G.A. Wells is a retired Professor of German who has become a self-styled scholar of the "un-Historical Jesus." G.A. Wells argues that the Jesus portrayed in the gospels -- an itinerant preacher, a worker of miracles, born of a virgin, and executed under Pilate -- did not exist. He contends that the descriptions in the four canonical gospels not only contradict each other, but are also not in harmony with the earliest Christian documents or the earliest non-Christian testimony to the existence of Jesus.

The problem with Wells' work on the "un-Historical Jesus" is not so much the author's lack of standing as a Scholar in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism as it is his utter failure to apply the standard tools and controls of the Historical-Critical field.   It is this failure which has doomed Wells to abject obscurity among the REAL scholars of modern liberal Historical-Criticism. Sadly, most of his arguments are built upon a tangled web of "silence," and it is such arguments that fail the test of parsimony and leave Wells out in the cold.

For example, one of Wells' principle claims is that Paul didn't know anything about a real-life, Historical Jesus. Indeed, according to Wells, Paul cooked up Jesus out of the Jewish figure "Wisdom." Never mind the fact that, in Hebrew literature, wisdom is usually personified as a female -- known, in the Proverbs, as "Lady Wisdom" -- Wells speculates that a personified "Wisdom" is at the heart of Paul's theological proclamation. Now, as absurd as this theory sounds, the grounding for his argument that Paul didn't know anything about a real-life Jesus is equally absurd ... it is based upon Paul's near-total silence regarding the Historical Jesus. Wells asserts that, because Paul doesn't tell us anything about the life and teachings of Jesus, Paul must have been ignorant of such information. His conclusion is the grounding for much of his entire theory regarding the nonexistence of Jesus ... and, as such, is crucial in his argument. What Wells cannot obfuscate, with his elaborate theory regarding Jesus really being Lady Wisdom, is that his theory is fallacious from its foundation in Paul's supposed ignorance of the historical Jesus. Arguments that are built entirely out of silence usually are. For instance, Paul's silence can be FAR more easily and parsimoniously explained by realizing that Paul's letters are occasional literature, written in response to questions and problems that had come up in Paul's churches. As such, it was not Paul's intention to lay out the detailed content of the kerygma in the context of his letters ... that material was better presented in preaching ... and so his silence on such topics should not be construed as indicating an ignorance on such matters. Other reasons for Paul's silence have been presented, and all of them are far more reasonable than Wells' conclusion that Paul's silence = Paul's ignorance. Wells' argument from silence, in the end, comes up empty.

This should go a long way toward illustrating the problem which exists with most of Wells' theories; he takes valid observations and correct information -- in this case, the near-silence of Paul on the Historical Jesus -- and draws conclusions that are neither the only valid conclusion, nor are they even most likely ones. He does this regarding Paul's silence, as well as regarding the silence of most secular authors from the period. Indeed, even where we have historically relevant data from non-Christian sources like Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger, Wells always leans toward the least likely, anti-Christian, conclusions.

Another example of this can be seen in the dates that Wells asserts for the Gospels. Wells stands substantially alone in putting forward dates in the 90s AD for all the Gospels. Most liberal scholarship tends to agree that the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD is an important anchor for the Synoptic Gospels, and a huge percentage of all scholars (liberal and conservative) would date Mark to between 60 - 75 AD. Wells puts Mark 20 - 30 years later than the vast majority of scholars, and subsequently would put the other Gospels even later. He does this so that he can keep as much distance between the time of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels as possible. The more time between the events and the Gospels, the easier it is for him to claim that everything they say is made up. He also must put at least a generation between Paul and the writing of the Gospels, otherwise it becomes hard for him to assert that Paul didn't know anything about the Historical Jesus as described in the Gospels. According to traditional dating methods, Paul was either alive when Mark was written, or had only been dead a few years. Wells' redating scheme puts an extra 20 years between the death of Paul and the writing of the Gospels, which allows his claim to function. Remove that gap, and yet another aspect of Wells' theory falls to pieces. See Dating the New Testament

With so many flaws, one might be tempted to ask "why is Wells so popular among hypercritical, atheistic, anti-Christian apologists?" Does he have credentials that help to overcome the errors of his approach? Does he have a standing in the academic community that would give him authority and a position from which to articulate his theories? How important is Wells in academic circles? The vast majority of "high-powered critical scholars," whom Wells quotes and twists in his attempts to prove his points, never cite Wells nor do recognize his argument as being valid. Indeed, for the most part scholars have considered Wells' work to be the result of unbridled hyper-skepticism ... hardly a balanced approach to the question of the existence of the Historical Jesus. Fundamentally, the problem with Wells is that he assumed his conclusion before he began his "search" ... and then he only searches under certain rocks, and in such a way, so as to ensure that he won't find an Historical Jesus. Wells begins with the assumption that Jesus didn't exist, and then proceeds to prove his assumption utilizing the content of critical scholarship, true, but without the controls that make critical scholarship so very sound. He has set out to prove that Jesus didn't exist, and then only accepts as valid the evidence which he can interpret to prove his point. In other words, his bias has predetermined his conclusion.

This should illustrate the fact that, in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism, Wells is clearly an amateur. This is not an ad hominem attack, but a response to claims that his voluminous publications on the topic of the nonexistence of the Historical Jesus qualify him as a "scholar" of New Testament Biblical Criticism. Wells' status as an amateur doesn't discredit his work, but it doesn't speak well for his work ... especially given the length of time he has been publishing on this topic. Even amateurs, who present excellent theories and good substantiation for their theories, can gain a hearing, make a "break" into academic publishing, and can establish a standing for themselves in the NT Critical field. W.D. Davies is a good example of a recognized New Testament Scholar who had done this. Unfortunately for Wells, his theories have failed to have an observable impact upon the New Testament Critical field -- even among those scholars for whom his theories might well be very appealing. Even before I had read a word of Wells' own works, this very fact spoke LOUDLY to me regarding the value of his "scholarship." I mean ... if the scholars in the field ("greats" like Charlesworth, Kee, Brown, Fitzmyer, Metzger, Bornkam, Meyer, Efird, Smith, Tyson, Leudemann, Crossan, Johnson, Hayes, Sanders ... shall I go on?) don't think his arguments are valid, or even just worthy of note (though wrong) -- and if they did they would cite him regardless of his lack of credentials -- then why should I, an amateur in the field, think that I might conclude otherwise? I may be an arrogant cuss, but I'm not THAT arrogant! When I actually decided to go ahead and read his writings I discovered -- in general -- the reasons why academic Critical Scholarship has basically ignored Wells' work. Wells frequently draws conclusions from the evidence that the rules of historiography and parsimony simply do not allow.

That Wells is an amateur in the field of New Testament Biblical Criticism is overwhelmingly demonstrated by:

(1) His lack of academic credentials in the field.

(2) His lack of standing in the professional organizations which govern the standards and norms for practical scholarship in the field [specifically, I am speaking about the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, and similar European academic credentialing organizations].

(3) His lack of publications in the recognized academic periodical literature of the field [specifically: the Journal of Biblical Literature, New Testament Studies, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Interpretation, Novum Testamentum, Semeia, Biblical Theology Bulletin, Harvard Theological Review, American Academy of Religion Journal, Biblical Archeological Review, Biblical Review].

(4) His lack of publications from any of the recognized (frequently University-sponsored) Academic publishing houses.

(5) His lack of standing on the New Testament Biblical Critical faculty of any Institute of Higher Education.

(6) The severe and almost total lack of recognition among credible and well-noted scholars in the field.

(7) The lack of bibliographic citation of his works in the scholarly literature of the field.

If only one, two, or even three of the above applied, one might be able to make a good case for Wells being a "scholar" in the field. However, ALL of the above apply to him to one degree or another. Occasional references to his work ... including Forwards and dust-cover advertising blurbs (both of which are always worked over by the publisher to put the book in a good light) ... by minor, lightweight scholars in the field are noted; but they don't offset the silence which is so deafening among scholars of note in the field.

The best I will say about Wells is that he is an amateur in New Testament Biblical Criticism who has demonstrated a remarkable awareness of the facts of, and authors in, the field without having any known training or credentials in it. That he draws unwarranted conclusions doesn't discredit the fact that he knows a lot about the subject ... it just demonstrates that his lack of training (among other things) is adversely effecting his methodology of interpretation and the resulting theories that he has advanced.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Neal
See the Errancy of Silence debate for additional information regarding G.A. Wells.