Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Eta Linnemann's rejection of the Historical-Critical Method

Image:  Eta Linnemann (1926-2009)

One of my pet projects this year has been reviewing and studying the rise of the historical-critical method in Biblical studies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Along these lines, I have long been intrigued by the testimony of German New Testament scholar Eta Linnemann (1926-2009) who was trained in higher criticism, studying with top scholars like Rudolph Bultmann, but later rejected it after experiencing an evangelical conversion.  Linnemann went on to  serve as a missionary in Indonesia, and she also wrote an insightful critique of the historical-critical method in which she had been so steeped before her conversion.  This critique first appeared in German as Wissenschaft oder Meinung? In 1986 and was translated and published in English as Historical Criticism of the Bible:  Methodology or Ideology (Baker, 1990).  In the Introduction to the critique, Linnemann reviews some of her testimony, including how she began to be disillusioned by the historical-critical method and its skeptical approach to Scripture and faith.  Though these were the beginnings of God’s grace in her life she notes:

At first, however, what I realized led me into profound disillusionment.  I reacted by drifting toward addictions which might dull my misery.  I became enslaved to watching television and fell into an increasing state of alcohol dependence (p. 18).

Eventually, Linnemann states that God led her to “vibrant Christians who knew Jesus personally as Lord and Savior” and “By God’s grace and love I entrusted my life to Jesus” (p. 18).  Her life changed dramatically:

My destructive addictions were replaced by a hunger and thirst for his Word and for fellowship with Christians.  I was able to recognize sin clearly as sin rather than merely make excuses for it as was my previous habit.  I can still remember the delicious joy I felt when for the first time black was once more black and white was once more white; the two ceased to pool together as indistinguishable gray” (p. 18).

Later, she faced a dilemma:  “Would I continue to control the Bible by my intellect, or would I allow my thinking to be transformed by the Holy Spirit?” (p. 19).  This led her to an unswerving commitment to the inspiration and authority of Scripture:  “I recognized, first mentally, but then in a vital, experiential way, that Holy Scripture is inspired” (p. 20).  She also acknowledged “that my former perverse teaching was sin” (p. 20).

In the powerful closing paragraph of this Introduction, Linnemman concludes, “That is why I say ‘No!’ to historical-critical theology.  I regard everything that I taught and wrote before I entrusted my life to Jesus as refuse.  After reviewing her previous scholarly books and journal articles, Linnemann adds:  “Whatever of these writings I had in my possession I threw into the trash with my own hands in 1978.  I ask you sincerely to do the same with any of them you may have on your bookshelf” (p. 20).

You can read also read online a transcript of a testimony Linneman gave in 2001 at a California church and a 1997 scholarly article by Robert W. Yarbrough (who translated Historical Criticism of the Bible) from the Master’s Seminary Journal titled Eta Linnemann:  Friend or Foe of Scholarship?  Linnemann should be read with discernment given that she apparently became involved with a charismatic, non-confessional church group.  Still, her critique of historical-critical methodology is invaluable.

Linnemann also challenged other results of modern scholarship including the theory of a “Q” source and Markan priority among the Synoptic Gospels (see Is There a Synoptic Problem?  Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels [Baker, 1992]).  For those who know German, you can also find several lectures by Linnemann on various topics on YouTube.  Here are three (Biography of Eta Linnemann; What is the foundation of "historical-critical" theology?; and Who wrote Hebrews?) :


Though it appears Linnemann died before turning her attention to a critique of modern text and translation criticism, one wonders what conclusions she might have reached.



Victor Leonardo Barbosa said...

Linneman is fantastic and I think her contribution for textual issues is amazing. Her works should be read by every pastor and theologian that want be biblical and faithful to Scriptures.

Josh Nielsen said...

Thanks for posting this. I heard about Eta Linnemann for the first time today while listening to this video lecture at a Bible Seminary (starting at 18:30): This interests me as I have studied much of the history of German Higher criticism and am astounded and even over joyed that someone could come out of that fold and become a true believer. Quite amazing. I'll be sure to read more about Eta in days to come.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


Glad you found this helpful. I'd recommend her book "Historical Criticism of the Bible."



Linnemann's book on the parables is outstanding. I have used it fir 40 years and went to it yesterday for insight into the parable of the feast (Matt 22, Luke 14) which was the USCCB daily gospel reading. Her scholarship stands on it's own foundation despite her own personal, idiosyncratic rejection of it.

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...


I wonder if that is one of the books she suggested should be thrown in the trash.


Unknown said...

Could you please recommend me some other writers like Eta??

Jeffrey T. Riddle said...

Unknown, sorry to be so long in getting back.

A few suggestions on this topic:

Gerhard Meier, The End of the Historical Critical Method

David Steinmetz,"The Superiority of Pre-critical exegesis" (this is an article that can be found online)

Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis

Robert W. Yarbrough, Clash of Visions: Populism and Elitism in NT Theology (forthcoming October 2019)

EF Hills, Believing Bible Study

Hope this helps, JTR

Bob Y. said...

Here's the transcript of a great testimony Eta Linnemann gave:

Unknown said...

Conversation stories are powerful.

Unknown said...

I love to hear how the only one gospel amongst so many counterfeits continues to still out shine the baseless alternative explanations to life.