Jesus, James D.G. Dunn, James Barr and Christianity

James D.G. Dunn is regarded worldwide as one of today's foremost biblical scholars, and in a real sense one of my intellectual heroes.

When I was an apologetics instructor I used his book The Evidence for Jesus in that class. It’s very small but mighty. It put to shame other available books at that time. I loved it so much I bought up several copies to hand out. I’m selling my last spare copy on Amazon now. Another book of his, The Living Word, changed my thinking. After reading it I could no longer affirm inerrancy, I began thinking Jesus was a liberal and was introduced into the problem of Pseudonymity and canonical criticism like never before. I bought several copies of this book to hand out as well. I have two left. I see it’s now made it to a second edition recently (2009) and I heartily recommend it too.

Another of my intellectual heroes was James Barr who wrote a devastating critique of fundamentalism which to this day is probably unsurpassed, called Beyond Fundamentalism. I bought up several copies of this book to pass out too, and I’m selling my last two copies on Amazon. This book literally shatters fundamentalism I think.

But they do not go far enough. Read for yourselves what James D. G. Dunn admitted in what will prove to be Dunn’s magnum opus series of books, beginning with volume one, Jesus Remembered:
Jesus' own experience of anointing and ministry empowered by the same Spirit/power of God may in itself have convinced him that God's longed-for (final) manifestation of his royal rule was already in evidence and that its full manifestation could therefore not be long delayed... The point is that such treatments have found it impossible to deny that Jesus had expressed expectation for the imminent happening of events which did not happen. Jesus' kingdom preaching cannot be disentangled from imminent expectation, with or without 'apocalyptic' features. Which also means that Jesus had entertained hopes which were not fulfilled. There were 'final' elements in his expectation which were not realized. Putting it bluntly, Jesus was proved wrong by the course of events” (p. 479).
What I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians). I think anyone with intellectual honesty should jump ship like I have.


Bruce the Agnostic said...


you wrote:

I think anyone with intellectual honesty should jump ship like I have.

Are you meaning to imply that those who don't jump ship like you are intellectually dishonest?


Steven Carr said...

I was astonished by James D.G. Dunn's 'The Evidence for Jesus'

On page 7, he looks at the similarity between a passage in Mark, and a passage in Matthew and concludes that these traditions existed in Greek *before* they reached the evangelists.

And this means there is a 'likelihood' of a 'solid base of historical information'

This is incredible.

Because Matthew and Mark have a lot in common, this fact alone means there is a 'likelihood' of a 'solid base of historical information'?

This wild illogical leap is mainstream Biblical scholarship?

I really can't trust my own eyes here.

Could somebody have a look at those pages for me please and check if I have made a mistake in reading?

Does Dunn, one of the most respected mainstream Biblical scholars, really make the bizarre claim that if something is almost identical in two Gospels, then there is a 'likelihood' of a 'solid base of historical information'?

edson said...

Part 1...

John, I thought I should cast my ideas on this.

First, I think the popular use of the phrase “biblical errancy/inerrancy” sounds so bizarre such that it apparently connotes trustworthiness to hearers. It suggests that if the bible is errant in any way then it is rendered untrustworthy, which obviously indicate so as the bible is not that inerrant (there are scribal errors, editions, inter-versions mis-interpretation, metaphorical interpretations, etc.) I suggest that the best words that could explain the status of the bible are “impeccability in authority” instead of these weird “biblical infallibility/biblical inerrancy” as for sure the bible is God’s Word although not verbatim and you know that.

The second is about James Barr and his Christian fundamentalism treatment. As you know, I have always been an ardent defender of Christian fundamentalism here and I’m doing it again now. If by Christian fundamentalism you refer to those Christians who believe that the bible is not inerrant in any way, then you know better that almost all Christians in third world countries are fundamentalists because this is what they know. Their clergies have never been exposed to critical and modern biblical scholarship and they preach what they read in their bibles (and in most cases they possess only one version). Now, if they are less of Christian because of this that is a really serious problem. But the reality is that it is not. The irony is they are the more ardent followers of Christ than say, Bart Ehrman and Bob Price and you, who have PhDs and equivalent of you in these matters and again you know what I mean. This brings me to the third point that you have raised and that’s about Humility.

edson said...

Part 2...

You asked “what I don’t get is how these critically honest scholars could come to these correct conclusions and still profess to be followers of Christ (i.e. Christians)?” The answer is, once again, Humility. Unless you are willing to be humiliated, you will never be a real follower of Christ. Christianity is built on so many silly points and if you are not ready to submit your intelligence at apparently silly things you will never get the point. And do you know what John? So many people lose faith in Christianity because they cannot handle the humiliation of sitting on Church benches every Sunday submitting their intelligence to a Church Pastors who often are less educated and less witted than they are. Or cannot understand why they should be dipped into a dam or a river as a matter of creed to be Christians. And that stupid thing as eating biscuits and drinking juices in Churches. In your case you could handle that, but you could not handle the humiliation of knowing that the bible is not inerrant yet you see your Pastor preaching as if the bible is a verbatim word of God. Being wiser, you didn’t want to argue with your Pastor and opted for another Church, a bit more liberal, and as we all know it, it didn’t work. Yes, it was really arduous odysseys and I can understand.

But please you can learn from Nature. Any plant seed does not come to glory until it first get humiliated to the point of death in the soil. It’s also hard to imagine, with all its glamorous, colorful and enchanting jumping status it possess, that an adult (imago) butterfly hard arduous tumultuous route to glory, from solitary dormant egg stage, to a dangerously vulnerable larval stage, to a humiliatingly near death transformational pupa stage to a final glorious stage. And Paul had a special but correct insight on this: that let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise (1 Cor 3:18). Finally Jesus did not come to glory he enjoys now until he was humiliated to the lowest point (Isaiah 53). And from this, it is my hope that you have now understood why some honest intellectuals could not jump ship like you did.

Samphire said...


You describe the exact same method used by Gordon Ramsay in his Kitchen Nightmares series. He first humiliates and bullies his victims until they have no further to fall and then he builds their confidence up by showing them what they can achieve if they break out of their old habits and follow his methods and ideas. It's simple psychology - and very ugly to watch. I think he got the idea from Billy Graham.

Sometimes the method works and sometimes it doesn't. But there is always some poor fall guy who is shown the door and has to find his own salvation.

As for your Nature allusion, it may have missed your notice but you are describing evolution "red in tooth and claw". In fact, the allusion does not work as your analysis requires the poor victim to sit at his pastor's feet sunday in and sunday out listening to the same old twaddle - always a pupice and never a butterfly. Furthermore, the seed in the ground does not suffer any “humiliation” whatsoever - it is purely a human on human concept - anymore than does a zygote developing in the womb of its human parent. If you want some good theology then listen to Lionel Blue or Sir Jonathan Sacks, both rabbis and highly rational and humanistic (and I write as one with an intact prepuce). For Sir Jonathan, the Chief Rabbi in England, biblical inerrancy is an heretical idea.

Personally, I have no wish to submit whatever little rationality my brain still possesses to such treatment until, at least, someone is able to give me some cogent explanation of, say, where Jesus went after he popped out the top of the cloud on ascension day. The bible seems to run out of ideas at this point. I'm quite happy to be humble when it comes to scientific ignorance but not when it comes to silly myth making.

As for “impeccability in authority” have you yet had the opportunity to read Bob Price's "Inerrant the Wind"? There is no impeccable authority unless you have already accepted that the bible is an impeccable authority which, from its own contradictory teachings, it can never be unless, of course, you rely on your own authority to judge for yourself which of its teachings you wish to believe are impeccable. Your argument is the same shape as that of the earth as incorrectly described in Isaiah 40:22.

edson said...

Dear Samphire,

Of course the Nature functions and Christian living are two different things. But the examples I gave were meant to instill in some minimum humility aspects that a Christian is required to pass through in order to reach certain glorious stage, in this case, Persistence in Christian Faith and Enjoying Christian Life.

Now, if steadfastness in Christian faith does not make sense to you in being the equivalent of glorious status posessed by beautiful adult butterflies, then that's another thing. I'm a Christian and value Christianity as to be the most glorious life-style a man can get. Anything to take way my faith now is tantamount as a bird taking away a larval-stage butterfly.

Where Jesus went after he popped out the top of the cloud on ascension day, you ask? He went to His Father, simple and clear.

As for the impeccability in authority of the bible that's too big for you. You do not even believe God exist, such a simple thing to believe, with so many evidences out there and you want to complicate yourself with these issues pertaining to biblical authority?

John W. Loftus said...

Bruce asked...Are you meaning to imply that those who don't jump ship like you are intellectually dishonest?

Your question gave me pause, thanks. How would you describe someone who undermines the objective basis for Christianity at every turn but then turns around and professes to be a Christian? I know, I know, the Christianity they profess isn't the one they deconstruct. I do think people are not honest with themselves. We probably all are to some degree about some things. We may think we're handsome or good at something when we're not. We may excuse our behavior and think we've done good things when deep inside we know we've done wrong. I think the intellectually honest thing to do is to abandon any profession of Christianity once it’s recognized that Jesus did no miracles, was wrong about the eschaton, didn’t fulfill OT prophecy, and did not bodily rise from the dead. I mean really, what does professing to be a Christian mean at that point when it’s recognized that Jesus was a failed doomsday prophet like a plethora of them have been who have come and gone? I’ll tell you what I think. I think such a profession is merely to stay within a group, a group of people who do the same things, much like the Moose Lodge, the Elks, or Eagles, at that point. Is this meaningful to people who profess such things? Yes. But there is no basis for doing so. Christianity becomes a mere label at that point which some people have applied to Americans as a whole: “I’m an America so I’m a Christian.” Is that meaningful? Again, yes, and it may be the true definition of a Christian since Christianity is a culture. All I’m doing is making a case and stating it in as forceful of a way as I can. Will liberals agree? No. But I want to force them to say that their version of Christianity is very far from anything any Christian of the past will accept. The truth is that liberals did not arrive at their position by a process of abstract reasoning. No. They were forced into it against their preferences by the progress of the sciences. I think they should just acknowledge that and admit they have cut themselves off any historic understanding of what defines a Christian and then say, but we like being with these people because we like people.

Hope to see you September 9th.

Tom said...

"I think the intellectually honest thing to do is to abandon any profession of Christianity once it’s recognized that Jesus did no miracles, was wrong about the eschaton, didn’t fulfill OT prophecy, and did not bodily rise from the dead."

You are in grave error my friend!

Tom said...

The "COMING IN HIS KINGDOM" - not His coming back to the earth! Those verse were about His ascension into Heaven after the ressurection! You have grealy misrepresented and misinterpreted the scriptures.

Walter said...

"The "COMING IN HIS KINGDOM" - not His coming back to the earth! Those verse were about His ascension into Heaven after the ressurection! You have grealy misrepresented and misinterpreted the scriptures."

DenCol alert. The troll is back!

Samphire said...

Dear Edson

"Where Jesus went after he popped out the top of the cloud on ascension day, you ask? He went to His Father, simple and clear."

I assume that you believe that the resurrected Jesus had a physical body and his ascension was a physical and therefore observable event. After all, the disciples are reported to have seen him rise into the cloud and therefore I reasonably assume he came out of the top of it and didn’t escape sideways around the back of the mountain and disappear off to Glastonbury. So, if you had been hovering over that cloud in a hot air balloon, what do you think you would have seen? Where did he physically go? Or are you happy that biblical authority ends with Jesus lost in the clouds?

”As for the impeccability in authority of the bible that's too big for you.”

True. But that’s because I have read much of it.

You do not even believe God exist,

I have no idea whether or not God exists. How would the world be different tomorrow from today if God were to “die” tonight? And how would we know? How would you know? How would your present one-way relationship with God change? The answer, of course, is that you have no idea. Your happy relationship with God exists whether or not God actually exists.

”such a simple thing to believe, with so many evidences out there

Please would you supply me with, say, 3 evidences.

”and you want to complicate yourself with these issues pertaining to biblical authority?

Complicate myself? Surely, my position is extremely simple? Jesus didn’t pop out of the top of a cloud because he never went up into one.

Anonymous said...


I appreciate your remarks about intellectual dishonesty.

But should we not be more nuanced in our discussion about intellectual dishonesty?

It seems that intellectual dishonesty should be a result of ones belief system. This you seem to grant to a certain extant or at least acknowledge in your:

"I know, I know, the Christianity they profess isn't the one they deconstruct."

Should not intellectual dishonesty be in regards to an awareness of one's belief system?

But the rest of your comments seem deeply embedded in some of your own bias (I use bias here not as a derogatory term but rather as an acknowledgment that people have certain things that they hold true which guide their understanding; everybody has them, but we should not think that that is the end of matter since they seem to be able to be adjusted in light of certain circumstances/information.)

The bias I refer to in particular is the one (possibly) expressed by:

"I think they should just acknowledge that and admit they have cut themselves off any historic understanding of what defines a Christian..."

While I want to read your comment as "historic understanding" in the sense of Christians after the NT era, I can possibly see you encompassing what I want to challenge you on since you say "any historic understanding", but I will challenge anyways and I ask your forgiveness should I be in error in that you did indeed mean to cover what it is I am about to say.

My challenge is that what if in spite of standard Christian belief, that is belief post NT era, Dunn believes that he is in no way impinging upon the integrity of the NT authors themselves, meaning that should they have been alive today that they would give approval in regards to Dunn's treatment of the matters involved.

Certainly if that is the case then intellectual dishonesty is misapplied to Dunn, because he is in fact being faithful to his convictions regarding the NT writers.

Now, I actually find your sentiments in the end to be similar to my own, I only wrote in order to encourage you to nuance what you have to say and therefore to be more thoughtful about it.

I tend to resonate with your conviction that Dunn knows he is doing something wrong since all things considered, (a kind of catch all phrase that entails that we do have to capacity to adjust ourselves to the facts of reality), the NT writers understood things differently than Dunn in a fundamental way and that were they here today they would say that Dunn is in fact wrong. But even this assumes that Dunn knows this from the texts he has written so extensively about, which seems a not unreasonable assumption to me.

In conclusion I would challenge you to be more explicit in your (in some sense) underlying beliefs about reality. This would also give your thoughts more weight, but of course this is a blog and scholarly precision need not be expected. Piqued interest seems to be appropriate.


Pastor Ken said...

LONG answer, but much was addressed in this blog in the past.

Samphire's questions are reasonable from the perspective of a spiritual outsider. I also agree with Edison's awareness of what constitutes inerrancy. We have no autographs, only copies of copies sometimes with errors, more often with marginal comments working their way into the original work. However, the inspiration of the originals is ultimately a matter of faith -- but so are all human perspectives, theories (even that of large scale evolution}, and physical laws. We only experience that which is within our own sphere of perception. We do not have acutely tuned pheromone sensor organs as do dogs or inferred heat sensors like some snakes. Occasionally, we can duplicate some of these senses mechanically through technology. That is, if we even become aware that they exist and usually it takes more than thought experimentation to provide the ultimate solution. Whether you credit God or eons of evolution, we usually need to look to nature to discover how we too can make the first sonar (bats, dolphins) or Velcro (feathers). So, what about spiritual realities and dimensions? John 3 depicts a conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus in which the Master told the ruler that unless he was born again he would never see the kingdom of heaven. While many see this as necessitating baptism as a condition of salvation, based on verse five, there is a better view revealing "see" εἴδω in John 3:3 (as the one word choice out of at least seven Greek words that could easily have been used if spatial or physical optical vision was the primary intent and) where εἴδω can also mean “perceive.” In other words, in effect what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is that even though he is a respected theologian and religious leader without the (I am not sure humility or humbling is the right word as Edison put it; perhaps child-like trusting would be more accurate, at least here)faith that allows the Holy Spirit to mysteriously align your senses and put their perceptive powers in tune with the spiritual dimension you will not be able to perceive spiritual things, let alone act on them as a demonstration of that faith, as verse 5 would then suggest.

Or as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Cor 2:14.

Therefore, these slightly off topic comments do tie back into John W. Loftus’ original article regarding Dunn and Barr and the resultant comments. How can these men know so much ABOUT Christianity and yet while not totally rejecting the foundational book, the Bible, seek to place it on equal footing with other humanly devised sources of authority? Easy! By rejecting the mind set and culture of the people of God as a factor in the linguistics these people employ to share their very relational experience with God. Dunn and especially Barr step out of the spiritual plane and into the purely academic one.

As an example, I am a fan of a particular entertainment art form. As such I have had the privilege of either having known many of the great performers of the last century or those who personally knew them. I have also studied about the lives of the rest of the greats whom I have never met; of these, I only know of them. I have no first or even second-hand experience. In those cases there is no one to ask my questions which are not covered in a book or seen in recordings. It is nothing like having visited and dined with them and sometimes having worked alongside them. Those people I have known.

Pastor Ken said...

Many secular theologians, some of whom might even consider themselves Christians, not in order to join a better club as proposed elsewhere in this blog, but because, even if they do so imperfectly, they fit that groove, mind set, culture better than any other category. It is their mental comfort zone. It is my personal prayer that those of them who are still alive come to know Jesus personally as I have. Or as the Apostle Paul said to Agrippa, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” (The apostle had a sense of humor.)

Billy Graham once said. "God is not dead. I talked with him this morning." If you think Pastor Graham was talking about a very one-sided conversation then you are sadly mistaken and no doubt in need of what Jesus offered Nicodemus. If it were possible for God to be "dead," as is also suggested here, the Universe which was not only created, but is sustained by Him would lapse into chaos and cease to exist too. So in answer to that question, yes, I think everyone would notice a difference quite quickly if it were possible for God to expire.

Most of the other questions have been adequately addressed by others. Unless you want my somewhat unique perspectives on the ascension and where Jesus went . . .

This is just an outline without all the references. If you want them just ask, but expect answers steeped in Bible texts, sacred history, and born-again Christian theologians’ perspectives which you will need to take with just as much faith as this outline.

A) Some believe the cloud was a cloud of Holy Angels. Not all clouds are water vapor. Some clouds are even the testimonies of people whose lives have witnessed to genuine faith in God. This is what Hebrews 12:1 is referring to relative to the entire previous chapter when it says, "so great a cloud of witnesses." A cloud of angels accompanies the Second Coming; so why not His departure? In that scenario, Jesus need not have "popped out the top" of the cloud supposing it went with Him to heaven where it dissipated / dispersed. In the book of Acts those witnessing the ascension physically see and are addressed by two angels standing on the ground with them. Among other things the angels say is that Jesus "shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." Acts 1:11. He went with clouds, He comes with clouds—next time with all the holy angels (Matt 25:31).

B) If it were literal clouds, no mention is made of his being seen by anyone with a perspective from above or within the peripheral ranges of observation. To those observing and reporting from directly below a cloud, even a relatively small one, could have blocked their vision long enough for Jesus to travel beyond the range of unaided human vision before it moved. Since the account in the book of Acts was given from the perspective of on the ground" witnesses directly below the cloud, this is not at all unusual.

Now, as to where he went, the answer "to the Father" is correct, but incomplete. In order to understand the rest you will need to exercise faith in biblical prophecy and many of you will need to also set aside any preconceived notions of dispensational gaps and other difficult to resolve issues which have caused many to reject prophecy all together.

Pastor Ken said...

As an aside, what makes you think prophecies concerning Jesus were not fulfilled, Samphire? Wait until you hear this dramatic one. It is the longest time prophecy in the Bible. Beginning at the post exilic rebuilding of Jerusalem and specific events surrounding it, the prophecy jumps to the baptism and anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit for his mission, focuses on the Messiah's sacrificial death, and then moves on to Judaism’s official (as opposed to the back room of Caiaphas' "kangaroo court" rejection of Jesus) in the Sanhedrin’s official rejection of the message of Stephen the deacon and following which a persecution of the church began in earnest (Acts 6:4—8:5). Each time the prophecy pinpointed the year and season of the year in advance. With these events clearly and historically documented the only portion of the prophecy left was that prophesying the priestly ministration of Jesus in the Heavenly Sanctuary as noted in Hebrews from the end of chapter six through chapter nine. The section about this ministry in heaven after his ascension begins with these words, “19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, 20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. “ Hebrews 6:19-20.

Notice how Jesus, as our High Priest, enters “behind the veil.” This was done only once a year on the Day of Atonement also known as the cleansing of the sanctuary because it was the day when all of the past sins of Israel for that year were ultimately dealt with. In order to understand this fully, and it likely can be done intellectually even by those currently lacking spiritual discernment, one needs to understand the ancient sacrificial system as instituted in the Exodus was 1) a type or acted out symbols of the entire plan of salvation. 2) That these pointed forward to the ministry of Christ and were fulfilled on the very day of those events in the death of Jesus “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:” 1 Cor 5:7 KJV; “. . . For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” NIV. In the first fruits of the Holy Spirit on the day of first fruits, also known as Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). In the Feast of Trumpets which announced the Day of Atonement and yet future, in the Feast of Tabernacles when believers find rest in the New Earth.
But what PROPHECY predicts all of this? Daniel 8:14 is the start—2,300 evenings and mornings, two-thousand three-hundred prophetic years. How we know this is years I will not get into here, but you can see the formula works as the angel explains the details of this time period in chapter 9.
For more details and diagrams than I can give here, go to!-Prophetic-Appointments-Revealed!
for the first part and to
for the conclusion. You will also find other resources and studies here and can read (in a wide range of languages), listen to, or watch a presentation (in English) on this topic and others. The root URL is
I hope this helps those who asked the questions, those hoping to find answers, and even those who may wish to erase this blog entry and pretend it never existed.