22 Grant, Jesus: an Historian’s Review, pp. 183–189.
23 Wells, “Was Jesus Crucified Under Pilate?” p. 26.
25 Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review, pp. 199–200.
26 Cf. John Drane, Introducing the New Testament(San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), chapter 12; Robinson, Can We Trust the New Testament?(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1977); Robert M. Grant, An Historical Introduction to the New Testament(London: Collins, 1963); Henri Daniel-Rops in Daniel-Rops, ed., Sources; Archibald Hunter, Introducing the New Testament(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1957).
Gospels follows from the earlier dating of the Gospels, especially if we can show that the writers were those who were either eyewitnesses or still in a position to know the truthfulness of their report.^27 The result of our overview is that the early Christian writings are far different from those envisioned by Wells.
One of the only scholars to follow G.A. Wells in his thesis about the historical Jesus is philosopher Michael Martin, who makes the claim that we are justified in questioning any but the barest data concerning the historical Jesus.^28 Martin agrees with the thesis of G.A. Wells that in the earliest layer of Christian teaching, “Jesus is not placed in a historical context and the biographical details of his life are left unspecified.” Rather, most of the well-known particulars such as those in the Gospels were not proclaimed until the end of the first century or later.^29 Therefore, Martin writes, “a strong prima facie case challenging the historicity of Jesus can be constructed.”^30
In an intriguing move, however, Martin not only acknowledges the lack of scholarly support for Wells’ thesis, but he even opts not to employ it in the main portion of his book, since it “is controversial and not widely accepted.”^31 While such a maneuver can be made for other reasons, Martin’s decision does raise an interesting question: is there a possibility that he is perhaps less convinced of Wells’ thesis than he is willing to acknowledge? Perhaps he, too, is aware of some of the serious problems with the entire proposal.
Following Wells, Martin postulates “four layers of Christian thinking,” the earliest of which “consists of Paul’s teaching of ‘Christ crucified’ in which Jesus is not placed in a historical context and the biographical details of his life are left unspecified.”^32 Wells and Martin do not deny that there are somedetails about Jesus in these early sources. But the issue concerns whether the New Testament writers knew more than a minimal amount of data about Jesus and whether they even knew that he lived during the time traditionally assigned to him. Martin states: “there is no good evidence that they believed that these events occurred at the beginning of the first century.”^33 Rather, these details emerged “only at the end of the first century.”
In order to further evaluate this scenario, we will look at the three chief avenues pursued by Martin himself: Paul’s admittedly early information about Jesus, the dating of the Gospels, and extrabiblical sources. It is my contention that Martin errs in an extraordinary number of his central claims, and in each of these areas.