The Misuse of J. I. Packer to Defend Mike Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy

by Norman L. Geisler

Mike Licona believes there are errors in the Bible, including the day of Jesus’ crucifixion which allegedly is listed on two different days in the Gospels (cf. Jn. 19:14 and Mark 14:12).  Strangely, Mike Licona and those who support his view have  appealed to J. I. Packer to support their view, but Packer has strongly repudiated this view and condemns Licona’s position (see below).

However, recently Packer wrote a blurb commending Licona’s new book (Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, Oxford, 2017) which defends, among other errors, there being contradictions in the Gospels. This has occasioned some Licona supporters to claim that Packer has changed his view on the topic. In it Packer wrote a commendation of the book, declaring,

“Professor Licona’s new book is a monograph exploring some compositional techniques which the synoptic evangelists appear to have used. Clarificatory and thorough, it is an accomplished piece of work, which it is a pleasure to commend.”

However, this falls far short of an approval of Licona’s denial of inerrancy.  Indeed, it claims only that Licona’s book clearly and thoroughly (718 pages!) treats certain “compositional techniques” in the Gospels—and that it does.  However, it does not place approval on Licona’s denial of inerrancy. Further, Packer has written dozens of blurbs over the years—even for books containing views with which he disagrees.

It was my privilege to work closely with J. I. Packer, not just for a few hours, but for some ten years (1979-1989) in defining and defending the inerrancy of the Bible in the documents of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). More recently, (Jan 2017), I updated my conversation with Packer on this topic, and he assured me he had not changed his views. “As for my specific question as to whether or not he still supported the ICBI statement on inerrancy, he said that rumors to the contrary were “categorically and absolutely false.”  He gave the same answer to my second question as to whether he had changed his view about Mike Licona’s view expressed in Packer’s letter (of  5/8/2014) which declared that Licona’s position was contrary to the  ICBI statement on inerrancy.  The statement reads:

As a framer of the ICBI statement on biblical inerrancy and once studied Greco-Roman literature at advanced level, I judge Mike Licona’s view that, because the Gospels are semi-biographical, details of their narratives may be regarded as legendary and factually erroneous, to be both academically and theologically unsound (Letter, 5/8/14).

Packer insisted that he strongly stands by both his affirmation of the ICBI statements on inerrancy and that Licona’s views were categorically contrary to it.  He described Mike’s view as “muddled” and illogical, but wished to keep up the conversation with him open in hope that his view would change his position.

Upon careful examination, Packer’s more recent book “blurb” on Licona’s book says nothing to the contrary. It is, as stated, a commendation of the comprehensive and clear treat of “certain techniques used by Gospel authors,” not an approval of everything in the book.

Even so, it is well known by scholars that these blurbs, often say some positive things about a book without going into an extensive negative critique.  Dr. Al Mohler was more careful when he noted that Licona has admirably defended the resurrection of Christ but in a way that left the door open to skepticism. Thus, “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon” by denying or undermining the historicity of sections of the Gospels. Indeed, Bart Erhman used this very opening to deny the resurrection of Christ.  He asked how someone could not deny the resurrection of Jesus by the same logic he rejected the resurrection of Jerusalem saints (Mat. 27:52-53) in the same passage (Ehrman-Licona Dialogue on the Historicity of the New Testament, Feb. 9-May 6, 2017)?

There are only three living framers of the ICBI (J. I. Packer,  R. C, Sproul, and myself), and there is unanimous agreement among us that Licona’s view is contrary to the ICBI stand on Inerrancy.  The original framer of the ICBI statements on inerrancy, R.C. Sproul, wrote,

“As the former and only President of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Dr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI” (Letter, May 22, 2012, emphasis added).

 

 

 

 

 

Was Mark Confused or was it Mike Licona?

Was Mark Confused or was it Mike Licona?

by Norman L. Geisler

feedfish

The Problem

In his YouTube presentation on this topic, Mike Licona declared that “probably Mark is confused” concerning the location of the Feeding of the 5,000. Later, in his internet article on the topic (8/23/2016) he wrote, “The difficulty appears after the feeding when in Mark 6:45 we read that Jesus told His disciple to cross over the lake to Bethsaida. This seems difficult to reconcile with Luke’s report that the feeding had occurred at or near Bethsaida.”

 

Proposed Solutions

After reviewing what Licona considers several admittedly “possible” solutions, he dismissed them for various reasons; they were “awkward,” did not solve the “tension,” “a stretch,” or “groundless.” He concludes, “while some are less ad hoc and more plausible than others, none of them enjoys anything close to a scholarly consensus….” He then resorts to his favorite solution—a hermeneutically definitive appeal to extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre and finds similar difficulties when Plutarch tells “the same stories differently.” Thus, Licona concludes that he also is willing here to accept the “confusion” of Mark, and “remain content to live with an unanswered question.”

 

A Brief Evaluation

First of all, there is no unresolvable problem for an inerrantist here, as even Licona admits there are “possible” solutions.

Second, he even acknowledges that some solutions are “more plausible” than others.

Third, Licona’s problem rests with his acceptance of  Greco-Roman genre which allows for even contradiction in the Gospel, as there are in Greco-Roman literature.

Fourth, he reflects his distaste for some attempts to use the time-honored method of “harmonizing” (which goes back as far as Tatian’s Diatessaron, c. 150-160 a.d.) to reconcile the tension or apparent contradiction. He calls it “hermeneutical gymnastics” and elsewhere refers to similar proceedings by the exaggerated term “hermeneutical waterboarding.”

Fifth, Licona’s confusion, not Mark’s, also stems from the hidden premise that if there is no “scholarly consenses” on a problem, then we must consider it unanswered, if not unanswerable. He seems unwilling to admit the venerable conclusion of St. Augustine who wrote, “If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken; but either: [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood’” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5). But to repeat, “it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken’”—or confused. God is not confused, and He cannot err (Heb. 6:18), and the Gospel of Mark, along with the rest of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16), is the Word of God. Therefore, it cannot be confused or err. If anyone was confused here, then mark it down, it was not Mark.

 

Copyright © 2016 Norman L. Geisler. All rights reserved.


http://defendinginerrancy.com

Explaining Biblical Inerrancy

Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Are There Any Errors in the Bible?

Are There Any Errors in the Bible?

By Norman L. Geisler

The Bible cannot err, since it is God’s Word, and God cannot err. This does not mean there are no difficulties in the Bible. But the difficulties are not due to God’s perfect revelation, but to our imperfect understanding of it. The history of Bible criticism reveals that the Bible has no errors, but the critics do. Most problems fall into one of the following categories.

Assuming the Unexplained Is Unexplainable

When a scientist comes upon an anomaly in nature, he does not give up further scientific exploration. Rather, the unexplained motivates further study. Scientists once could not explain meteors, eclipses, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Until recently, scientists did not know how the bumblebee could fly. All of these mysteries have yielded their secrets to relentless patience. Scientists do not now know how life can grow on thermo-vents in the depths of the sea. But no scientist throws in the towel and cries “contradiction!” Likewise, the true biblical scholar approaches the Bible with the same presumption that there are answers to the unexplained. Critics once proposed that Moses could not have written the first five books of the Bible because Moses’ culture was preliterate. Now we know that writing had existed thousands of years before Moses. Also, critics once believed that Bible references to the Hittite people were totally fictional. Such a people by that name had never existed. Now the Hittites’ national library has been found in Turkey. Thus, we have reason to believe that other unexplained phenomena in Scripture will be explained later.

Assuming the Bible is Guilty of Error Unless Proven Innocent

Many critics assume the Bible is wrong until something proves it right. However, like an American citizen charged with an offense, the Bible should be read with at least the same presumption of accuracy given to other literature that claims to be nonfiction. This is the way we approach all human communications. If we did not, life would not be possible. If we assumed that road signs and traffic signals were not telling the truth, we would probably be dead before we could prove otherwise. If we assumed food packages are mislabeled, we would have to open up all cans and packages before buying. Likewise, the Bible, like any other book, should be presumed to be telling us what the authors said, experienced, and heard. But, negative critics begin with just the opposite presumption. Little wonder they conclude the Bible is riddled with error.

Confusing our Fallible Interpretations with God’s Infallible Revelation

Jesus affirmed that the “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, NASB). As an infallible book, the Bible is also irrevocable. Jesus declared, “Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17, NASB). The Scriptures also have final authority, being the last word on all it discusses. Jesus employed the Bible to resist the tempter (see Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), to settle doctrinal disputes (see Matt. 21:42), and to vindicate his authority (see Mark 11:17). Sometimes a biblical teaching rests on a small historical detail (see Heb. 7:4-10), a word or phrase (see Acts 15:13-17), or the difference between the singular and the plural (see Gal. 3:16). But, while the Bible is infallible, human interpretations are not. Even though God’s Word is perfect (see Ps. 19:7), as long as imperfect human beings exist, there will be misinterpretations of God’s Word and false views about his world. In view of this, one should not be hasty in assuming that a currently dominant assumption in science is the final word. Some of yesterday’s irrefutable laws are considered errors by today’s scientists. So, contradictions between popular opinions in science and widely accepted interpretations of the Bible can be expected. But this falls short of proving there is a real contradiction.

Failure to Understand the Context

The most common mistake of all Bible interpreters, including some critical scholars, is to read a text outside its proper context. As the adage goes, “A text out of context is a pretext.” One can prove anything from the Bible by this mistaken procedure. The Bible says, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1, NASB). Of course, the context is: “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.’ ” One may claim that Jesus admonished us not to resist evil (see Matt. 5:39), but the antiretaliatory context in which he cast this statement must not be ignored. Many read Jesus’ statement to “Give to him who asks you,” as though one had an obligation to give a gun to a small child. Failure to note that meaning is determined by context is a chief sin of those who find fault with the Bible.

Interpreting the Difficult by the Clear

Some passages are hard to understand or appear to contradict some other part of Scripture. James appears to be saying that salvation is by works (see James 2:14-26), whereas Paul teaches that it is by grace. Paul says Christians are “saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God: Not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:5, KJV). But the contexts reveal that Paul is speaking about justification before God (by faith alone), whereas James is referring to justification before others (who only see what we do). And James and Paul both speak of the fruitfulness that always comes in the life of one who loves God.

Forgetting the Bible’s Human Characteristics

With the exception of small sections such as the Ten Commandments, which were “written by the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18, NASB), the Bible was not verbally dictated. The writers were not secretaries of the Holy Spirit. They were human composers employing their own literary styles and idiosyncrasies. These human authors sometimes used human sources for their material (see Josh. 10:13; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). In fact, every book of the Bible is the composition of a human writer-about forty of them in all. The Bible also manifests different human literary styles. Writers speak from an observer’s standpoint when they write of the sun rising or setting (see Josh. 1:15). They also reveal human thought patterns, including memory lapses (see 1 Cor. 1:14-16), as well as human emotions (see Gal. 4:14). The Bible discloses specific human interests. Hosea has a rural interest, Luke a medical concern, and James a love of nature. Like Christ, the Bible is completely human, yet without error. Forgetting the humanity of Scripture can lead to falsely impugning its integrity by expecting a level of expression higher than that which is customary to a human document. This will become more obvious as we discuss the next mistakes of the critics.

Assuming a Partial Report Is a False Report

Critics often jump to the conclusion that a partial report is false. However, this is not so. If it were, most of what has ever been said would be false, since seldom does time or space permit an absolutely complete report.  For example, Peter’s famous confession in the Gospels:

Matthew: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16, NASB).
Mark: “You are the Christ” (8:29, NASB).
Luke: “The Christ of God” (9:20, NASB).

Even the Ten Commandments, which were “written by the finger of God” (Deut. 9:10), are stated with variations the second time they are recorded (see Ex. 20:8-11 with Deut. 5:12-15). There are many differences between the books of Kings and Chronicles in their description of identical events, yet they harbor no contradiction in the events they narrate.

Assuming New Testament Citations of the Old Testaments must be Verbatim

Critics often point to variations in the New Testament use of Old Testament Scriptures as a proof of error. They forget that every citation need not be an exact quotation. Sometimes we use indirect and sometimes direct quotations. It was then (and is today) perfectly acceptable literary style to give the essence of a statement without using precisely the same words. The same meaning can be conveyed without using the same verbal expressions.

Variations in the New Testament citations of the Old Testament fall into different categories. Sometimes they are because there is a change of speaker. For example, Zechariah records the Lord as saying, “they will look on me whom they have pierced” (12:10, NASB). When this is cited in the New Testament, John, not God, is speaking. So it is changed to “They shall look on him whom they pierced” (John 19:37, NASB).

At other times, writers cite only part of the Old Testament text. Jesus did this at His home synagogue in Nazareth (see Luke 4:18-19 citing Isa. 61:1-2). In fact, He stopped in the middle of a sentence. Had He gone any farther, He could not have made His central point from the text, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (vs. 21). The very next phrase, “And the day of vengeance of our God,” (see Isa. 61:1-2) refers to His second coming.

Sometimes the New Testament paraphrases or summarizes the Old Testament text (see Matt. 2:6). Others blend two texts into one (see Matt. 27:9-10). Occasionally a general truth is mentioned, without citing a specific text. For example, Matthew said Jesus moved to Nazareth “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23, KJV). Notice, Matthew quotes no given prophet, but rather “prophet” in general. Several texts speak of the Messiah’s lowliness. To be from Nazareth, a Nazarene, was a byword for low status in the Israel of Jesus’ day.

Assuming Divergent Accounts Are False

Because two or more accounts of the same event differ, does not mean they are mutually exclusive. Matthew 28:5 says there was one angel at the tomb after the resurrection; whereas John informs us there were two (see 20:12). But these are not contradictory reports. An infallible mathematical rule easily explains this problem: Where there are two, there is always one. Matthew did not say there was only one angel. There may also have been one angel at the tomb at one point on this confusing morning and two at another. One has to add the word “only” to Matthew’s account to make it contradict John’s. But if the critic comes to the texts to show they err, then the error is not in the Bible, but in the critic.

Likewise, Matthew (see 27:5) informs us that Judas hanged himself. But Luke says that “he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out” (Acts 1:18, NASB). Once more, these accounts are not mutually exclusive. If Judas hanged himself from a tree over the edge of a cliff or gully in this rocky area, and his body fell on sharp rocks below, then his entrails would gush out just as Luke vividly describes.

Presuming That the Bible Approves of All It Records

It is a mistake to assume that everything contained in the Bible is commended by the Bible. The whole Bible is true (see John 17:17), but it records some lies, for example, Satan’s (see Gen. 3:4; John 8:44) and Rahab’s (see Josh. 2:4). Inspiration encompasses the Bible fully in the sense that it records accurately and truthfully even the lies and errors of sinful beings. The truth of Scripture is found in what the Bible reveals, not in everything it records. Unless this distinction is held, it may be incorrectly concluded that the Bible teaches immorality because it narrates David’s sin (see 2 Sam. 11:4), that it promotes polygamy because it records Solomon’s (see 1 Kings 11:3), or that it affirms atheism because it quotes the fool as saying “there is no God” (Ps. 14:1, NASB).

Forgetting That the Bible is Nontechnical

To be true, something does not have to use scholarly, technical, or so-called “scientific” language. The Bible is written for the common person of every generation, and it therefore uses common, everyday language. The use of observational, nonscientific language is not unscientific, it is merely prescientific. The Scriptures were written in ancient times by ancient standards, and it would be anachronistic to superimpose modern scientific standards upon them. However, it is no more unscientific to speak of the sun standing still (see Josh. 10:12) than to refer to the sun “rising” (see Josh. 1:16). Meteorologists still refer to the times of “sunrise” and “sunset.”

Assuming Round Numbers Are False

Like ordinary speech, the Bible uses round numbers (see Josh. 3:4; 4:13). It refers to the diameter as being about one-third of the circumference of something (see 1 Chron. 19:18; 21:5). While this technically is only an approximation (see Lindsell, 165-66); it may be imprecise from the standpoint of a technological society to speak of 3.14159265 as “3,” but it is not incorrect. It is sufficient for a “cast metal sea” (see 2 Chron. 4:2) in an ancient Hebrew temple, even though it would not suffice for a computer in a modern rocket. One should not expect to see actors referring to a wristwatch in a Shakespearean play, nor people in a prescientific age to use precise numbers.

Neglecting to Note Literary Devices

Human language is not limited to one mode of expression. So, there is no reason to suppose that only one literary genre was used in a divinely inspired Book. The Bible reveals a number of literary devices. Whole books are written as poetry (e.g., Job, Psalms, Proverbs). The Synoptic Gospels feature parables. In Galatians 4, Paul utilizes an allegory. The New Testament abounds with metaphors (see 2 Cor. 3:2-3; James 3:6), similes (see Matt. 20:1; James 1:6), hyperbole (see John 21:25; 2 Cor. 3:2; Col. 1:23), and even poetic figures (see Job 41:1). Jesus employed satire (see Matt. 19:24; 23:24). Figures of speech are common throughout the Bible.

It is not a mistake for a biblical writer to use a figure of speech, but it is a mistake for a reader to take a figure of speech literally. Obviously when the Bible speaks of the believer resting under the shadow of God’s “wings” (see Ps. 36:7) it does not mean that God is a feathered bird. When the Bible says God “awakes” (see Ps. 44:23), as though he were sleeping, it means God is roused to action.

Forgetting That Only the Original Text Is Inerrant

Genuine mistakes have been found-in copies of Bible text made hundreds of years after the autographs. God only uttered the original text of Scripture, not the copies. Therefore, only the original text is without error. Inspiration does not guarantee that every copy is without error, especially in copies made from copies made from copies made from copies. For example, the King James Version (KJV) of 2 Kings 8:26 gives the age of King Ahaziah as 22, whereas 2 Chronicles 22:2 says 42. The later number cannot be correct, or he would have been older than his father. This is obviously a copyist error, but it does not alter the inerrancy of the original.

First, these are errors in the copies, not the originals. Second, they are minor errors (often in names or numbers) which do not affect any teaching. Third, these copyist errors are relatively few in number. Fourth, usually by the context, or by another Scripture, we know which is in error. For example, Ahaziah must have been 22. Finally, though there is a copyist error, the entire message comes through. For example, if you received a letter with the following statement, would you assume you could collect some money?

“#OU HAVE WON $20 MILLION.”

Even though there is a mistake in the first word, the entire message comes through-you are 20 million dollars richer! And if you received another letter the next day that read like this, you would be even more sure:

“Y#U HAVE WON $20 MILLION.”

The more mistakes of this kind there are (each in a different place), the more sure you are of the original message. This is why scribal mistakes in the biblical manuscripts do not affect the basic message of the Bible.

Confusing General with Universal Statements

Like other literature, the Bible often uses generalizations. The book of Proverbs has many of these. Proverbial sayings, by their very nature, offer general guidance, not universal assurance. They are rules for life, but rules that admit of exceptions. Proverbs 16:7, HCSB affirms that “when a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” This obviously was not intended to be a universal truth. Paul was pleasing to the Lord and his enemies stoned him (Acts 14:19). Jesus was pleasing the Lord, and his enemies crucified him. Nonetheless, it is a general truth that one who acts in a way pleasing to God can minimize his enemies’ antagonism.

Proverbs are wisdom (general guides), not law (universally binding imperatives). When the Bible declares “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45, NASB), then there are no exceptions. Holiness, goodness, love, truth, and justice are rooted in the very nature of an unchanging God. But wisdom literature applies God’s universal truths to life’s changing circumstances. The results will not always be the same. Nonetheless, they are helpful guides.

Forgetting That Later Revelation Supersedes Earlier Ones

Sometimes critics do not recognize progressive revelation. God does not reveal everything at once, nor does he lay down the same conditions for every period of history. Some of his later revelations will supersede his earlier statements. Bible critics sometimes confuse a change in revelation with a mistake. That a parent allows a very small child to eat with his fingers but demands that an older child use a fork and spoon, is not a contradiction. This is progressive revelation, with each command suited to the circumstance.

There was a time when God tested the human race by forbidding them to eat of a specific tree in the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 2:16-17). This command is no longer in effect, but the later revelation does not contradict this former revelation. Also, there was a period (under the Mosaic law) when God commanded that animals be sacrificed for people’s sin. However, since Christ offered the perfect sacrifice for sin (see Heb. 10:11-14), this Old Testament command is no longer in effect. There is no contradiction between the later and the former commands.

Of course, God cannot change commands that have to do with his unchangeable nature (see Mal. 3:6; Heb. 6:18). For example, since God is love (see 1 John 4:16), he cannot command that we hate him. Nor can he command what is logically impossible, for example, to both offer and not offer a sacrifice for sin at the same time and in the same sense. But these moral and logical limits notwithstanding, God can and has given noncontradictory, progressive revelations which, if taken out of its proper context and juxtaposed, can look contradictory. This is as much a mistake as to assume a parent is self-contradictory for allowing a 16-year-old to stay up later at night than a 6-year-old.

In summation, the Bible cannot err, but critics can and have. There is no error in God’s revelation, but there are errors in our understanding of it. Hence, when approaching Bible difficulties, the wisdom of St. Augustine is best: “If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken; but either [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood.” (Augustine, City of God 11.5)

Sources

G. L. Archer, Jr., An Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties
W. Arndt, Bible Difficulties
—, Does the Bible Contradict Itself?
Augustine, City of God.
Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, in P. Schaff, ed., A Select Library of the Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church
N. L. Geisler, “The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate,” ., October-December 1980
—and T. Howe, When Critics Ask
—and W. E. Nix, General Introduction to the Bible
J. W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible
H. Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible
J. Orr, The Problems of the Old Testament Considered with Reference to Recent Criticism
J. R. Rice, Our God-Breathed Book-The Bible
E. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Kings of Israel
R. Tuck, ed., A Handbook of Biblical Difficulties
R. D. Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament

 

 

 

Book Review: Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate (2016)

Book Review of Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Christopher T. Haun[1]

[Click here >> Book Review – Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate to open this review as a PDF file.]

Title:

Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate
Publisher: Wipf & Stock
Date: 2016
General Editor: F. David Farnell
Contributors: F. David Farnell, Norman L. Geisler, Joseph P. Holden, William C. Roach, Phil Fernandes, Robert Wilkin, Paige Patterson, Shawn Nelson, Christopher T. Haun
PAGES: 563

PRICE:

$85.00 (Hardcover), $64.00 (Paperback)[2]

Kindle: $15.00 at Amazon.com

 

In Kurosawa’s classic film The Seven Samurai, desperate farmers convince veteran warriors to help defend their village and harvest from raiding bandits. Six ronin and one apprentice accept the challenge. After fortifying the village and giving the farmers a crash course in asymmetric warfare, the seven samurai lead the defense when the marauders return. Some of this story line and imagery came to mind as I read Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate (VIID) because first and foremost it is a defense.

Twenty-eight of its thirty-two chapters are written by six veteran scholars (holding PhDs in various fields). Four of its chapters are written by two MDiv candidates. In every chapter the authors are, as the preface says, “earnestly contending for the faith delivered once and for all to God’s people.” Every one of its meaty pages defends the traditional, conservative evangelical views of inspiration, inerrancy, and hermeneutics from the destructive use of biblical criticism. By extension they are defending all the propositions in and doctrines derived from the Bible.

VIID is an anthology of some of the best and most recent articles on topics of inerrancy, hermeneutic, and the quest for the historical Jesus. While it does weave in some of the history of the main clashes in the battle for the Bible in the twentieth century—such as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, Barth and Neo-Orthodoxy, Fuller, Ladd, Rogers, McKim, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), ETS and Robert Gundry—it doesn’t linger on them. Mainly it offers fresh and intelligent responses to the newest wave of challenges to the Bible offered by evangelicals in books like The Resurrection of Jesus (IVP, 2010), The Lost World of Scripture (IVP, 2013), Ten Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship (Baker, 2013), Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Zondervan, 2013), Can We Still Believe the Bible? (Brazos, 2014), Lost World of Adam and Eve (IVP, 2015), Peter: False Disciple and Apostate According to Saint Matthew (Eerdmans, 2015), and I (Still) Believe (Zondervan, 2015).

Here is a sampling of the many thought-provoking questions which are discussed: How much emphasis should genre be given when doing interpretation? What is the nature of historical narratives? How do hermeneutics and inerrancy interrelate? Are the ideas of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy still important and relevant? What do the three living framers of the Chicago statements (Sproul, Packer, and Geisler) say about the new hermeneutic and the redefinitions of inerrancy? How do we deal with difficult passages in the Bible? What did the framers of the ICBI statements really mean? Where should one turn to get clarification about the Chicago Statements? Are the academic institutions of the evangelical world failing to learn the lessons of the past? Was the Apostle Matthew an Apostate? Which view has continuity with the early church fathers, Augustine, Aquinas, the Reformers, the writers of the 12-volume The Fundamentals, and the old Princetonians? Is inerrancy just for Calvinists? How early were the gospels really written? Is inerrancy just a peripheral doctrine? Is inerrancy derived from inductive and/or deductive logic? Was Matthew really the only one to mention the raising of the saints in Matthew 27? What do the Church fathers say about Matthew 27? Did any ancient Romans detect the influence of Roman historiography in Matthew 27? Should inerrancy be used as a litmus test of orthodoxy? Are the tools of biblical criticism really neutral? Does purpose or intention determine meaning? What does “truth” really mean? Is an intentionalist view of truth an alternative to the correspondence view of truth? Why did Bart Ehrman drift from fundamentalism to liberalism? What was the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention? Is there a resurgence of neo-evangelicalism? How does postmodernism fit into all this? Should the story of Adam and Eve be taken literally? Should organizations enforce their doctrinal statements amongst their own members? Does every scholarly evangelical organization lose its grip on inerrancy by the third generation? Should apologists defend both the Faith and the Bible? Should evangelicals send their budding scholars to earn PhDs at schools that specialize in biblical criticism?

VIID is provocative. The most controversial thing about the book is probably its willingness to name the names of many influential men. I’m not just talking about the old rascals like Bacon, Barth, Bart D. Ehrman, Bultmann, Darwin, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Lessing, Perrin, Reimarus, Schweitzer, Spinoza, Strauss, Tillich, Troeltsch, and von Harnack. VIID does mention them. But if focuses more on the also names the names of present and recent scholars, publishers, and bloggers: Ben Meyer, Birger Gerhadsson, Bruce Waltke, Carlos Bovell, Charles Talbert, Christopher Ansberry, Christopher Hays, Christian Smith, Clark Pinnock, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, Craig Keener, D. Brent Sandy, Daniel P. Fuller, Daniel Harlow, Daniel Wallace, Darrell Bock, David Capes, David E. Garland, Donald Hagner, Donald K. McKim, Douglas Moo, Edwin Yamauchi, E. P. Sanders, Ernst Wendland, Gary R. Habermas, George Eldon Ladd, Gerd Theissen, Grant R. Osborne, Gregory A. Boyd, H. C. Kee, Heath Thomas, I. Howard Marshall, J. Merrick, J. P. Holding, Jack B. Rogers, James Barr, James Bruckner, James Charlesworth, James Crossley, James D. G. Dunn, Jeremy Evans, James Hamilton, Joel N. Lohr, Joel Watts, John Byron, John R. Franke, John Schneider, John H. Walton, Justin Taylor, Ken Schenck, Kenton Sparks, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Lee McDonald, Leith Anderson, Leon Morris, Martin Soskice, Matthew Montonini, Michael F. Bird, Michael Green, Michael R. Licona, Moises Silva, Murray Harris, N.T. Wright, Nick Peters, Nijya Gupta, Paul Copan, Paul Jewett, Peter E. Enns, Paul Ricouer, Peter H. Davids, Phillip Long, Richard Burridge, Richard Horsley, Robert H. Gundry, Robert W. Yarborough, Robert Webb, Scot McKnight, Stephen M. Garrett, Thomas Schreiner, Tremper Longman III, W. David Beck, Walter Liefield, William Lane Craig, William Warren, and William Webb. (I probably missed a few!) Many of these men are held in high esteem in by many evangelicals. And yet VIID says that each of these men have in some way and to some degree challenged the parameters delineated by the ICBI in The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI, 1978) and The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (CSBH, 1983).

Standing in the watchman tradition of books like The Battle for the Bible (Lindsell, 1976), The Bible in the Balance (Lindsell, 1979), The Jesus Crisis (Thomas and Farnell, 1998), The Jesus Quest (Geisler and Farnell, 2014), and Defending Inerrancy (Geisler and Roach, 2011), an exposé of this scope runs the risk of being accused of fratricide, libel, divisiveness, disunity, faction creating, quarrelsomeness, malice, and nastiness. But really all of its authors do a remarkable job of contending without being contentious. None of the pages were stuck together with drops of venom. With a passionate concern they succeeded in “not be[ing] quarrelsome but . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Ti. 2:4) and in “not regard[ing] him as an enemy but warn[ing] him as a brother” (2 Th. 3:15).

There is merit in the maxim “attack the idea, not the man who holds it.” Perhaps the Apostle Paul anticipated this question when he wrote, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Co. 10:5). Ultimately the good fight of faith is not against people but against opinions and thoughts. But then must the defense always preclude the naming of names? As much as we might all prefer to avoid pointing fingers, it seems unavoidable at times. When specific professors are saying specific things to specific audiences, the defense cannot be sufficiently meaningful (certainly not in any actionable sense) unless specific names are named and their actual words are exposed and evaluated.

Also, in the act of naming names of men spreading ideas they deem corrosive to the orthodox faith, these watchmen are following apostolic precedents. The Apostle John named Cain as the old rascal who should not be imitated (1 Jn. 3:2) and named Diotrephes as the noteworthy contemporary antagonist inside the network of first-century churches. He described Diotrephes as one who does not properly recognize apostolic authority, who spoke “wicked nonsense” against them, and who should not be followed (3 Jn. 9-12). Similarly the Apostle Paul named Jannes and Jambres as the old rascals who will serve as patterns for many in these last days (2 Ti. 3:1-9). He also generalized that “all who are in Asia have turned away from me” and singled out Phygelus and Hermogenes as noteworthy examples (2 Ti. 1:15). Similarly he warned about Demas—a man who had been one of Paul’s coworkers and companions—because he preferred the world (2 Ti. 4:10). Paul also wanted church leaders to be wary of “Alexander the coppersmith” who “did me great harm” and “strongly opposed our message” (2 Ti. 4:14-15). He urged Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths . . . which promote speculations rather than . . . a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These “certain persons” had “wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers. . . without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Ti. 13-7). He named three of them by name (“among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” and “among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus”). These were men who also were operating inside the first-century network of apostolic churches. They were insiders who had “made shipwreck of their faith” and “swerved from the truth.” They were “upsetting the faith of some” with “irreverent babble” that will “lead people into more and more ungodliness” and “spread like gangrene” (1 Ti. 1:19-20; 2 Ti. 2:16-18). Similarly the authors of VIID are attempting to warn the Bible-believing world that many of the professors at evangelical schools (who generally earned their PhDs from prestigious post-protestant, anti-evangelical schools) are leading evangelicals away from evangelical orthodoxy through the use of unorthodox methodology.

VIID also runs the risk of being accused of trying to stymie the progress of biblical scholarship, of trying to keep us stuck in the past, of interfering with the grand quest to “follow the truth wherever it leads,” and of thus being overall anti-intellectual and anti-scholarly. But VIID is an intellectual and scholarly attempt to discourage the use of corrosive literary criticism while encouraging healthy biblical scholarship. The authors urge considering of lessons of the past which show how the higher critical path leads not to pinnacles of illumination, enlightenment, and progress but to precipices of doubt. The application of feminist criticism, form criticism, genre criticism, historical criticism, Marxist criticism, midrash criticism, mythological criticism, New Criticism, new historical criticism, post-colonial criticism, post-structuralist criticism, psychoanalytic criticism, redaction criticism, rhetorical criticism, sociological criticism, source criticism, and whatever the next flavor of literary criticism that becomes vogue among secular scholars in the next decade all have one thing in common: They are critical and revolutionary by nature. Progress is made by challenging traditions and creating new knowledge with new wisdom. VIID insists that when evangelical scholars use secular literary criticism in their biblical criticism, it will ultimately lead to the same doctrinal graveyard that the neo-orthodox and liberal/modernist scholars filled in former decades with their use of higher criticism. The speculations produced during the exercise of critical methodologies is invariably given precedence over the plain meanings in the text of the Bible, once again the word of God is nullified for the sake of human traditions.

The neo-evangelical revolution is also changing the field of historical-evidential Christian apologetics. More than once VIID touches upon the rising tendency among evangelical biblical scholars to meet the historical critics on their own turf. They often create scholarly defenses for the big things—such as the general historical reliability of the gospels and the historical likelihood of the resurrection of Jesus—while being overly willing to amputate some of the seemingly less defensible and more dispensable propositions in the Bible. This innovative (non-classical) approach seems to be creating a division between those satisfied with defending a historical, creedal, and “mere” Christianity and those who would also defend the Bible in whole and part.

Some of VIID’s chapters are derived from articles originally posted at DefendingInerrancy.com, a website that has had more than 200,000 visits, 55,000 Facebook likes, and 48,000 signatures on its petition in support of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. These statistics suggest that the latest battle for the Bible has not been lost yet. In The Magnificent Seven, a western adaptation of The Seven Samurai, the plot is further complicated by the ongoing question of whether the villagers will allow the bandits to continue to fleece them or whether they will really rise up and join the veterans in the fight. What will the villagers in the evangelical village do about neo-evangelical and neo-orthodox scholarship that is robbing them of their doctrinal heritage? To borrow a phrase from the oaths sworn by those seeking either citizenship or high office in the United States, will we defend our constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic?” Will we fight the good fight of faith not just against the siegeworks erected outside the city walls but also against those that have been smuggled inside the walls? Or will we watch the undermined walls collapse mysteriously around us and wonder how our harvest was plundered again? For those fighting the good fight of faith, Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate deserves consideration.

 

Chapter by Chapter

The book begins with a one-page tribute to Dr. Norman Geisler by the other contributors for his decades of defending and commending the faith. Indeed he is “worthy of a double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). The two-page foreword by Dr. Paige Patterson sets the tone well with a call to continued vigilance. Patterson also provides excellent insights into the history of the inerrancy debate. He was part of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) and remembers it well. The two-page preface acknowledges the debt to the ICBI and adds another dimension to the history of the debate. The first 115 pages are devoted to defining inerrancy. The remaining pages are devoted to defending it.

The first chapter is titled “The Historic Documents of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.” It is 17 pages long and is largely a condensed adaptation of the book Explaining Biblical Inerrancy (Bastion Books, 2012). Geisler begins by pointing out that he is currently one of the last three living framers of the three statements produced by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. He writes to “dispel some contemporary misinterpretations of what the ICBI framers meant by inerrancy” and to set the record straight. He enumerates the four fundamental documents of the ICBI (all four of which are collected in Explaining Biblical Inerrancy) and the other important books produced by the ICBI. He explains why the ICBI view of inerrancy is important. He explains the four main areas where scholars on the more liberal end of the evangelical spectrum (and usually holding membership in the Evangelical Theological Society and signing agreement with CSBI) have ignored, misunderstood, or otherwise challenged the CSBI: (1) the meaning of “truth,” (2) the function of genre, (3) the nature of historical narratives, (4) the relationship between hermeneutics and inerrancy. He very ably bolsters these four areas. He also gives a subtle challenge to the Evangelical Theological Society to enforce their doctrinal statement among its members. This chapter also includes all the articles of affirmation and denial from the CSBI and CSBH. This may then be the first time these two statements have ever been put together in their entirely and placed into a printed book. This was an unbeatable choice for a first chapter. This is something everyone in the ETS and EPS should come to grips with. Those who appreciate this chapter will enjoy its expansion in Explaining Biblical Inerrancy.

Chapter two is titled “What Is Inerrancy and Why Should We Care?” It is only four pages long and is written by Geisler and Shawn Nelson. It begins with a brief explanation of the three “in’s”: Inspiration, Infallibility, and Inerrancy. It gives four reasons why inerrancy is important and ultimately an essential—not peripheral—doctrine. Pointing to CSBI as the standard for describing what inerrancy is and is not, it proceeds to explain that the historical view of inerrancy is under attack right now. It gives a focus on the new wave of challenges to CSBI that arguably began in 2010 with various published and spoken statements by apologist Michael Licona.

Chapter three is also by Nelson and is titled “A Voice from a New Generation: What’s at Stake?” Nelson makes it clear the attack upon inerrancy by Michael Licona in 2010 exposed a much bigger problem. Several highly esteemed scholars from the ETS (Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Daniel Wallace, J.P. Moreland, W. David Beck, Jeremy Evans, Craig Keener, Douglas Moo, Heath Thomas, William Warren, and Edwin Yamauchi) publically voiced their support for Licona’s right to trump both CSBI and CSBH with form criticism and historical criticism. And this despite very clear statements in both ICBI statements on inerrancy (CSBI and CSBH) that guard against the exact type of maneuver Licona was using. Nelson gives a helpful tour of the historical views of biblical inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy. He cites Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Pseudo-Barnabas, Papias, Ignatius of Antioch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and the Epistle to Diognetus, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyprian, Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril, Jerome, and Augustine. He also gives a helpful and concise tour of how the thought of Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, and Darwin led to a growing popularity of biblical errancy. He distinguishes between Evangelical, Liberal, and Neo-Evangelical views. He projects that the erosion of inerrancy will lead to further doubt and uses the regress of Bart Erhman as an example we should learn from. He makes additional arguments for the importance of an uncompromising view of inerrancy and ends with recommendations for staunching the decay.

Chapter four is written by F. David Farnell and titled, “Evangelical Mentoring: The Danger from Within.” With a shepherd’s heart and a scholar’s eye, Farnell starts by contrasting faithful mentoring with radical mentoring. A considerable amount of Jesus’ earthly ministry was in opposition with those who had interpretations of the Bible that made null the Word of God null. These men were disciples in a tradition and they were making disciples in that tradition. Jesus chose disciples like Peter and Paul to carry on his traditions and make disciples. Paul was a mentor to reliable men like Timothy and Titus. These men were to be mentors to other faithful men who could teach others. Farnell reminds us that some traditions attempt to stay faithful to the apostolic tradition and to the scriptures while other traditions do not represent them faithfully. In a way, it all comes down to mentoring. Against this backdrop he explains his concerns over some of the eighteen professors showcased in the 2015 book titled I Still Believe. He focuses upon the testimonies of Donald Hagner, Bruce Waltke, James Dunn, and Scot McKnight. He’s left questioning whether many of the professors—the teachers of the future teachers—in many evangelical institutions are passing on doubts rather than faith to the students who have been entrusted to them.

Chapter five is a review by Geisler of the 2013 book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (FVBI). He begins by pointing out three serious problems with the approach of this book. Having five views in dialogue for inerrancy suggests that inerrancy is “up for grabs” when it really is not. There are not five views. There are ultimately two views. Either the Bible contains errors and contradictions or it does not. Also, of the five authors, only one is an actual inerrantist; the other four are varying degrees of errantists. The deck seems stacked. And since the book was to discuss the CSBI, why were none of the three living framers of the CSBI (Sproul, Packer, or Geisler) asked to participate in a dialogue? His review is 39 meaty pages in length. It’s daunting to try to summarize it. He points out that the Evangelical Theological Society officially adopted the CSBI as its definition of inerrancy. He provides five reasons for the importance and fundamental position of inerrancy. He notes that some of the authors of FVBI misunderstand “truth” and some of them wrongly assume purpose determines meaning. Propositional revelation, accommodation, lack of precision, the role of extra-biblica data, the role of hermeneutics, and the role of extra-biblical genre, pluralism, conventionalism, and foundationalism are all discussed. Geisler nails the coffin lid shut on the question of whether Licona’s views can be harmonized with CSBI and CSBH by pointing out that all three of the remaining framers of the Chicago statements (Sproul, Packer, and Geisler) have confirmed that they cannot. The story of ETS and Robert Gundry is retold. Examples of dealing with bible difficulties (what some of the authors of FBVI would call contradictions) in the OT and NT are given. Geisler also answers the errantists charges against inerrantists of being unbiblical, unhistorical, using the slippery slope argument, being parochial, unethical, divisive, and unloving. Reading this chapter reminded me that Geisler deserves the tribute that the book begins with.

Chapter six is by Dr. William Roach and is titled “The 2015 Shepherds’ Conference on Inerrancy.” John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary hosted a conference on inerrancy in March 2015. They reaffirmed the importance of holding to total inerrancy and to defining it as the CSBI did. This seven page article reports positively on that conference.

Chapter seven is a fascinating interview William Roach conducted with Paige Patterson. They discuss the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention and how their seminaries were rescued from errantism. It discusses what interplay there was between it and the ICBI.

In chapter eight Geisler answers the question of whether one has to be a Calvinist to believe in inerrancy. Many of the leaders of the later ICBI inerrancy movement were

strong Calvinists but most of the signers of the ICBI statements on inerrancy identified as moderate Calvinists, Cal-minians, Arminians, Wesleyans, “or some other label.” Geisler establishes continuity with Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Warfield, Hodge, Wesley, and other Wesleyans. He shows how they upheld inerrancy. He concludes, “Inerrancy is neither a late nor a denominational doctrine. It is not provincial but universal. It is the foundation for every group that names the name of Christ. . .”

Chapter nine is where Geisler reexamines the relationship between inerrancy and hermeneutics. He is tackling the claim that is made by those who defend the attacks against CSBI and CSBH by saying, “Leave him alone. It’s just a matter of interpretation, not of inerrancy.” This could be the most important chapter of the book as it tackles what may be the thing that evangelicals have had the hardest time understanding. Today many evangelicals can try to claim to be inerrantists and to agree with CSBI while promoting hermeneutical gymnastics to trump inerrancy. Yet it was clear to the wise leaders of the ICBI that after producing the CSBI still had to proceed to create the CSBH. What good is it to reinforce the front door while leaving the backdoor unlocked? Geisler discusses how this played out with the controversies surrounding Jack Rodgers, Robert Gundry, Paul Jewett, and Michael Licona. He challenges various assumptions: inspiration and interpretation are separate matters, allegorical interpretation, truth is not correspondence to facts, biblical narratives are not necessarily historical, hermeneutic is neutral, and more.

In chapter ten Geisler responds to William Lane Craig’s advocacy of limited inerrancy based on inductive logic and his argument against unlimited inerrancy as based on deductive logic. Naturally Geisler begins with the question of whether inerrancy has an inductive or deductive basis. Explaining the “false disjunction,” the chapter quickly becomes a delight for those of us who appreciate logic. He then proceeds to tackle Craig’s claims that only the author’s intentions (and not all affirmations) are inerrant, that only essential matters are inerrant but not peripheral matters, and that extra-biblical genre determines the meaning of biblical texts. He discusses the question of genre and explains how inerrancy is an essential doctrine. He discusses Licona’s errors. He contrasts the evangelical and neo-evangelical views of inerrancy and reminds that the ETS adopted CSBI in 2006 as its definition of inerrancy. Geisler also makes the important correction that Kenneth Kantzer, the professor Craig claims to have learned the doctrine of inerrancy from, was actually a committed follower of the Warfield-Hodge view of total inerrancy. Kantzer would have been “clearly opposed to the Craig-Licona view of limited inerrancy.” He also reminds Craig that Packer, Sproul, and Geisler have all confirmed that Licona’s view of Mt 27 (which Craig also essentially holds) is not compatible at all with CSBI or CSBH. He concludes saying, “Thus evangelicalism is the rightful owner of unlimited inerrancy, and those professed evangelicals who modify it or limit it to redemptive matters are, at best, the rightful owners of the term Neo-Evangelical.”

Chapter eleven is by Farnell and is titled “Early Twentieth Century Challenges to Inerrancy.” Encouraging us to learn from history in order to not repeat its mistakes, Farnell compares what was happening in the early twentieth century (with the fundamentalist-modernist controversy) and what is happening here in the early twenty-first century (with the evangelical-neoevangelical controversy). The parallels seem uncanny. He explains how and why the The Fundamentals was produced and “left as a testimony by the faithful to the early twentieth-century church’s experience of the attack on orthodox Protestant beliefs, conducted aggressively by higher criticism, liberal theology, Catholicism. . . , socialism, Modernism, atheism, Christian Science, Mormonism, Millennial Dawn, Spiritualism, and evolutionism that had infiltrated its ranks and subsequently caused great damage within the church with regard to its vitality and theology. Above all, they left it as a warning to future generations in hopes of preventing a similar occurrence among God’s people in the future.” Farnell points out that after the divinity schools fell to modernism new schools like Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Fuller Seminary were planted to serve as bastions of conservative, biblical doctrine, inerrancy, and the fundamentals of the faith.

In chapter twelve, Farnell picks up where he left off in chapter 11. He discusses the challenges (or crisis) in the twenty-first century caused largely by fundamentalist or evangelical scholars seeking the respect of mainline academia. Many of the young scholars were sent to Ivy League, British, or Continental European schools to earn their PhDs. Many schools began to hire professors who were from these schools that were dominated by theological liberalism. With them came the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth. He explains how Fuller Seminary drifted away from evangelical views about the Bible and became rather neo-evangelical. He discusses Ladd, Lindsell, Rogers, McKim, Woodbridge, Gundry, Barr, ICBI, ETS, Blomberg, Silva, Geisler, The Jesus Crisis, Bock, Webb, Osborne, The Jesus Quest, the third quest for the historical Jesus, Perrin, Ladd, Roach, Defending Inerrancy, Sparks, McCall, Thompson, Yarbrough, Linnemann, Gundry, more Blomberg, Dan Wallace, Bill Craig, Hagner, Ehrman, and more. This provides an excellent history which filled in many gaps for me. It shows that critical scholarship is still going today where it went in the past.

Chapter thirteen is titled “The Resurgence of Neo-Evangelicalism: Craig Blomberg’s Latest Book and the Future of Evangelical Theology.” Here William Roach provides a concise but helpful historical backdrop of the controversies over inerrancy. He is primarily critiquing Craig Blomberg’s book Can We Still Believe the Bible? But he also weaves in some other recent works by neo-evangelicals who advocate errantism. He corrects some inaccuracies and confirms that Blomberg is yet another scholar who is “now willing to move beyond the vision and legacy of classic evangelicalism and the ICBI.” In his critique of Blomberg’s ideas he also weaves in many other related bits with mastery of the subject matter.

In chapter fourteen Phil Fernandez describes how the battle for the Bible has begun again. He begins by saying, “This chapter is not meant to divide brothers in Christ. Rather, it is a call to honesty. Those who call themselves evangelicals must truly be evangelicals. . . . If we sign a doctrinal statement, we must actually believe what we affirmed in that statement. We should not have the liberty to redefine the doctrines addressed in that statement. . . . this chapter should not be understood as an attack on Christian brothers. Rather, it is an indictment on the present state of evangelical scholarship itself.” He explains how the battle for the Bible raged in the 1970s and how it led to the ICBI. He discusses the reason for Robert Gundry being asked to leave the ETS and how the ETS did not vote Clark Pinnock out. He also sees a revival of the battle for the Bible starting with Mike Licona in 2010. He discusses the problems of genre and historiography in a way that harmonizes well with the other chapters but which also remains distinct. One thing that stood out to me was the way Phil tied in the minimal facts case for the resurrection. He says, it “is a great way to defend the resurrection. But, we must never allow the minimal facts case to evolve into a minimal facts evangelicalism or a minimal facts New Testament scholarship.” He challenges the ETS to enforce and even enlarge their doctrinal statement.

Chapter fifteen considers the question of whether or not biblical inerrancy as a “litmus test” of evangelical orthodoxy. This was written by Christopher Haun in response to a blog post written by Daniel Wallace. Wallace had pointed out that Carl F. H. Henry remained averse to setting biblical inerrancy as the litmus test of orthodoxy. Haun attempts to show how Wallace is partially right and partially wrong. He clarifies Henry’s position using several quotes by Henry himself and some by Ronald Nash.

Farnell is asking “Can We Still Believe Critical Evangelical Scholars?” in chapter sixteen. He reminds us of how vibrant Christianity had been in the 18th and 19th centuries and then asks how so many churches and cathedrals are boarded up now. How did British and Scottish universities become spiritually dead? And why do American evangelicals still go there to get their PhDs?  He explains that the change was internal. He explains a few forces of change and talks about why things were different in the United States. One of the differences is that two wealthy laymen paid for a project that would produce the twelve volume set of The Fundamentals between 1910 and 1917. Three million of those volumes were distributed. As schools like Princeton succumbed to the forces of apostasy, schools like Westminster Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological Seminary were started. He compares the similarities between the 20th and 21st century scenes and encourages us to learn the lessons of the past. He discusses some of the harmful ideas of Ladd, Blomberg, Hagner, and more.

In chapter seventeen Farnell discusses “The ‘Magic’ of Historical Criticism.” This is a 59 page essay.

In chapters 18 and 19, Farnell gives a “Critical Evaluation of Robert H. Gundry’s Westmont College Lecture, ‘Peter: False Disciple and Apostate according to Saint Matthew’”

In chapter 20 Geisler and Farnell provide “A Critical Review of Donald Hagner’s ‘Ten Guidelines for Evangelical Scholarship’”

Chapter 21. Geisler sets the record straight on “On Licona Muddying the Waters of the Chicago Statements of Biblical Inerrancy and Hermeneutics.”

 

Chapter 22. Geisler sets the record straight on “The Early Church Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27:51–54.”

Chapter 23. Geisler reviews Craig Blomberg’s book Can We Still Believe in the Bible? He shows how Blomberg’s views contradict, misunderstand, and attack the ICBI view on inerrancy. He responds to Blomberg’s Defense of Robert Gundry, Murray Harris, Mike Licona

Chapter 24 | ICBI Inerrancy Is Not for the Birds | Joseph Holden responds to the “current trend among evangelical New Testament scholars to utilize or approve of genre criticism (e.g., Craig Blomberg, Michael Licona, Darrell Bock, Michael Bird, Carlos Bovell, Kevin Vanhoozer, et al.) to dehistoricize the biblical text appears to stem from an aversion to the correspondence view of truth.”

Chapter 25. Contemporary Evangelical NT Genre Criticism Opening Pandora’s Box? Joseph M. Holden

Chapter 26 | Book Review: Craig Blomberg’s Can We Still Believe the Bible? |Joseph M. Holden

Chapter 27 | Book Review: The Lost World of Adam and Eve | Norman L. Geisler

Chapter 28 | An Exposition and Refutation of the Key Presuppositions of Contemporary Jesus Research | Phil Fernandes

Chapter 29 | Redating the Gospels | Phil Fernandes

Chapter 30 | Misinterpreting J. I. Packer on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics | William C. Roach and Norman L. Geisler

Chapter 31 | Can We Still Trust New Testament Professors? | Bob Wilkin

Chapter 32 | Christopher T. Haun explores the question of whether ancient Romans detected the influence of Roman historiography in Matthew 27:45–54 or not. He puts the theory that Roman historians influenced Matthew’s way of reporting history to the test by examining thirty case studies where ancient Romans referred to one or more of the events in Matthew 27:45–54. Did any of the ancients interpret these events less than literally? He also revisits the three case studies that Licona cited in The Resurrection of Jesus.

Epilogue | Historical Criticism vs. Grammatico-Historical: Quo Vadis Evangelicals? | F. David Farnell

Appendix: Statements on the Importance of Inerrancy from Prominent Christian Leaders

[1] Christopher T. Haun is a Master’s Degree candidate at Veritas Evangelical Seminary and an editorial associate at Bastion Books. This book review was written for the April 2016 issue of the Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics.

[2] To purchase at a 40% discount, use “inerrant” as a coupon code upon checkout at http://wipfandstock.com/vital-issues-in-the-inerrancy-debate.html. Also available at http://www.amazon.com/Vital-Issues-Inerrancy-Debate-Farnell/dp/149823724X

Houston Baptist University Defends Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy By Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D. February 2013 (updated March 2013)

 Houston Baptist University Defends Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy

 By Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.

 February 2013

 

Despite the fact that Mike Licona lost his positions at the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and at Liberty University subsequent to the public criticism of his views on inerrancy by Southern Baptist leaders like Al Mohler and Page Patterson and others, Houston Baptist hired Licona and placed its blessing on his views.  President Robert Sloan, Jr. said:

Dr. Michael Licona is a very fine Christian. We trust completely his commitment to Scripture. There are those who disagree with his comments on what is a very difficult passage (Matthew 27:45-53, especially verses 52-53), but Mike Licona’s devotion to the Lord Jesus, his magisterial defense of the resurrection, his publicly and solemnly declared affirmation of the complete trustworthiness of Scripture and his worldwide efforts to win others to Christ give us full confidence in his work as a teacher, colleague and faculty member of Houston Baptist University (reported in the Baptist Press [BP] 2/6/2013).”

Besides the fact that Sloan notably makes no claim that Licona believes in inerrancy, there are several serious problems with this approval of Licona’s aberrant views on Scripture:

First, Licona has not repudiated his claim that there is a contradiction in the Gospels about which day Jesus was crucified on.  In a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary (Spring, 2009) Licona declared, “I think that John probably altered the day [of Jesus’ crucifixion] in order for a theological—to make a theological point there.  But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified” (emphasis added).  In short, John contradicts the other Gospels on which day Jesus was crucified.  This is a flat denial of inerrancy for at least one of them has to be an error.  But if the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then how can it err on this matter?

Second, believing there are contradictions in the Bible is emphatically rejected by the Statements of International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).  Licona has claimed to agree with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) which accepted  the ICBI statements as a guide to understanding its view on inerrancy (in 2003).  But the ICBI Statements contradict his claim, saying: “We affirm the unity and internal consistency of scripture” (Article XIV).  And “We deny that later revelations…ever correct or contradict” other revelations (Article V).  As for the alleged compatibility of Licona’s view with the ICBI statements, the co-founder of ICBI and the original framer of its inerrancy Statements,  R. C. Sproul said flatly, “As the former and only president of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the united Statements of ICBI” (Letter May 22, 2012, emphasis added).

President Al Mohler of Southern Seminary adds correctly, “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy clearly and rightly affirms ‘the unity and internal consistency of Scripture’ and denies that any argument for contradictions within the Bible is compatible with inerrancy.  An actual contradiction is an error” (BP article 2/6/2013, emphasis added).

Third, Licona still embraces the view that it is compatible with inerrancy to accept the Greco-Roman view that there are legends in the Gospels.  Licona claims this Greco-Roman view is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (TheResurrection of Jesus, 34).  Indeed, he adds, “Bios offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…and they often included legends” (ibid., emphasis added).

In a YouTube video (11/23/2012) taken at the 2012 Evangelical Theological Society meeting (http://youtu.be/TJ8rZukh_Bc), Licona affirmed the following:  “So um this didn’t really bother me in terms of if there were contradictions in the Gospels…. So um it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed.  But it did bother a lot of Christians.”  However, Licona consoles himself, saying, “I mean there are only maybe a handful of things between Gospels that are potential contradictions and only one or two that I found that are really stubborn for me at this point and they are all in the peripherals again.”   However, this is no consolation for an inerrantist since even one error in the Bible would mean it is not the Word of God because God cannot error in even one thing that He affirms.  After all, how many mistakes can an omniscient Being make?  Zip , zero, zilch!  None!

Fourth, Licona believes the Greco-Roman Genre used by the Gospels allows for errors.  He claims this is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (TheResurrection of Jesus [RJ], 34).  So, “as I started to note some of these liberties that he took I immediately started to recognize that these are the same liberties that I noticed the Evangelists did, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” (ibid., emphasis added).  So, “these most commonly cited differences in the Gospels that skeptics like Ehrman like to refer to as contractions aren’t contradictions after all.  They are just the standard biographical liberties that ancient biographers of that day took.”

However, the ICBI statements clearly reject this conclusion, insisting that: “WE DENY that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (ICBI Hermeneutics Article XX). The Bible does use different genres of literature (history, poetry, parable, etc.).  But these are  known from inside the Bible by use of the traditional “grammatico-historical exegesis” which the ICBI framers embraced (Inerrancy Article XVIII).  Indeed, the framers said emphatically, “WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.  WE AFFIRM that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact.  WE DENY that any such event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Hermeneutics Article XIII).

Unlike Licona, the genre categories into which the Bible is said to fit are not determined by data outside the Bible.  The Gospels, for example, may be their own unique genre, as many biblical scholars believe. As the ICBI statement puts it, “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (Chicago Statement, Article XVIII). Indeed, the ICBI Commentary on Hermeneutics Article XVIII declares: The second principle of the affirmation is that we are to take account of the literary forms and devices that are found within the Scriptures themselves” (emphasis added).  The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible, not Greek legends.

Fifth, in direct contradiction to the ICBI statements on inerrancy, Licona dehistoricizes part of the Gospels. Licona and even some reviewers tend to focus on only one issue in Licona’s writings, namely, the non-historical status of the resurrected saints in Matthew 27.  But the ICBI statements on inerrancy condemn “dihistoricizing” the Gospel record.  Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement on inerrancy reads: “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (emphasis added).  The ICBI commentary on this reads: “To turn narrative history into poetry, or poetry into narrative history would be to violate the intended meaning of the text” (Commentary on Inerrancy Article XVIII). Again, “WE AFFIRM that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact.  WE DENY that any such event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Hermeneutics Article XIV).   The official commentary adds, “While acknowledging the legitimacy of literary forms, this article insists that any record of events presented in Scripture must correspond to historical fact. That is, no reported event, discourse, or saying should be considered imaginary.”

Licona’s claim that he is not “dehistoricizing” is bogus since it is based on the false assumption that the Gospels are not making a claim to be historical (cf. Lk. 1:1-4).  But the ICBI fathers clearly reject this, insisting that: “WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Hermeneutics Article VIII).

This is particularly true of the Matthew 27 text about the resurrection of the saints which presents itself as historical in many ways, including the following: (1) It occurs in a book that present itself as historical (cf. Mt. 1:1,18); (2) Numerous events in this book have been confirmed as historical (e.g., the birth, life, deeds, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ); (3) It is presented in the immediate context of other historical events, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ; (4) The resurrection of these saints is also presented as an event occurring as a result of the literal death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Mt. 27:52-53); (5) Its lineage with the preceding historical events is indicated by a series of conjunctions (and…and…and, etc.); (6) It is introduced by the attention getting “Behold” (v. 51) which focuses on its reality;[1] (7) It has all the same essential earmarks of the literal resurrection of Christ, including: (a) empty tombs, (b) dead bodies coming to life, and (c) these resurrected bodies appearing to many witnesses; (8) It lacks any literary embellishment common to myths,  being a short, simple, and straightforward account;  (9)  It contains elements that are confirmed as historical by other Gospels, such as (a) the veil of the temple being split (Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45), and (b) the reaction of the Centurion (Mk. 15:39; Lk. 23:47).  If these events are historical, then there is no reason to reject the other events, such as, the earthquake and the resurrection of the saints.

Licona’s Deviation from Orthodox Involves Many Passages

Further, Both Licona and even some reviewers make the mistake of assuming that Matthew 27 is the only problem that Licona has on the inerrancy issue. In fact, there are numerous places where Licona deviates from the traditional ICBI view on inerrancy which even ETS adopted as a guide for understanding inerrancy.  Consider the following:

(1)  Licona denied the historicity of the resurrected saints in Matthew 27. He wrote in his book on The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ) that the resurrection of the saints narrative was “a weird residual fragment” (RJ, 527) and a“strange report” (RJ, 530, 548, 556, emphasis added in these citations).[2] He called it “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary“special effects” (see RJ, 306, 548, 552, 553, emphasis added in all these citations).  He adds, “It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly bemixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes (see RJ, 185-186, emphasis added in all these citations). While Licona later moderated his certainty of this denial, he never retracted it, nor has he retracted his belief that it is compatible with inerrancy, even the ICBI view, to hold that this section is a legend.

(2)  Licona also affirmed that one of the Gospels claims that Jesus was crucified on the wrong day.  This he said in a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Spring, 2009 (which is cited above).  This is a serious breach of inerrancy.

(3, 4, 5, 6) Licona also casts doubt on the existence of the angels at the tomb after the resurrection in all four Gospels). He declared: “We may also be reading poetic language of legend at certain points, such as …the angels at the tomb (Mk 16:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13)” (RJ, 185-186).

      (7) He also suggested that the mob falling backward at Jesus claim in John 18:4-6 may not be historical but could be a legendary embellishment.  He called it: “A possible candidate for embellishment is Jn 18:4-6” (RJ, 306, n. 114).

(8)  Licona affirms that the Gospels sometimes embellished Jesus’ words.  He wrote, “For this reason, we get a sense that the canonical Gospels are reading authentic reports of Jesus’ arrest and death…even ifsome embellishments are present” (RJ, 306). This is contrary to Luke 1:1-4 which affirms that the Gospels are based on the accounts of “eyewitness.”

 

 

(9, 10, 11, 12, etc.)  Licona also admits that there are an unnumbered “handful” of possible errors in the Gospels.  He wrote: “I mean there are only maybe a handful of things between Gospels that are potential contradictions and only one or two that I found that are really stubborn for me at this point and they are all in the peripherals again.”  However, he takes comfort that they are all in “peripheral” areas.  But here again, how many errors can an omniscient Mind make in so-called peripheral areas?  None!  Further, some of the errors are not so “peripheral,” such as the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 after Jesus’ resurrection. After all, their resurrection was seen as a result of Jesus resurrection and was even taken to be a proof of it by the context and by many early Fathers of the Church (see “The Early Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27,” http://tinyurl.com/bdu23gg), including an apostolic Father (Ignatius) who was a contemporary of the apostle John and Irenaeus who knew Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.

 

Conclusion

Even Licona admits that “… You may lose some form of biblical inerrancy if there are contradictions in the Gospels, but you still have the truth of Christianity that Jesus rose from the dead, and I think that’s the most important point we can make” (BP, Feb 6, 2013, emphasis added).   Indeed, one would lose some form of inerrancy, if Licona is right—the form that has been held by Christians down though the centuries (see John Hannah,Inerrancy and the Church, 1984) including Southern Baptist (see Russ Bush and Tom Nettles, Baptist and the Bible, 1980), was confessed by the framers of the ETS, and was codified by the ICBI framers.  In view of this, it is incredible to hear Licona say, as he did (BP Feb. 5, 2012), that “he has not claimed there are contradictions in the Gospels.”  He clearly did say there was a contradiction in the Gospels in his debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary (cited above).  He also admitted in his YouTube interview (cited above) there were or could be contradictions in the Bible.  In fact, if words still have meaning, one wonders what form of inerrancy can there be that admits the Bible is errant?  As President Al Mohler said, “It would be nonsense to affirm real contradictions in the Bible and then to affirm inerrancy” (BP 2/6/2013).

Licona’s good friend Gary Habermas of Liberty University offers a lame excuse for his former pupil’s aberrant views when he claimed that people should remember that Licona’s approach is an apologetic strategy.  “Thus, it is not a prescription for how a given text should be approached in the original languages and translated, or how a systematic theology is developed….  So it should never be concluded that the use of such methods in an apologetic context indicate a lack of trust in Scripture as a whole, or, say, the Gospels in particular” (cited in BP 2/13/2013).  If this is taken to mean that Licona does not agree with his own words in his own book (RJ) and lectures when he denies the inerrancy of the Gospels, then it is ludicrous.  For, as any reasonably intelligent reader can tell, Licona is making and defending the statements of his book as his own and not simply as an “apologetic strategy.”  Nowhere in the 718 pages of his book (RJ) does he claim that it is merely an “apologetic strategy.”  The only apologetic strategy is the one employed by Habermas to defend his wayward student.

Licona told the Baptist Press, “I suppose that if one were to claim that it’s unorthodox to read the Gospels and attempt to understand them according to the genre in which they were written rather than impose Dr. Geisler’s modern idea of precision upon them, then I’m guilty as charged” (emphasis added).  However, this begs the whole question for it assumes, contrary to fact, that they are written in a Greco-Roman genre which Licona claims is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.  He added, “Bios offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material andinventing speeches…and they often included legends” (RJ, 34, emphasis added).  The truth of the matter is that ICBI framers are not imposing a “modern idea” of precision on the Bible, certainly not in claiming Gospel record of the resurrection of the saints is historical.  This is purely a “straw man” fallacy.  The ICBI frames clearly said, “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as lack of modern technical precision, … the use of hyperbole and round numbers” (Article XII, emphasis added). What is more, it is not inerrantists but Licona who is imposing a foreign, extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre on the Bible which leads to “dehistoricizing” the Scripture and undermining the doctrine of inerrancy.

Furthermore, it is not a question of “precision” that inerrantists insist upon when they disallow Licona’s allegations of contradictions in the Bible.  As Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwest Baptist theological Seminary, aptly put it: “Let’s be clear. A story, an affirmation, is either true or false, but not both true and false in the same way at the same time. That is a long accepted law of logic, and no amount of fudging can make it change. While I have no reason to question the sincerity of the author and while only God can judge his heart, Southern Baptists paid far too great a price to insist on the truthfulness of God’s Word to now be lured by a fresh emergence of the priesthood of the philosopher, especially when a philosopher raises a question about the truthfulness of Scripture” (1/9/2012).

 

                             

 

 

[1] Carl Henry noted that “Calling attention to the new and unexpected, the introductory Greekide—See! Behold!—stands out of sentence construction to rivet attention upon God’s awesome intervention” (Henry, God Revelation and Authority.Texas: Word Books, 1976) 2:17-18.

[2] Licona has subsequent questions about the certitude of his view on Matthew 27 but has not retracted the view nor his view that such a position is compatible with inerrancy.

 

 

Correction: Point 9 of this article was corrected in March 2013 after being informed (indirectly) that Licona believes Matthew wrote the Gospel by his name.  Hopefully, Licona will now address the main point and explain how his belief that a contradiction in the Gospels about the day on which Jesus was crucified is consistent with the doctrine of inerrancy he confesses to believe.  Inerrancy means the Bible is without error in everything it affirms, and a contradiction means that at least one of the things affirmed was in error.  An inspired error is an oxymoron.  Further, appealing, as Licona does, to pagan writers who believed such errors were acceptable in their writings does not exonerate biblical authors, who uttered only truth in Scripture, from a violation of the Law of Non-contradiction.   —-Norm Geisler

 

 

Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy: The List Grows

Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy: The List Grows

By Norman L. Geisler (12/22/2011)

  Licona’s Denial of the Historicity of New Testament Texts

Previous articles on my web site (www.normangeisler.com) have listed the many ways Mike Licona has denied the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) view of unlimited inerrancy.  They include:

  • A denial of the physical resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-54 (The Resurrection of Jesus [RJ], 548-553).
  • The denial of the historicity of the mob falling backward at Jesus claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (RJ, 306, note 114).
  • A denial of the historicity of the angels at the tomb recorded in all four Gospels (Mt. 28:2-7; Mk. 16:5-7; Lk. 24:4-7; Jn. 20:11-14) (RJ, 185-186).
  • The claim that the Gospel genre is Greco-Roman biography which he says is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34).

Now it has come to our attention that in a debate with Bart Erhman at Southern Evangelical Seminary in the Spring of 2009 that Licona asserted concerning the day Jesus was crucified that: “I think that John probably altered the day in order for a theological—to make a theological point there.  But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified.”  However, it does mean that the Licona believes that text is in error!  This is a flat denial of the inerrancy of Scripture!

            In short, the issue is not a single text or event.  It involves a denial of the historicity and inerrancy of a series of events in all four Gospels and the acceptance of a method of interpretation that casts doubt on other events in the Gospels.  And the denial of at least one event (Mt. 27) occurred in direct connection to the resurrection of Christ and as a result of it.  So, in the process of offering a noble attempt to defend the resurrection, Licona not only denies the inerrancy of the NT test but he cast doubt on the historicity of many events in it.

 

 A Response by Licona

 In response to Licona’s denial of the historicity of parts of the New Testament, we offered “Ten Reasons” why the Matthew 27 text should be taken as historical.  To date, Licona has not responded to most of these arguments.  Instead, his Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) paper speaks of someone “bullying” him around, of my having “a cow” over his view, of engaging in a “circus” on the internet, and of “targeting” him and “taking actions against me [Licona].” He speaks of his critics as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” He adds, “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.”  This is unfortunate language in any context, let alone in a so-called “scholarly” one as the EPS.  Such statements may engender pity, but they do not further the cause of orthodoxy.  And they have the effect of impugning the character of those who sincerely critique what they believe to be unorthodox views. If we have come to the point where one cannot critique a position that he believes is contrary to the historic orthodox view without being considered a “bully,” then we have already given up our commitment to orthodoxy in principle.

First, in spite of the fact that Licona condemned the use of the internet for these kinds of discussions, he and his son-in-law and friends have flooded the internet with their attacks of our defense of the ICBI view on inerrancy.  This includes web sites, blogs, and even YouTube cartoon videos.  It is clearly inconsistent to make a massive use of the internet to defend his view when those who use it to put serious scholarly articles on their web site are condemned for doing so.

 

Second, Licona did give one “scholarly” presentation in defense of his view and that was at the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) in November 2011.  But even it was riddled with ridicule on his critics, using ad hominem attacks, saying, that he has been “bullied” or undergone “hermeneutical water boarding,” along with making misleading statements about J. I. Packer’s view and about his dismissal from the Southern Evangelical Seminary Faculty.

 

Third, while Licona condemns the use of the internet to present scholarly critiques of his view as a “circus,” he refused to condemn an offensive YouTube cartoon produced by his son-in-law and friend who falsely caricaturing scholarly critiques of his view and wrongly claiming that we said Licona had “sinned.”  No such statement was ever made.  Further, producing cartoon caricatures may reflect creativity, but they are no substitute for orthodoxy.  Even Southern Evangelical Seminary, where Licona was once a faculty member, condemned this approach in a letter from “the office of the president,” saying, “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste” (12/9/2011).  One influential alumnus wrote the school, saying, “It was immature, inappropriate and distasteful” and recommended that “whoever made this video needs to pull it down and apologize for doing it” (12/21/2011).

 

What is needed by Licona and followers is not iPod interviews and insulting videos but a reasoned reply to all the critiques that have been made of his view. Furthermore, in a recent online interview Licona admitted his failure even to read these critiques which is both unscholarly and insulting.  The real need is for a retractions of his dehistoricizing the Gospel record.  That would solve Licona current deviation from the traditional view of inerrancy which has been clearly set forth in the statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy [ICBI] to which we now turn.

 

Licona’s View is Inconsistent with the ICBI Statements on Inerrancy

           We have also shown in articles posted on our web site (www.normangeisler.net) that Licona’s view, which includes “legend” in the Gospel narrative, is inconsistent with the statements on inerrancy by ICBI which Licona claims to accept and which was accepted by the Evangelical Theological Society [ETS] as a guide for the meaning of inerrancy.  We listed the following ICBI statements to show that ICBI condemns Licona’s views:Article 13:We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (emphasis added in all these citations). Article 9:We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.”Article 12: “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.” Article 18:We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, andthat Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.” 

 

            In addition, selections from the official ICBI commentary titledExplaining Inerrancy were added:Article 12: “Though the Bible is indeedredemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world. When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to be evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual. By biblical standards truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.” Article 18:When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing of the Bible…it has trespassed beyond its proper limits. By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.”

            To this were added the ICBI official statements in Explaining Hermeneutics (EH). EH Article 6: “We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts.” The commentary  adds, “The denial makes it evident that views which redefine error to mean what ‘misleads,’ rather than what is a mistake, must be rejected.”  EH Article 13: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.  Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.  Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.”  This makes it unmistakable clear that myths, legends, and embellishments, such as Licona allows in the Gospels, cannot be part of an inerrant (wholly truthful) book such as the Bible.

 

It is not Just a Matter of Hermeneutics

Licona insists that his view is only a matter of interpretation but not a matter of inerrancy.  Thus, he believes that one can allegedly hold different interpretations of a text without denying its inerrancy.  However, this is a false disjunction of interpretation from inerrancy for several reasons.

First, there is only a formal distinction between interpretation and inerrancy, not an actual disjunction.  Otherwise, biblical inerrancy is an empty vacuous claim that the whole Bible is truth without making a claim that anything in it is actually true. It amounts to saying, “If there are any truth claims in the Bible, then what they claim is true, is true.”  They add quickly, however, that inerrancy does not make a claim that anything in the Bible is actually true. But if this is so, then it would leave an inerrant (wholly true) Bible wholly without anything that is true in it.  But on the contrary, biblical inerrancy claims that everything the Bible affirms (and it affirms hundreds of things) is wholly true, that is, it corresponds with reality.

 

Second, Licona’s bifurcation of interpretation and inerrancy would mean that even a totally allegorical method which spiritualizes away every literal truth of the Bible (including the death and resurrection of Christ) could be held without denying inerrancy. This means that if Mary Baker Eddy or her Christian Science followers claimed to hold the complete inerrancy of whatever the Bible teaches and yet, as they do, deny the literal truth of the death and resurrection of Christ, then she could not be rightly charged with denying the inerrancy of the Bible. Clearly, such a total separation of interpretation from inspiration is not an evangelical view of inerrancy.

 

Third, such a disjunction of interpretation from inerrancy as Licona makes is contrary to the nature of truth itself. For truth is what corresponds to reality. ICBI clearly defines truth as “what corresponds to reality,” affirming that “all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy, 41).  But, if Licona’s claim is valid, then there is no reality to which the claim that “the Bible is completely true” actually corresponds.  Clearly, the inerrantist is not saying, “The Bible is completely true in everything it affirms, but the Bible is not actually affirming anything is true.”  For to claim “The Bible is completely true” implies that there are actual truths affirmed in the Bible. So, a formal distinction between interpretation and inerrancy does not mean there is an actual separation of the two.

 

Fourth, even granting the obvious claim that the Bible must be interpreted in order to understand its meaning, this does not imply, as Licona claims, that hermeneutical methods are inerrancy-neutral.  For there are hermeneutical presuppositions that are contrary to an evangelical view of inerrancy.  For example, a total allegorical method like that of Christian Science is not compatible with and evangelical view of what is meant when one claims the Bible is completely true.  This is why the famous ICBI “Chicago Statement” on biblical inerrancy includes Article 18: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatical-historical exegesis….”  In short, any method of interpreting Scripture that does not use the literal, historical-grammatical (H-G) method is inconsistent with inerrancy.  This means that any other method, like an allegorical method, is incompatible with an evangelical view of inerrancy.

 

Fifth, the H-G method does not approach the Bible with a historically neutral stance.  After all, it is not called the “literal” method for nothing.  It assumes there is a sensus literalis (literal sense) to Scripture.   In short, it assumes that a text should be taken literally unless there are good grounds in the text and/or in the context to take it otherwise.  As a matter of fact, we cannot even know a non-literal (e.g., allegorical or poetic) sense unless we know what is literally true.  So, when Jesus said, “I am the vine” this should not be taken literally because we know what a literal vine is, and we know that Jesus is not one.  Further, the literal H-G method does not reject the use of figures of speech or even symbolic language.  It only insists that the symbols have a literal referent.  For example, John speaks of literal angels as “stars” (Rev. 1:20) and a literal Satan as a “red dragon” (Rev. 12:3).  However, the literal H-G method does not allow one to take a literal historical persons (like Adam) or events (like a resurrection) as not literal history.

 

Sixth, the ICBI inerrancy statement against “dehistoricizing” a biblical narrative presupposes its historicity.  Contrary to Licona, biblical inerrantist do not approach a biblical narrative with a history-neutral presupposition (Article 18).  Indeed, neither do common persons reading road signs or news papers approach them in literal-free manner.  We approach almost everything in life with the presumption that it is literally true, unless there is good reason in the text or context to do otherwise.  Indeed, often our survival depends on it.  This is true whether the information is about the present or the past.  Hence, when confronted with a narrative that purports to be about the past, we assume it is literal history unless there is evidence to the contrary.  Of course, if the text says it is “allegorically speaking” (Gal. 4:24), or “Hear then the parable” (Mt. 13:18), or the like, then we know immediately it is not literal history. Other linguistic clues can serve the same purpose. But without some hermeneutical clue in the text, we must presume it is speaking literally. And when it is giving a narrative about the past, we must assume it means it literally.

 

However, in the Gospel narrative where other things are clearly literal (like the death and resurrection of Christ), there is clearly no reason whatsoever in the text or context to take it as non-historical.  But this is precisely what Licona does with the crowd falling backward (Jn. 18:4-6), the angels at the tomb Gospels (Mt. 28:2-7; Mk. 16:5-7; Lk. 24:4-7; Jn. 20:11-14), [RJ], 548-553), and the resurrection of the saints after Jesus’ resurrection (in Mt. 27: 51-54). Were it not for this presumption of history, the ICBI framers would not have spoken against “dehistoricizing” the Gospel record.  For one cannot de-historicize something that is not already presumed to be history.  So, ICBI affirmed: “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing,dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching….” (emphasis added).  And for the same reason it add, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightfully be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Article 13, emphasis added).  Clearly, the resurrection of the saints in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection presents itself as history (see our article, Ten Reasons for the Historicity of the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27” at www.normangeisler.net ).  Hence, Licona’s attempt to dehistoricize this story is condemned by the ICBI statement.

As ICBI framer R. C. Sproul put it, Though the Bible is indeedredemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Explaining Inerrancy [EI], Article 12). EH Article 13 says: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”But this is precisely what Licona does with his “Greco-Roman” genre category.  EH Article 14 proclaims: “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated”  As a member of the ICBI framing committee, I can say with certainty that it was views like Licona’s that we had in mind when we wrote these statements.

 

Thus, Licona’s point is invalidated when he wrote: “I hope that it has become clear in this paper that my intent was not to dehistoricize a text Matthew intended as historical. If I had, that would be to deny the inerrancy of the text. Instead, what I have done is to question whether Matthew intended for the raised saints to be understood historically” (emphasis added).  But this presumption is contrary to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic and begs the question in favor of Licona’s “new historiographical approach.”  For presuming a historical narrative is non-historical until proven historical is a radical presupposition that is contrary to everyday life and to the literal historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture which an ICBI view of inerrancy demands.

Seventh, what is more, Licona’s “new” approach rejects another venerable hermeneutical principle expressed by ICBI when it insists that “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (Article 18, emphasis added).  For Licona insists that extra-biblical data (e.g., Greco-Roman legends) can be used to interpret Scripture.  He wrote, “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography” which, he adds, “often included legend” that is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34).  But the Greco-Roman use of legend mixed with history is not a suitable model for interpreting a biblical narrative.  It is in fact, a violation of this H-G approach which demands that Biblical text be used to interpret biblical text, not extra-biblical text being used to determine the meaning of a biblical text.  And whereas one can find figures or speech and symbols used in the NT to represent literal events, there are no examples where legend replaces historical events. Indeed, the ICBI statements categorically reject just such a view, declaring: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.  Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.  Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.” (EH,Article XIII).  The same applies to claiming there are legends in the NT narratives, as Licona does.

 

One ICBI framer summarized the issue well: “Inspiration without inerrancy is an empty term. Inerrancy without inspiration is unthinkable. The two are inseparably related. They may be distinguished but not separated. So it is with hermeneutics. We can easily distinguish between the inspiration and interpretation of the Bible, but we cannot separatethem. Anyone can confess a high view of the nature of Scripture but the ultimate test of one’s view of Scripture is found in his method of interpreting it. A person’s hermeneutic reveals his view of Scripture more clearly than does an exposition of his view” (R. C. Sproul, “Biblical Interpretation And The Analogy of Faith” in Inerrancy and Common Sense, ed. by Roger R. Nicole,134, emphasis added).  Indeed, ICBI insisted that the historical-grammatical method of interpreting Scripture was part of its understanding of biblical inerrancy.

Counting Heads on the Inerrancy Issue

Since Licona has paraded before the cameras a handful of scholars who approve of his view and challenged anyone to produce even one scholar who disagrees with his view, the subject of numbers of supporters should be put into proper perspective.

 

First of all, if one limits the survey to only those who are recognized contemporary scholars who adopt critical methods of determining the historicity of the Gospels, then the deck is already stacked.  That is like asking the self-appointed radical Jesus Seminar to vote on the deity of Christ! We know what the outcome will be in advance.  Or, it is like trying to get a group of liberal Senators to vote to cut their “pork” out of the national budget.  Of course, Licona can always find many contemporary NT scholars on his side.  However, most of them cannot knowingly conscientiously sign the ICBI inerrancy statement as meant by the framers.

 

Second, if the circle of scholars is rightfully broadened to include academically credentialed evangelical scholars, then the vote has already been taken, and it is not favorable to Licona.  For after two years of discussion and scholarly interchange and at a regularly scheduled annual meeting of The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world, voted in 1983 with an overwhelming 70% majority to ask Robert Gundry to resign from ETS for “dehistoricizing” parts of the Gospel record, as Licona has done.

Third, the formation of the ICBI statement on inerrancy is the only time in modern history where a large group of nearly evangelical scholars (300 of them) from diverse denominational backgrounds voted to support a detailed statement on inerrancy.  These scholars included notables like Gleason Archer, Harold O. J. Brown, Ed Clowney, John Feinberg, John Frame, Frank Gaebelein, Wayne Grudem, Laird Harris, Harold Hoehner, Walt Kaiser, George Knight, Allan MacRae, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Paige Patterson, Vern Poythress, Robert Preus, Earl Radmacher, Charles Ryrie, R. C. Sproul, Robert Thomas, David Wells, John Wenham, John Witcomb, John Woodbridge, Ron Youngblood, and many more (see our Defending Inerrancy,346-348 for the whole list).

 

Fourth, in 2003 the ETS approved by an overwhelming 80% majority vote the acceptance of the ICBI statement as a means of interpreting what is meant by inerrancy in their doctrinal position.  But, as we have seen above, Licona’s views are directly contradictory to the ICBI view. Hence, a super-majority of the largest evangelical scholarly society has already condemned Licona’s view in principle.

            Finally, in an anonymous survey that was recently sent out to a cross-section thousands of evangelicals across the country, including scholars, pastors, Christian leaders, and laypersons, they were asked to vote: “We affirm that the view expressed in the above citations from The Resurrection of Jesus…is inconsistent with the doctrine of inerrancy as expressed by the framers of the ICBI annual meeting in their above statements on inerrancy (Yes or No).”  It should be noted first, in contrast to critics, that the survey was made up simply of quotations from Licona’s book and the ICBI statements without any comments on them.  Nor was there any name or identifying address on the survey to identify the source.   Yet an overwhelming 76% percent of respondents said “Yes”—Licona’s view is inconsistent with the ICBI view on inerrancy.

 

            In addition to all this, the leaders of one whole scholarly organization, The Internatioanl Society of Christian Apologetics (www.ISCA-Apologetics.org), went on record condemning views like Licona’s that deny the historicity of parts of the Gospel text.  Further, the faculties of whole schools have voted to reject Licona’s view, including the faculty where he previously taught, Southern Evangelical Seminary.  Other schools have done the same thing. Some seminaries have even adopted the ICBI statement and require their faculty to sign it.

Furthermore, there is a latent but serious flaw in the contention that only a specialized group of scholars are capable of determining what is meant by inerrancy.  It is in fact a kind of scholarly elitism which denies the rest of the body of Christ have a valuable role to play in formulation what they are asked to confess. Or, to put it another way, it is a replacement of the Teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church with a Teaching Magisterium of biblical Scholars.  This violates the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and excludes the very people for whom the confessions or statements of Faith are made. And the history of doctrinal declension has proven that it begins in the pulpit, not the pews.  It is generated in the seminaries, not in the sanctuaries

What is more, the basic question is not how many scholars or others line up behind this or that view.  For, as we all know, truth is not determined by majority vote.  Hence, our critique of Licona’s view has always been only one thing: his view is not in accord with the understanding of inerrancy expressed by the ICBI framers which was also adopted by the Evangelical Theological Society. Of course admittedly ICBI confessed that its statement was not “infallible’ (ICBI Preamble).  The Pope     notwithstanding, nobody’s is. Nonetheless, the ICBI statement has been widely acknowledged to be a very good statement, and it has been accepted by the ETS, the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world, and many other groups. And Licona’s view is clearly contrary to the above ICBI statements, as confirmed by the three living framers of the ICBI statements (J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and myself)—all of whom agree that Licona-like views were precisely what we had in mind when the ICBI statements condemned “dehistoricizing” the Gospel record.

                                          

Why Some Scholars Endorse Licona’s View

            Of course, some scholars can be found that expressed their support for Licona view, but this is not the point.  For they either (a) deny the ICBI view of inerrancy themselves, or (b) they personally hold to inerrancy but are inconsistent with the ICBI statements, or (c) they are ignorant of or misinterpreting the ICBI statements contrary to the meaning of the framers.  However, as shown above, Licona’s view is clearly inconsistent with the ICBI framers understanding of inerrancy.  Hence, those who approve of Licona’s view have placed themselves outside the ICBI framers view of unlimited inerrancy which has been the historic orthodox view down through the centuries (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church,Moody, 1984).  No attempt to minimize these legitimate votes of these individuals, groups, or entire societies can negate the overwhelming support for the ICBI view on inerrancy, nor can it justify Licona’s declension from it.

To be sure, there were 30 % of ETS members who opposed this ICBI view in 1983 and probably more reflected in the vote on Pinnock (in 2003), and their numbers are probably growing.  One of the reasons for this is that ETS had not properly monitored it membership by insisting that new members agree with the meaning of the framers of their inerrancy statement.  Indeed, in 1976 the ETS Executive Committee confessed that “Some of the members of the Society have expressed the feeling that a measure of intellectual dishonesty prevails among members who do not take the signing of the doctrinal statement seriously” (1976 Minutes of the ETS Executive Committee, emphasis added).  However, allowing members to sign a statement not in good conscience lacks integrity and is the reason that I resigned from the ETS (see my web site article on “Why I Resigned from ETS”).  Indeed, it may ultimately lead to the demise of ETS stand on this crucial doctrine.

 

But this prospect notwithstanding, one thing is certain: we cannot undo history.  Facts are facts, and the facts are that the ICBI view on inerrancy is in accord with the view of the great Fathers and teachers of the Christian Church down through the centuries and as manifest in the framers of the ETS and ICBI.  And Licona’s view does not accord with this position.

 

An Alleged Lack of Criticism of Other Evangelical Scholars

            As we have noted above, Licona is not the only scholar who has deviated from the full inerrancy of Scripture. We have produced a whole volume (Defending Inerrancy) treating many of the more noted scholars who have written extensively on the topic. These include Clark Pinnock, Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, Kevin Vanhoozer, Andrew McGowan, Stanley Grenz and Brian McClaren (see Defending Inerrancy, chapters 5-10).  We have also criticized some who confess the ICBI view on inerrancy but whose methodology can undermine it, such as, Darrell Bock and Robert Weber (see Chapter 11).  If we were aware of any other noted influential evangelicals who have written books denying or undermining inerrancy, we would have mentioned them.  So, the claim that Licona is being unfairly targeted is untrue and has the effect of promoting pity that he is being picked on.  When, in fact, the reason his view is being criticized is that, contrary to ICBI and the Southern Baptist Convention’s stand on inerrancy, one of their own scholars who headed up the SBC group on apologetics (in their NAMB division) wrote a major book on the Gospel (The Resurrection of Jesus) that denied the historicity of sections of the Gospel narratives. If this was left standing, it could open the door for a reversal of many of the gains for inerrancy that had been won in hard-fought battles for the last thirty years. 

 

 Attacking the Person vs. Critiquing the Position

As can be verified by our scholarly articles on the topic (listed on normangeisler.com), we have avoided engaging in personal attacks since this kind of thing adds only heat, not light, to the discussion. Unfortunately, not everyone defending Licona’s view, including himself, has avoided using ad hominem responses.  Licona’s favorite one is that he has been “bullied,” or that he has undergone “hermeneutical water boarding.” Others close to him claim that we called him a “sinner.”  These claims are all excessive and false.  No evidence has been provided for these outlandish accusation.  To the contrary, I have stated and repeated that  “I like Mike as a person and love him as a brother in Christ, and it would be a shame to see him fall permanently from the ranks of consistent biblical inerrantists(see my web article titled, “A Second Open Letter to Mike Licona,” August 21, 2011, emphasis added).  I have offered to meet with him person-to-person as the Bible instructs (Mt. 18), but he has not yet accepted my offer.  I hope that he will.

Where Does the Issue Go From Here?

The best solution to this whole problem is for Licona to retract his views.  He has expressed some doubt about one of his views, but to date he has refused to retract any of them. Having had to retract my previous view (from 1971) which approved some abortions, I know how difficult this can be.  But the fact is that I was wrong about an important issue and I needed to admit it.  In fact, I rewrote and republished my ethics book retracting this errant view.  Even some who are close to Licona have expressed their hope that he will change his position.  I am also praying to that end.  Mike is a likeable guy and a good brother in Christ.  As we have said before, he had made a scholarly defense of the resurrection of Jesus.  However, unfortunately, in so doing, as president Al Mohler noted, “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon” by denying or undermining the historicity of other sections of the Gospels.  Let us hope that he retracts this.

There are other possible but not so good outcomes to this issue, such as, Licona digging in and dividing evangelicals on the issue. Even before the Licona issue had surfaced, we had written a manuscript for Baker Books titled, Defending Inerrancy (which is now in circulation).  In it we survey many contemporary scholars whose views either deny or undermine inerrancy in some way.  This book reveals that Licona’s views are only the tip of the iceberg.  J. I. Packer wrote the Foreward, declaring that “In the following pages Norman Geisler, who contributed as much as anyone to International Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s [ICBI] original legacy, and William Roach interact with evangelical hypotheses that have the effect of confusing that legacy.  They are masterly gatekeepers, and I count it an honor to commend this work to the Christian world.” Al Mohler added, “Defending Inerrancy is a much-needed work and one that will start an important and timely conversation.  This is a book that cannot, must not, and will not be ignored.”  Paige Patterson, who led the charge to restore the Southern Baptists to affirm inerrancy, commented: “In this superb volume, Geisler and [Bill] Roach have demonstrated once again that the attack [on the Bible], though and old one, must and can be answered.  Anyone engaging the culture needs to read this book.”  John MacArthur has said, “The very same issues are under debate as before, and all the same tired, already-answered arguments have been hauled out once more against Scripture. It is time for genuine believers to awaken to this issue again and speak up with a clear, united voice of confidence and conviction. We owe a debt to Norm Geisler and Bill Roach for their willingness to stand at the front line in this renewed battle for the Bible.”

We urge every reader to get a copy of this book titled Defending Inerrancy (by Geisler and Roach) and to see for themselves the widely documented fact that there is a growing erosion of inerrancy among evangelicals, and as the subtitle of our book indicates, we are convinced of the pressing need of affirming the inerrancy of Scripture “for a new generation.”  For as the psalmist declared, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do” (Psa. 11:3).

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

Mike Licona on Inerrancy: It’s Worse than We Originally Thought

Mike Licona on Inerrancy: It’s Worse than We Originally Thought

By Dr. Norman L. Geisler
November, 2011

 

Some Background Information

A closer look at Mike Licona’s book on The Resurrection of Jesus reveals even more problems than at first thought.  Our original focus was on his denial of the historicity and inerrancy of the resurrection account of the saints in Matthew 27.  He called this “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary “special effects” (see 306, 548, 552, 553).  Against Licona’s view, we set forth “Ten Reasons” for the historicity of this text.  And, as evidence that it was a denial of the historic ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) view on inerrancy, we provided “Six Reasons” (www.normangeisler.com).  Thus, both the historicity and inerrancy of the text which are firmly established are tragically denied by Licona.

Strong Reaction to Licona’s View

Licona’s denial of the historicity and inerrancy of the Matthew 27 text led to a strong reaction among many evangelicals.  Here are some of the more important ones:

First, Licona made a private attempt to convince one key Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leader that his view was orthodox.  When this failed, a source close to the situation revealed that once Licona realized that his view would not be widely accepted by the SBC pastors and churches, he decided that he had better resign his SBC position at NAMB (North America Mission Board).

Second, another noted SBC leader, Dr. Al Mohler, spoke out against Licona’s view on his web site, concluding, that in his treatment of the Matthew 27 text that “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’….  He needs to rethink the question he asked himself in his book — ‘If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same?’…. He asked precisely the right question, but then he gave the wrong answer….”  Mohler added, “It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in principle. The devil, as they say, is in the details. That is what makes The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy so indispensable and this controversy over Licona’s book so urgent. It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in general terms. The integrity of this affirmation depends upon the affirmation of inerrancy in every detailed sense” (www.AlbertMohler.com, emphasis added).

Third, Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES), where Licona was recently listed as a professor, abolished his position after discovering his view and decided not to have him teach there any longer.  After the faculty examined Licona directly, one source close to the event wrote that “He definitely denies inerrancy.  He even said that if someone interpreted the resurrection accounts as metaphor and therefore denied the historicity of the Gospel accounts, that would not contradict inerrancy.  That was unbelievable.”  As a result, “SES formulated a statement formally dismissing him from any faculty appointment or position at SES, and that we believe he denies inerrancy as we understand it” (emphasis added).

Fourth, ISCA (International Society of Christian Apologetics), a scholarly society to which Licona once belonged, has officially condemned his view.  After a meeting of the  ISCA leadership on October 6, 2011 they posted the following on their web site (ISCA–apologetics.org): “The ISCA executive Committee voted a motion to go on record saying ‘we believe denying historicity of Matthew 27:50-53 is in conflict with ISCA doctrinal statement.’”  This would exclude Mike Licona and those who hold similar views from membership in ISCA.

Fifth, the Evangelical Philosophical Society scheduled Licona to offer a defense of his view at the EPS meeting on Thursday, November 17th in a paper titled: “When the Saints Go Marching In: History, Apocalyptic Symbol, and Biblical Inerrancy.” But, by allowing him to defend this unorthodox position they are acting contrary to the membership requirements on their website which affirm, “To be a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS), one must agree to the following doctrinal affirmation: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the original manuscripts” (emphasis added).  This is especially so in view of the fact that EPS borrowed its doctrinal statement from its originating organization, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), whose framers and members opposed Licona type views and which subsequently adopted an ICBI interpretation of its view on inerrancy which clearly opposes Licona’s view (see below).  As the founder and first president of EPS, I can speak to this issue directly.  How sad it is to see in one’s life-time an organization founded on a strong view of inerrancy deviate so far from it.

Eventually, Licona gathered a few names in support of his view and then almost immediately they were withdrawn. It is reported that at least one professor from a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) school found it necessary to withdraw his name in support of Licona when the president of his School objected that he did not speak for the institution. Nonetheless, some long-time Licona friends, like Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. David Beck of Liberty University, continued to support him.  Indeed, despite their strong fundamentalist background (Jerry Falwell being their founder),Liberty University has offered Licona a position on their faculty—thus placing its approval on a view denying the historic view on inerrancy!

It is Worse than First Thought

            Up to the present, the focus has been primarily on Licona’s denial of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  However, there is more—much more.  Three other views of Licona cry for attention:

First, Licona suggested that the appearance of angels at Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection is also legendary.  He wrote: “It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes.  We may also be reading poetic language or legend at certain points, such as Matthew’s report of the raising of some dead saints at Jesus death (Mt 27:51-54) and the angel(s) at the tomb (Mk 15:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13” (185-186, emphasis added).  This extends the infiltration of legend beyond Matthew to all the other Gospels as well. What is more, Licona offers no clear hermeneutical way to determine from the text of Scripture what is legend and what is not.  Calling a short unembellished Gospel account with witnesses “weird,” as Licona does (527), is certainly not a very clear test, especially when the passage is directly associated with the resurrection of Christ (as Matthew 27 is).  Many New Testament scholars think the bodily resurrection of Christ is weird too.  Rudolf Bultmann, the Dean of NT scholars, called it “incredible,” “senseless,” and even “impossible” to the modern mind (Kerygma and Myth, 2-4).

Second, Licona claims to believe in the general reliability of the Gospel records, “even if  “some embellishments are present.”  He adds, “A possible candidate for embellishment is John 18:4-6” (306, emphasis added) where, when Jesus claimed “I am he” (cf. John 8:58), his pursuers “drew back and fell on the ground.” Again, there is no indication in this or other New Testament texts that this account is not historical.  It is but another example of Licona’s unbiblical “dehistoricizing” of the New Testament which ICBI explicitly condemned by name (see below).

Third, Licona’s basic problem is methodological.  He adopts an unorthodox methodology.  One’s theology is not the only thing that can be unorthodox.  There can be methodological unorthodoxy as well.  As noted in our “Ten Points” article, the method of determining genre adopted by Licona and his supporters is clearly unorthodox.  It was pronounced such by the ICBI framers (The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy).  Licona said clearly, “there is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).”  Then he goes on to say that “Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (34, emphasis added).  Little wonder Licona has gotten himself into trouble.  A bad methodology leads to a bad bibliology and to bad theology.  At root, then, Licona’s basic problem is methodological.  Like Robert Gundry before him who was asked to resign by The Evangelical Theology Society (in 1983), Licona’s view is a form of methodological unorthodoxy.  So, it is not just a matter of a passage or event here or there that is the problem.  Rather, it is a radical unbiblical method that undermines the divine authority of the entire New Testament text.  And as the faculty at SES where he taught discovered, it is “unbelievable” to hold that such a method could even deny the resurrection and yet one’s belief in inerrancy would still be considered orthodox.  Such a false claim to inerrancy is vacuous since the Gospel affirmations could be completely false—in that they did not correspond to any historic reality—and yet the Bible would still be considered completely true!

In brief, two main errors in Licona’s methodology stand out.  First, his genre decisions are made “up-front” based on extra-biblical data.  On the contrary, one should approach every text with the historical-grammatical method to determine within the text, its context, and by other Scriptures what it means. Then, and then alone, is he in a position to know its genre. Second, even then, categories of genre made up from extra-biblical sources (like Greco-Roman history) are not the way to determine the genre of a unique piece of literature like the Gospels.  For it may be—as indeed we believe it is—that the Gospels are a unique genre of their own, namely, Gospel genre where redemptive history is still real history.  What is certain is that whatever aid extra-biblical material may have in our understanding of the text, no extra-biblical data is hermeneutically determinative in interpreting any text of Scripture.  It may help in understanding the meaning of words and customs, but it cannot be used to determine whether a text is historical or not historical.

The ICBI framers were explicit on this point.  First, the ICBI view authorized only the “grammatical-historical” method of interpreting the Bible (Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy [CSBI], Article XVIII), defining it as “interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense.” Second, it spoke against “dehistoricizing” the text of Scripture.  Third, it says explicitly that “Scripture is to interpret Scripture,” not extra-biblical literature used to interpret biblical literature.  Fourth, it denounces a quest for “sources lying behind it [Scripture] that lead to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching…” (emphasis added).

As for the later ICBI statement (“The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics”) that “we value genre criticism as one of many disciplines of biblical study” (CSBH, Article XIII), it goes on quickly to say that “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”  And this is precisely what Licona does to Matthew 27 and other scriptures.  Further, the next article adds, “We affirm that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms,corresponds to historical fact.”  And “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (CSBH, Article XIV, emphasis added).  As a member of both ICBI drafting committees, I can confirm that it was precisely views like Mike Licona’s that we had in mind when formulating these statements.

Conclusion

As Professor Al Mohler aptly concluded (above) of this misguided method, “Licona has not only violated the inerrancy of Scripture, but he has blown a massive hole into his own masterful defense of the resurrection”(emphasis added).  For “If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same…. He asked precisely the right question, but then he gave the wrong answer. We must all hope that he will ask himself that question again and answer in a way that affirms without reservation that all of Matthew’s report is historical” (emphasis added).

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

A Response to the Baptist Press Articles on Licona By Norman L. Geisler

A Response to the Baptist Press Articles on Licona

 By Norman L. Geisler

November 8, 2011

              I wish to commend the Baptist press for its recent attempt to be fair and balanced in presenting the Licona issue on inerrancy. The article by Erin Roach was largely on point and noted many of the problems with Licona’s view.  It cites Blocher who rightly concluded that “the way Licona interprets the raised saints passage is incorrect.”  Further, it correctly concludes that I [Blocher] reject the suggestion that Matthew 27:52f should be read nonliterally, and I consider that it puts in jeopardy the affirmation of biblical inerrancy which I resolutely uphold.” What is more, Blocher put his hand on the pulse of the problem when he observed that the nonliteral interpretation “seems rather to be motivated by the difficulty of believing the thing told and by an unconscious desire to conform to the critical views of non-evangelical scholarship.”  We have elsewhere called this putting scholarship over Lordship.  Since the other article was an attempt to defend Licona’s orthodoxy on inerrancy, I would like to address several factual misconceptions in it. 

 

It is Much More than a One Verse Issue

First, there is the misconception that the debate here is over “one biblical verse”—really two verses (Mt 27:52-53)—on whether these saints were literally resurrected or not.  As we have shown in our recent article “Mike Licona on Inerrancy: It’s Worse than We Originally Thought” (www.normangeisler.com), Licona not only (1) casts doubt on the literal resurrection of saints, but he also (2) casts doubt on the existence of the angels in all four Gospels (The Resurrection of Jesus, 185-185), and (3) the story of the mob falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (ibid, 306), and (4) generally obscures the lines between historicity and legend in  the Gospels by his genre determination that it is “Greco-Roman” bios. For he admits thatin such literature “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid., 34, emphasis is added in this and following quotes).  This is to say nothing of the point made by Dr. Mohler that (5) Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’….”  In short, this is far more than a debate over “a single verse”—it is about whether the Gospel record is the unerring Word of God or not!

It is Not Simply a Matter of Hermeneutics

Second, another point that is made in defense of Licona is open to serious challenge.  It is whether the issue is simply a matter of hermeneutics and not one of inerrancy (which Licona claims to hold).  This is built on a serious misunderstanding about inerrancy, especially that of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), which Licona claims to support.  We have treated this question elsewhere at length in an article on “Methodological Unorthodoxy” first published in JETS in 1983 and is now also on our web site.  Two brief points will suffice here. (1) If Licona’s total separation of inerrancy and hermeneutic were true, then one could completely allegorize the Bible (say, like Mary Baker Eddy did)—denying the literal Virgin Birth, physical resurrection of Christ, and everything else—and still claim that it was inerrant.  (2) Such a bifurcation of hermeneutics from inerrancy is empty, vacuous, and meaningless.  It amounts to saying, “Whatever the Bible may be teaching—and inerrancy does not claim that it is teaching anything—is true. But neither the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) nor ICBI inerrantists would agree with this contention, as the next point demonstrates.

 

It is Incompatible with the ICBI View on Inerrancy

           Third, Licona wrongly assumes his “dehistoricizing” of part of the Gospel record is compatible with what the ICBI framers meant by inerrancy.  This is flatly false, as the following citations demonstrate.  The “Chicago Statement” is clear on this issue.  First of all, We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Article XIII).  “We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write” (Article IX).  “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.  We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Article XII).  “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference tothe complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Article XIII).  So, inerrancy is not an empty claim.  It claims that every affirmation (or denial) in the Bible is completely true, whether it is about theological, scientific or historical matters. 

 

          Further, inerrancy affirms that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing,dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII).  ICBI put out an official commentary on its inerrancy statements titled Explaining Inerrancy.  It declares thatThough 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.When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to be evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual.

What is more inerrancy implies a correspondence view of truth.  The ICBI statements affirm clearly that “By biblical standards truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality” (Article XII).  Article XVIII adds: When the quest for sources produces adehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed beyond its proper limits. By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.”  Here too, we can see that inerrancy is not an empty claim but one that affirms whatever the Bible affirms is about something.  And if it is a narrative (as Mt. 27 is), then it is a narrative about something that really happened.

            What is more, ICBI produced an official statement and commentary on inerrancy and hermeneutics, titled Explaining Hermeneutics (hereafter, EH).  EH Article VI states: “We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts.”  The commentary adds, “The denial makes it evident that views which redefine error to mean what ‘misleads,’ rather than what is a mistake, must be rejected.”  And speaking directly to the point of the Licona issue, EH Article XIII says: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.  Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.  Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.” EH Article XIV proclaims: “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated”(emphasis is added in all citations).

 

            As a member of the ICBI framing committee, I can say with certainty that it was views like Licona’s that we had in mind when we wrote these statements.  I can also say, that is a misrepresentation of my colleague, J. I. Packer (who was a crucial member of the framing committee), to imply that he denied the historicity of Genesis.  For he penned EH Article XXII which “affirms that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.”  He also wrote the Forward for our forthcoming book, Defending Inerrancy(Baker), on this topic, saying of my co-author and myself,They are masterly gatekeepers [for inerrancy], and I count it an honor to commend this work to the Christian world.”

 

Licona’s friend and former teacher, Gary Habermas offered a misdirected attempt to defend him, saying, “In my opinion, Mike Licona doesn’t at all deny inerrancy by his interpretation of Matthew 27:52-53.  He adds, “Evangelicals regularly allow for all sorts of similar moves where particular texts are taken other than literally, whether it is the old earth/young earth discussions of the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1, …angles on Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, or [whether] the signs in the sun, moon and so on were fulfilled literally on Pentecost.”  First of all, no evangelical, using the historical-grammatical hermeneutic  (demanded by ICBI) denies the historicity of Genesis, however long he considers the “days” to be or the time periods represented there.  Second, both old-earth inerrantists, as well as young-earthers, affirm the historicity of Genesis, even though they disagree about the amount of literal time was involve. They don’t deny the historicity of the genesis record.  Third, no orthodox theologians, let alone inerrantist, which Habermas claims to be, denies there will be a literal second coming of Christ.  So, at best Habermas’s comments turn out to be irrelevant to the issue of the historicity of the Matthew 27 text and, at worst, a diversion of the issue.  Fourth, Habermas informed me by letter that he voted to exclude Gundry from ETS (1983) for holding a similar view that dehistoricized parts of the Gospel record. Assuming he voted in good conscience, he should feel the same way about his friend, Mike Licona’s view.  That is, unless he  allows fraternity to trump orthodoxy.  This leads to our next point.

 

Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy is of the Same Basic Kind as Gundry’s

           Fourth, Licona wrongly denies the similarity between his view and that of Robert Gundry who was excluded from the ETS in 1883 because his views were deemed incompatible with their stand on inerrancy. However, Licona and friends are wrong for there is a clear and definite similarity.  (1) Both Gundry and Licona “dehistoricized” sections of the Gospel.  (2) Both appealed to extra-biblical literature as definite in determining whether a biblical passage was historical or not.  (3) Both made up-front genre decisions about a biblical text based on extra-biblical sources.  The only real difference is that Gundry used a Jewish Midrash determination and Licona another literary determination.  The point still stands, namely, both views “dehistoricize” sections of the Gospel record based on extra-biblical sources which conclusion is condemned by clear statements of ICBI (see above).  Hence, by the same reasoning that Gundry’s view was deemed contrary to ETS, in like manner, Licona’s view is equally unorthodox on the doctrine of inerrancy.

The Matthew 27 Text on the Resurrection of the Saints is not History-Neutral

Fifth, Licona and supporters assume wrongly that the narrative in Matthew 27 is history-neutral, until one can make a genre determination by using outside sources.  The claim that we cannot know in advance of making a genre determination whether it is historical or not.  However, what they fail to note is that we can only know the author’s “intentions” by his affirmations in the text.  And we can only legitimate way we can know what these mean is by the historical-grammatical (i.e., literal) method of interpreting the text in its context.  But if one does that, he discovers that it purports to be an historical narrative.  Denying, the presumption of historicity for the Matthew 27 text on the resurrection of the saints, is as absurd as assuming that traffic signs, or most things in our experience, do not bear the presumption of literalness until one can demonstrate that they should be taken literally.  Try telling a judge that!  The Matthew 27 text is clearly not history-neutral for many reasons (see the article on our web site titled “Ten Reasons for the Historicity of Matthew 27…”  In addition to the presumption that (1) a narrative in a historical setting (as Matthew 27: 52-53 is) has the presumption of literalness, there are many other reasons for doing so. (1) is part of a historical narrative record—the Gospel of Matthew; (2) Both the larger setting (the Gospel of Matthew) and the specific context (the crucifixion and resurrection narrative) demand the presumption of historicity, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary—which there is not; (3) This text manifests no literary signs of being poetic or legendary, such as those found in parables,  poems, or  symbolic  presentations: (4) It has no indication of being a legendary embellishment, but it is a short, simple, straight-forward account in the exact style one expects in a brief historical narrative; (5) This event occurs in the context of other important historical events—the death and resurrection of Christ—and there is no indication that it is an insertion foreign to the text; (6) The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ.  For these saints were resurrected only “after” Jesus was resurrected and as a result of it (Matt 27:53) since Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the dead (1Cor 15:20).  It makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection; (7) The record has the same pattern as the historical records of Jesus’ physical and historical resurrection: (a) there were dead bodies; (b) they were buried in a tomb; (c) they were raised to life again; (d) they came out of the tomb and left it empty; (e) they appeared to many witnesses.  So, to undermine its historicity is also to do the same for the resurrection of Christ.

Indeed, modern objections to a straight-forward acceptance of this passage as a true historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic, violating sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra-biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical narrative is historical.  This same faulty hermeneutical principle could be used, without any further justification, to deny other events in the gospels as historical.  Since there is no hermeneutical criterion of “magnitude,” the same principles could also be used to relegate events such as the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Christ to the realm of legend.

Conclusion

In short, the Licona issue is important to the whole inerranc

y debate.  Placing approval on his undermining of the Gospel text would not only set back the inerrancy debate a whole generation, but it would be a fatal blow to orthodoxy.  It cannot and must not be dismissed as unimportant.  It strikes to the very heart of a watershed issue in evangelicalism.  Licona has reopened the door to methodological unorthodoxy that logically destroys any divinely authoritative basis for many of the great fundamentals of the Christian Faith—including the physical resurrection of Christ which he desires to defend.  Indeed, as Dr. Mohler keenly observed,“Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.”

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A Response to Christianity Today’s Article in Defense of Mike Licona

A Response to Christianity Today’s Article in Defense of Mike Licona

By Norman L. Geisler

November 8, 2011

In a letter to the editor of Christianity Today (CT), I gave a brief response to their November (2011) article on the Mike Licona inerrancy issue.  It reads as follows: “Your article on the Mike Licona was biased, shallow, and uninformed.  Your writer did not even know that he was dismissed from teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary for his denial of inerrancy.  Nor did he know that Licona’s view was condemned by the International Society of Christian Apologetics (ISCA) to which he once belonged.  Nor did he mention that someone was asked to resign from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 1983 for holding the same kind of view.  Nor was he aware that ETS adopted the ICBI view on inerrancy which condemns this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospels.  Better research could have given a more ‘fair and balanced’ view.”

Since, based on past experience, I was skeptical that CT would print even that short response, I offer  a more extended one here.  I will respond to each particular point they made in order to show how shallow and distorted their article really was.

First, the question is broader than “whether Matthew’s reference to many saints rising from their graves after Jesus’ resurrection might not be literal history,” as CT claims.  As we showed in our web site article (www.normangeisler.net) titled “Mike Licona on Inerrancy: It’s Worse than We Originally Thought,” Licona’s unorthodox theological method led him to several unorthodox conclusions: (1) He denied the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27; (2) He doubts the historicity of the story of the “angels” at the tomb (Mk 15:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13, The Resurrection of Jesus[RJ], 185-186), thus involving event recorded in all four Gospels; (3) He doubts the historicity the mob falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am He” (Jn. 18:4-6, RJ, 306); (4) He undermines the general reliability of the historicity of the Gospels by claiming thatthere is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).”  Then he goes on to say that “Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (34, emphasis added).  This makes the issue far broader and more serious than CT represents it, thus making the picture they paint a distorted one.

It should be clear why Licona has gotten himself into trouble.  A bad methodology leads to a bad bibliology and to bad theology.  At root, then, Licona’s basic problem is methodological.  Like Robert Gundry before him, who was asked to resign by The Evangelical Theology Society (in 1983), Licona’s view is a form of methodological unorthodoxy (see “Tenth” point below and my article in JETS titled “Methodological Unorthodoxy” vol.  26, No. 1 March 1983).

Second, CT refers to the Licona debate as a “war of words,” but as we have already shown, it is far deeper and more serious than this misleading phrase reveals. It is, in fact, one of the most fundamental issues of our day.  What constitutes the total truthfulness of Scripture has been for centuries, and still remains, one of the most crucial theological issues of the Christian Church. The late Francis Schaeffer rightly called it a “watershed” issue.  Since the Bible is the fundamental of the Faith from which the other fundamentals are derived, it could be called the fundamental of the fundamentals.  And if the fundamental of the fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental?  The answer is: fundamentally nothing.

Third, CT claims that “Licona voluntarily resigned from the [Southern Evangelical] seminary on October 4 after the print version of this article went to press.”  This too distorts the full facts of the matter.  The truth is that SES was concerned about Licona’s view, and after the faculty interrogated him they voted to not retain him on the faculty.  In the words of an SES faculty member, “SES formulated a statement formally dismissing him from any faculty appointment or position at SES, and that we believe he denies inerrancy as we understand it” (Letter, Oct 7, 2011).  His position was then eliminated and his picture taken from the web catalog.  Regardless of public statement to the contrary (which are often used to avoid litigation), normally, the term for what happened would be he was “fired.”

Fourth, Licona’s attempts to soften his position fail.  For example, he claims that “At present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative … as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol.”  However, first of all, this falls short of recanting the view that Matthew 27:52-53 and other texts  are “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary “special effects” (see RJ, 306, 548, 552, 553).  Further, it does not address the other issues of considering the “angels” at the tomb, the mob falling backward after Jesus claimed, “I am he” which he also places in the poetical or legend category.  What is more, it does not respond to Licona’s claim that “the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios)” which “offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend.”

In the interest of full disclosure, we must point out that Licona said nothing of his request for a hearing with a top Southern Baptist leader whom he failed to convince of his orthodoxy.  It was only after Licona realized that his view would not fly with Southern Baptist leaders, pastors, and church members that he decided to garner support from a handful of scholars, many of whom were not Southern Baptist, and who sided withChristianity Today who happily accommodated him.  When I learned the deck was being stacked by borderline inerrantist and others who were not full inerrantist, and that CT was publishing an article on it, I engaged unsuccessfully with a number of Emails with the CT editorial leaders who refused to print contrary views on the issue.  This is just another example of  their unfair, unbalanced, and biased journalism.

Fifth, CT painted our case against Licona as objecting to his “characterizing the passage as a ‘strange little text.’”  However, this was not at the heart of our criticism at all, as was clearly indicated in our “First” point above. It was the denial of the historicity of part of the Gospel—one at that which was directly connected to the resurrection of Christ.  And it was our objection to his upfront use of a genre decision and the use of extra-biblical stories as hermeneutically determinative of the meaning of a biblical text that were our chief concern.  Here again CT gives both a shallow and distorted picture of the real situation.

Sixth, CT hides its view behind a hand-picked professor who is cited as saying, “I know a good number of professors who have privately expressed support for Mike Licona but cannot do so publicly for fear of punitive measures.”  This completely distorts the picture by making it look like untold numbers of professors are afraid to speak up for Licona for fear of losing their jobs.  This shifts the focus from an honest scholarly debate to one of positing alleged bad motives of people.  In fact, it makes Licona’s critics look like theological bullies which is about as ad hominem as these kinds of allegations get.

Seventh, CT also employs another ad hominem comment of a professor (which it does not challenge) who calls an honest and reasoned challenge of the orthodoxy of a view (see our “Ten Reasons for the Historicity of Matthew 27” at www.normangeisler.net) a “witch hunt.”  This adds only heat, not light, to the dialogue.  It would have been much more profitable had CT printed the opposing view and spent time answering the many objections given against Licona’s postion (which I sent to them but they refused to print).  Instead, CT appears to agree with the view that honest, scholarly criticism of Licona’s views are “counterproductive to the important issues of the Kingdom.”  We respectfully disagree, pointing out that the inerrancy of Scripture is not unimportant.  On the contrary, if we cannot completely trust the full truthfulness of the Scriptures, then all of the essential doctrines of our Faith based on it are thereby undermined.  Such is not “counterproductive to the important issues of the Kingdom.”  It is in fact, basic to the work of the kingdom.  For as the psalmist put it, “If the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do” (Psa. 11:3).

Eighth, CT appears to support the view that we should give slack to a person who is otherwise known for his orthodoxy, saying, he “surely should not be tossed aside based on his interpretation of one passage in a massive volume.”  Well, first of all, it is not just one passage, as we have shown above (in the “First” point).

Further, cutting slack on unorthodox views is a sure path to doctrinal disaster.  It is akin to claiming that the early church should have cut slack on Arius, who was otherwise orthodox, when he claimed that Jesus was of a “similar” nature to the Father but not the “same” nature.  After all, the difference is only one little iota difference in Greek between the two words.  Regardless of orthodoxy on other issues, each doctrine must be judged on its own merits.  There is no excess of orthodoxy on one doctrine that leaks over and helps keep another unorthodox doctrine afloat.  Sure, one can agree that the deity of Christ is more important than inerrancy—at least as far as being saved is concerned.  However, it is also true, as noted above, that inerrancy is a “watershed” issue that undergirds all other basic Christian doctrines.  So, it is not an unimportant issue, nor one to which “slack” should be granted

Finally, Licona’s underlying problem is the adoption of  an interpretive method that undermines the historicity of the Gospel record and even that of the resurrection of Christ.  As noted Southern Baptist leader Dr. Al Mohler aptly put it, “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’….  He needs to rethink the question he asked himself in his book — ‘If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same?’…. He asked precisely the right question, but then he gave the wrong answer….”  Mohler added, “It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in principle. The devil, as they say, is in the details. That is what makes The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy so indispensable and this controversy over Licona’s book so urgent. It is not enough to affirm biblical inerrancy in general terms. The integrity of this affirmation depends upon the affirmation of inerrancy in every detailed sense” (www.AlbertMohler.com, emphasis added).

Ninth, CT lets stand without criticism the statement of a hand-picked scholar that claims “If we view our own interpretation to be just as inerrant as the Scriptures,” he said, “this could ironically elevate tradition and erode biblical authority.”   However, this is a straw man criticism by Licona’s critics since I never affirmed such a position.  Just because someone disagrees with Licona’s views and gives his biblical and rational reasons for doing so, it is no ground for unfairly charging him with the claim of infallibility for his position.

Furthermore, the charge has only been that Licona’s view is contrary to the ICBI stand on inerrancy which the ETS had adopted for interpreting its statement on inerrancy, not on some private view of inerrancy one wishes to adopt to accommodate his forages into contemporary genre criticism.  Our contention is only that Licona’s view is contrary to the historic doctrine of inerrancy adopted by the ETS and ICBI framers.  We have expressed the many reasons for this in our article on “Ten Reasons…” article cited above.  One would do well to give a biblical and rational response to these arguments rather than making ad hominem comments about the scholars holding them.

Tenth, the root issue with Licona’s view is methodological.  His view is in fact a form of methodological unorthodoxy.  For it adopts a method of interpretation that undermined the complete truthfulness of Scripture.  This comes out very clearly when Licona is asked  whether one’s methodology is totally separate from the doctrine of inerrancy, as the CT article implies.  His answer is Yes.  This means that even if more of the Gospel record, including the resurrection, turned out to be legend, it still would not affect the doctrine of inerrancy.  Our response is: “Whose doctrine of inerrancy?”  Certainly not the historic, ETS, ICBI doctrine of the full inerrancy of Scripture.  Such a bifurcation of methodology from bibliology leaves one with an empty, vacuous, contentless claim that “The Bible is wholly true no matter whether what it affirms corresponds to reality of not.”  This was considered “unbelievable” at Southern Evangelical Seminary who dismissed him from their faculty.

Licona’s vacuous methodological claim is self-defeating since they claim that their view corresponds to reality when they claim that truth is not what corresponds to reality.  ICBI affirmed that   “By biblical standards truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality” (Sproul,Explaining Inerrancy,  43-44).

Further, Licona’s view is clearly contrary to what ICBI, adopted by ETS, affirms about “dehistoriciszing” the Gospel record.  For ICBI clearly declared that “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching…” (“Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,” Article XVIII), and “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightfully be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (“Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics,” Article XIII).

What is more, in an official commentary of  ICBI on its famous “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy” (1978), it clearly defines truth as “what corresponds to reality,” affirming that “When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to be evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (R. C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy, 41. Or Sproul-Geisler, Explaining Biblical Inerrancy)  So, to claim a biblical reference is true means that it corresponds to reality which is contrary to Licona’s “dehistoricizing” of the Gospel record.   For to claim a narrative in a historic context is true, means it corresponds to a historical reality.  As the ICBI Explaining Hermeneutics Article XIII put it, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”  But this is precisely what Licona does.  So, Licona’s view on inerrancy is clearly contrary to the ICBI framers meaning of the term.

Eleventh, CT’s distortions of the facts are not always in what it said,  but sometimes are in what it did not say.  As we pointed out in our letter to the CT editor, “Your writer did not even know  he was dismissed from teaching at Southern Evangelical Seminary for his denial of inerrancy.  Nor did he know that Licona’s view was condemned by the International Society of Christian Apologetics [ISCA] to which he once belonged.  Nor did he mention that someone was asked to resign from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 1983 for holding the same kind of view.  Nor was he aware that ETS adopted the ICBI view on inerrancy which condemns this kind of ‘dehistoricizing’ of the Gospels.”

Further, why were no scholars picked by CT who disagreed with Licona’s claim that his view did not deny inerrancy.  Does this not indicate a journalistic bias?  As noted earlier, Licona’s view is contrary to the historic view on the full inerrancy of Scripture.  It is also contrary to the “grammatical-historical” method which the ICBI demands Article XVIII adds, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatical-historical exegesis” which it describes as “Scripture is to interpret Scripture,” not Scripture being interpreted by extra-biblical Jewish or Greco-Roman sources as Licona does (see the “First” point above) .

Conclusion

By failing to mention all of these important points,  CT paints a distorted picture which, according to them, only a few “witch hunting” discontents oppose.  However, just the opposite is the case.  It was 70% of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) who asked a member to resign (in 1983) for holding a similar view that “dehistoricized” sections of the Gospels.  It was 80% of ETS who voted to adopt the ICBI interpretation of inerrancy—which interpretation speaks directly against views like Licona’s.  And the view of the full inerrancy of the Bible as held by the ETS and ICBI framers has been demonstrated to be the historic view of the Christian Church (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church).  In a well documented book, H. D. McDonald demonstrated that “Prior to the year 1860, the idea of an infallibly inerrant Scripture was the prevailing view” (Theories of Revelation, 196).  So, the truth is that views like Licona’s that deny the full inerrancy of the Bible are: (a) contrary to the view held by orthodox Christians down  through the centuries, (b) contrary to the affirmation of the decision of the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world (ETS), and (c) contrary to the conclusions of the ICBI framers.  Having been one of them, I can speak directly and authoritatively on the matter:  Licona’s view, regardless of whoever may agree with it, is not in accord with the ICBI framer’s understanding of inerrancy.

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

Ten Reasons for the Historicity of the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Ten Reasons for the Historicity of the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Norman L. Geisler 2011

      The text in question reads: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27:50-53).

In The Resurrection of Jesus, Mike Licona denies the historicity of what he calls this “strange little text” (548), claiming that it is not to be “taken literally” (527) but is “legend” (34) or a “poetical device” (553) in “eschatological Jewish” (552) language, providing “special effects” (552) for His death and the “impending judgment” (553).

    However, there are many good reasons to reject this “dehistoricizing” of the text:

1. This passage is part of a historical narrative in a historical record—the Gospel of Matthew. Both the larger setting (the Gospel of Matthew) and the specific context (the crucifixion and resurrection narrative) demand the presumption of historicity, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary in the text, its context, or in other Scripture—which there is not.

2. This text manifests no literary signs of being poetic or legendary, such as those found in parables,  poems, or  symbolic  presentations.*  Hence, it should be taken in the sense in which it presents itself, namely, as factual history.

3. This passage gives no indication of being a legendary embellishment, but it is a short, simple,  straight-forward account in the exact style one expects in a brief historical narrative.

4. This event occurs in the context of other important historical events—the death and resurrection of Christ—and there is no indication that it is an insertion foreign to the text. To the contrary, the repeated use of “and” shows its integral connection to the other historical events surrounding the report.

5.  The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ.  For these saints were resurrected only “after” Jesus was resurrected and as a result of it (Matt 27:53) since Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the dead (1Cor 15:20).  It makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Nor would it have been helpful to the cause of early Christians in defending the literal resurrection of Christ for them to incorporate legends, myths, or apocalyptic events alongside His actual resurrection in the inspired text of Scripture.

6. Early Fathers of the Christian Church, who were closer to this event, took it as historical, sometimes even including it as an apologetic argument for the resurrection of Christ (e.g., Irenaeus, Fragments, XXVIII; Origen,Against Celsus,  Book II, Article XXXIII; Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chap. XIII).

7. The record has the same pattern as the historical records of Jesus’ physical and historical resurrection: (a) there were dead bodies; (b) they were buried in a tomb; (c) they were raised to life again; (d) they came out of the tomb and left it empty; (e) they appeared to many witnesses.

8. An overwhelming  consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Church for the past nearly two thousand years supports the view that this account should be read as a historical record, and, consequently, as reporting historical truth.

9. Modern objections to a straight-forward acceptance of this passage as a true historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic, violating sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra-biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical event is historical.

10. The faulty hermeneutic principles used in point 9 could be used, without any further justification,  to deny other events in the gospels as historical.  Since there is no hermeneutical criterion of “magnitude,” the same principles could also be used to relegate events such as the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Christ to the realm of legend.

   Six Reasons Why Denying the Historicity of this Text is Contrary to the Doctrine of Inerrancy

1.  The historic doctrine of Inerrancy affirms the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture “in all matters upon which it touches” including “the events of world history.”  Thus, the Gospel narratives (of which Matthew 27:50-53 is one) should not be “dehistoricized” (see ICBI “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,” Article XVIII and “A Short Statement” nos. 2 and 4).

2.  Affirming the historical truth of this text in Matthew 27 has been the overwhelming consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Christian Church for the past nearly 2000 years.  So, any denial of its historicity has virtually the whole weight of Christian history against it.

3. The largest organization of scholars in the world who affirm inerrancy (The Evangelical Theological Society) declared that views like this that dehistoricize the Gospel record are incompatible with inerrancy, and, hence, they asked a member (Robert Gundry) to resign by an overwhelming vote (in 1983) because he had denied the historicity of sections in Matthew.  The only real difference to Licona’s approach in Matthew 27 is one of the type of extra-biblical literature used— apocalyptic vs. midrash.

4. The official statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), the largest group of international scholars to formulate an extended statement on inerrancy, explicitly exclude views like this that “dehistoricize” Gospel narratives.  As a member of the ICBI drafting committee, I know for certain that views like Robert Gundry’s were a specific target when it declared:  “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching…” (“Chicago Statement on Inerrancy,” Article XVIII), and “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightfully be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics, XIII).

5. The ETS has adopted the ICBI understanding of inerrancy as their guide in determining its meaning.  And the ETS excluded a member who dehistoricized sections of the Gospel like this. And it was because of instances like this, where members redefine doctrinal statements to suit their own beliefs, that the International Society of Christian Apologetics (www.isca–apologetics.org) added this sentence: “This doctrine is understood as the one expressed by the Framers of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in its ‘Chicago Statement’ and as interpreted by the official ICBI Commentary on it.”

6.  Neither the Evangelical Theological Society nor ICBI, in their official statements and actions, have allowed divorcing hermeneutics from inerrancy by making the vacuous claim that one could hold to inerrancy regardless of the hermeneutical method he employed and the conclusions to which it leads, even if it dehistoricized the creation story, the death of Christ, or His resurrection.  If they did, then they would no longer be an “Evangelical” theological society.

*One figure of speech, “asleep,” is used which means literal death (John 11:11, 14; 1 Thess. 4:15, 16).

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved