A Response to Misstatements about J. I. Packer’s Supposed Support of Licona’s View

A Response to Misstatements about J. I. Packer’s

Supposed Support of Licona’s View on Inerrancy

By Norman L. Geisler  (5/16/2012)


A letter posted on the internet by a Mike Licona supporter reads:  “I noticed in his [Geisler’s] point 22 (see article here) that he disagrees with your statement that the framers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) don’t always agree on how to interpret ICBI.  Dr. Geisler says there were only 3 framers of ICBI, R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, and himself.  He then says “we all agree that Licona’s views are not compatible with the ICBI statements.”  I just wanted you to know that I emailed J. I. Packer last fall and asked him what he thought of your view of Matthew’s raised saints. I received this reply from him on 24 February forwarded from David Horn, the Academic Secretary at Regent College:


Dear Johan Erasmus,

I apologise for lateness in responding to your email.
What Dr. Licona offers is an interpretive hypothesis as to Matthew’s meaning. What biblical inerrancy means is that Scripture, rightly interpreted, is true and trustworthy. I don’t think Licona’s guess about Matthew’s meaning is plausible, but it is not an inerrancy question.

Sincerely in Christ,

J.I. Packer.


Unfortunately, the use of this post to support Licona’s view is unfounded since it is both false and misleading for the following reasons:  First, I did not claim that “there were only three framers of ICBI, R.C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, and himself.”  That is false. I have claimed only that there are three “living” framers of the ICBI statements.  So far as I know, the others are with the Lord.  However, having known their views well, I am sure that they too would support the interpretation of the other framers on this issue.

Second, the above web post fails to take note that I did not say Licona’s views disagree simply with the ICBI statement on inerrancy (viz., “the Chicago Statement”), but with the ICBI “statements” (plural) on inerrancy which include the statement on hermeneutics and the official ICBI commentaries on these statements.  It is these “statements” that make very clear (what is implicit in the “Chicago Statement”), namely, that Licona’s view is incompatible with the ICBI framer’s view on inerrancy.

Third, there is no disagreement among the framers as to the meaning of the ICBI statements with regard to the Licona issues.  I called J. I. Packer today about 12:00 noon EST (May 16, 2012), and he confirmed that it was a misinterpretation of his statement to construe it to mean that Licona had not denied inerrancy in fact.  He affirmed that his statement was only referring to inerrancy in a formal sense, not in a material sense.  He said both Robert Gundry and Mike Licona have denied inerrancy in a material (factual) sense. For while inerrancy and the historical-grammatical interpretation of the Gospels as actual history are formally distinct, yet they are actually inseparable on this matter.

Fourth, Packer and all the framers of the ICBI statements agree that it is contrary to inerrancy (in the material sense) to “dehistoricize” the Gospel record and not take it as literal space-time history.  Consider the following: (1) Even in its formal statement on inerrancy (“the Chicago Statement”) there is a reference to the “grammatico-historical” (i.e., literal) method of interpreting the Bible (Article XVIII) which demands that the Gospel narratives be taken in the literal historical manner.  (2) In the same article it condemns “dehistoricizing” the text of Scripture which is what Licona does in several New Testament passage, including the raising of the saints in Matthew 27, the angels at the tomb in all four Gospels, and the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim (in Jn. 18). (3) The ICBI framers affirmed a “correspondence” view of truth  which demands that the affirmations in the Gospel record must have a literal referent in the real world (i.e., must be historical).  As Sproul put it in the official ICBI commentary, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy,  37 cf. the “Chicago Statement” Article XIII.

Fifth, to be sure, the ICBI framers did not literally have Licona’s view in mind since he had not yet written his book on the resurrection when the ICBI statements were formed.  However, as living framers, we are aware that we did have Robert Gundry in mind when we penned the statements.  So, by extension these statements also apply properly to Licona as well.  For both Gundry and Licona used extra-biblical genre determination to deny the historicity of sections of the Gospel record.  And we also know that Licona holds the same basic view as Gundy did.  The only real difference is that Gundry used extra-biblical Jewish Midrash and Licona used Greco-Roman biography to deny the historicity of parts of the Gospels.  Both are contrary to the doctrine of inerrancy understood and expressed by the ICBI framers in their statements.  This is the same understanding which the members of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) had in 1983 when by an overwheming 70 percent vote they ask Gundry to resign from the organization.  And subsequently ETS members, by an 80 percent vote, accepted the ICBI framers understanding of inerrancy as a guide to understanding the meaning of inerrancy for their society.

Sixth, Packer not only disagreed with Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27, calling it a “guess” that was not “plausible,” but he also affirmed (in the above stated phone call) that Licona’s claim that John contradicted the Synoptic Gospel on the question of which day Jesus was crucified (in a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Spring, 2009). But this is a clear denial of the inerrancy of Scripture (see articles on Licona on www.normangeisler.com). In view of all this, Packer clearly affirmed his belief that Licona’s views are in fact contrary to what the ICBI affirmed about inerrancy.

Finally, even if one of the ICBI framers were to disagree with this unanimous interpretation of the living framers—and there is no one—nonetheless, this would not thereby show that Licona’s view was orthodox. To conclude that it was orthodox would be to commit the same error that Licona does when he allows external sources and unexpressed intentions determine the meaning of a text.

So, the conclusions being drawn by Licona supporters about a division among the ICBI framers on this matter is both false and misleading.  Further, the action (of asking Gundry to resign from ETS) and affirmations of ETS (that ICBI is the proper guide to the meaning of inerrancy), the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world who affirm inerrancy, supports our conclusion that the ICBI statements on the matter exclude Licona’s view from being consistent with the standard (ICBI and ETS) view of inerrancy.  In brief, this internet post is false and should be removed.