N.T. Wright’s critical realist epistemology has become the foundation for many recent studies of Christian origins. This article argues that New Testament scholars have perhaps too quickly and uncritically adopted this method, when it is out of step with contemporary analytic epistemology. The method Wright employs—and which many have adopted—originates with an internalist epistemic account developed in the 1940s. Since then, key developments in the study of epistemology (beginning with Gettier in 1963) have made Wright’s critical realist model irrelevant in many ways. In light of these inadequacies, we tentatively outline some potential components of a more promising historical epistemology for the study of Christian origins.
N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, 1; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1992), esp. pp. 31–80. Those who have followed him include James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Christianity in the Making, 1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), pp. 110–11; D.L. Denton, Historiography and Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies: An Examination of the Work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer (jsntsup, 262; jshj; London: T&T Clark, 2004), esp. pp. 168–92; and Scot McKnight, Jesus and his Death: Historiography, the Historical Jesus, and Atonement Theory (Waco, tx: Baylor University Press, 2005), pp. 19–28.
N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, 2; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), e.g. p. 55; idem, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, 3; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), e.g. pp. 702–705; idem, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, 4–5; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), e.g. pp. 77–79.
See esp. Ian Barbour, Myths, Models and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1974); Arthur Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979); idem, Intimations of Reality: Critical Realism in Science and Religion (The Mendenhall Lectures 1983; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984); idem, ‘Science and Theology Today: A Critical Realist Perspective’, Science and Theology Today 5 (1988), pp. 45–58; idem, Theology for a Scientific Age (Theology and Sciences; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993); Wentzel van Huyssteen, Theology and the Justification of Faith: Constructing Theories in Systematic Theology (trans. H.F. Snijders; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); idem, Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997); idem, The Shaping of Rationality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).
Nancy C. Murphy, Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 197. Note that her definition of scientific critical realism has some affinities with that of Wright.
Gettier, ‘Justified True Belief’, p. 121,referring in the first definition to Plato, in the second to Roderick M. Chisholm, Perceiving: A Philosophical Study (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957), p. 16, and in the third definition to A.J. Ayer, The Problem of Knowledge (London: Macmillan, 1956), p. 34.
Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 33. He recognizes ‘a belief’s being formed in circumstances differing from the paradigm circumstances for which our faculties have been designed’. Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, p. 35.
William P. Alston, ‘An Internalist Externalism’, Synthese74 (1988), pp. 265–83; repr. in William P. Alston, Epistemic Justification: Essays in the Theory of Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), pp. 227–45, here p. 227.