17 Compare Wells, “Was Jesus Crucified Under Pilate” p. 24 with Bruce M. Metzger, Historical and Literary Studies: Pagan, Jewish and Christian(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), especially pp. 18–19.
18 Metzger, Historical and Literary, pp. 11, 20–22; cf. Edwin Yamauchi, “Easter—Myth, Hallucination, or History?” Christianity Today, vol. XVIII, no. 12, March 15, 1974, pp. 4–7 and vol. XVIII, no. 13, March 29, 1974, pp. 12–16.
19 Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels(New York: Scribner’s, 1977), p. 199.
20 Examples include Metzger, Historical and Literary(p. 7) and Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man(p. 91).
21 Donald Guthrie surveys the recent state of Gospel studies on this issue, in his New Testament Introduction(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990), pp. 53–56, 84–89, 125–131, 297–303.
Even historians such as Michael Grant accept the earlier dates, again contrary to Wells’ view.^22
Of course, the issue here is not a battle of how many scholars hold these positions, but the reasons behind their views. Still, if the majority of contemporary scholars is correct over against Wells’ position on the dating of the Gospels, then Wells’ assertion that the New Testament does not link Jesus to Pilate prior to AD 90 is also in error.
Even apart from the issue of dating, Wells employs another highly questionable line of reasoning to explain how the early church unanimously chose Pilate’s name—because “Pilate would naturally come to mind . . . . for he was just the type of person to have murdered Jesus.”^23 Here we must ask why would the Gospels all agree in this choice of names, even if Pilate did fit the description? Would Herod not be an even better choice? Wells obviously prefers his thesis because it facilitates his four-stage development of the New Testament. Yet his view is not compelling because it conflicts with the facts.
A fifth criticism of Wells’ thesis is his lack of application of normal historical methodology to the Gospel material.^24 When this is done, historically reliable material about Jesus can be gleaned. Michael Grant specifically notes that this is the major problem with Wells’ thesis: But, above all, if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.^25 By normal historical standards used to ascertain other events in ancient history, we can learn about Jesus as well.
Wells postulates that the lateness of the Gospels and the lack of reliable information caused their writers to do much guessing and made them accept almost anything reported about Jesus. Yet we have just seen several ways in which Wells’ lack of application of the historical method has contributed to the major problems with his thesis.
For example, if the majority of critical scholars is right in dating the Gospels earlier than Wells postulates, then these writings are much closer to the events that they record. The basis for the Gospel report of the death and resurrection of Jesus is firmly grounded in history, without being inspired by the mystery religions, again contrary to Wells’ thesis. That eyewitnesses had considerable influence is a definite pointer in the direction of the reliability of the material.^26 The trustworthiness of the