive proof, the author discards entire sections of the Gospels. According to Moyise, Jesus was just exaggerating when he condemned the Pharisees (p. 22).  He also boldly suggests that Jesus never predicted Judgment Day (26).  Likewise, he tells us that Psalm 2 speaks only about David. He omits the fact that three New Testament passages firmly establish that the Psalm is speaking about Jesus as the Son of God (Act 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). We wonder why the writer to the Hebrews and Luke have less authority to claim who Jesus is than Moyise does.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is that, interspersed at various intervals in the book, are some criteria he made use of in determining what parts of the gospels were true. We’ll look at two of them:

  • The Criterion of Dissimilarity: If there were practices that were “unlike anything in contemporary Judaism and was not the practice of the early Church…It has a strong case for authenticity” (37). The problem with this criterion is that it is extremely flexible and fickle. It carries with it the bizarre fallacy that if the early church taught it, then it probably isn’t true and Jesus probably never said it (79).
  • The Criterion of Multiple Attestation: “We can have more confidence in the historicity of an event if it is attested by more than one source. However, this is only true if the sources are independent” (62). As an illustration of this criterion Moyise goes on to tell us that “the authenticity of the quotation of Palm 118.22 is not increased by stating that it occurs in three Gospels, since the majority of scholars believe that Matthew and Luke took it from Mark.  However, the probability is increased by noting that it also occurs in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas” (62).  So, according to Moyise, we can’t trust the Gospel writers, since they are (supposedly) drawing on the same source (Q), but we can trust the spurious Gospel of Thomas as a more reliable source. His criterion falls apart not just when it comes to what to include, but when we see what he excludes.  As we saw earlier, even though in three other places in the NT we find clear passages showing that Jesus is clearly the Son of God referred to in Psalm 2 (multiple attestation), nevertheless, these passages aren’t considered authoritative enough for him.

If there are some benefits we can draw from this book, we would probably find them in the following areas:

  • His stating of a principle and then expressing it.
  • Providing a brief summary of the basic ways that seminaries across the world approach the Bible.
  • His explanation of the criteria by which some people try to find ‘what Jesus really said.’

Ultimately, though, this book fails on two levels:

  1. Logically: Again and again in this book Moyise lays down a flawed and faulty foundation and then builds on it. Throughout the book he dismisses one key doctrine held by Jesus and his church after another with the words, “most scholars [accept or reject].” There is no attempt to present any proof. Instead, we are left to rest our lives and even our souls on the whims of “most scholars.”
  2. Biblically: Moyise openly identifies himself as a moderate (121).  However, his moderate views bring him to the same place as a minimalist would.  He casts aside Jesus’ return for judgment and Jesus’ vicarious atonement (132), and embraces a “Darwinian evolution” of the Bible (79). After reading this book, it’s clear that there isn’t much left of Jesus to find in the Bible after Moyise is finished writing about “Jesus and Scripture.”

Since this book fails on both these levels, I recommend passing over this book. If you are looking for a review of Biblical interpretation, Professor David Kuske’s book, Biblical Interpretation: The Only Right Way is worthy of your time. If you would like an honest and challenging look at the relation between Paul and the Law (which Moyise introduces in his opening words, but never addresses), I recommend Dr. Brian Rosner’s lectures: Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God.