A Response to Mike Licona’s Defense of Dehistoricizing the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27


A Response to Mike Licona’s Defense of Dehistoricizing the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Norman L. Geisler

I wish to express my appreciation to Mike Licona for his belated response to some of the issues I raised about his view over two months ago.  While this response was no doubt prompted by the superb treatment of the matter by Dr. Al Mohler that was just placed on his web site, Licona’s response is better late than never. Before addressing Licona’s defense of this view, it is noteworthy that he acknowledges that it is a denial of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 and says clearly, “which is my position.”  Indeed, he has still not retracted his in-print view that this event is a “legend.” As for Licona’s defense of his view, he offers several arguments.  Let me address them briefly.

First, he claims that his view is in accord with the doctrine of inerrancy. However, the Evangelical Theological Society, which is the largest group of scholars in the world based on inerrancy, pronounced the same kind of dehistoricizing of the Gospel record as incompatible with its view on inerrancy. Indeed, they requested that Robert Gundry resign (by an overwhelming vote) for holding a similar view which dehistoricized sections of the Gospel of Matthew.  Licona makes no mention of this crucial fact, but insists on redefining inerrancy to fit his errant view. However, in the light of the Gundry decision, Licona has no grounds on which to stand to claim his view is consistent with the historic view of inerrancy, which was embraced by the founders of ETS.

Second, Licona appeals to the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) statements on inerrancy to support his view of “deshistoricizing” Matthew’s account.  However, the ICBI statements on this matter specifically refer to this process as being contrary to inerrancy.  Indeed, as one of the framers of the ICBI statements, I can verify that we explicitly had Gundry’s views in mind when we condemned dehistoricizing the Gospel record. An official ICBI statement declared, “All the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (Sproul,Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).  Also, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis…and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture,” not extra-biblical texts used to determine the meaning of the biblical text.  Further, the ICBI framers said: “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). Also, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37). Again, “When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing 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 (Sproul, EI, 55). Also, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Explaining Hermeneutics (EH), XIII). “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (EH XIV bold added in all above citations). Clearly, Licona’s views are not exonerated, but condemned, by the framers and commentaries of the ICBI statements.

Third, Licona begs the question by assuming that we should approach the Gospel record by not prejudging whether it is historical or not.  However, it is not a bias to consider the Gospel records as historical for several reasons: (1) They present themselvesto be giving history (cf. Matt 1:1, 18; 2:1). Luke, for example, claims explicitly that he is recording accurate history (Luke 1:1-4), and Matthew records the same basic historical events as Luke; (2) Luke also provides historical crosshairs with eight historical figures (Luke 3:1-2), all known to have lived at that time; (3) All the main events of Matthew are taken to be historical, even by Licona, including the birth, life, works, words, death and resurrection of Jesus. Why then should not the rest of the book be considered historical as well? Thus, the burden of proof rest on anyone who denies the historicity of a section of the Gospel.  And to comb through contemporary extra-biblical sources, as Licona does, to find legendary material that seems similar to something in the Gospels and then use it as hermeneutical determinative of what the Gospel writer meant is a completely misdirected way of interpreting Scripture. What is more, the presumption of the historical nature of the Gospel is supported by the weight of nearly two thousand years of the Christian Church.  Furthermore, as I mentioned in a previous Open Letter, there are crucial differences between this type of extra-biblical literature and the biblical text?

Fourth, Licona refers to using “authorial intent” to determine the meaning of a statement, but he refuses to take the “authorial intent” of the meaning of ETS and ICBI statements on inerrancy seriously.  If authorial intent is definitive in the meaning of a text, then as an ICBI framer, I can verify that Licona’s Gundry-like views of dehistoricizing Matthew 27 are not compatible with the ICBI statements.  In fact, we had the very thing in mind when we spoke against “dehistoricizing” the biblical narrative by that very name.

Fifth, what is more, Licona violates another standard hermeneutical principle by taking ICBI texts out of contexts.  The ICBI statements only allow the use of extra-biblical data to “clarify” the meaning of words in the biblical text and “prompt” a reexamination of the biblical text itself, which is the final authority.  ICBI never allowed extra-biblical data to be hermeneutical determinative of the meaning, nor of the historicity of the text. As Dr. Mohler correctly noted, they cannot be used to “invalidate” the teaching of a biblical text.  In fact, ICBI explicitly condemns this extra-biblical practice used by Licona and affirms that “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” and that by the “grammatico-historical” method alone. Nowhere did ICBI claim that extra-biblical writings were to be used to override the meaning of biblical writings as understood in their context and by other Scriptures.  In fact, it stated just the opposite (see above).

Sixth, not only does Licona violate sound interpretive principles, but he draws a false analogy between using symbolic language and dehistoricizing a text.  For example, simply because the Bible speak of Satan under the figure of a “dragon” (an example Licona gives) does not mean there is no literal Satan, nor a literal fall of Satan and a third of the angels (Rev. 12).  In fact, the book of Revelation even interprets these symbols as referring to literal persons and event (cf. Rev. 12:9).  Therefore, the use of symbolic language and figures of speech in the Bible in no way justifies taking the individuals and events as non-historical and legendary, as Licona does with the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27. The ICBI statements make this very clear.  What is more, no such language is used in the simple unembellished accounts of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, which Licona denies as historical.

Seventh, Licona ignores virtually all the arguments we presented for the historicity of the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 and then claims that we beg the question in favor of the historicity of the event in question. To state just a few of these arguments given in favor of historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27: (1) It occurs in a book that present itself as historical (cf. Matt 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. Matt. 27:52-53); (5) 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.  In view of all of this, there is simply no reasonably way one can dehistoricize the resurrection of these saints, particularly based on alleged similarities with extra-biblical stories and expressions.  Indeed, to dehistoricize the resurrection of these saints is to dehistoricize the resurrection of Christ which is said to be the cause of it.

Eighth, Licona claims the extra-biblical literature containing phenomena similar to the raised saints in Matthew 27 may provide insights pertaining to how Matthew intended for us to interpret his raised saints. However, in support Licona offers more false analogies such as the use of figures of speech of events today.  But no one claims that the “earth-shaking” events of 9/11 were non-historical or poetic devices used to describe what every eye-witnesses knows to have taken place in the actual space-time continuum. We validate the historicity of this event by the eyewitnesses who experienced the event  and who recorded it as actual history. If someone 2,000 years from now interprets the events from 9/11 as apocalyptic or legendary, then they will be in error.

Ninth, it is understandable that Licona would be “grateful to the Southeastern Theological Review for their invitation to participate in a round table discussion on the meaning of this text and the solution” that he proposed.  However, we must be careful not to place too much weight on such a meeting, particularly because some of those involved have already placed approval on his view in a recent Open Letter released by Licona. Hence, it may be a case of the fox guarding the hen house!  There are far bigger and better scholarly circles than this, such as, the nearly 300 international scholars who formed the ICBI statement on inerrancy and its statements which declare that views like Licona’s were incompatible with the view of full inerrancy which declared that the Bible is wholly and completely without error and denied all dehistoricizing of the Gospel record.

Tenth, Licona claims that to reject a view like his is to “stifle scholarship.”  In response, we do not wish to stifle scholarship but only to reject bad scholarship.  Further, as Evangelicals we must beware of desiring a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship, which is riddled with presuppositions that are antagonistic to Evangelical Christianity. Indeed, when necessary, we must place Lordship over scholarship (2 Cor. 10:5). We do not oppose scholarship, but only scholarship whose presuppositions and methodological procedures are opposed to the Faith once for all committed to the saints.

Unfortunately, Mike Licona refers to Dr. Mohler and me as “detractors.”  In response, I would like to repeat that I have both love for Mike as a brother in Christ and respect for him as a scholar.  However, I have a higher respect for the truth of God’s inerrant Word and for my duty to defend it.  And I am firmly convinced that the Gospel record is seriously undermined by this kind of Second-Temple, pro-legendary interpretation that denies the sufficiency of the historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture and flies in the face of nearly two centuries of Christian consensus on the historicity of the Gospel record. Hence, while I am not a detractor, I do believe that Dr. Licona needs to be a retractor of this serious challenge to the complete historicity and full inerrancy of the Bible.  Since he has expressed some doubt about his own view in his previous Open Letter, I would hope that his doubt about his own hermeneutics would not decrease and that his certainly about the inerrancy of the whole Gospel record, including this text, would increase.  I am praying to that end.

 

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter


A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter

Norman Geisler (Sept 8, 2011)

                On July 3, 2011 I wrote Mike Licona expressing my deep concern about his denial of the historicity of the saints in Matthew 27.  I waited in vain for a whole month for a response to my questions about this denial of the full inerrancy of Scripture.

On August 3, 2011, I wrote again, saying, “Mike: I wrote you a month ago.  I am very disappointed that I have not heard back from you yet—even a brief response.  This is a serious issue.  It is the same thing Gundry was asked to resign from  ETS over.  Please respond.  In all fairness, I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond.  I did not want to go public with my critique of this until I heard from you.  I hope you will change your view.  I like you and respect you, but you owe me a quicker response than this.  Sincerely, Norm. ”

On August 4, 2011 Lincona replied that he did not have time to respond, saying that when He “revisit[ed] the passage” he would consider my points.  And he indicated that it might still be a longer time before he responded, saying, “my investigation will be a lengthy process.”  I responded that in the meantime, since his view was in print, that it was open to scholarly critique, and he agreed in writing that this was so.  Only then did I release my “Open Letter to Mike Licona.”

Finally, two full months after my first letter (of July 3) on September 8, 2011 I received “An Open Response to Norman Geisler” (dated “August 31, 2011).  His response is disappointing for several reasons:

First, Licona has not recante his denial of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  At best, he is no longer as certain of the view as he once was.  Further, whatever his final thoughts, he is convinced that this published view is compatible with inerrancy.  Yet this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospels is the same reason that Robert Gundry was asked by an overwhelming majority to resign from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), of which Licona is a member.

Second, even in his belated “Open Letter” to me Licona has not yet responded to any of the arguments I gave for the historicity of Matthew 27 resurrection saints. Nor has he responded to any of the reasons I gave as to why his view is incompatible with the ETS and ICBI view on inerrancy.  In short, after two months, I still have a mere reply but not a real response to the issues I raised.  And this reply is something that could easily have been written two months ago.  Apparently, the pressure from Southern Baptist sources that preceded his resignation from his position at their North American Mission Board helped convinced him to resign and reconsider writing a reply.

Third, Licona claims, “I still hold to biblical inerrancy,” yet his “dehistoricizing” this part of the Gospel of Matthew is exactly the issue that prompted ETS to ask Gundry to resign over, namely, because it was inconsistent with the ETS inerrancy statement.  But Licona is also a member of ETS. Why is his view any less inconsistent with the ETS view of inerrancy?  Just saying a view is consistent with the historic view on inerrancy does not make it so.

Fourth, in 2003 ETS adopted the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) view on inerrancy as their guide in understanding what inerrancy means for ETS.  Yet, as I showed in my “Open Letter,” the ICBI framers clearly denied that views like Licona’s are compatible with inerrancy.

Fifth, Licona has not yet recanted his published view denying the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 but, rather, he has attempted to restate it, saying, “one could have articulated a matter more appropriately.”  Furthermore, presenting other possible options, as he does in his “Open Letter,” is not a denial of what he said in his book, namely, the resurrection of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is not historical.

Sixth, listing some scholars who agree with him misses the point.  First, as he admits, most of them do not agree with his unrecanted in-print view.  Further, the fact that they say they are “in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy” misses the point entirely.  For it does not answer the question of with whose view of inerrancy it is in agreement?  As we all know, the term “inerrancy” can be twisted to mean many things to many people.  In my “Open Letter” I affirmed only that Licona’s view was not in agreement with the ETS (of which Licona is a member) view of inerrancy as expressed in the Gundry case.  Of course, one can always find a number of people with whose views on inerrancy it is in agreement.  But that is not the point.

Nor is Licona’s view in accord with the ICBI view on inerrancy (which ETS has adopted as a guideline in understanding the topic), as I showed in my “Open Letter.”  In fact, as one of the framers of the ICBI statement, I can testify to the fact that it was Gundry’s view (and others like it) which we were specifically condemning when we spoke against “dehistoricizing” the Gospel record as Licona has done.

Seventh, this is not, as Licona asserts, merely a hermeneutical issue on which any one can take his own views.  As was pointed out in our debate with Gundry (in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society), one’s hermeneutics or methodology cannot be totally separated from his view on inerrancy.  If it were, then people like Karl Barth could be said to be consistent with inerrancy, even if they believed the Bible was not without error in certain facts of history or science.  Indeed, as Gundry was forced to admit, even Mary Baker Eddy could consistently sign an inerrancy statement (on Licona’s argument), while she was allegorizing away, not just the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 but also allegorizing away all the stories in the Bible, including the resurrection of Christ!

Indeed, contrary to Licona’s claim that this Matthew 27 issue “was outside the primary thesis of the book,” for the resurrection of these saints was directly connected to the resurrection of Christ and listed as a result of it (see Matthew 27:50-53).  So, the two events are interwoven.  Hence, to deny the literal historical nature of the saints who were resurrected as a result of Christ’s resurrection, is also to deny the literal historical nature of the cause of their resurrection, namely, Christ’s resurrection itself.

Eighth, Licona reveals the basis of his own problem when he admits that his view on Matthew 27 “is based upon my [his] analysis of the genre of the text” and that this was based on a comparison with “similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general.”  But this is clearly not the way to interpret a biblical text which should be understood by the “historical-grammatical” method (as ICBI held) of (a) looking at a text in its context and (b) by comparing other biblical texts, affirming that  “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (as ICBI mandated).  The proper meaning is certainly not found by superimposing some external pagan idea on the text in order to determine what the text means.  By this same kind of fallacious hermeneutic one can also conclude that other biblical stories, like the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ, are just legends too, along with the creation record in Genesis 1-2.

So, it matters not how many scholars one can line up in support of the consistency of their personal view on inerrancy (and many more than this can be lined up on the other side).  What matters is whether Licona’s view is consistent with the view of full inerrancy held down though the ages (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church) and as expressed by the ETS and ICBI framers and as expressed and confirmed in the official ICBI commentaries on the matter.  For once we begin to neglect the “authorial intent” (to use a phrase from Licona’s “Open Letter”) of the ETS and ICBI statements, and replace it with what we think it should mean, then “inerrancy” is a wax nose that can be formed into almost anything we want it to mean.  Sadly, many names on Licona’s list of scholars are members of ETS (some of whom are on the faculties of evangelical seminaries that require their faculty to sign the ICBI view of inerrancy).  What is more, their approval of Licona’s view reveals they are not signing the doctrinal statement in good conscience according to intention expressed by the framers.  The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Licona has clearly stepped over it.  Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Licona has not done this. Let’s pray that he does. 

Sincerely disappointed,

Norman Geisler

Copyright © 2011 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

A Second Open Letter to Mike Licona on the Resurrection of the Saints of Matthew 27


A Second Open Letter to Mike Licona

on the Resurrection of the Saints of Matthew 27

Professor Norman L Geisler, Ph.D.

August 21, 2011

 

Almost two months ago, I wrote Mike Licona a private letter expressing my concerns about his published view in The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ) that the story of saints resurrected after His resurrection in Matthew 27:52-53 was not historical.  He spoke of it as a “strange little text” (548 cf. 556).  Indeed, he called it “poetic” or a “legend” (185-186).  He appears to include the angels at the tomb (Mk. 16:5-7) in the same category (186).  He speaks of it as similar to Roman legends with “phenomenal language used in a symbolic manner” (552).  He adds, “…it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ‘special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible” (552).  He says that by this legend “Matthew may simply be emphasizing that a great king has died” (552).  He adds, “If he has one or more of the Jewish texts in mind [that contain similar legends], he may be proclaiming that the day of the Lord has come” (552).  He concludes that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (553).

In my Open Letter to Mike Licona a few weeks ago (see www.normangeisler.com) I spoke of how this dehistoricizing of Matthew’s inspired account was contrary to the stand of The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) which asked Robert Gundry to resign by an overwhelming vote of the membership in 1983 for the same basic reason.  I also pointed out that this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospel record is contrary to the statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) whose statement was accepted by the ETS (of which Mike Licona is a member) in 2003 as a guide in understanding of what their inerrancy statement meant.

 

Unfortunately, since Mike has chosen not to respond publically to my Open Letter, or to me privately, I wish to appeal again for him to reconsider his view.  There are two major points I wish to express.  First, there is no good grounds for taking Matthew 27:15-53 as not historical.  Second, this dehistoricizing of sections of a Gospel inconsistent with the standard view on inerrancy as held by the Evangelical Theological Society and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.

On The Inconsistency of Licona’s View with the Text of Matthew 27:50-53

            This text at issue is in Matthew 27 which affirms that when he died “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” (vv. 50-53 ESV).  Now there are many reasons this text in this context should be taken as historical and not as a legend.

 

First of all, in this very text the resurrection of these saints occurs in direct connection with two other historical events—the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 50, 53).  There is no reason here to take the resurrection of Jesus as historical and the resurrection of the saints as a legend. Hence, to borrow the subtitle from Licona’s book, it appears that this “New Historical Approach” which employs extra-biblical sources to determine the meaning of this text has led him astray.  Indeed, there are many reasons in the text itself to take these resurrections as a literal events, including the terms like “earth,” “quake,” “temple,” “veil,” “rocks,” “tombs,” “bodies,” “asleep” (dead), “raised,” and “appeared”—all of which speak of a physical event elsewhere in the New Testament.  Indeed, the crucial word associated directly with the resurrection of these saints resurrection (viz., “raised”—egiro) is also used of Jesus’ resurrection in the 1Corinthians  when Paul speaks of Jesus dying for our sins and being “raised” (egiro) again (1 Cor.15:3-4).  And the word for “appeared” (Mt. 27:53) after his resurrection is an even stronger word than usual,meaning”become visible, appear…make known, make clear, explain, inform, make a report esp. of an official report to the authorities” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Geek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 257, emphasis added).

 

Second, there is a direct connection between the resurrection of these saints and Jesus’ resurrection.  For the text is careful to mention that they did not come out of the tombs until “after” Jesus’ resurrection (v. 53).  Indeed, Paul calls Jesus’ resurrection “the firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23), so, it is only proper that He should emerge from the dead first.  Thus, speaking of the resurrection of these saints after Jesus’ resurrection and as a result of it makes no sense, if their resurrection, unlike Jesus’ resurrection, is a mere legend.

 

Third, this text lists the same kind of evidence for the resurrection of these saints as is listed elsewhere for Jesus’ resurrection: [1] the tombs were opened; [2] the tombs were empty; [3] the dead were raised; [4] there were physical appearances; [5] many people saw these resurrected saints (cf. Mt.27; 1 Cor. 15).  In brief, if this is not a physical resurrection, then neither was Jesus’ resurrection (that preceded and prompted it) a physical resurrection.  Or, conversely, if Jesus’ resurrection was physical, then so was the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 a physical resurrection. Thus, denying the physical resurrection of these saints undermines belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus.

 

Fourth, as Ellicott’s Commentary puts it, “the brevity, and in some sense, simplicity, of the statement differences [sic] it very widely from such legends, more or less analogous in  character… and so far excludes the mythical elements which, as a rule, delights to shows itself in luxuriant expansion” (vol. VI, p. 178).  In brief, the typical characteristics of a myth as found in apocryphal and other literature of that time is not found in this text.

Fifth, some of the elements of this story are confirmed by two other Gospels.  For both Mark (15:38) and Luke (23:45) mention the renting of the veil in the temple (Mat. 27: 51) as a result of Jesus’ death as well.  But Luke’s writings in particular have been historically confirmed in nearly one hundred details (see Colin Hemer, Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History). There is no reason to believe he is less historically accurate in mentioning this detail.  And if this part of the story is factually confirmed, there is no good reason to reject the rest of it.

 

Finally, the cumulative evidence for the historic and non-legendary nature of this text is strong.  In fact, the story is interwoven with the historic evidence surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ in such as manner that the denial of the resurrection of the saints undermines the historicity of the resurrection of Christ in the same text.

 

 On the Inconsistency of Licona’s View with the ETS and ICBI View on Inerrancy

 

The Evangelical Theological Society is on record in the Robert Gundry case as rejecting this kind of dehistoricizing of the Gospel record as inconsistent with their view of the inerrancy of Scripture.  In 1983 by an overwhelming vote the ETS members Robert Gundry was asked to resign from the ETS for holding a similar view in which he dehistoricized sections of Matthew’s Gospel.  Since Mike Licona is a member of ETS, it follows that his view is inconsistent with the ETS stand on inerrancy.

Of course, Licona can argue that it is not inconsistent with his personal or private view on inerrancy, but that is not the point we made in our Open Letter, nor is it the point here.  The fact is that the society of scholars to which he belongs has already ruled against the view which he embraces.  Further,  Licona is on record affirming that a text should be interpreted in accord with the “author’s intent” (RJ, 85) or “authorial intent” (RJ, 195).  Thus, it would be inconsistent, if not dishonest, to reject the ETS and ICBI framer’s intent when interpreting its inerrancy statement.  Unfortunately, it is this kind of dishonesty that erodes the integrity of a doctrinal statement.  For example, 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. Other members of the Society have come to the realization that they are not in agreement with the creedal statement and have voluntarily withdrawn. That is, in good consciencethey could not sign the statement” (1976 Minutes of the ETS Executive Committee, emphasis added).  If one cannot sign a statement in good conscience according to the intent of the framers, then, of course, resigning is the honest thing to do.

Furthermore, in 2003 the ETS accepted the ICBI interpretation as the guideline for interpreting what inerrancy means by an overwhelming 80% vote.  Thus, it too can be used as a test of whether Licona’s view is consistent with what the framers mean by inerrancy.  And an examination of the following citations from official ICBI statements and official commentaries on them make it clear that denying the historicity of sections of the Gospels is inconsistent with its view on inerrancy.

Consider the following ICBI statements (emphasis added):  “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).  And “By biblical standards of truth and error (in Article XIII) 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” (Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).  Thus, “… all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (Sproul, EI, 41).

 

ICBI added, “We affirm 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.”  Hence, “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).  The official ICBI commentary adds, “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” (Sproul, EI, 37).  “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” (Sproul, EI, 55).  Also, an official commentary titledExplaining Hermeneutics (EH). It reads: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (EH, XIII).  Further, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (EH,  XIV).

 

As one of the framers of the ICBI statements, I can say with certainty that our expressed intentions of the ICBI framers is directly contrary to Licona’s dehistoricizing of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-53.  In fact, Robert Gundry, who was asked to resign for a similar view, came up by name to the framers when we penned our statements.

 

Objections Sometimes Raised Against the ETS and ICBI View of Inerrancy

 

Those who defend the Gundry-Licona type view of “dehistoricizing” parts of the Gospels have offered several objections to this kind of critique over the years.  These will be brief addressed here.

Objection One: ETS and ICBI are not the Final of Infallible Word on Inerrancy

 

Some have disowned the ETS and ICBI statements on inerrancy.  After all, as these objectors correctly point out, these statements are not infallible.  This is true, but then too no creedal statements are infallible, even The Apostle’s Creed is not infallible. Only the Bible is God’s infallible written Word of God.  Nonetheless, there are good reason to accept these early creeds as a guideline for Christian belief.  And, since there were no explicit early creedal statements on the Bible, there are several reasons to accept the ETS and ICBI statements as guides on this inerrancy issue.

 

First of all, it is the standard to which Licona and supporters refer when they claim his view is consistent with inerrancy.  After all, Licona is listed as a member of the ETS which has adopted the ICBI statement as a guide to understanding inerrancy.  So, he is being judged by his own standard.

 

Second, it has been well established that the total inerrancy view expressed by  the ICBI has been the historic view held by the great church teachers down through the centuries (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church; John Woodbridge, Biblical Authority: The Roger/McKim Proposal).

 

Third, ETS is the largest conservative scholarly society in the world (with some 4000 members).  Hence, it statement on inerrancy carries more weight than any private opinions on the matter, even among some of its members.

Fourth, since the ETS statement is short, its members decided to accepted the ICBI statement on inerrancy as a guide to its meaning in 2003 by an overwhelming 80% vote.

 

Fifth, the ICBI statement has been the standard view on the topic among American evangelicals for the last generation.  Hence, there is no need to reject it now, particularly for “a new historical approach” that is contrary to the historical-grammatical approach which has been at the basis of orthodoxy down through the centuries.

 

So, in view of the foregoing evidence, the burden of proof  falls on any individual who pit their private view of inerrancy against the historic view down through the centuries, as is expressed in the ICBI statements on the issue.  And, as we have shown, Licona position clearly contradict what the ETS (to which he belongs) and ICBI framers meant by inerrancy.

 

Objection Two: Matthew 27 is the Only Reference to this Event

 

It is objected that since the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is based on a single text, its historicity is in doubt.   However, from an evangelical view of Scripture (which Licona claims to hold), this is a clearly an unjustified assertion.  How many times does an inspired record have to mention an event for it to be true?  Many historical events in the Gospels are mentioned only once, including Jesus talking to the woman at the Well (Jn. 4) and his speaking to Nicodemus (in Jn. 3) in which He used the famous words, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3).  Also, the encounter with the Rich Young Ruler and the story about Zaccheaus are only mentioned once (Lk. 19), as are numerous other things.  Further, as noted above, there are some aspect of this story (namely, the death and resurrection of Jesus and even the renting of the temple veil which is confirmed by both Mark  (15:38) and Luke (23:45).

 

Furthermore, many events from the ancient world survive by only one record.  So, by the logic of this objection, we would have to eliminate much of ancient history, to say nothing of much of the Bible!

 

Objection Three: Open Genealogies Support a Non-Literal View of Matthew 27

 

Robert Gundry raised this objection when he was asked to resign from ETS in 1983. In short, it is argued that Matthew 1:8 leaves out three generations when it lists Jesus’ ancestry (cf. 1 Chron. 3:11-12).  Hence, it is argued that that there is no reason to take passages like Matthew 27:51-53) as historical.  However, as any student of logic can quickly determine, this conclusion does not follow from the premises. For there is a big difference between abbreviation in a literal genealogy and taking the persons listed in it as non-literal.  Summarization of historical factsand dehistoricizing of themare really different things.  Thus, this objection is based on a false comparison.

 

Objection  Four: Many Inerrantists take Sections of Prophecy as Non-literal

 

It is sometimes objected that if some prophetic events can be taken in a non-literal way without denying inerrancy, then why can’t some events in the Gospels (like Matt. 27:52-53) be taken as non-literal and this view still be considered consistent with the doctrine of inerrancy?  Here again, we have a misplaced analogy for several reasons.

 

First of all, there is a difference between history and prophecy.  The question in Matthew is about a historical book, not a prophetical book.  Even if apocalyptic language can sometimes be taken to refer to non-literal events, it would not necessarily follow that this is true of historical sections of the Bibleespecially those directly connected with the resurrection of Christ.

 

Second, the use of figures of speech in apocalyptic discourse does not necessarily mean that it is not referring to literal events.  For example, speaking of the Devil as being “chained” (as a figure of speech) does not mean there is no literal Devil (Rev. 20:1), nor that he won’t be restrained in some manner.  Likewise, other figurative language need not be taken to mean it does not refer to literal events.

 

Third, consistent evangelical inerrantists (whether Pre- Post or A-millennial) do not deny the literal, historical nature of the Second Coming regardless of whatever figures of speech may be used to describe it.  But what Licona has done is to deny the very historical nature of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  And he has done so with a text that does not use figurative, apocalyptical language, but refers to literal events like Christ’s death, resurrection, and bodies being raised from tombs and appearing to many in the city of Jerusalem.  Thus, it makes a big difference when one denies the historicity of this kind of event, as Licona has done.

 

Objection Five: Taking Matthew 27 as Non-literal is no Different than Accepting an Old Earth View

 

It is argued that if one can take the “days” of Genesis in a non-literal way and yet be considered consistent with inerrancy, then why can’t they take a section of Matthew 27 non-literally also be considered consistent with inerrancy?  It is a known fact that many strict inerrantists from B.B. Warfield and A.A. Hodge to the modern ETS fathers and ICBI framers hold an “Old Earth” view which they believed was consistent with a strict view of inerrancy.  However, this too is an unjustified comparison.  For the Hebrew the term “day” (yom) is used of a literal but longer period of time than twenty four hours in many places in the Old Testament.  This is true of numbered series of days (cf. Hosea 6:1-2) and days with “evenings and mornings” (Daniel 8:14, 26) connected to them.  It is also used in the Genesis creation record (Gen. 2:4) of more than one twenty-four hour day, referring as it does to all six days of creation.

However, in none of these cases is “day” used of non-literal events.  Thus, ICBI inerrantists insist that denying the literal historicity of Genesis 1-3 and beyond is inconsistent with inerrancy.  Indeed, Article XII of the ICBI “Chicago Statement” reads: “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.”  And Article XIII of the ICBI statement on Hermeneutics reads: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”  Thus it rejects the view of “Some, for instance, [who] take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.”  And indeed it should reject those views that deny the historicity of the Genesis record since many crucial New Testament teachings are based on it, including the Fall  (Rom. 5:12-17), and Christ’s called the “Last Adam” after His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:45).

 

So, while the age of the earth is not a test of inerrancy orthodoxy, the literal historicity of Genesis 1-3 and following is.  So, contrary to this objection, accepting the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 as legend is contrary to orthodoxy, but accepting the Genesis record as history (regardless of the age of the earth) is not.  Indeed, there are many orthodox ways to hold an “Old Earth” view and still believe that the “days” of Genesis are literal historic days, whether solar days or longer (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, Appendix 4).

Objection Six: Other Inerrantists Agree that This View is Orthodox

Sometimes others who claim to believe in inerrancy, even ETS and ICBI kind of inerrancy, are cited in support of Licona’s view.  Dr. William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas have been put in this category.  However, it is important to note that neither of these men—nor others like them—accept Licona’s view that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is a legend.  And as for believing that Licona’s view is consistency with inerrancy, as we have shown above, they cannot mean consistent with what the ETS and ICBI framers meant by inerrancy, and the ETS is the organization to which Licona belongs.  And, as Licona himself holds, the intent of the author is definite for the meaning of a text.  Further, as we have shown, the ETS rejected Gundry’s view and adopted the ICBI interpretation of inerrancy which explicitly rejects dehistoricizing the Gospel record such as Licona does. Indeed, there is no real grounds for claiming that Licona’s view is consistent with the framer’s intent of ETS or ICBI.

Concluding Comments

In conclusion, Licona has not publically recanted his published view denial of the historicity of  the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  Until he does so, his view on this matter should be considered unorthodox, non-evangelical, and a dangerous precedent for the rest of evangelicalism. And what is so sad is that his view is unnecessary.  Actually, his otherwise generally good treatment of the resurrection of Christ would be enhanced, not diminished, by holding to the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 which, indeed, is listed as one of the literal fruits of Christ’s own resurrection.  My prayer is for Mike to make this change, improve his tome on the resurrection, and make his view consistent with his claim to believe in inerrancy.  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.

With over a half century of experience in the scholarly world, I would also add one last word to other young evangelical scholars: resist the desire to be an Athenian (Acts 17:21).  There is something more important than having a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship; it is putting Lordship over scholarship when necessary.  Further, there is something more important than “a new historiographical approach”;  it is the “old” historical approach which takes the Gospel record—all of it—as historical.  It has served the Church well for nearly 2000 years, and there is no good reason to change it now.

______________________________________

 

Copyright © 2011 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

Open Theists and Inerrancy Clark Pinnock on the Bible and God


Open Theists and Inerrancy:

Clark Pinnock on the Bible and God

by Norman L. Geisler

Pinnock on the Bible

The Bible is not Completely Inerrant

“This leaves us with the question, Does the New Testament, did Jesus, teach the perfect errorlessness of the Scriptures? No, not in plain terms” (Pinnock, SP, 57).

Although the New Testament does not teach a strict doctrine of inerrancy, it might be said to encourage a trusting attitude, which inerrancy in a more lenient definition does signify. The fact is that inerrancy is a very flexible term in and of itself” (Pinnock, SP, 77).

“Once we recall how complex a hypothesis inerrancy is, it is obvious that the Bible teaches no such thing explicitly. What it claims, as we have seen, is divine inspiration and a general reliability” (Pinnock, SP, 58).

“Why, then, do scholars insist that the Bible does claim total inerrancy? I can only answer for myself, as one who argued in this way a few years ago. I claimed that the Bible taught total inerrancy because I hoped that it did-I wanted it to” (Pinnock, SP, 58).

For my part, to go beyond the biblical requirements to a strict position of total errorlessness only brings to the forefront the perplexing features of the Bible that no one can completely explain and overshadows those wonderful certainties of salvation in Christ that ought to be front and center” (Pinnock, SP, 59).

The Inerrancy of Intent, not Fact

Inerrancy is relative to the intent of the Scriptures, and this has to be hermeneutically determined” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

“All this means is that inerrancy is relative to the intention of the text. If it could be show that the chronicler inflates some of the numbers he uses for his didactic purpose, he would be completely within his rights and not at variance with inerrancy” (Pinnock, SP, 78)

“We will not have to panic when we meet some intractable difficulty. The Bible will seem reliable enough in terms of its soteric [saving] purpose,… In the end this is what the mass of evangelical believers need-not the rationalistic ideal of a perfect Book that is no more, but the trustworthiness of a Bible with truth where it counts, truth that is not so easily threatened by scholarly problems”(Pinnock, SP, 104-105).

 

The Bible is not the Word of God

“Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

The Bible does not attempt to give the impression that it is flawless in historical or scientific ways. God uses writers with weaknesses and still teaches the truth of revelation through them” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

What God aims to do through inspiration is to stir up faith in the gospel through the word of Scripture, which remains a human text beset by normal weaknesses [which includes errors]” (Pinnock, SP,100).

A text that is word for word what God wanted in the first place might as well have been dictated, for all the room it leaves for human agency. This is the kind of thinking behind the militant inerrancy position. God is taken to be the Author of the Bible in such a way that he controlled the writers and every detail of what they wrote” (Pinnock, SP, 101).

The Bible is not Completely Infallible

The Bible is not a book like the Koran, consisting of nothing but perfectly infallible propositions,… the Bible did not fall from heaven…. We place our trust ultimately in Jesus Christ, not in the Bible…. What the Scriptures do is to present a sound and reliable testimony [but not inerrant] to who he is and what God has done for us” (Pinnock, SP, 100).

He Rejects Warfield’s View of Inerrancy

Inerrancy as Warfield understood it was a good deal more precise than the sort of reliability the Bible proposes. The Bible’s emphasis tends to be upon the saving truth of its message and its supreme profitability in the life of faith and discipleship” (Pinnock, SP, 75).

He Rejects ICBI View of Inerrancy

Therefore, there are a large number of evangelicals in North America appearing to defend the total inerrancy of the Bible. The language they use seems absolute and uncompromising: `The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own’ (Chicago Statement, preamble). It sounds as if the slightest slip or flaw would bring down the whole house of authority. It seems as though we ought to defend the errorlessness of the Bible down to the last dot and tittle in order for it to be a viable religious authority” (Pinnock, SP, 127).

He Holds a Dynamic View of Inspiration, not Plenary Inspiration

“In relation to Scripture, we want to avoid both the idea that the Bible is the product of mere human genius and the idea it came about through mechanical dictation. The via media lies in the direction of a dynamic personal modelthat upholds both the divine initiative and the human response” (Pinnock, SP, 103).

“Inspiration should be seen as a dynamic work of God. In it, God does not decide every word that is used, one by one but works in the writers in such a way that they make full use of their own skills and vocabulary while giving expression to the divinely inspired message being communicated to them and through them” (Pinnock, SP, 105).

 

He Redefines Inerrancy and Rejects the Prophetic Model

“The wisest course to take would be to get on with defining inerrancy in relation to the purpose of the Bible and the phenomena it displays. When we do that, we will be surprised how open and permissive a term it is” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

At times I have felt like rejecting biblical inerrancy because of the narrowness of definition [!! See previous quote] and the crudity of polemics that have accompanied the term. But in the end, I have had to bow to the wisdom that says we need to be unmistakably clear in our convictions about biblical authority, and in the North American context, at least, that means to employ strong language” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

“Paul J. Achtemeier has called attention to the inadequacy of the prophetic model for representing the biblical category of inspiration in its fullness-The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals” (Pinnock, SP, 232, n. 8).

He Holds that there are Minor Errors in the Bible

“The authority of the Bible in faith and practice does not rule out the possibility of an occasionally uncertain text, differences in details as between the Gospels, a lack of precision in the chronology of events recorded in the Books of Kings and Chronicles, a prescientific description of the world, and the like” (Pinnock, SP, 104).

What could truly falsify the Bible would have to be something that could falsify the gospel and Christianity as well. It would have to be a difficulty that would radically call into question the truth of Jesus and His message of good news. Discovering some point of chronology in Matthew that could not be reconciled with a parallel in Luke would certainly not be any such thing” (Pinnock, SP, 129).

“I recognize that the Bible does not make a technical inerrancy claim or go into the kind of detail associated with the term in the contemporary discussion. But I also see a solid basis for trusting the Scriptures in a more general sense in all that they teach and affirm, and I see real danger in giving the impression that the Bible errs in a significant way. Inerrancy is a metaphor for the determination to trust God’s Word completely” (Pinnock, SP, 224-225).

 

He Holds that The Bible Contains Myth and Legend

“In the narrative of the fall of Adam, there are numerous symbolic features (God molding man from dirt, the talking snake, God molding woman from Adam’s rib, symbolic trees, four major rivers from one garden, etc.), so that it is natural to ask whether this is not a meaningful narration that does not stick only to factual matters” (Pinnock, SP, 119).

“On the one hand, we cannot rule legend out a priori. It is, after all, a perfectly valid literary form, and we have to admit that it turns up in the Bible in at least some form. We referred already to Job’s reference to Leviathan and can mention also Jotham’s fable” (Pinnock, Sp, 121-122).

“Thus we are in a bind. Legends are possible in theory–there are apparent legends in the Bible–but we fear actually naming them as such lest we seem to deny the miraculous” (Pinnock, SP, 122).

“When we look at the Bible, it is clear that it is not radically mythical. The influence of myth is there in the Old Testament. The stories of creation and fall, of flood and the tower of Babel, are there in pagan texts and are worked over in Genesis from the angle of Israel’s knowledge of God, but the framework is no longer mythical” (Pinnock, SP, 123).

“We read of a coin turning up in a fish’s mouth and of the origin of the different languages of humankind. We hear about the magnificent exploits of Sampson and Elisha. We even see evidence of the duplication of miracle stories in the gospels. All of them are things that if we read them in some other book we would surely identify as legends” (Pinnock, Sp, 123).

He Holds Robert Gundry’s View of Midrash in Matthew

“There is no mythology to speak of in the New Testament. At most, there are fragments and suggestions of myth: for example, the strange allusion to the bodies of the saints being raised on Good Friday (Matt. 27:52) and the sick being healed through contact with pieces of cloth that had touched Paul’s body (Acts 19:11-12)” (Pinnock, SP, 124).

“There are cases in which the possibility of legend seems quite real. I mentioned the incident of the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matt. 17:24-27)…. The event is recorded only by Matthew and has the feel of a legendary feature”(Pinnock, SP, 125). [Yet Gundry was asked to resign from ETS by 74 percent of the membership.]

Pinnock on God

The Bible Has False Prophecy

“Second, some prophecies are conditional, leaving the future open, and, presumably, God’s knowledge of it” (Pinnock, MMM, 50).

“Third, there are imprecise prophetic forecasts based on present situations, as when Jesus predicts the fall of Jerusalem (Pinnock, MMM, 50).

“…despite Ezekiel, Nebuchadnezzar did not conquer the city of Tyre; despite the Baptist, Jesus did not cast the wicked into the fire; contrary to Paul, the second coming was not just around the corner (1 Thes. 4:17)” (Pinock, MMM, 51 n.66).

 

Even Jesus Made a False Prophecy

…despite Jesus, in the destruction of the temple, some stones were left one on the other” (Mt. 24:2)” (Pinnock, MMM, 51 n.66).

 

God is not Bound to His Own Word

“God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own” (Pinnock, MMM, 51 n.66).

“We may not want to admit it but prophecies often go unfulfilled…” (Pinnock, MMM, 51, n.66).

God is Limited and Corporeal

But, in a sense, creation was also an act of self-limitation…. Creating human beings who have true freedom is a self-restraining, self-humbling and self-sacrificing act on God’s part” (Pinnock, MMM, 31).

“As regards space, the Bible speaks of God having living space in the heavens:… Let’s not tilt overly to transcendence lest we miss the truth that God is with us in space” (Pinnock, MMM, 32).

“If he is with us in the world, if we are to take biblical metaphors seriously, is God in some way embodied? Critics will be quick to say that, although there are expressions of this idea in the Bible, they are not to be taken literally. But I do not believe that the idea is as foreign to the Bible’s view of God as we have assumed” (Pinnock, MMM, 33).

” The only persons we encounter are embodied persons and, if God is not embodied, it may prove difficult to understand how God is a person….Perhaps God uses the created order as a kind of body and exercises top-down causation upon it” (Pinnock, MMM, 34-35).

 

God’s Foreknowledge is Limited

It is unsound to think of exhaustive foreknowledge, implying that every detail of the future is already decided” (Pinnock, MMM, 8).

“Though God knows all there is to know about the world, there are aspects about the future that even God does not know” (Pinnock, MMM, 32).

“Scripture makes a distinction with respect to the future; God is certain about some aspects of it and uncertain about other aspects” (Pinnock, MMM, 47).

“But no being, not even God, can know in advance precisely what free agents will do, even though he may predict it with great accuracy” (Pinnock, MMM, 100).

“God, in order to be omniscient, need not know the future in complete detail” (Pinnock, MMM, 100).

 

God Changes His Mind

“Divine repentance is an important biblical theme” (Pinnock, MMM, 43).

“Nevertheless, it appears that God is willing to change course…” (Pinnock, MMM, 43).

“Prayer is an activity that brings new possibilities into existence for God and us” (Pinnock, MMM, 46).

 

God is Dependent on Creatures

“According to the open view, God freely decided to be, in some respects, affected and conditioned by creatures…” (Pinnock, MMM, 5).

“In a sense God needs our love because he has freely chosen to be a lover and needs us because he has chosen to have reciprocal love…” (Pinnock, MMM, 30).

The world is dependent on God but God has also, voluntarily, made himself dependent on it…. God is also affected by the world.” (Pinnock, MMM, 31).

God is not in Complete Control of the World

This means that God is not now in complete control of the world…. things happen which God has not willed…. God’s plans at this point in history are not always fulfilled” (Pinnock, MMM, 36).

“Not everything that happens in the world happens for some reason,…. things that should not have happened, things that God did not want to happen. They occur because God goes in for real relationships and real partnerships” (Pinnock, MMM, 47).

“As Boyd puts it: ‘Only if God is the God of what might be and not only the God of what will be can we trust him to steer us…'” (Pinnock affirming Boyd, MMM, 103).

“Though God can bring good out of evil, it does not make evil itself good and does not even ensure that God will succeed in every case to bring good out of it” (Pinnock, MMM, 176).

It does seem possible to read the text to be saying that God is an all-controlling absolute Being…. but how does the Spirit want us to read it? Which interpretation is right for the present circumstance? Which interpretation is timely? Only time will tell…” (Pinnock, MMM, 64).

God Undergoes Change

“For example, even though the Bible says repeatedly that God changes his mind and alters his course of action, conventional theists reject the metaphor and deny that such things are possible for God” (Pinnock, MMM, 63).

“I would say that God is unchangeable in changeable ways,…” (Pinnock, MMM, 85-86).

“On the other hand, being a person and not an abstraction, God changes in relation to creatures…. God changed when he became creator of the world… ” (Pinnock, MMM, 86).

“…accepting passibility may require the kind of doctrinal revisions which the open view is engaged in. If God is passible, then he is not, for example, unconditioned, immutable and atemporal” (Pinnock, MMM, 59, n.82).

 

He Admits Affinity with Process Theology

The conventional package of attributes is tightly drawn. Tinkering with one or two of them will not help much” (Pinnock, MMM, 78).

“Candidly, I believe that conventional theists are influenced by Plato, who was a pagan, than I am by Whitehead, who was a Christian” (Pinnock, MMM, 143) [Yet Whitehead denied virtually all of the attributes of the God of orthodox theology, biblical inerrancy, and all the fundamentals of the Faith!!!]

 


 

All italic emphasis in original, bold emphasis this author’s emphasis.

SP–Clark Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, Harper & Rowe: 1984).

MMM–Clark Pinnock, The Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2001).


Did Clark Pinnock Recant His Errant Views?

By Norman L. Geisler

December 1, 2003

It Would Seem That He Did

It is widely believed that Clark Pinnock changed his views on whether the Bible has errors in it and thereby convinced the ETS Executive Council and Membership that his views were not incompatible with the inerrancy statement of the ICBI. As a result, both the Executive Council recommended and the membership voted on November 19, 2003 to retain him in membership.

It would seem that Pinnock did in fact recant his earlier view for several reasons. First, his restatement satisfied the Executive Committee who examined him. Second, his restatement convinced the membership of ETS who gave him a 67 percent vote of approval. Third, the paper he read at ETS left the impression that he had changed his view. Fourth, his written statement indicates that he made a “change.” Fifth, he wrote in his paper and said orally to the membership that he accepted the ICBI statement on inerrancy which would indicate a change. Finally, upon reading the Executive Committee report and hearing Pinnock’s paper, I too got the impression he had changed his view.

To cite the ETS Executive Committee about their decision, “This is a direct result of extensive discussion with Dr. Pinnock, including his clarifications of many points, and his clarifying and rewriting of a critical passage in his work, retracting certain language therein” (Letter October 24, 2003 from Executive Committee to ETS membership, p. 1, emphasis added in all quotes). They added, “The day ended with Dr. Pinnock disavowing– voluntarily and unprompted–some of the affirmations in note 66 [of Most Moved Mover which claimed that a number of biblical prophecies, including one by Jesus, were not fulfilled as predicted] (ibid., 3). Thus, “the Committee reveals its belief that, in the light of Dr. Pinnock’s clarifications and retraction of certain problematic language, the charges brought in November 2002 should not be sustained” (ibid., 3-4). They also said “Dr. Pinnock…has clarified and corrected parts of what he wrote” (“ETS Executive Committee Report on Clark H. Pinnock October 22, 2003,” p. 2).

On The Contrary

In spite of all of this, there is good evidence that Pinnock never really recanted his views on inerrancy. First, he never used the word “recant” of his views in either written or verbal form. Second, he never used any synonyms of recant when speaking of his views on this matter. Third, even if it could be shown that he actually changed his view on prophecy, he has never recanted his position on numerous other statements that are incompatible with the ETS statement on inerrancy.

When one reads carefully what the ETS Executive Committee said of their decision to approve of Pinnock’s views, it does not really say he recanted his views but only his way of expressing them. It wrote: “This is a direct result of extensive discussion with Dr. Pinnock, including his clarifications of many points, and his clarifying and rewriting of a critical passage in his work, retracting certain language therein” (Letter October 24, 2003 from Executive Committee to ETS membership, p. 1). Likewise, as we will see below, what Pinnock said was only a recantation of how he expressed his view, not of the view itself.

I Answer That

Once we understand Pinnock’s view, it is not difficult to explain why he appeared to change his view when in reality he did not. It grows out of his view of truth.

Pinnock’s Intentionalist View of Truth

When Pinnock speaks of the truth of Scripture, he does so in terms of the author’s intention. An error is what the author did not intend. Hence, an intended “truth” can actually be mistaken or not correct and still be “true” by Pinnock’s definition. This came out clearly in Pinnock’s answer to a question after his paper. When asked whether he would consider an inflated number in Chronicles an “error,” he responded, “No,” since exaggerating the numbers served the intention the author of Chronicles had in making his point. So, what is incorrect, mistaken, and does not correspond to reality, is not considered an “error.” Of course, by this intentionalist view of truth all sincere statements ever uttered, no matter how erroneous they were, must be considered true. Clearly, this is not what the ETS framers meant by inerrancy. Ironically, even the Executive Committee itself disavowed such a view in principle when they excluded “various forms of views explicitly affirming errors in the text (though condoned by appeals to so-called ‘authorial intent’).” See the “Executive Committee Report on John E. Sanders October 23, 2003,” p. 6. Unfortunately, they did not apply what they said to Pinnock himself.

That Clark Pinnock holds an intentionalist view of truth is clear from his many statements on the matter. He wrote, “All this means is that inerrancy is relative to the intention of the text. If it could be shown that the chronicler inflates some of the numbers he uses for his didactic purpose, he would be completely within his rights and not at variance with inerrancy” (Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (hereafter SP, 78). Again, “We will not have to panic when we meet some intractable difficulty. The Bible will seem reliable enough in terms of its soteric [saving] purpose…. In the end this is what the mass of evangelical believers need–not the rationalistic ideal of a perfect Book that is no more, but the trustworthiness of a Bible with truth where it counts, truth that is not so easily threatened by scholarly problems” (Pinnock, SP, 104-105). Finally, “Inerrancy is relative to the intent of the Scriptures, and this has to be hermeneutically determined” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

It is important to note that the ETS Constitution implies a correspondence view of truth when it speaks of one making “statements” that are “incompatible” with the Doctrinal Basis of the Society (Articles 4, Section 4). Further, even the Executive Committee affirmed a correspondence view of truth (“ETS Executive Committee Report on John E. Sanders Oct 23, 2003,” p. 2). But if this is so, then their action was inconsistent since on a correspondence view of truth Pinnock has unrecanted statements that claim the Bible affirms things that do not correspond to the facts (see below under nos. 4, 9, 10).

Pinnock’s Statement About ICBI is Misleading

Both in his paper and verbal presentation at ETS (11/19/03) Pinnock said he affirmed the ICBI statement on inerrancy. Many took this as an indication of his recanting. However, this is not the case since Pinnock is on record as viewing statements on “truth” as being what the author intended. But this is clearly not what they meant. But Pinnock seems unaware that the ICBI framers explicitly ruled this intentionalist view of truth out in favor of a correspondence view of truth. They wrote, “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.” It adds, “This part of the article [13] 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.” It goes on to claim, contrary to Pinnock [SP. 119], that “the New Testament assertions about Adam, Moses, David and other Old Testament persons” are “literally and historically true” (R.C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary, Oakland, CA: ICBI, p. 31). But Pinnock clearly denied this (see no. 14 below).

So, Pinnock does not believe the ICBI statement on inerrancy which emphatically repudiates his view. In point of fact, Pinnock does to the ICBI statement what he does to the ETS statement; he reads them through his own intentionalist view of truth. In both cases, Pinnock is clearly in conflict with the meaning of the framers. On a correspondence view of truth, which is what the framers of both ETS and ICBI held, Pinnock’s view embraces errors in the Bible, that is, statements that do not correspond to the facts.

Further, Pinnock’s alleged recantation is not all encompassing. Pinnock did say that he was willing to make “changes” in his writings, but he did not tell us which ones. Indeed, he did not even say clearly that any of these changes would involve the admission of errors. He wrote: “I am 100% certain that, were we to sift through the text of The Scripture Principle as we did with the Most Moved Mover, some phrases would have to be improved on and some examples removed or modified.” Indeed, he added, “I am sure, were we to go through it carefully, changes would be in order” (“Open Theism and Biblical Inerrancy” a paper given on November 19, 2003 at the ETS annual meeting, p. 4). He spoke only of removing or modifying illustrations, improving phrases, and the like. There is not a single definitive word about admitting any error to say nothing of recanting four pages of quotations we presented the ICBI Executive Committee from Pinnock’s writings.

As to the ETS Executive Committee’s decision, a careful look at its language will reveal that Pinnock never recanted any of his views. Consider again the statements of the Committee. It speaks only of “clarifying and rewriting of a critical passage in his work, retracting certain language therein” (Letter October 24, 2003 from Executive Committee to ETS membership, p. 1). Notice that the only thing that was “retracted” was “certain language,” not his view. Indeed, Pinnock claims that his view remained the same, for he said, “I was not intending to violate it [the ETS inerrancy statement]. My clearing away the ambiguity is what made possible a positive verdict in my case. And I could do it sincerely since it had never been my intent to violate inerrancy here or elsewhere in my work” (Pinnock, ibid., 3). Pinnock said the same of statements he made in The Scripture Principle: “It was not and is not at all my intent to deny inerrancy…” (Ibid., 4). By this logic, no sincere author has ever made any error either in any of his or her books since they never intended to do so.

The Committee also said, “The day ended with Dr. Pinnock disavowing–voluntarily and unprompted–some of the affirmations in note 66 [of Most Moved Mover in which he claimed that a number of biblical prophecies, including one by Jesus, were never fulfilled] (October 24, 2003 letter from the ETS Committee to the membership, p. 3). Thus, “the Committee reveals its belief that, in the light of Dr. Pinnock’s clarifications and retraction of certain problematic language, the charges brought in November 2002 should not be sustained” (ibid., 3-4). But here again the only retraction was only of “problematic language,” not of his actual view on the matter which remains unrecanted.

The same is true of another use of the word “corrected” by the Committee with regard to Pinnock. They wrote: “Dr. Pinnock …has clarified and corrected parts of what he wrote” (“ETS Executive Committee Report on Clark H. Pinnock October 22, 2003,” p. 2). But here again it is not a correction of his view which was in error but of the language he “wrote,” that is, the way he expressed it.

Conclusion

In summation, although at first blush it would appear that Pinnock recanted all previously held views incompatible with the ETS inerrancy statement, the contrary evidence demonstrates that he did not recant any of these views. Certainly, he nowhere recants all of them. And even one of them is sufficient to show that he embraces a view that is incompatible with the ETS statement on inerrancy. Rather, using his intentionalist view of truth he claims he believes in inerrancy as understood by the ETS and ICBI framers, when in fact he does not.

But if Pinnock did not really recant his errant views, then what of the validity of the ETS acceptance of them as compatible with its inerrancy statement. It is bogus.
There is a way Pinnock can clear the air. All he has to do is to repudiate in unequivocal and unambiguous language all of the following statements he has made that are contrary to the ETS framers view of inerrancy:

1) “Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

2) “The Bible does not attempt to give the impression that it is flawless in historical or scientific ways” (Pinnock, SP, 99).

3) “The Bible is not a book like the Koran, consisting of nothing but perfectly infallible propositions…” (Pinnock, SP, 100).

4) “The authority of the Bible in faith and practice does not rule out the possibility of an occasionally uncertain text, differences in details as between the Gospels, a lack of precision in the chronology of events recorded in the Books of Kings and Chronicles…, and the like” (Pinnock, SP, 104).

5) “Did Jesus, teach the perfect errorlessness of the Scriptures? No, not in plain terms” (Pinnock, SP, 57).

6) “The New Testament does not teach a strict doctrine of inerrancy…. The fact is that inerrancy is a very flexible term in and of itself” (Pinnock, SP, 77).

7) “Why, then, do scholars insist that the Bible does claim total inerrancy? I can only answer for myself, as one who argued in this way a few years ago. I claimed that the Bible taught total inerrancy because I hoped that it did–I wanted it to” (Pinnock, SP, 58).

8) “For my part, to go beyond the biblical requirements to a strict position of total errorlessness only brings to the forefront the perplexing features of the Bible that no one can completely explain” (Pinnock, SP, 59).

9) “All this means is that inerrancy is relative to the intention of the text. If it could be shown that the chronicler inflates some of the numbers he uses for his didactic purpose, he would be completely within his rights and not at variance with inerrancy” (Pinnock, SP, 78).

10) “We will not have to panic when we meet some intractable difficulty. The Bible will seem reliable enough in terms of its soteric [saving] purpose…” (Pinnock, SP, 104-105).

11) “Inerrancy as Warfield understood it was a good deal more precise than the sort of reliability the Bible proposes. The Bible’s emphasis tends to be upon the saving truth of its message and its supreme profitability in the life of faith and discipleship” (Pinnock, SP, 75).

12) “The wisest course to take would be to get on with defining inerrancy in relation to the purpose of the Bible and the phenomena it displays. When we do that, we will be surprised how open and permissive a term it is” (Pinnock, SP, 225).

13) “Paul J. Achtemeier has called attention to the inadequacy of the prophetic model for representing the biblical category of inspiration in its fullness–The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals” (Pinnock, SP, 232, n. 8).

14) “I recognize that the Bible does not make a technical inerrancy claim or go into the kind of detail associated with the term in the contemporary discussion…. Inerrancy is a metaphor for the determination to trust God’s Word completely” (Pinnock, SP, 224-225).

15) “In the narrative of the fall of Adam, there are numerous symbolic features (God molding man from dirt, the talking snake, God molding woman from Adam’s rib, symbolic trees, four major rivers from one garden, etc.), so that it is natural to ask whether this is not a meaningful narration that does not stick only to factual matters” (Pinnock, SP, 119).

16) “On the one hand, we cannot rule legend out a priori. It is, after all, a perfectly valid literary form, and we have to admit that it turns up in the Bible in at least some form. We referred already to Job’s reference to Leviathan and can mention also Jotham’s fable” (Pinnock, SP, 121-122).

17) “The influence of myth is there in the Old Testament. The stories of creation and fall, of flood and the tower of Babel, are there in pagan texts and are worked over in Genesis from the angle of Israel’s knowledge of God, but the framework is no longer mythical” (Pinnock, SP, 123).

18) “We read of a coin turning up in a fish’s mouth and of the origin of the different languages of humankind. We hear about the magnificent exploits of Sampson and Elisha. We even see evidence of the duplication of miracle stories in the gospels. All of them are things that if we read them in some other book we would surely identify as legends” (Pinnock, SP, 123).

19) “At most, [in the NT] there are fragments and suggestions of myth: for example, the strange allusion to the bodies of the saints being raised on Good Friday (Matt. 27:52) and the sick being healed through contact with pieces of cloth that had touched Paul’s body (Acts 19:11-12)” (Pinnock, SP, 124).

20) “There are cases in which the possibility of legend seems quite real. I mentioned the incident of the coin in the fish’s mouth (Matt. 17:24-27)…. The event is recorded only by Matthew and has the feel of a legendary feature” (Pinnock, SP, 125). [Yet Gundry was asked to resign from ETS by 74 percent of the membership.]

21) “God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own” (Pinnock, MMM, 51).

In short, the ETS framers would not affirm any of these and Pinnock has not denied any of them. If he really wants to clear the record, then all he has to do is deny all 21 of these in clear and unequivocal terms. If he does not, then his unrecanted written views are contrary to what the ETS statement really means since the framers would not agree with any of them. And it is an evangelical tragedy of great magnitude that the Executive Committee of ETS and a majority of its members have retained Pinnock in what has now become the formerly Evangelical Theological Society.


 

All italic emphasis in original, bold emphasis this author’s.

SP–Clark Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, Harper & Rowe: 1984).

MMM–Clark Pinnock, The Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Baker: 2001).

 

An Exposition and Evaluation of the McGowen View on the Inspiration of Scripture (2009)


An Exposition and Evaluation of the McGowen View on the Inspiration of Scripture

by Norman L. Geisler

2009

 

In his book The Divine Spiration of Scripture: Challenging Evangelical Perspectives (Inter Varsity Press, 2007) Scottish Reformed theologian A. T. B. McGowen provides a thought-provoking evaluation of the ongoing debate between the infalliblist and the inerrantist positions. A careful reading of his proposal reveals many positive contributions.

The Positive Contributions of McGowen’s Work

There are many commendable features of this book that are well worth contemplating. First of all, it sees this as a “watershed issue” (9). Further, it observes that theopnuestia in 2 Timothy 3:16 should be translated as “spiration” or breathing out is a better rendering. It also affirms the value of the word “infallible” (39, 48). The term “inerrancy” alone is insufficient. After all, there can be inerrant phone books-with no errors-that do not thereby have divine authority. It also sees the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) statement as a “most significant” statement (104) and would chose it, if necessary, over the errancy view of Rogers and McKim (212). Likewise, McGowen would choose B. B Warfield over Jack Rogers of Fuller Seminary (161). He even cites favorably both John Woodbridge’s critique of Rogers and McKim (99) as well as that of Donald Bloesch who agrees (100, 125). Nor does McGowen deny that God can, if He chooses, produce an inerrant text (113-114), as inerrantists have long held.. Furthermore, he even says the Bible is a “co-authored” book by both God and human beings (148). Then too, his definition of inspiration hits some important key notes of the doctrine when he affirms that “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God”(43). He is certainly right in denying the “mechanical dictation” of Scripture(163).

Further, the book is on track in rejecting the neo-orthodox view of Scripture that the Bible merely “become the Word of God” in a moment of encounter with Him through the Bible (29). It is not the Word of God subjectively but is God’s Word objectively (73). Likewise, revelation is not merely an event as many neo-orthodox claim (21). McGowen is also correct in affirms that inspiration is verbal (136) and that there are any degrees of inspiration (134).and that it is not the authors of Scripture that are inspired (39, 133) but the Scriptures they wrote. McGowen also makes an often overlooked but important distinction. He points out that it is not the Bible that needs’ illumination, but only human minds (45-47). Another crucial point is that one should not claim for the Bible what it does not claim for itself (121). Nor does he reject the view there are implicit or logically entailed claims in Scripture. Indeed, he says the use of logic is “appropriate” (117) and “contradictions” should be avoided (212). More could be added.

An Evaluation of McGowan’s Basic Proposals on the Nature of Scripture

McGowen’s proposal is the first direct and serious proposal by an otherwise conservative Reformed scholar since the ICBI “Chicago Statement” (in 1978) As such, McGowen’s proposals demand attention.

The Claim That the Word “Inerrancy” Should be Discarded

McGowen argues that the term inerrancy should be discarded by evangelicals (13). He offers several reasons for this, one of the most often repeated of which is that the term “inerrancy” implies scientific precision (117). He also believes it is recent in origin, not being found in early creeds but being a result of heated battle between early 20th century Fundamentalist and Liberals (121). Neither does he believe the term is biblical, but he calls it a “violent assumption” (135) of Fundamentalist thinking. “Inerrancy,” he believes, is an apologetic response to the Enlightenment (50, 115). He also argues that it does not have the weight of history behind it.

First of all, in response it is important to note that both sides of the debate can agree that there is nothing sacred about the word “inerrancy.” Indeed, it is not the term so much as the truth of inerrancy that is important to preserve. The basic question is whether or not the Bible is completely without error in all that it affirms. This can be said in more than one way. But before we hasten to throw away the term “inerrancy,” let us remind ourselves of the strength of the word and the weakness of the suggested alternative terms.

Second, we can readily discard the argument that the word “inerrancy” is not biblical. By that same logic, the word “Bible” is not biblical for it is nowhere used of the Bible in the Bible. Further, it too does not have the weight of early history behind it. So should we discard it too? Indeed, the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible and did not appear in the earliest ecumenical Creeds such as the Apostles Creed (2nd cent), the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325), or the Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451). Does that mean we should discard it? The answer is “No,” and the reasons are that while the term is not biblical, nonetheless, the truth is biblical, and the term is a good term to describe it. The same is true of the word “inerrancy.”

Third, the term inerrancy need not mean “scientific precision,” as is wrongly alleged by anti-inerrantists. Every term should be understood in its context and with the qualifications given to it by its users. Even McGowen agrees that the ICBI statement makes numerous qualifications on the meaning of the term (106). These qualifications clearly deny the misimplications of modern “scientific precision.” Article XIII of the ICBI “Chicago Statement” declared plainly: “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision. . ..” (Emphasis added).

Fourth, it is well to remember that the term inerrancy also has some strong features in its favor. For one, it is negative, and negative terms are powerful. Consider, the force of the Ten Commandments many of which are stated in negative terms, like: “You shall not murder” or “You shall not bear false witness” or “You shall not commit adultery. Further, “The Bible is true” is not nearly as strong as “The Bible is without error.” Even McGowen appears to commend the ICBI statement for having “denials” as well as “affirmations” (106). But denials are negative which is the reason they help in clarifying the point at hand. Inerrancy, as a negative term, does the same thing. As is readily apparent the statement “The Bible is without error” is clearer and stronger than the statement “The Bible is true.” For the latter does not make it clear whether the Bible is completely true.

Considering the Alternatives

We readily grant that no term, including inerrancy, expresses all that the Bible claims about itself. Nonetheless, by comparison the term stands tall as compared to most of the alternatives offered.

The Term Infallible

McGowen favors the word “infallible” over the word “inerrant” (48, 123, 125,162). He insists that the word “infallible” is “more dynamic (or organic) and is a less mechanical view of authority” (49). It carries with it the idea that “the Holy Spirit infallibly uses God’s Word to achieve all he intends to achieve” (49). However, this use of the word “infallible” is precisely why the term “inerrant” is also needed.

In response, we acknowledge the strength of the term “infallible,” if it is used the sense of “unerring” in connection with the word “inerrant.” However, the term “infallible” has been rendered fallible by the intentionalist sense in which it is used by non-inerrantists. My Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary gives the primary definition of “infallible” as “incapable of error; unerring.” In this sense of the term, inerrantist have no problem since it is perfectly compatible with the term inerrant. It is the secondary sense of the term which the inerrantists reject as inadequate, namely, “not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint.” Indeed, McGowen speaks of Scriptures which “infallibly achieves God’s purposes” (149). He quotes Bavink’s view with approval,[1] saying: “In his organic view, Bavink focuses not on the text of Scripture as such but upon its meaning and purpose” (158, emphasis added). Likewise, he affirms “that intention [of Scripture] is no other than that it should make us ‘wise unto salvation'” (159, emphasis added).

However, focusing on the intention or purpose of the Bible, rather than its affirmations and denials, does not necessitate the Bible is without all errors in all that it affirms. Many statements with good intentions, even those that achieve their intended results, contain errors. So, by that definition of “infallible” one could have an infallibly correct error. But this is nonsense. Since the term “infallible” carries these connotations for many, it is necessary to add the word “inerrant” to make clear what the Bible teaches on the topic.

Of course, in the good sense of the term “infallible”(i.e.., incapable of error), it is not an either/or situation. The Bible is both infallible and inerrant. But, unlike McGowen’s implication, the Bible is not merely infallible in itsintentions and achievements but also in its affirmations (and denials). Truth is not found in intentions because humans can, and often do, utter errors with good intentions. So, defining either infallibility or inerrancy in terms of intentions, achieved or not, does not measure up to what the Bible claims for itself which is that truth must be judged by its correspondence to the facts. Indeed, even McGowen seems to admit this elsewhere when he commends “modes of rationality that actually correspond with the nature of its objectively given reality. . . “(73, emphasis added). Indeed, ICBI clarified the meaning of “truth” as correspondence in an official authorized commentary on “The Chicago Statement,” affirming that “By biblical standards of truth and error [in Article XIII on “Truth”] is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.”[2]

The correspondence view of truth is in fact the one which the Bible[3]embraces. For example: It is implied in the ninth command (“You shall not bear false witness”), i. e., don’t misrepresent the facts. It is also entailed in Acts 24 when it says you can “learn the truth” when you “verify [the facts]” (vs. 8, 11). Further, it is manifest in Genesis 42:16 when Joseph said they should look at the facts “so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth.” In addition, it was employed in the test for a false prophet whose prophecy was considered false “if the word does not come to pass or come true” (Deut. 18:22). It is also utilized in everyday conversations when we consider something false if it misrepresents the facts (e.g., we say “check the facts” or “check it out for yourself” and the like). Indeed, the correspondence view of truth is essential to a legal oath when one promises “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

One can and does agree that the word “inerrancy” alone is insufficient to describe what the Bible is.[4] It also has sanctity, infallibility, indestructibility, indefatigability (can’t be worn out), indefeasability (can’t be overcome). Indeed, it can save (1 Pet. 1:23), nourish (2 Pet. 2:2), wash (Psa. 119:9), purify (Jer. 23:29a), shatter (Jer. 23:29), cut deeply (Heb. 4:12), prevent sin (Psa. 119:11), illuminate (Psa. 119:105), comfort (Rom. 15:4), and predict (2 Pet. 1:19). The truth is that no one word covers all that the Bible is, just like no one attribute exhausts all that God is. However, this is not to say that the Bible is not inerrant as well. Nor is this to say we can rob it of this characteristic any more than we can strip it of infallibility.

McGowen Prefers the Word “Authentic”

McGowen prefers the word “authentic” (213) to “inerrant.” However, the term “authentic” as used of Scripture is theologically anemic. The Bible claims much more than this for itself. Jesus refers to the Bible as indestructible (Mt. 5:17-18), unbreakable (Jn. 10:35), the “Word of God” (Jn. 10:35), and as coming “out of the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). Paul said, it is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). These concepts are insufficiently described by the term “authentic.” After all, one can have an authentic coin minted with mistakes on it or an authentic copy of the famous “Wicked Bible” that translated Exodus 20:14 as “Thou shalt commit adultery”! There is also “authentic” Confederate currency and persons with authenticity-all of which falls far short of what is perfect.

The same goes for terms like “trustworthy” and “reliable.” The Bible is trustworthy like a good friend, but even trustworthy friends make mistakes. It is reliable like a good map, but even good maps can have errors on them. These terms are far too weak to describe what is meant by a God-breathed book that was joint-authored by God. So, both of these terms fail to measure up to what the Bible claims for itself.

Having said all this, there are other good ways to describe what is meant by inerrancy. “Totally free from all error in everything it affirms” is a good phrase. But for a single word it is difficult to beat the word “inerrancy.” And as defined by the ICBI statement, it is clearly the best single word available in English. And it would be unwise to discard it for words like trustworthy, reliable, authentic, or even infallible in purpose. Of course, the proper use of infallible and inerrant in all it affirms is a good and powerful way to express the biblical doctrine.

The Claim That Inerrancy Does not Follow From God’s Nature

Typical of strong Calvinists, McGowen embraces a form of divine voluntarism. Ethical voluntarism declares that something is good because God wills it; God does not will it because it is good. However, this would make all the moral commands of God in Scripture arbitrary. For example, according to voluntarism, God could will that love is wrong and hate is right. But this is not only counter-intuitive, it is morally repugnant, to say nothing of being unbiblical since God is by nature Love (1 Jn. 4:16). Further, voluntarism would undermine unconditional election, a doctrine dear to the heart of a Reformed theologian. For if voluntarism were true, then God could change his mind about who the elect are or even whether the elect will ultimately be saved.

This same kind of voluntarism is evident in MeGowen’s argument against inerrancy. In one of the most important sections in the book, he writes: “inerrantists make an unwarranted assumption about God. The assumption is that, given the nature and character of God, the only kind of Scripture he could ‘breathe out’ was Scripture that is textually inerrant. If there was even one mistake in the autographa, then God cannot have been the author, because he is incapable of error” (113). Thus, MeGowen says inerrancy is not a legitimate inference from the Bible (115) but is merely an “a priori” argument (131).

McGowan goes on to say that “the argument of the inerrantists is that God is unable to produce anything other than an inerrant autographic text . . . I agree with the inerrantists that God could have brought into being inerrant autographic texts, had he chosen to do so, but I reject their argument that he must have acted in this way” (113-114). He concludes, “I think it is wrong to prejudge the nature of Scripture through some deductivist approach, based on what we believe inspiration must mean, given God’s character” (136). We cannot “assume that they must be inerrant because God cannot lie” (137). This could hardly be more clear and, in my view, more faulty. Several observations are in order in this regard.

First, MeGowen is a voluntarist on what God could or could not do in producing a God-breathed book. That is, he affirmed that God was free to make an original Bible with or without errors in it. He was under no necessity imposed upon him by his own nature to produce an errorless original. As incredible as this may sound, McGowen’s biblical voluntarism entails the claim that speaking the truth is optional, not necessary, for God! If ever there was a misdirected and over-stated view of God’s sovereignty, this is it.

Indeed, this is precisely where inerrantists sharply disagee with non-inerrantists like MeGowen. This disagreement is reflected in the basic statement on Scripture of the Evangelical Theological Society to which McGowan refers. It reads, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).” The word “therefore” logically connects the word of “God” and “inerrant” to make it clear that neither God nor the Bible errs. This meaning of the word “therefore” has been confirmed by a living framer of the statement, namely, Reformed theologian Roger Nicole.

Further, and more importantly, the Bible makes it clear that God cannot choose, even if He desires to do so, to produce an imperfect original. Why? “Because it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Paul speaks about “the God who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). He adds, “God cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Numerous other Scriptures speak of God’s unchanging nature (Num. 23:19;1 Sam. 15:29; Psa.102:25-27; Heb. 1:10-12; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17. No serious examination of all these Scriptures in context can support a voluntarist interpretation that God can change his essential nature, even if He wanted to do so. If this is so, then McGowen’s central thesis fails, and the inerrantists argument stands firm:

  1. God cannot error.
  2. The original Bible is God’s Word.
  3. Therefore, the original Bible cannot error.

To deny this conclusion, as MeGowen knows, one must deny at least one or the other of the two premises. McGowen’s attempt to deny the first premise failed. It goes against the grain of God’s very nature as truth to presume that such an unchangeably true Being can error, if He wishes. God is truth (Deut. 32:4; Psa. 31:5) by His very unchangeable nature and, as such, He “cannotlie” (Titus 1:2); “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). To do so, would be to deny Himself, and “he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).

Further, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn. 15:26). And the Word of God is the utterances of the Spirit of Truth. Jesus said, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). Peter added, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). David confessed, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Now by simple logical inference,

  1. The original Bible is the utterance of the Spirit of Truth.
  2. The Spirit of truth cannot utter error.
  3. Therefore, the original Bible cannot utter err.

Here again, to deny inerrancy one must deny at least one or more of the two premises. McGowen’s attempt to deny the first premise fails. Truth is not an option with God. It is a necessity.

MeGowen also believes that the copies of the Bible are inspired (159). Given that inspiration means “spirated” or “breathed out” of God and given that he recognizes errors in the copies, MeGowen is left with explaining just how God can breath out errors. Indeed, according to this analysis, it is not only possible for there to be errors in what God breathes out, but it may be actual as well. But this is contrary to the very nature of God as truth to breathe out error. He cannot overrule his unchangeable nature by his sovereignty any more than He can will Himself out of existence!

An Implied Accommodation Theory

Upon closer analysis MeGowen also seems to reject the second premise of the argument for inerrancy as well, namely, that “The Bible is the Word of God.” According to this view, God must accommodate Himself, not only to human finitude, but to human error in the production of Scripture. But nowhere in Scripture is there support for the view that God accommodates Himself to human error rather than merely adapts Himself to human finitude. In short, a truly human book, such as the Bible is, can still avoid errors. Were this not so, then by the same logic, one must conclude that the divine accommodation in the Incarnation means that Christ sinned. This is the way MeGowen attacks the so-called incarnational model often used by evangelicals to illustrate their view.

The err at the root of this view appears to be based on a Barthian and neo-Gnostic view of human fallenness in which any contact with this fallen human world makes sin unavoidable. It is to argue that since the Bible was written by fallen human beings in fallen human language, it too must inevitably partake of errors as well.

There is another serious problem with this radical view of divine accommodation.[5] If contact with a fallen world makes error inevitable, then not only does this mean there can be (and probably are) errors in the original Bible, it also means that the Incarnate Christ too must partake of both the same proneness to error and to sin. But the New Testament makes it very clear that Jesus did not sin (Heb. 4:15: 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 3:2). Likewise, it would mean that the very teachings which came from Jesus lips would have been tainted with error since he too was speaking in a fallen human language. But this belief would precipitate a Christological crisis unacceptable to orthodoxy. Surely, no one who believes in the union of two natures in the one Person of Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, thereby affirms error in his human words. Hence, McGowen’s view of divine accommodation to err in the production of Scripture must be rejected. The fact is, however, that finitude does not necessitate fallenness. If it did, then not only would the Son Himself have partaken in sin and error, but the beatified saints in heaven would not be free from sin and error, as the Scriptures teach they will be (1 Cor. 13:10;1 Jn. 3:2; Rev.21:4).

Rejecting the “Incarnational” Analogy

According to this inerrantists reasoning, just as God in His Living Word (the Savior) has united with the human nature of Christ without sin, even so God is united with His written Word (the Scripture) yet without error. MeGowen objects to this analogy with two basic arguments (118-121).

First, he argues that unlike Christ whose two natures are united in one person, there is no such union of the divine and human in Scripture. But McGowan misses the point, even on his own grounds. For elsewhere he speaks of a co-authorship of Scripture (148). He cites with approval the following: “This enables Bavink faithfully and clearly to emphasize both sides of any orthodox doctrine of Scripture, namely that God is the author but yet the human beings are the authors” (148). This would mean that both the human and divine aspects of Scripture are united in one set of propositions(better, sentences) or verbal expression in like manner to the divine and human being united in Christ in one person. This conclusion is borne out also by the fact that MeGowen holds to “verbal” inspiration by affirming that “I disagree with him [James Orr] on [his denying] verbal inspiration. It seems to me that there is no good reason for arguing that the content but not the form of the Scriptures have come to us from God” (136). But if the verbal form of Scripture is “breathed-out” from God, as MeGowen claims it is, then there is a propositional (better, sentential) unity that combines both the divine and human elements of Scripture in one and the same verbal structure.

Even McGowen’s own definition of Scripture supports the Incarnational model for he says “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (43). Again, there is a unity between the human and divine in God’s written Word (the Scripture) that is analagous with the union of the divine and human in His Living Word (the Savior).

Further, MeGowen argues wrongly that the word “divine” does not apply to Scripture, as it does to the divine nature of Christ in the Incarnation. He wrote: “Only God is divine and therefore only God can have a divine nature” (120). But in a very important sense this is not so. Even Peter affirmed that in some real sense “we are partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Surely, this is not in a metaphysical sense (e.g., we can’t be infinite) but in a moral sense (we can be true). MeGowen seems to unwittingly answer his own question when he admits that “I am not denying that the Scriptures (like human beings) can share some of the divine attributes” (120). But that is all that is necessary for the analogy to be a good one, namely to have strong similarities which it has.

As for the Bible not being God, of course it is not. That is why the Incarnational model is an analogy (similar but not identical). No informed evangelical ever held that the Bible was God and should be worshiped. The Bible is like God in his moral attributes (like the necessity to be truth and holiness), not in his non-moral (metaphysical) attributes (like infinite and eternal). In view of this, the Incarnational reasoning can be stated as follows:

  1. God’s Living Word (Christ) and His Written Word (the Savior) are similar in that:
    1. They have a divine and human dimension;
    2. These two dimensions are combined in one unity.
    3. Thus, both are without flaw.
  2. Hence, both God’s Living Word and His Written Word are without flaw morally in that:
    1. God’s Living Word is without sin:
    2. Written Word is without error.[6]

The remaining question is: How can the effect (an inerrant Bible) be greater than the cause (errant humans)? Of course, it cannot, but the ultimate (primary) Cause is God; the human writers are only the secondary causes. Their imperfection and tendency to err does not bleed through to the effect because God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick! Or, in biblical terms: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21). In theological terms, to cite MeGowen himself, “the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (43). Since the Scriptures did not originate from “the will of man,” but of God, and since the superintending Spirit of truth “cannot lie,” then what He uttered in these human words cannot err.

McGowen’s Neo-Barthian Implication

Although MeGowen rightly disowns some neo-orthodox beliefs such as a denial of objective propositional revelation and revelation coming only in acts and not words, nonetheless, he is not without Barthian influence in this matter. In fact, I would call his view neo-Barthian in some significant respects. First, as already noted (and discussed more fully below), MeGowen allows for the possibility of errors in the original text of the Bible-the one breathed-out by God. Second, he speaks of the Bible as an instrument through which God speaks-rather than the Bible being the voice of God itself. As to the first he says, “The Scriptures are the record of the revelation that God has given to his church . . . ” (21). He adds, “Our knowledge of the love of God in Christ comes to us through the voice of God speaking in the Scriptures” (31). Again, “God’s Word came to us in the form of human witness” (112). Finally, he cites James Orr with approval, saying, “God has given a historical, supernatural revelation and . . . the Scriptures are the ‘record’ of this revelation” (132). But what is this but a more euphemistic way to affirm Barth’s scratched record analogy of one hearing his master’s voice through an imperfect recording. This is contrary to Scripture which describes itself as “perfect” (Psa. 19:7) (Hebrew: tamiym, without flaw) which is the same word used of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:5) that was to be “without blemish.” But the Bible speaks of itself as the revelation of God itself (the very Word of God), not a faulty record of it.

This conclusion is also supported by McGowen’s claim that the Bible has no authority in itself, only God does (45). But if the Bible is the Word of God written, then it has the authority of God in it since it is God’s voice speaking in the words of Scripture. One would think that with McGowen’s emphasis on the “dynamic” nature of inspiration (49), to wit that God is continually speaking through His Word (155), that he would not have fallen into the Barthian error of claiming the Bible is not the revelation of God but merely a human record of it through which God speaks to us. This is undoubtedly why MeGowen also claims there is some truth in the Barthian claim that “the Bible becomes the Word of God” to us or is “a subjective revelation” to us (156).

Finally, this neo-Barthianism in MeGowen is also supported by his contention that the Bible is only an instrumental revelation. He writes, “the purpose of Scripture is instrumental to the work of the Spirit” (24). Likewise, he speaks with approval that “Barth was arguing that our knowledge of the love of God in Christ comes to us through the voice of God speaking in the Scriptures” (31). Thus, God speaks “by His Spirit through His Word” (31). So, the Bible is “the means” by which he communicates with us (31). In short, the Bible is not the revelation of God; it is the instrument through which God’s revelation comes to us. But once this distinction is made and the wedge is driven between the words of the men who wrote the Scriptures and the voice of God that speaks through these fallible human voices, then we cannot have a true revelation from God.

Faulty Logic in the MeGowen Analysis

Part of the reason MeGowen is able to come to these wrong conclusions about inerrancy is the faulty logic he employs. A few examples will suffice. Many of them are forms of the notorious “Straw Man” fallacy. First, hee false charges that inerrantist hold to mechanical dictation is even rejected by the Fundamentalist John R. Rice repudiated who admits to holding “verbal dictation”.[7] Indeed, no Calvinist, like McGowen, who believes in iresistable grace should have any problem believing that God can work on different persons with their unique styles to produce exactly what God wanted to say.

Second, he alleges a “straw man”of atomistic view “that every isolated word of Holy Scripture is inerrant”” (65). This word-by-word revelation which is found primarily in cultic dictation or in orthodox Muslim’s beliefs about the origin of the Qur’an, not in an evangelical view of inspiration who believe is in wholistic inspiration. That is a word taken properly in the context of a whole sentence and a sentence taken in the whole context of a literary unity (and ultimately that taken in the context of the whole Scripture) is inspired and inerrant. In brief, a whole sentence (with all of its parts) is an inerrant revelation from God if understood in its proper contexts. Paul stressed the importance of a singular “seed” in contrast to “seeds” (Gal. 3:16). The absence of a letter can change the whole meaning of a doctrine, as the early Creed discovered. The Greek word for “same” (homoousion) differed from the word for “similar” (homoiousion) by only one letter, the letter “I” (the letter iota in Greek). This one tiny letter was the difference between orthodoxy and heresy on whether Christ was the same or only similar to God. So, in this sense, even letters are inspired, not in isolation from words, sentences and the overall context but as a crucial part of the whole-the wholistic meaning.

Another “straw man” created by MeGowen is what he calls “inflexible literalism” (65, 103). He equated ICBI with fundamentalists (103, 123). However, the ICBI “Chicago Statement” on inerrancy went to great lengths to deny this charge-so detailed were the statements that, strangely, MeGowen criticized it for being so careful to define its meaning this precisely. Article XIII declared: “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.” Article XVIII adds, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatical-historical exegesis; taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.” Likewise, Article VI declares: “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole” (emphasis added). What is this but a whole-istic inspiration?

McGowen also contends that God’s revelation “can never become mere data to be processed by the theologian, rather than the means by which God confronts and communicates to us.” But once again, whoever said that the Bible is “mere data” for us to process. The Word of God is not merely an object to be studied (73). It also the Word of God to be obeyed (Js. 1:22). The very ICBI statements (which MeGowen rejects) states the contrary in its very first statement, saying:”God, who is Himself Truth and speaks the truth only, has inspired Holy scripture in order to reveal Himself to lost mankind Jesus Christ . . . Holy scripture is God’s witness to Himself.” (No. 1). Article III declares: “We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.” How can one conclude from this, as MeGowen does (117), that inerrantists believe the Bible is viewed merely as an object to be studied, rather than a revelation to be obeyed?

Fourth, it does not seem to concern MeGowen admits to logical fallacy of “circular reasoning” in his apologetic (32). This begs the question by saying in essence: “We know the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible (as the Word of God) tells us so.” MeGowen cites Bavink with approval that “Holy Scripture is self-attested (autopistos) and therefore the final ground of faith. No deeper ground can be advanced. To the question ‘Why do you believe Scripture?’ The only answer is: ‘Because it is the word of God.’ But if the next question is ‘Why do you believe that Holy Scripture is te word of God’ a Christian cannot answer?” (31) Even Van Til, whom MeGowen cites favorably (37), could offer a transcendental argument in response, namely, because nothing else in the world makes sense apart from positing that the Triune God is revealed in canonical Scripture. However, one can be sure that neither MeGowen nor any other fideist would accept this reasoning when a Muslim says, “Why should we believe the Qur’an is the Word of God? The only answer is: Because the Qur’an says it is the Word of God.” I am sure MeGowen would want some good evidence and reasons before he accepted the Qur’an as the Word of God, regardless of what the Qur’an says about itself.

As for the claim that in such an answer “we are setting these things as a higher authority than the voice of God speaking in Scripture” we point out that besides confusing epistemology and ontology, he is overlooking the fact that the Bible itself commands us to use “reason” (1 Peter 3:15) and evidence (Acts 1:3) to test truth claims. Moses gave tests for a false prophet (Deut. 13 and 18). John exhorted us to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 Jn. 4:1), and Paul “reasoned” (Acts 17:2, 17) with the Jews and Greeks to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. Indeed, Jesus himself used reason and evidence to substantiate his claims to be God.[8] As Augustine said, “Who cannot see that thinking is prior to believing? For no one believes anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed. . . . ?”[9]

Fifth, MeGowen is also guilty of taking a text out of its context. He does this with a statement made by B. B. Warfield, the great Princetonian defender of inerrancy. Warfield is careful to stress the humanity of Scripture as well as its divine origin. In so defending the humanity of the biblical authors, Warfield and Hodge state that the authors of Scripture were dependent on human languages that “bear everywhere indelible traces of error” and on human “sources and methods in themselves fallible” and personal knowledge that was “defective, or even wrong” (211). But using this to support McGowen’s errant view of inerrancy is totally unjustified for two reasons. First, it omits the crucial point, namely, that God in his providence overrules these human weaknesses and produces an inerrant product through their human pens. To repeat, this only proves the point that God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. Second, even in this quote McGowen overlooks the fact that Warfield is not saying that these human sources always err. Indeed, he qualifies it by the phrases “in large measure” and “in many maters.” Finally, Hodge and Warfield clearly say that they are referring to these human sources “in themselves,” not as superintended by a God who cannot err.

Sixth, MeGowen sometimes throws the baby out with the bathwater. For example, he lumps “propositional” revelation with the alleged necessity of “scientific precision” and rejects them both together. Thus, propositional truth gets thrown out with modern “scientific accuracy.” But most inerrantists, indeed all who signed the ICBI or ETS statements as defined by ICBI, do not believe that one has to believe in “scientific accuracy” in order to believe in propositional revelation (117). This same unnecessary lumping occurs with “inerrancy” and “fundamentalism” (103, 123) as well as inerrancy and “literalism.” This, in spite of the fact that inerrancy proponents explicitly deny such implications (see above).

Answering Other Objections to Inerrancy Raised by MeGowen

There are many other objections MeGowen raises to inerrancy. Several call for a brief response since they are held by many as significant obstacles to belief in inerrancy.

Death of Inerrancy by a Thousand Qualifications

Strangely enough MeGowen criticizes the ICBI and ETS inerrantist for having so many qualifications to their view. This is odd in view of the fact that the non-inerrantist holds the opposite on all these points and yet they are not criticized for all their qualifications. Further, MeGowen actually commends the ICBI statement for making things clearer by having “denials” as well as “affirmations.” But these additional negative qualifications make the doctrine, even clearer.

Basically, inerrancy does not die a death by “a thousand” qualifications for two reasons. First of all, the so-called qualifications do not kill it but enhance it and, thus, keep it alive. In short, they do not negate all meaning in the original claim; they clarify it by negating things from it that do not belong to it.

Second, there are not “a thousand” qualifications; there really are only two: 1) Only the original text is inerrant; and 2) Only what is affirmed as true in the text, is true and not any thing else. The rest of the so-called “qualifications” are not really qualifications by inerrantists but misunderstandings by non-inerrantists. Hence, the re-wording is necessary only because opponents have misunderstood or mischaracterized the doctrine. This calls for a denial by inerrantists that helps one to understand what was implied in the original affirmation that everything affirmed as true in the text, is true (and everything affirmed as false, is false). Just as the early Creeds had to grow in order to explain what they meant in earlier more simple forms because later heretics misunderstood, distorted, or challenged it, even so later inerrantists have had to add more “qualifications” to explicate the original meaning as opposed to the heretical challenges of their day.

For instance, it should have been sufficient to simply say: (1) The Bible is the Word of God. This really should be sufficient, but because some have denied the obvious, it is necessary to add (2) the Bible is the inspired Word of God. However, when some use inspired in a human sense, it is necessary to say (3) The Bible is the strong>divinely inspired Word of God. But since some deny such a book is infallibly true, it is necessary to add (4) the Bible is the divinely inspired infallible Word of God. Likewise, when some claim it is only infallible in intent but not in fact, then it is necessary to clarify that it means (5) the Bible is the divinely inspired infallible and inerrant Word of God. Even here some have argued that it is only inerrant in redemptive matters, hence it is necessary to add (6) the Bible is the divinely inspired infallible and inerrant word of God in all that it affirms on any topic. And so on. There is no apparent end to this process. Why? Because when someone denies the obvious, it is necessary to affirm the redundant. It is the not inerrantists’ fault that he seems to be adding when he is explicating what the original statement meant. So, the inerrantist cannot be blamed for the alleged “qualifications” (really, further of the original meaning in the light of later denials). It is the opponents of inerrancy that should be blamed for denying the obvious. If “(1) The Bible is the Word of God,” then of course it is divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant, etc. But if one denies the obvious, then inerrantists must affirm the redundant to make our view clear.

There is No Mention of Inspiration and Inerrancy in the early Creeds

In response to this charge, it is crucial to remember that the belief in a divinely authoritative Bible is everywhere presupposed by the Creeds. Almost the entire The Apostles’ Creed (2nd cent.) is made up phases that are dependent on the Bible. Likewise, the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325) uses many of the same phrases and adds explicitly states that these truths were “spoken through the Prophets.” The Chalcedonian Creed (A. D. 451) uses many of the same phases from the previous Creeds and adds explicitly that “we have the prophets of the old” (in the Old testament) and what “the Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught” through the apostolic writings in the New Testament. The divinely authoritative basis for the teaching of the Christian Church is evident both implicitly and explicitly in the earliest general Creeds of the Church.

Second, there was little need to mention the Bible more explicitly since it was not seriously challenged. The Creeds grew out of needs. The needs of the day were centered more on the deity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity, and the resurrection. Hence, they were highlighted. Creeds grew out of controversy, and there was no serious controversy in the early church on the divine origin of Scripture.

Third, it is well established that the view of the early Fathers were strongly in favor of inerrancy. Noted authority on the early Fathers, J. N. D. Kelly, characterized the view of the early Fathers when speaking of Tertullian’s view that “Scripture has absolute authority; whatever it teaches is necessarily true, and woe betide him who accepts doctrines not discoverable in it.”[10] St. Augustine summed up the early Fathers well when he declared: “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.”[11]What is this but an affirmation of the inerrancy of the original text of the Bible.

Why Did God Not Preserve the Autographs?

McGowen asks: “If textual inerrancy is so vital to the doctrine of Scripture, why did God not preserve the autographs of precise copies of the same?” (109). He adds, “What was the point of God acting supernaturally to provide an inerrant text providentially if it ceased to be inerrant as soon as the first or second copy was made?” (109).

In response, evangelical scholars have long pointed out several things which McGowen nowhere addresses at any length or refutes. First, there are important reasons to have a perfect autograph, the foremost of which is that the God of absolute truth cannot utter error (see above). For “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). The “Spirit of truth” (Jn. 16:13) cannot utter untruths.

Second, since God did not breathe-out the copies, it is possible for them to error. However, God has providentially preserved them as a whole from any substantial error. In short, we have good copies of the original autographs. Noted scholars have substantiated this. Professor Frederic Kenyon stated, “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”[12] The great Greek scholar A. T. Robinson stated that “The real concern is with a thousandth part of the entire text.”[13] That would make it 99.9% free of significant variants. Others have noted that these minor variants do not affect an essential teaching of the Christian Church. Even agnostic Bible critic Bart Ehrman admits: “In fact, most of the changes found in early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes pure and simple slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”[14] So, we have 99+ percent of the text and 100% of the essential truths of the Christian Faith. Hence, we do not need the autographs.

Third, there may be a good reason why God did not preserve the autographs. Knowing the human tendency to worship relics, imagine what would happen to the original Bible breathed-out by God! Look what happened to the brazen serpent in the wilderness years later (2 Kgs. 18:4). Further, knowing the human tendency to distort truth and corrupt doctrine with an alleged divine authority, think of what could happen to the autographs if they fell into human hands. But with the autographs preserved in some 5700 mss. that are spread all over the world there is no human way possible that any essential truth of the Christian Faith could be distorted in all these copies.

If Imperfect Copies are Adequate, Why not Imperfect Originals?

Perhaps an illustration will help answer this question. It is not difficult to understand the biblical story of God making a perfect Adam, allowing him to fall and reproduce other imperfect copies of the original Adam. Now all these copies (descendants) of Adam are 100 percent human and imperfect as we all are. So, essential humanity has been preserved even through generations of imperfect copies. Likewise, with Scripture it was essential to have an original that was perfect since a perfect God cannot make an imperfect original. For example, it is inconceivable that a perfect God could have made the first man with a deformed body with cancer growths already on it. But it is not inconceivable that he would make a perfect original man, endow him with free choice, allow him to sin and bring imperfections to his posterity while God, nonetheless, preserves his essential human nature in his posterity. It is for this same reason that God produced a perfect original Bible, and yet preserved the copies of all minor errors so as to protect all the essential truths for posterity.

In short, an adequate but imperfect original is not possible for a perfect God to make. There are many things that God cannot do, even by His sovereignty. He cannot change (Mal. 3:6; Js. 1:13, 17). He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). He cannot cease being God (Heb. 1:10-12). He cannot break an unconditional promise (Rom. 11:29). He cannot lie (Heb. 6:17-18). And, as an absolutely perfect God, He cannot produce an imperfect product either in the realm of truth or morals-because it is contrary to His very nature to do so.

Calling arguments like this “a priori” (111) or purely “deductive” (136) do not make them invalid or false. They are based on the very revealed nature of God in Scripture, and there is nothing wrong with making logical deductions from biblical truths. The Trinity is such a deduction since nowhere does the Bible explicitly teach in any text that there is one God in essence who is three in Persons. Rather, it teaches: (1) There is only one God, and (2) There are three Persons who are God (i.e., who share this one nature). The doctrine of the Trinity is a necessary logical inference from these two clearly biblical premises. Inerrancy, fits into this same category. There are two premises clearly taught in Scripture: (1) God cannot error and (2) The original Bible is the Word of God. The necessary logical conclusion to draw from this is: (3) The original Bible cannot err.

The Argument from Alleged Errors and Contradictions in Scripture

MeGowen is believe that there could be errors in the autographs. He says, “if God is able to use the errant copies . . . that we do have . . . why invest so much theological capital in hypothetical originals that we do not have?” (113). He adds, “The autographs (if we could view them) might very well look just like our existing manuscripts, including all the difficulties, synoptic issues, discrepancies and apparent contradictions . . . ” (119).

Elsewhere, he concludes with Bavink that “the guidance of the Holy Spirit promised to the church does not exclude the possibility of human error”(158). He seems to be fearful of saying there are “actual contradictions and errors,” but it follows from the very logic of his comparison. For the copies have actual errors and contradictions and God uses them for His purposes. Further, since he claims that the copies are inspired (159), he is faced with the contradictory belief in God-breathed errors anyway. Again, he says that he “reject[s] the implication that thereby the autographs must be inerrant” (124). That certainly means that they can be errant. Again, there is not a “third way.” Either the original can have errors or else they cannot have errors. The undeniable Law of Non-Contradiction (see above) demands this conclusion

Before concluding it will be instructive to examine McGowen’s example of an alleged error in the Bible which he gets from I. Howard Marshall (112). He calls it “a very good example” of an error in the biblical text. He alleges that Jairus told Jesus in Matthews 9:18 that his daughter was dead. But in Mark and Luke Jairus told Jesus she was only “at the point of death” (Mk 5:23) but not dead. Luke said she was only “dying” but not yet dead (Lk. 8:42). MeGowen hastily concludes that “there is a clear contradiction between the initial words of Jairus as recorded by Matthew and the other Evangelists” (113).

However, there is in actuality no contradiction between anything Jairus is recorded to have said. For this apparent discrepancy can be explained by the fact “while he [Jairus] was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, Your daughter is dead'”(Lk. 8:49). Matthew did not mention that detail, but included the report of the girl’s death in Jairus’ request.[15]The fact is that Matthew did not say Jarius said anything that in fact he did not say. He merely combines the two parts of the conversation, thus stressing the point that the girl actually died by that time.[16] Having analyzed some 800 alleged contradictions in Scripture in The Big Book of Bible Difficulties,[17] I have concluded after a half century of study that the Bible is without error but the critics are not.

Conclusion

McGowen offers many positive insights into the nature of Scripture that are worth pondering (see above). However, in attempting to offered a “middle way between inerrantist and errantist he falls into serious errors. For one, he adopts a radical voluntaristic view of God being sovereignly able to utter error in the original mss. This is combined with an unbiblical view of divine accommodation to error, rather than divine adaptation to finitude without error. This is connected with his rejection of an “incarnational” model of inerrancy which rejection, if applied consistently to Christ, would lead to the conclusion that even the human words and actions of Christ would not be without sin and error.

As for his offer that Americans forsake their long-standing commitment to inerrancy for the weaker European non-inerrancy view, we would remind him of the decline of a vital European church based on the latter and the greater vitality of the American church based on the former. In brief, McGowen’s proposal to reject the term (and concept) of inerrancy should be graciously but firmly rejected because of its unbiblical, unreasonable, and unorthodox implications. In spite of the above stated positive aspects of his view, his central theses may seem more broad and attractive (neither of which is a test for truth), but in the end it is a dangerous deviation from the orthodox view of inerrancy taught in the Bible, affirmed by the church down through the centuries, demanded by orthodox theology from time immemorial, and which has provided a fruitful basis for a vital Christian church. Hence, rather than tempt one to give up either the concept or term inerrancy to describe God-breathed Scripture, McGowen’s gives us more reason to hold on to them.

[1] McGowen agrees with Herman Bavink more than almost any other author, saying, “My argument, then, is that Herman Bavink . . .[who] offers the finest model for an evangelical doctrine of Scripture” (212).

[2] See R.C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary (ICBI, 1980), 31.

[3] For a defense of the correspondence view of truth see the article titled “Truth, Nature of” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999) by N. L. Geisler..

[4] N. L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002),Vol. 1.

[5] It is acknowledged that many orthodox theologians have used the word “accommodation” to mean adaptation to finitude, but it is denied that they meant this to include error or sin. However, since the term “accommodation” now carries this connotation for many, I recommend that we speak of divine “adaptation” to finitude and leave the word “accommodation” for the neo-orthodox (and neo-Gnostic) view of God acquiescing to error.

[6] I would argue that the Bible “cannot” err insofar as its divine dimension is concerned and “did not” err insofar as its human dimension is concerned.

[7] See John R. Rice, The God-Breathed Book: The Bible (Murfreesboro, TN; 1969), 9.

[8] For a treatment of the many ways in which Jesus used reason and evidence to substantiate his claims see our book, The Apologetics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009).

[9] St. Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 5.

[10] J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (NY: Harper & Row, 1960), 39.

[11] See St. Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5.

[12] Sir Frederic Kenyon, The Bible and Archaeology (NY: Harper, 1940), 288.

[13] ” Archibald T. Robertson, An Intro to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1925), 22.

[14] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus (NY: HarperOne), 55.

[15] See The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament (Wheaton, Il: Victor Books, 1983), 40.

[16] For McGowen’s to insist that it is an error because Matthew’s record represents the ruler saying it at a different time is and example of the very “literalistic” view he elsewhere deplores in inerrantists. Further, it begs the question by assuming that conflation is not a legitimate literary style which the ICBI view on Inerrancy allows.

[17] Baker Books (2008).

Explaining Hermeneutics: A Commentary on The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics


Explaining Hermeneutics was the official ICBI sponsored commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutic. We combined it with R. C. Sproul’s Explaining Inerrancy, the official ICBI sponsored commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutic, and titled it Explaining Biblical Inerrancy.

Please click here to redirect to http://bastionbooks.com/shop/explainingicbi/

You may use the coupon-code of “Free-EBI” (case sensitive) to get the e-book for free when checking out.

 

What does the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy *really* mean? We’re excited to announce that the newest e-book at Bastion Books, titled Explaining Biblical Inerrancy, is a combination of two classic, priceless, hard-to-find, strategic, profound, must-have resources! In it we’ve got forty pages by Dr. R.C. Sproul explaining the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, twenty-two pages by Dr. Norman Geisler explaining the articles of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics, and ten pages by Dr. Geisler outlining the challenges to and misunderstandings of the ICBI standards of inerrancy that have been common in the last thirty years. Please spread the word and help us get this e-book onto the computers and e-readers of every seminary professor, Bible teacher, and Bible student. Link:

 

 

Brief Comments on the Licona Dialogue at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


Brief Comments on the Licona Dialogue

at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

 Professor Norman L. Geisler

August 2, 2012

 

The Summer 2012 journal of the Southeastern Theological Review (link) records the “Roundtable Discussion with Michael Licona on The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.”  Roundtable participants included Danny Akin, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, Michael Kruger, Michael Licona, and Charles Quarles.  Here are a few brief comments on the discussion.

 

  1. Most comments in support of Licona’s view in this Round Table discussion (e.g., those by Mike Licona, Paul Copan, and Craig Blomberg) have already been addressed in our article on “Methodological Unorthodoxy” in the Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics, vol. 5, no. 1 (2012) and in numerous other scholarly articles posted on our web site (http://NormanGeisler.net/articles/Licona). Unfortunately, there has been no response by Licona to these points.
  2. Many comments made in the Round Table by Craig Blomberg were personal attacks on critics of Licona’s views and have no place in a scholarly dialogue.  As Dr. Akin correctly responded, “I regret Dr. Blomberg’s rhetoric concerning Al Mohler. His singular written response to Dr. Licona’s book was respectful and measured. Nothing he said could fairly be construed as attempting to ruin Mike’s career. Why Dr. Blomberg believes this, or that Al owes Mike an apology, mystifies me. I strongly disagree with him.…”  Indeed, Copan and Blomberg need to apologize for impugning the motives and character of scholars who are critical of Licona’s aberrant views.  Name calling like “bullying” adds nothing to civil dialogue but only brings discredit on those who use such charges.

 

  1. Licona made a big issue about the alleged inappropriate use of the internet to critique his views. However, ironically, Licona and his supporters have engaged in an abusive use of the internet to attack their critics. The most outlandish example is Licona’s approval of a cartoon caricature ridiculing a critic of his view which was produced by Licona’s son-in-law and his friend!  Licona found this distasteful attack entirely “appropriate.”  However, the seminary president where Licona once taught declared: “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste. At SES [Southern Evangelical Seminary] we demand a high standard of conduct in the way we interact with others.  Whenever there is a disagreement on any issue, there is a respectful way to handle it.  Publically embarrassing anybody is totally unacceptable….”    Another person responded, “it was immature, inappropriate and distasteful.”  An alumnus of the school wrote, “I …was appalled at it.  It was not only in the poorest of taste, it also grieved me to watch it.  It was unkind, uncalled for, and so sad to see something like this happen.… [T]he student related to Licona should have been dismissed from the college” (emphasis added).  In spite of all this, Licona refuses to apologize for approving of this personal attack on another scholar and brother in Christ!
  2. Dr. Kruger of the Round Table is to be commended for defending the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 over against Licona’s view.  He wrote, “However, we do have a disagreement when it comes to how to understand the descriptions of Matt. 27:52-53. I take this portion of the text as straightforward historical narrative. There are many reasons I am not persuaded that these verses are non-historical apocalyptic symbolism, but let me just focus on a primary one: all of these events described at the death of Jesus were seen (or could be seen) visually by eyewitnesses.”

 

  1. Dr. Akin, president of Seminary that sponsored the Round Table, is to be commended for his stand on inerrancy when he declared: “Would I extend to Dr. Licona an invitation to join the faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary? The unequivocal answer is no, I would not. There is too much at stake when it comes to ‘rightly handling the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:15).”  Unfortunately, in too many Seminaries there is a lack of this kind of conviction and courage on the part of its leadership.

 

  1. The attempt by Licona and friends to bifurcate inerrancy and hermeneutics is seriously flawed, as Dr. Akin observed, “I also believe it is more than just a matter of hermeneutics. Though the issues of biblical inspiration and biblical hermeneutics are separate categories, they are clearly related. The tragic fact is one can become so adept at ‘hermeneutical gymnastics’ that they can wittingly or unwittingly compromise a high view of the Bible’s inspiration.”  Professor Quarles of the Round Table rightly noted: “Although some argued and continue to argue that the debate was merely over hermeneutics, I strongly disagree. ‘Midrash,’ as it was defined by the midrash critics, was the equivalent of ‘Jewish myth.’ The apostle Paul spoke rather clearly about how the church was to treat works of this genre: So, rebuke them sharply that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commandments of men who reject the truth (Titus 1:13-14).”

 

  1. The fallacy of totally separating inerrancy and hermeneutics led Robert Gundry to make the absurd statement that even the leader of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, should not be eliminated from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) if she affirmed inerrancy, even though she allegorized the entire Bible away (JETS 1983)!  Likewise, after the faculty at Southern Evangelical Seminary (where Licona once taught) examined his views, they considered them (to borrow the words of one faculty member) “unbelievable” since Licona claimed that even a method that denied the resurrection would not be considered contrary to the belief in inerrancy!  Upon hearing his views directly, the SES faculty voted not to invite him back as a teacher and to remove his position from the catalog.  In view of this it is misleading for Licona to claim that “My leaving the North American Mission Board and Southern Evangelical Seminary were both on very amicable terms.”  The truth is that, given his current views, there is probably not a major Southern Baptist seminary that would hire him, to say nothing of most of the rest of conservative seminaries.

 

  1. The parallel between Mike Licona and Robert Gundry is properly brought to focus by the Round Table, but the significance is not fully explicated.  Gundry was asked to resign from the ETS because an overwhelming majority of its voting members (70%) believed his view of denying that sections of Matthew were historical.  And since Licona is doing basically the same thing, only by appealing to Greek legends rather than Jewish legends, the ETS condemnations stands over Licona’s head as well.  The truth is that many of Licona’s supporters oppose Gundry’s expulsion from ETS.  For example, Craig Blomberg proudly proclaims that he supported Gundry.  But this is understandable since he has a few theological skeletons in his own closet.  For example, he doubts the historicity of some miracle stories in the Bible.  He wrote: “Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretation of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same” (Craig Blomberg, “NT Miracles and Higher Criticism,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 27/4 (Dec. 19840, 438).  With friends like this, Licona does not need enemies!

 

  1. One important point never came up in the dialogue, namely, this is not a one text issue (namely Matthew 27:52-53).  Licona not only (1) casts doubt on the literal resurrection of saints in Matthew 27, 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 that in such literature “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid, 34).  Indeed, in a debate at Southern Evangelical Seminary (2009), Licona declared:  “I think that John probably altered the day [on which Jesus was crucified] in order for a theological–to make a theological point here.  But that does not mean Jesus’ wasn’t crucified.” This flatly denies the inerrancy of the Bible by claiming there is a contradiction on the Gospels as to which day Jesus was crucified!  Nowhere has he addressed this issue.
  2. Those who believe Licona’s views are consistent with the ICBI statement on inerrancy miss a very important fact, namely, that all living framers of the ICBI inerrancy statement (Sproul, Packer, and myself) have declared that they believe Licona’s views are contrary to the ICBI inerrancy statements.  But the ICBI statement was adopted as a guide by ETS (in 2003), the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world,  Indeed, the original framer of the ICBI statement, R.C. Sproul, recently declared (May 22, 2012): 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” (emphasis added).  To argue that Licona and supporters knew what the ICBI statement mean and the framers did not know is like insisting that Washington, Adams, and Madison did not know what they meant by the US Constitution but that some modern liberal judge does!  Such statements reveal the arrogance of those who make them.

 

One final word comes to mind.  Unfortunately, in their sincere attempt to appear balanced, Round Table discussions like this often unwittingly give undue credibility to views of persons whose views on the topic are not really evangelical.  In fact, such a forum often gives opportunity for participants to vent their personal attack on those who take seriously the biblical exhortation to defend the Faith (1 Peter 3:15) and to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke whose who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV).  This is one of the reasons I often, as in this case, decline to participate in panels of this kind.  For whatever reason, Al Mohler declined the invitation as well.  However, his critique of Licona’s views (on his web site) is well worth reading.  He got to the heart of the matter when he said, “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’…” (Emphasis added).

 

More about Dr. Daniel L. Akin at http://www.danielakin.com/

The Erosion of Inerrancy Among New Testament Scholars: Craig Blomberg (2012)


Blomberg_1_

Dr. Craig Blomberg

 

 

THE EROSION OF INERRANCY AMONG NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLARS:

A PRIMARY CASE IN POINT—CRAIG BLOMBERG

 Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

Copyright © 2012 F. David Farnell – All rights reserved

 

Background

In a recent “Round Table” discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,[1] a dialogue regarding Michael L. Licona’s work, The Resurrection of Jesus a New Historical Approach occurred wherein five scholars evaluated the “hornet’s nest” surrounding it.[2]  In this latter work, Licona commendably defends the physical, literal resurrection of Jesus.  So far, so good.  However, contained in this very same treatise was a very troubling section regarding Matthew 27:51-53 of the resurrection of the saints at Jesus’ resurrection Licona applies dubious genre hermeneutics to Matthew’s gospel known as “apocalyptic” or “eschatological Jewish texts” whereby he arbitrarily dismisses the historicity of Matthew 27:51-53 (and its recording of the resurrection of saints) which results effectively in the complete evisceration and total negation of His strong defense of Jesus’ resurrection.[3]  Despite Licona’s protest, these same apocalyptic arguments could be applied to Jesus Resurrection.

For example, James D. G. Dunn applies a similar logic to the resurrection of Jesus (cp. Acts 1:3), comparing the Passion accounts in the Gospels to that of Second Temple Judaism’s literature, relating that Jesus’ hope for resurrection reflected more of the ideas of Second Temple Judaism’s concept of vindication hope of a general and final resurrection: “The probability remains, however, that any hope of resurrection entertained by Jesus himself was hope to share in the final resurrection.”[4]  For Dunn, Jesus had in mind that “His death would introduce the final climactic period, to be followed shortly (‘after three days’?) by the general resurrection, the implementation of the new covenant, and the coming of the kingdom.”[5]  Here Dunn’s imposition of Jewish eschatology genre effectively eviscerates any idea of Jesus’ physical, literal resurrection on the Sunday after His crucifixion and places it entirely into distant future of Jewish expectations of a final resurrection at the Last Judgment.

Regarding Matthew 27:51-53, Licona labels this passage a “strange little text,”[6] and terms it “special effects” that have no historical basis.[7]  His apparent concern also rests with only the Gospel of Matthew as mentioning the event.  He concludes that “Jewish eschatological texts and thought in mind” as “most plausible” in explaining it.[8]  He concludes that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel.”[9]  This is contrary to the statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) which was adopted the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) as a guide in understanding inerrancy. The ICBI Chicago Statement Article XVIII directly opposes such a conclusion, “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.”

 

Licona Supported by Craig Blomberg

As a result of Licona’s genre arguments, he was asked to attend this Roundtable meeting at Southeastern whereby NT scholars could discuss with him the whirlwind of controversy surrounding his genre assertions.  Four scholars met with Licona to vet the issue: Danny Akin, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, Michael Kruger and Charles Quarles.  Akin, Kruger and Quarles respectfully disagreed with Licona’s approach, while Copan and Blomberg vigorously defended Licona.  The title of this might have been called: “With Friends Like This Who Needs Enemies?”

The focus of this article will be on the interesting response of one of Licona’s staunch defenders, Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, who, instead of viewing the dehistoricizing of Matthew 27:51-53 as an alarming hermeneutical trend among evangelicals, aggressively attacked scholars (i.e. Mohler, Geisler) who defended the historicity of the Gospels, especially this passage.  Both Mohler[10] and Geisler recognized that Licona’s tragic hermeneutical misstep at this point could devastate the Gospels as the only historical records of Jesus’ life by opening up a proverbial avenue for major portions of the Gospels to be labeled as non-historical in genre.  The recognized the far-reaching interpretive implications of Licona’s approach.  Startlingly, Blomberg called upon men who defended the Gospels’ historicity to apologize to someone who had dehistoriced them:  “First, Drs. Geisler and Mohler need to apologize in the same public forums in which they censured Dr. Licona, for having been inappropriately harsh and unnecessarily simplistic in their analyses. Second, all the Christian leaders who worked behind the scenes to get Dr. Licona removed from various positions, including already extended speaking invitations, likewise need to publicly seek Dr. Licona’s forgiveness. Then, if he wishes to remain within the SBC, a courageous SBC institution of at least comparable prestige to those that let him go needs to hire him.”[11]

 

Blomberg’s Shift in Hermeneutics

Such a response by Blomberg serves as an illustration of the startling erosion of inerrancy among NT scholars, especially those who have been schooled in the European continent.  Blomberg serves as a salient example in many ways of such an erosion.  Many of these European-trained scholars ignore the lessons of history that evangelicals have undergone at the turn of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first that was highlighted in the Chicago Statements of 1978 and 1982.  Significantly, Blomberg exemplifies a significant, substantive shift in hermeneutics that these evangelicals are now engaging in.  The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy in 1978 expressly commended the grammatico-historical approach in Article XVIII:

We affirm 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.

 

Why did they commend the grammatico-historical approach?  Because these men who expressed these two watershed statements had experienced the history of interpretive degeneration among mainstream churches and seminaries (“As go the theological seminaries, so goes the church”)[12] in terms of dismissing the gospels as historical records due to historical-critical ideologies.  Blomberg, instead, now advocates “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View”[13] of hermeneutics for evangelicals that constitutes an alarming, and especially unstable, blend of historical-critical ideologies with the grammatico-historical hermeneutic.  Blomberg argues for a “both-and-and-and-and” position of combining grammatico-historical method with that of historical-critical ideologies.[14]

Blomberg apparently chose to ignore The Jesus Crisis (1998) and has already catalogued the evangelical disaster that such a blend of grammatico-historical and historical-critical elements precipitates in interpretive approaches.[15]  Stemming from this blending of these two elements are the following sampling of hermeneutical dehistoricizing among evangelicals:  The author of Matthew, not Jesus, created the sermon on the mount; the commissioning of the Twelve in Matthew 10 is a compilation of instructions collected and gathered but not spoken on a single occasion; Matthew 13 and Mark 4 are collections or anthologies not spoken by Jesus on a single occasion; Jesus did not preach the Olivet Discourse in its entirety as presented in the Gospels; the scribes and Pharisees were good people whom Matthew portrayed in a bad light; the magi of Matthew 2 are fictional characters; Jesus did not speak all of the parables in Matthew 5:3-12.[16]  In response to the alarm sounded by The Jesus Crisis, Blomberg angrily, aggressively responded by attacking its authors, a well-known Seminary, a highly respected pastor, as well as Bible-believing evangelicals in general who had sounded the alarm:

That such a narrow, sectarian spirit has not disappeared from the American scene is demonstrated by the 1998 publication of a book entitled The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship. It is edited and partially authored by Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, two professors from the seminary started by megachurch pastor John MacArthur as a fundamentalist protest against the mainstream evangelical, inerrantist perspective of the Talbot School of Theology in greater Los Angeles, from which many of the founding professors came.

Thomas in particular argues that virtually all evangelical Gospel scholars have capitulated  to liberalism and are, in essence, no different from the Jesus Seminar, because  they accept theories of literary dependence among the synoptic Gospels or embrace, even cautiously, various aspects of form, tradition or redaction criticism. Only an additive harmonization that sees all of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels excerpted from a larger whole that contained massive reduplication of what now appears parcelled out among the four narratives is consistent, in his mind, with inerrancy.   I can scarcely imagine such a book ever being published by a major Christian press in the UK, much less it’s being publicly praised by the president of an evangelical academic society, as Norman Geisler did in last year’s presidential address to the ETS! [italics/boldness added] Or, at a more grass-roots level, television and radio preachers can through one nationally syndicated programme do more damage to the career of an evangelical academic or institution than years of patient, nuanced scholarship on his or her part do to advance it. The Christian counselling movement in the US is a frequent target for such overstated and devastating attacks. The counter-cult industry wields similar power; self-appointed, theologically untrained watchdogs can keep books out of Christian bookstores and set constituencies against their scholars through campaigns of misinformation. I experienced how this felt firsthand after I co-authored a book with Brigham Young University New Testament Professor Stephen E. Robinson, entitled How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation, in which we dared to list everything we agreed on as well as including long lists of disagreements. We also tried to model an uncharacteristically irenic spirit for Mormon-evangelical interchanges.  Fellow academics uniformly praised the book; it won an award from Christianity Today as one of the top fifteen Christian books of 1997. Several leading counter-cult ministries, however, severely criticized it, and one of the most influential ones has gone out of its way to condemn it over the airwaves (and in print) on a regular basis.   If for no other reason than that national Christian radio and television do not exist in the UK, I again cannot imagine a parallel phenomenon occurring in Britain.[17]

This section also tellingly reveals Blomberg’s “both/and” approach of combining grammatico-historical with historical-critical, a telling admission of the strong impact of British academic training on evangelical hermeneutics, as well as his willingness to create a bridge between Christian orthodoxy and Mormonism.  While Blomberg is irenic and embracing with Mormons, he has great hostility toward those who uphold the “fundamentals” of Scripture.

In his article on “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical” hermeneutic, he asserts that historical-criticism can be “shorn” of its “antisupernatural presuppositions that the framers of that method originally employed” and eagerly embraces “source, form, tradition and redaction criticism” as “all essential [italic and bold added—not in the original] tools for understanding the contents of the original document, its formation and origin, its literary genre and subgenres, the authenticity of the historical material it includes, and its theological or ideological emphases and distinctives.”[18] He labels the “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical” approach “the necessary foundation on which all other approaches must build.”[19]  However, history is replete with negative examples of those who attempted this unstable blend, from the Neologions in Griesbach’s day to that of Michael Licona’s book under discussion currently.[20]  Another example of failure is George Ladd, who while attempting to blend such elements, was criticized on both sides for either going-to far (conservatives) or for not going far enough (theologically critical scholars).  For example, Norman Perrin regarded Ladd’s passion for approval among liberals as a motivation led to Ladd’s miscontruing some of the more liberal scholars’ positions in order to make them support his own views.[21]  Perrin bluntly argued,

We have already noted Ladd’s anxiety to find support for his views on the authenticity of a saying or pericope, and this is but one aspect of what seems to be a ruling passion with him: the search for critical support for his views altogether.  To this end he is quite capable of misunderstanding the scholars concerned . . . .

Ladd’s passion for finding support for his views among critical scholars has as its counterpart an equal passion for dismissing contemptuously aspects of their work which do not support him.  These dismissals are of a most peremptory nature.[22]

 

Perrin labeled Ladd’s support for the credibility of the gospels as accurate historical sources for the life of Jesus as “an uncritical view” and that Ladd was guilty of eisegesis of liberals’ views to demonstrate any congruity of their assertions with his brand of conservative evangelical. Marsden continues:

[Ladd] saw Perrin’s review as crucial in denying him prestige in the larger academic arena. . . . The problem was the old one of the neo-evangelical efforts to reestablish world-class evangelical scholarship.  Fundamentalists and conservatives did not trust them . . . and the mainline academic community refused to take them seriously.

Perhaps Perrin had correctly perceived a trait of the new evangelical movement when he described Ladd as torn between his presuppositional critique of modern scholarship and his eagerness to find modern critical scholars on his side . . . No one quite succeeded philosophically in mapping the way this was to be done, though.  The result was confusion, as became apparent with subsequent efforts to relate evangelical theology to the social sciences at the new schools.  For . . . Ladd, who had the highest hopes for managing to be in both camps with the full respect of each, the difficulties in maintaining the balance contributed to deep personal anxiety.[23]

 

Edgar Krentz, in his The Historical-Critical Method, also described Ladd’s attempt at changing certain rationalistic presuppositions as “the uneasy truce of conservativism” with the historical-critical method.[24]  For Krentz, “The alternative to using historical criticism is an unthinking acceptance of tradition”; that “the only fruitful approach is to seek to combine theological convictions and historical methods”; and that “Ladd . . . demonstrate[s] that a new evaluation of history is abroad in conservativism.”[25]

Blomberg himself, however, constitutes a clear example that affirms the validity of warnings issuing from those whom he so readily attacks and suggests his attempts at blending historical criticism with grammatico-historical hermeneutics is ill-founded.  Several salient examples demonstrate this point.

Blomberg’s Defense of Robert Gundry

Some 26 years before Michael Licona in 2010 used genre as a means of dehistoricizing Matthew 27: 51-53, Craig Blomberg, in 1984, right after the ICBI statements (1978 and 1982), defended such genre issues regarding biblical interpretation in the Gospels.  Blomberg defended Robert Gundry’s midrashic approach to the Gospels in the following terms:

Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretatoin of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same. The problem will not disappear simply because one author [Gundry] is dealt with ad hominem . . . how should evangelicals react? Dismissing the sociological view on the grounds that the NT miracles present themselves as historical gets us nowhere. So do almost all the other miracle stories of antiquity. Are we to believe them all?” [26]

 

It is well to remember what happened in the Gundry case. After two years of discussion on the issue, the largest society of evangelical scholars in the world (ETS) voted overwhelmingly (by 70%) to ask Robert Gundry to resign from ETS because they believed that his views on a Jewish midrash interpretation of Matthew denied the historicity of certain sections of Matthews, including the story of the Magi visiting Jesus after his birth (Mt. 2).  This was a significant decision which drew a line in the sand for ETS.

There are many implications that flow from the decision.  First, ETS affirmed that one cannot totally separate hermeneutics from inerrancy.  Second, it set an important precedent for other scholars as to how ETS understand what is meant by inerrancy.  Third, it made a clear statement that one cannot deny the historicity of any part of the Gospels without denying inerrancy.  Finally, ETS took a strong stand on the historical-grammatical hermeneutic in opposition to contemporary dilutions or denials of it.

In spite of all of this Blomberg proudly boasts that he opposed the ETS stand on inerrancy.  In view of what Blomberg believes about the Gospels (see below), we can understand why he defends his position against ETS and, as well will see, against ICBI as well.  It is also apparent why Blomberg defends Licona’s view for “birds of a feather flock together.”

 

Blomberg denied the historicity of the fish with the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27)

Accordingly, Blomberg denied the historicity of the account of Jesus and the coin in the fish’s mouth.  Blomberg noted, “It is often not noticed that the so-called miracle of the fish with the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27) is not even a narrative; it is merely a command from Jesus to go to the lake and catch such a fish.  We don’t even know if Peter obeyed the command.  Here is a good reminder to pay careful attention to the literary form.”[27]  Blomberg’s solution is directly at odds with the ICBI statement on Hermeneutics when it states in Article XIII: “generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”

Blomberg rehabilitates (!) Bart Ehrman’s Forged assertions

by his own advocation of False Writing

by False Authors of Canonical Books in the New Testament

 

Blomberg offers another solution toward solving problems surrounding pseudonymity in relation to some New Testament books whereby the “critical consensus approach could . . . be consistent with inerrancy, “benign pseudonymity.”[28]  Blomberg also uses the term “ghost-writer” to describe this activity.[29]  Another name for this would be pseudepigraphy (e.g. Ephesians, Colossians, Pastorals).  Blomberg contends:

A methodology consistent with evangelical convictions might argue that there was an accepted literary convention that allowed a follower, say, of Paul, in the generation after his martyrdom, to write a letter in Paul’s name to one of the churches that had come under his sphere of influence.  The church would have recognized that it could not have come from an apostle they knew had died two or three decades earlier, and they would have realized that the true author was writing  thoughts indebted to the earlier teaching of Paul.  In a world without footnotes or bibliographies, this was one way of giving credit where credit was due.  Modesty prevented the real author from using his own name, so he wrote in ways he could easily have envisioned Paul writing were the apostle still alive today.  Whether or not this is what actually happened, such a hypothesis is thoroughly consistent with a high view of Scripture and an inerrant Bible.  We simply have to recognize what is and is not being claimed by the use of name ‘Paul’ in that given letter.[30]

 

This issue was explicitly addressed by the ICBI framers when they wrote of Scripture: “We deny the legitimacy of…rejecting its claims to authorship.”(Chicago Statement, Article XVII).  In short, what claims to be written by the apostle Paul was written by the apostle Paul or else the Bible is not inerrant.

For Blomberg, the key to pseudonymity would also lie in motive behind the writing.  Blomberg argues that “One’s acceptance or rejection of the overall theory of authorship should then depend on the answers to these kinds of questions, not on some a priori determination that pseudonymity is in every instance compatible or incompatible with evangelicalism.”[31]  He argues, “[i]t is not the conclusion one comes to on the issue [pseudonymity] that determines whether one can still fairly claim to be evangelical, or even inerrantist, how one arrives at that conclusion.”[32]  Yet, how could one ever known the motive of such ghost writers?  Would not such a false writer go against all moral standards of Christianity?  Under Blomberg’s logic, Bart Ehrman’s Forged (2011) only differs in one respect: Blomberg attributes good motives to forgers, while Ehrman is honest enough to admit that these “benign” writings are really what they would be in such circumstances FORGED WRITING IN THE NAME OF GOD—WHY THE BIBLE’S AUTHORS ARE NOT WHO WE THINK THEY ARE[33]  Are apparently both of these scholars able to read the proverbial “tea leaves” and divine the motives behind such perpetrations.  Not likely!

 

 

Blomberg Even Cast Doubt of Historical Reliability of the New Testament

He also carries this logic to the idea of “historical reliability more broadly.”  He relates, “Might some passages in the Gospels and Acts traditionally thought of as historical actually be mythical or legendary?  I see no way to exclude the answer a priori. The question would be whether any given proposal to that effect demonstrated the existence of an accepted literary form likely known to the Evangelists’ audiences, establishes as a legitimate device for communicating theological truth through historical fiction.  In each case it is not the proposal itself that should be off limits for the evangelical.  The important question is whether any given proposal has actually made its case.”[34]

Blomberg Demonizes Critics of His Critical Views

Blomberg, seemingly anticipating objections to his ideas, issues a stern warning to those who would oppose such proposals that he has discussed:

[L]et those on the ‘far right’ neither anathematize those who do explore and defend new options nor immediately seek to ban them from organizations or institutions to which they belong.”  If new proposals . . . cannot withstand scholarly rigor, then let their refutations proceed at that level, with convincing scholarship, rather than with the kind of censorship that makes one wonder whether those who object have no persuasive reply and so have to resort simply to demonizing and/or silencing the voices with which they disagree.  If evangelical scholarship proceeded in this more measured fashion, neither inherently favoring nor inherently resisting ‘critical’ conclusions, whether or not they form a consensus, then it might fairly be said to be both traditional andconstructive.[35]

 

Interestingly, recently, Craig Blomberg blames books like Harold Lindsell’sBattle For the Bible (1976) and such a book as The Jesus Crisis for people leaving the faith because of their strong stance on inerrancy as a presupposition.  In a web interview in 2008 conducted by Justin Taylor, Blomberg responded this way to books that hold to a firm view on inerrancy.  The interviewer asked, “Are there certain mistaken hermeneutical presuppositions made by conservative evangelicals that play into the hands of liberal critics?”  Blomberg replied,

Absolutely. And one of them follows directly from the last part of my answer to your last question. The approach, famously supported back in 1976 by Harold Lindsell in his Battle for the Bible (Zondervan), that it is an all-or-nothing approach to Scripture that we must hold, is both profoundly mistaken and deeply dangerous. No historian worth his or her salt functions that way. I personally believe that if inerrancy means “without error according to what most people in a given culture would have called an error” then the biblical books are inerrant in view of the standards of the cultures in which they were written. But, despite inerrancy being the touchstone of the largely American organization called the Evangelical Theological Society, there are countless evangelicals in the States and especially in other parts of the world who hold that the Scriptures are inspired and authoritative, even if not inerrant, and they are not sliding down any slippery slope of any kind. I can’t help but wonder if inerrantist evangelicals making inerrancy the watershed for so much has not, unintentionally, contributed to pilgrimages like Ehrman’s. Once someone finds one apparent mistake or contradiction that they cannot resolve, then they believe the Lindsells of the world and figure they have to chuck it all. What a tragedy![36]

To Blomberg, apparently anyone who advocates inerrancy as traditionally advocated by Lindsell (which, incidentally, was expressed in the ICBI statements and adopted as a guide by ETS) is responsible for people leaving the faith.  This would include the ICBI and the ETS for adopting the ICBI statements as a guidline on inerrancy.  This makes it very clear that Blomberg places himself outside of mainstream inerrantists.  This makes hollow the claim to inerrancy by Blomberg or Licona whom he seeks to defend.

Indeed, Blomberg distances himself from the claims to inerrancy when approaching the Gospels.  He claims that belief that the Gospels should be examined part from any considerations of inerrancy.  Indeed, inerrancy is sharply divorced from their research as something foreign to their task.  Blomberg argues regarding his The Historical Reliability of the Gospels that “Indeed, the goals of this volume remain modest.  I neither suppose nor argue for the complete inerrancy, infallibility of Scripture, even just within the Gospels.  These are the logical and/or theological corollaries of other prior commitments.  I believe that there are good reasons for holding them but a defense of that conviction would require a very different kind of book.”[37]

Indeed, they seem to distance themselves strongly from any such concepts in their analysis of Scripture.  For instance, in a self-review of his own work Key Events that involves “searching” for the concept of the “historical Jesus,” evangelical Bock argues,

As a co-editor of this volume, I should explain what this book is and is not. It is a book on historical Jesus discussion. It is not a book that uses theological arguments or categories (as legitimate as those can be) to make its case. This means we chose as a group to play by the rules of that discussion, engage it on those terms, and show even by those limiting standards that certain key events in the life of Jesus have historical credibility. So in this discussion one does not appeal to inspiration and one is asked to corroborate the claims in the sources before one can use the material. This is what we did, with a careful look at the historical context of 12 central events. To be accurate, the article by Webb accepts the resurrection as a real event, but argues for a limitation on what history (at least as normally practiced today) can say about such events. The problem here is with what history can show, not with the resurrection as an event. Many working in historical Jesus study take this approach to the resurrection. I prefer to argue that the best explanation for the resurrection is that it was a historical event since other explanations cannot adequately explain the presence of such a belief among the disciples. Webb explains these two options of how to take this in terms of the historical discussion and noted that participants in our group fell into each of these camps. Some people will appreciate the effort to play by these limiting rules and yet make important positive affirmations about Jesus. Others will complain by asking the book to do something it was not seeking to do.[38]

In doing this, evangelicals of this approach, subject the Scripture to forms of historical criticism that will always place the Bible on the defensive in that it can never be shown to reflect historical trustworthiness.  Indeed, logically, probability for one person may not be probability for another.  What is accomplished is that the Gospels are placed on shifting sands that never have any foundational certainty for “certainty” cannot be entertained by their methods.  Thus, their method is not objective but is really an ideology that is imposed upon the text.

Blomberg has a similar approach in his work to Bock and Dunn (see quotes from Dunn in this article), when he notes regarding his Historcal Reliability that “Christians may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Gospels are historically accurate, but they must attempt to show that there is a strong likelihood of their historicity.  Thus the approach of this book is always to argue in terms of probability rather than certainty, since this is the nature of historical hypotheses, including those that are accepted without question.”[39]  Again, Blomberg argues, “[A] good case can be made for accepting the details as well as the main contours of the Gospels as reliable. But . . . even if a few minor contradictions genuinely existed, this would not necessarily jeapordize the reliability of the rest or call into question the entire basis for belief.”[40]

Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, his “Summary of Findings” regarding John’s reliability is placed in these terms: “a surprisingly powerful case for overall historicity and the general trustworthiness of the document [i.e. John’s gospel] can be mounted.”[41]  While this summary of John’s reliability is a good start perhaps, one is still left wondering where in John’s Gospel the reader is not able to rely upon the text or where any historical problems might exist.  Moreover, Blomberg, on the cleansing of the temple in John 2:12-25 is decidedly agnostic as to John’s accurate usage of historical reportage: “The clearing of the temple (2:12-25) is a notorious crux; it is almost impossible to choose between taking this account as a reworked and relocated version of the synoptic parallels or as a similar but separate incident.  In either case, the crucial core of the passage coheres with synoptic material widely accepted as authentic.”[42]   Contrary to Blomberg’s tepid assertions of John’s historicity, if John indeed has so reworked one cleansing (at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John) into two in comparing the Synoptics (at the end of Jesus’ ministry), then any concept of “overall historicity” or “general reliability” of John is severely contradicted and called into question.

The fact, however, is that “probability” logically rests in the “eye of the beholder” and what is probable to one may be improbable to another. For instance, what Blomberg finds “probable” may not be to critics of the Gospels who do not accept his logic.  This also places Scripture on an acutely subjective level which logical impact of these approach is to reduce the Gospels to a shifting-sand of “one-up-manship” in scholarly debate as to who accepts whose arguments for what reasons or not.  Blomberg argues that “an evenhanded treatment of the data [from analysis of the Gospel material] does not lead to a distrust of the accuracy of the Gospels.”[43]  But, this is actually exceedingly naïve, for who is to dictate to whom what is “evenhanded”?  Many liberals would think these Blomberg has imposed his own evangelical presuppositions and is VERY FAR from being “evenhanded.”  He convinces only himself with this assertion.  Blomberg admits “critical scholarship is often too skeptical.”[44]  Yet, since he has chosen to play with the rules of the critical scholars’ game in approach to the Gospels (however much he modifies their approach—they invented it), they may equally reply on a valid level that Blomberg is too accepting.  This is especially demonstrated when Blomberg accepts “criteria of authenticity” that are used to determine whether portions of the Gospels are historically reliable or not.  He argues, “Using either the older or the new criteria, even the person who is suspicious of the Gospel tradition may come to accept a large percentage of it as historically accurate.”[45] One would immediately ask Blomberg to cite an example, any example, of someone who, previously skeptical, has come to a less skeptical position, but he does not.  Criteria of authenticity are merely a priori tools that prove what one has already concluded.[46]  If one is skeptical regarding tradition, one can select criteria that enforce the already conceived position.  If one is less skeptical, then one can apply criteria that will enforce the already accepted conclusion.  Each side will not accept the data of the other.  What does suffer, however, is the Gospel record as it is torn be philosophical speculation through these criteria.  For Blomberg, one may speak only of the “general reliability” of the Gospels since he has deliberately confined himself to these philosophically-motivated criteria.

Very telling with Blomberg is that he sees two “extreme positions” on historical reliability:  The first being those who “simply . . . believe their doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture requires them to do” and the “other end of the confession spectrum” is “many radical critics” who “would answer the question [regarding reliability] negatively, thinking that proper historical method requires them to disbelieve any narrative so thoroughly permeated by supernatural events, theological interpretation and minor variation among parallels as are in the four Gospels.”  Blomberg instead asserts his position as in-between: “the Gospels must be subjected to the same type of historical scrutiny given to any other writings of antiquity but that they can stand up to such scrutiny admirably.”[47]  The naiveté of this latter position is breath-taking, since historical criticism has been shown to be replete with hostile philosophical underpinnings that apparently Blomberg is either unaware of or choosing to ignore.[48]  These presuppositions always control the outcome.  Moreover, would those who use such radical ideologies in approaching Scripture be convinced of Blomberg’s moderation of them?  Most likely, they would interpret his usage as biased.  What does suffer, however, is the Gospels historical credibility in the process.

Blomberg argues that “it is unfair to begin historical inquiry by superimposing a theological interpretation over it, it is equally unfair to ignore the theological implications that rise from it.”[49]  A much more pertinent question, however, for Blomberg to answer is” Is it fair, however, for the Gospel record to be in turn subjected to historical critical ideologies whose purpose was to negate and marginalize the Gospel record?  Blomberg is so willing and ready to remove the former but very welcoming in allowing the latter in his own subjective approach to the Gospels.

Conclusions

More examples from Blomberg’s writings could be cited.  The point is simply this: Blomberg is not in a good position to defend Licona’s position, for many of Blomberg’s positions are even worse than Licona’s.  With friends like Blomberg, Licona does not need any enemies.  Blomberg himself as well as his assertions constitutes evidence against his very own positions while affirming the warnings and concerns of Licona’s critics concerning Licona’s approach.

Further, the time has come to expose people like Blomberg who enjoy wide acceptance in certain evangelical circles but who denies the historic evangelical doctrine of inerrancy.  This is not to say, Blomberg’s views on other essential doctrines could not be orthodox.  They have not been examined here.  It is simply to note that neither his defense of Licona, nor his own views on the origin and nature of Scripture meet the evangelical test of orthodoxy.  They are not in accord with the historic position of the Christian Church (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church).  Nor are they in accord with the historic Princeton view of B. B. Warfield (Limited Inspiration) and Charles Hodge.  Nor are they consistent with the heirs of the historic view in the framers of the ICBI.  Nor do they correspond to the view of the framers of ETS, nor its officially adopted ICBI approach.  Indeed, Blomberg admits that he voted contrary to these positions in the Gundry case.  There are other groups to which he can belong that do not believe in the historic view of inerrancy.  But neither he nor Licona have the right to use revisionist thought on the framers of ETS and ICBI.  If they wish to hold another view, so be it.  Let them join other groups or start their own.  But they have no right to redefine what the ETS and ICBI framers meant to suit their own liberal ideas.

These evangelicals treat inerrancy as if “doctrine” is not to be placed into the academic field of scholarship, as if “inerrancy” is an “unscholarly” shield and that the NT documents need to be “objectified” by playing the game of the scholars. But in fact, they treat the NT documents with ideologies that are far from objective. The playing field is not fair. They seem to be saying, “unless you buy our biased presuppositions, you are not a scholar and we will not recognize your work.” To this we may respond with the noted evangelical philosopher Alvin Plantinga who said, “There is no compelling or even reasonably decent argument for supposing that the procedures and assumptions of [historical Biblical criticism] are to be preferred to those of traditional biblical commentary.”[50]  He goes on to say that using historical Biblical criticism to interpret the Bible is like “trying to mow your lawn a nail scissors or paint you house with a toothbrush; it might be an interesting experiment if you have time on your hands (p. 417).”[51] But it is basically a waste of time and effort.

[1] “A Roundtable Discussion with Michael Licona on TheResurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” Southeastern Theological Review 12/1 (Summer 2012): 71-98. (http://tinyurl.com/8uhvqur.)

[2] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

[3] Licona also casts doubt on several other NT events, claiming that “Bioi offered the ancient biographer 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.”  Further, he presents “A possible candidate for embellishment is John 18:4-6” [bold emphasis added] where, when Jesus claimed “I am he” (cf. John 8:58), his pursuers “drew back and fell on the ground.”[3] See Licona, The Resurrection, 306 fn. 114.

[4] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 821-824 (quote p. 824).

[5] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 824.

[6] Licona, Resurrection, 548.

[7] Licona, Resurrection, 552.

[8] Licona, Resurrection, 552.

[9] Licona, Resurrection, 553.

[10] See for instance, Dr. Mohler’s blog, The Devil is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy. http://tinyurl.com/92jew5o

[11]“A Roundtable Discussion,” 92.

[12] J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1936) 65.

[13] Craig L. Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” in Biblical Hermeneutics Five Views (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012): 27-47.

[14] Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” 28.

[15] See Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, The Jesus Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), noting especially the “Introduction The Jesus Crisis: What is it?,” 13-34.

[16] See Robert L. Thomas, “The Jesus Crisis What is It,?” in The Jesus Crisis, 15.

[17] Craig L. Blomberg, “The past, present and future of American Evangelical Theological Scholarship,” in Solid Ground 25 Years of Evangelical Theology.  Eds. Carl R. Trueman and Tony J. Gray (Leicester: Apollos, 2000) 314-315.

[18] Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” 46-47.

[19] Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” 47.

[20] For Griesbach and his association with Neologians as well as its impact on his synoptic “solution,” see F. David Farnell, “How Views of Inspiration Have Impacted Synoptic Problem Discussion,” TMSJ 13/1 (Spring 2002) 33-64.

[21] Perrin commented, “One aspect of Ladd’s treatment of sayings and pericopes which the review [Perrin] found annoying is his deliberately one-sided approach to the question of authenticity.”  See Norman Perrin, “Against the Current, A Review of Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism,” by George Eldon Ladd Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1964 inInterpretation 19 (April 1965): 228-231 (quote, p. 229) cf. George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 250.

[22] Perrin, “A Review,” 230.

[23] Marsden, Reforming, 250.

[24] See Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 76 cf. also Gerhard Hasel, New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 19 fn. 33.

[25] Krentz, 76-77.

[26] Craig L. Blomberg, “New Testament miracles and Higher Criticism: Climbing Up the Slippery Slope,” JETS 27/4 (December 1984) 436.

[27] Blomberg, A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to the Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012) 354 fn. 32.

[28] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 353, 360.

[29] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 354, 360.

[30] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 351.

[31] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 353.

[32] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 352.

[33] See Bart Ehrman, Forged (New York: One, 2011).

[34] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 354.

[35] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 364.

[36] See the interview with Craig Blomberg by the Gospel Coalition here: http://tinyurl.com/29z53rf

[37] Craig L. Blomberg, “Introduction,” in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.  2nd Edition (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 23.

[38] Amazon review at http://tinyurl.com/9p7r99j

[39] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 36.

[40] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 36.

[41] Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001) 283.

[42] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 286.

[43] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 297.

[44] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 311.

[45] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 312.

[46]For this see, F. David Farnell, “Form Criticism and Tradition Criticism,” in The Jesus Crisis, 185-232.

[47] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 323.

[48] See F. David Farnell, “The Philosophical and Theological Bent of Historical Criticism, in The Jesus Crisis, 85-131.

[49] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 325.

[50] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford Press, 2000) 412.

[51] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 417.

 

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Mike Licona Admits Contradiction in the Gospels


 

 

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Mike Licona Admits Contradiction in the Gospels

Norman L. Geisler, January 2013

 

 

The Charge of Contradiction in the Gospels

Critic Bart Ehrman wrote: “Maybe when Mark says that Jesus was crucified the day after the Passover was eaten (Mark 14:12; 15:25) and John says he died the day before it was eaten (John 19:14)—maybe that is a genuine difference,” that is, a real contradiction (Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 9).  This is not an uncommon claim for a Bible critic and agnostic like Bart Ehrman.  But is it consistent for an evangelical New Testament scholar like Mike Licona?  In a debate with Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary(Spring 2009),  Licona said, “I think that John probably altered the day [of Jesus’s crucifixion] in order for a theological—to make a theological point there.  But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified.”  In short, John contradicts the other Gospels on which day Jesus was crucified.

Holding Greco-Roman Genre Allows for Contradictions

But how can one hold to inerrancy, as Licona claims to do, and yet affirm that there is a contradiction in the Gospels?  According to Licona, the answer is found in embracing the Greco-Roman genre view of the Gospels.  He claims this is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 34).  Indeed, he claims “Bios offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…and they often included legends” (ibid., emphasis added).

Until recently, Licona has not offered a public response to the charge that his reference to John contradicting the synoptic Gospels on the day of Christ’s crucifixion is consistent with the doctrine of inerrancy which he claims to accept. Despite his belief that such scholarly discussions as these should not take place on the internet, Linoca recently did a YouTube interview in which he sets forth his “justification” for believing that there can be a contradiction in the Gospels and yet one can claim they are inerrant!

In a professionally transcribed interview by Lenny Esposito of Mike Licona on YouTube on November 23, 2012 at the 2012 Evangelical Theological Society meeting (see 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.  I mean I believe in biblical inerrancy but I also realized that biblical inerrancy is not one fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is.  So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren’t. So um it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed.  But it did bother a lot of Christians.”

So, contradictions in the Gospels do not bother Licona because inerrancy “is not one of the fundamental doctrines.”  Why? Because, says Licona, they don’t affect any important doctrine like the resurrection of Christ.  However, Licona realized that “it did bother a lot of Christians.”  In fact, he said, “I asked the class [he was teaching] how many of this thing [sic] about potential contradictions really bothers you, and the majority of the class raised their hands” (emphasis is mine in all these quotations).

How Greco-Roman Genre Allows for Contradictions in Gospels

Since it bothered so many other Christians to think that there may be contradictions in the Gospels, Licona said, “I started reading ancient biographies written around the time of Jesus because the majority of New Testament scholars, thanks to Richard Burridge initially, and also people like Charles Talbert, David Aune, and even more recently Craig Keener shows that uh the majority of New Testament scholars regard the Gospels as ancient biographies, Greco-Roman biographies.”  So, what did he discover?  Licona replied, “They all followed Greco-Roman biographies. So I started reading through these. There was like 80 to 100 written with in just a couple 100 years of Jesus and the most prolific is Plutarch and he wrote over 60, fifty of which have survived and so I read through all of those not only to understand not only how ancient biography worked but to actually read these.”

What did he find? Licona continued, “I noticed that nine of the people that he [Plutarch] wrote biographies on lived at the same time so this provided me as a historian a unique opportunity  because so, for example the assassination of Julius Cesar is told in five different biographies by Plutarch, so you have the same biographer telling the same story five different times and so by noticing how Plutarch tells the story of Caesar’s assassination differently we can notice the kinds of biographical liberties that Plutarch took and he is writing around the same time as some of the Gospels are being written and in the same language, “Greek” to boot.”   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.”  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.”

Licona admits that most of the problems in the Gospels are just difficulties but not really contradictions.  He said, “a second point we can make is we have to look at genre of the Gospels, the literary style and that’s ancient biography and they were allowed to take liberties.  I want to point out a couple of those liberties like time compression or lack of attention to chronological detail …. So there’s all of these different liberties and I can give examples of some of these so that these aren’t contradictions they are just biographical liberties that were taken.  And then the third one, and I am trying to think what that third is right off and um, oh you have to distinguish between a contradiction and a difference.”

However, even in eyewitness accounts like the Gospels, Licona insists that “there are certain cases when some things can’t be reconciled like the Titanic broke in half prior to sinking, [or]the Titanic went down intact, um that can’t be reconciled, that is a contradiction and most of the things we find in the Gospels are differences.  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.” 

An Evaluation of Licona’s View on Contradictions in the Gospels

            Licona’s view on contradictions in the Gospels includes several important points. First, we will state the point and then give a brief evaluation of it from the standpoint of historic biblical inerrancy.  Licona contends that:

First, most alleged contradictions are not real contradictions.  There are plausible ways to reconcile the discrepancies.

            Response: With this point we have no disagreement as such, expect that it does not go far enough. The historic doctrine of inerrancy, as embraced by the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), affirms that all, not just most, alleged contradictions are not real, and there are possible , if not plausible, ways to harmonize all of them. This we have demonstrated in our volume, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties (Baker, 2008).  After examining some 800 alleged contradictions in the Bible, we found not a single one proved to be a demonstrable error!  And the vast majority of them had possible, or even plausible, explanations.

Actually, Licona employs several good principles in reconciling alleged contradictions in Scripture. For one, he is opposed to “abusing the text or to force meaning so they kind of twist the words to not mean what the author meant but to mean something else.”  Also, he rejects “pushing twenty‑first century scientific classification onto animals that did not exist 3500 years ago.” Had he applied similar logic to imposing Greco-Roman categories on the Gospels, he could have avoided his own error of using alien and extra-biblical categories on the Gospels that yield legends and contradictions.

Second, there are some contradictions in the Gospels, but they are only on peripheral matters and do not affect any essential doctrine of the Christian Faith.

Response: Nowhere has Licona (or any other Bible critic) actually proven there were any real contradictions in the Gospels.  The one Licona mentions about the day of Christ’s crucifixion has several possible explanations.  First, there could have been two different Passovers, one following the Pharisees and the other the Sadducees.  Second, the Gospel writer could have been referring to two different days, one the Passover day itself and the other the beginning of the feast following the Passover (see Walvoord, ed. Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, 258).  Third, John could have been using Roman time, not Jewish time. If so, there is no contradiction as to the time of day.  Further, John 19:14 is not contradictory to Mark 14:12 since it is possible that the “preparation” day to which John referred could be the Friday before Sabbath of the Passover week.  This view was held by the great Greek Scholar A. T. Robertson who affirmed that the phrase “day of the preparation of the Passover” in Jn. 19:14 means ”Friday”(Nisan 15), the day before the Sabbath in the Passover week.  This harmonizes with the other Gospels (cf. Mark 14:12).  Ellicott’s Commentaries (vol. 6, 560-561) presents the same view (in “Excursus F” by Prof. Plumptre): “Even the phrase which seems most to suggest a different view, the ‘preparation of the Passover’ in John XIX. 14, does not mean more on any strict interpretation than the ‘Passover Friday,’ the Friday in Passover week….”  So, there are plausible explanations to the alleged contradiction mentioned by Ehrman and Licona.

Third, these contradictions are not contrary to the Greco-Roman genre of the Gospels which allows for legends and contradictions.

Response: It is true that Greco-Roman genre allows for legend and error.  But, despite its current popularity, it is not necessary to take the Gospels as part of Greco-Roman genre. In fact, this Greco-Roman genre view is a kind of current scholarly fad that stresses some similarities but overlooks some crucial differences between the Gospels and Greco-Roman biography.  First of all, the Gospels themselves claim to be historical and accurate.  Luke wrote, “Just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the world have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write anorderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Lk. 1:1-4, emphasis added).  This claim for accurate historicity in Luke has been demonstrated in numerous details in the work of Roman Historian Colin Hemer in his monumental work, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).  He showed that in nearly 90 details of the account of Luke in Acts, he is accurate in even minute historical details. Not once has Luke been demonstrated to be in error.

Second, similarity does not prove identity. The Gospels are like Greco-Roman biography in some respects, but they are not identical to it. The Jewish nature of the New Testament is well known to biblical scholars. The NT citations are overwhelmingly from the Old Testament.  It considers itself a fulfillment of the OT (Mt. 5:17-18 cf. Book of Hebrews). The NT is rooted in Jewish history and considers itself a fulfillment of it in Jesus the Messiah and his kingdom.  The NT writers give no evidence that they are borrowing from a Greco-Roman genre.

Third, the Bible does use different genres of literature (History, poetry, parable, etc.).  But these are all known from inside the Bible by use of the traditional “grammatico-historical exegesis” which the ICBI framers embraced (Article XVIII).  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). The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.

Fourth, whatever light extra-biblical information may shed on the biblical text (e.g., in customs or use of words), it does not determine the overall meaning of a text.  The meaning of the biblical text is found in the text and its context. Certainly, extra-biblical Greek legend characteristics do not determine the meaning of the biblical text.  This is an unorthodox method[1] and, when applied to the Bible, it yields an unorthodox conclusion.

Fourth, one can believe there are contradictions in the Gospels without giving up his belief in inerrancy.

            Response: The Law of Non-Contradiction that rules all thought, including theological thought, demands that opposing views cannot both be true.  If one is true, then the opposing view is false. But inerrancy demands that every affirmation in the Bible is true. Jesus could not have been crucified on Friday Nisan 15 and not crucified on that day.  The claim that He was crucified on a day that He was not is false.  For inerrancy demands that all the affirmations of the Bible are true. The ICBI statement on inerrancy declares: “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).

Fifth, inerrancy is not an essential doctrine of Christianity like the resurrection of Christ is.  It is a non-essential or peripheral doctrine.

Response: On the contrary, the inspiration of Scripture is one of the essential or fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith, along with the deity of Christ, His atoning death, and his bodily resurrection.[2]  And inerrancy is an essential part of divine inspiration.  Thus, a divinely inspired error is a contradiction in terms.  As the ETS statement on inerrancy puts it, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and istherefore inerrant in the autographs” (emphasis added).  It is clear from this statement that the framers meant that the Bible is inerrant because it is the Word of God.  Inerrancy flows from inspiration and is a necessary part of it. The Bible is the Word of God, and God cannot error.  Therefore, the Bible cannot err.  After all, “God” means the Theistic God who is omniscient, and an omniscient Mind cannot make any errors in His Word.  So, it is simply wrong to affirm that “inerrancy is not an essential doctrine of Christianity.”

 

         Concluding Comments

First of all, whatever else there may be to commend Mike Licona’s view of Scripture, one thing is certain: his view is not consistent with the historic view of inerrancy as held by the framers of the ETS and ICBI statements.  To claim, as he does, that the Gospels represent Jesus as being crucified on different days, is a flat contradiction.  And contradictions are inconsistent with the doctrine of inerrancy.  To claim otherwise is unbiblical,[3] irrational, and nonsensical.

Second, classifying the Gospels as Greco-Roman biography which allows for errors and legends is not in accord with the historic view of the full and factual inerrancy of Scripture.[4]  An error is an error whether it is a legend or a contradiction.  And errors cannot be part of the inerrant Word of God.

Third, Licona adopts an unorthodox methodology, and unorthodox methodology leads to unorthodox theology.  Any method that can be used to justify errors in the Gospels and yet be able to claim they are inerrant is not only contrary to the Bible, and the historic view on inerrancy, but it is contrary to logic and common sense.

Finally, As Professor Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary pointed out in his critique of Licona’s view, “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.  For he uses an extra-biblical method by which he claims “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 34).  He also claims that “Bios offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…and they often included legends” (ibid., emphasis added).  What is more, using that method, Licona came to the conclusion that an event directly connected to the resurrection of Christ, and that occurred as a result of it, namely the bodily resurrection of some saints (in Mt. 27:52-53), was merely a “poetical device,” “special effects” (ibid., 552), or a “legend” (ibid., 34).[5] This, indeed, is handing “the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.” For how can we be sure the resurrection of Christ is historical when in the same passage the resurrection of some saints that resulted from Christ’s resurrection it not considered historical?

 

 

Copyright © 2013 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

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[1] See Norman Geisler, “Methodological Unorthodoxy,” by Norman Geisler  and William Roach in Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics (vol. 5 No. 1, 2012), 61-87.

[2] See N.L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise (Harvest House, 2008), Part One for a comprehensive list of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.

[3] The Bible declares, “Avoid…contradictions” (ESV, Greek: antitheseis, 1 Tim. 6:20).

[4] See John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984).

[5] Licona has since moderated his certainty about this conclusion, but has not retracted either its possibility or reality.

The Early Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27


The Early Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27

Copyright © 2013 Norman L. Geisler – All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Biblical Passage in Question

 

“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. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’”

Mt. 27:51-54 ESV

The Current Challenge to Its Historicity

In his book on The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ), Mike Licona speaks of the resurrection of the saints narrative as “a weird residual fragment” (RJ, 527) and a “strange report” (RJ, 530, 548, 556, emphasis added in these citations).[1]  He called it “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,”and literary “special effects” (see 306, 548, 552, and 553). He claims that Matthew is using a Greco-Roman literary genre which is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34).  Licona also believes that other New Testament texts may be legends, such as, the mob falling backward at Jesus claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (See RJ, 306, note 114) and the presence of 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; see RJ, 185-186).  Licona cites some contemporary evangelical scholars in favor of his view, such as, Craig Blomberg who denied the miracle of the coin and the fish story in Matthew (Matt. 17:27).[2]  Blomberg also said, “All kinds of historical questions remain unanswered about both events [the splitting of the temple curtain and the resurrection of the saints]” (Matthew,electronic ed., 2001 Logos Library System; the New American Commentary[421].  Broadman and Holman, vol. 22).  He also cites W. L. Craig, siding with a Jesus Seminary fellow Dr. Robert Miller, that Matthew added this story to Mark’s account and did not take it literally.  Craig concluded that there are “probably only a few [contemporary] conservative scholars who would treat the story as historical” (from Craig’s comments in Paul Copan, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Baker, 1998).  On the contrary,  in terms of the broad spectrum of orthodox scholars down through the centuries, there are relatively “few” contemporary scholars who deny its authenticity, and they are overshadowed by the “many” (vast majority of) historic orthodox scholars who held to the historicity of this Matthew 27 resurrection of the saints.

The Evidence for Its Historicity

In spite of these contemporary denials, many scholars have pointed out the numerous indications of historicity in the Matthew 27:51-54 text itself, such as: (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 it reality;[3] (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 and literary embellishment common to myths,  being a short, simple, and straightforward account;  (9)  It contains element 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.

Further, it is highly unlikely that a resurrection story would be influenced by a Greco-Roman genre source (which Licona embraces) since the Greeks did not believe in the resurrection of the body (cf. Acts 17:32).  In fact, bodily resurrection was contrary to their dominant belief that deliverance from the body, not a resurrection in the body, was of the essence of salvation.  Homer said death is final and resurrection does not occur (Iliad 24.549-551).  Hans-Josef Klauck declared, “There is nowhere anything like the idea of Christian resurrection in the Greco-Roman world” (The Religious Context of Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000, p. 151).

Don Carson makes a interesting observation about those who deny the historicity of this text, saying, “One wonders why the evangelist, if he had nothing historically to go on, did not invent a midrash [legend] with fewer problems” (Carson, “Matthew” in Expositors Bible Commentary; Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank Gabelein.  Zondervan, 1984, p. 581).

A Survey of the Great teachers of the Church on the Passage

Despite his general respect for the early Fathers, Mike Licona refers to their statements on this passage as “vague,” “unclear,” “ambiguous,” “problematic,” and “confusing.”[4] However, this is misleading, as the readers can see for themselves in the following quotations.  For even though they differ on details, the Fathers are clear, unambiguous, and unanimous as to the historical nature of this event.  We have highlighted their important words which affirm the literal and historical nature of the event.

The apostolic Father Ignatius was the earliest one to cite this passage, and Licona acknowledges that his writings “are widely accepted as authentic and are dated ca. A.D. 100-138 and more commonly to ca. A.D. 110” (Licona, RJ, 248).  He adds that these writings provide “valuable insights for knowledge of the early second-century church…” (ibid.).  If so, they are the earliest and most authentic verification of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 on record—one coming from a contemporary of the apostle John!

Ignatius to the Trallians

“For Says the Scripture, ‘May bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened.  He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, butHe arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap. Ix, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70).

Ignatius to the Magnesians (AD 70-115)

“…[T]herefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher?  Andtherefore He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead” [Chap. IX] (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885).  Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations).

Irenaeus (AD 120-200)

Irenaeus also was closely linked to the New Testament writers.  He knew Polycarp who was a disciple of the apostle John.  Irenaeus wrote: “…He [Christ] suffered who can lead those souls aloft that followed His ascension.  This event was also an indication of the fact that when the holy hour of Christ descended [to Hades], many souls ascended and were seen in their bodies” (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus XXVIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, Alexander Roberts, ibid., 572-573).  This is followed (in XXIX) by this statement: “The Gospel according to Matthew was written to the Jews.  For they had particular stress upon the fact that Christ [should be] of the seed of David.  Matthew also, who had a still greater desire [to establish this point], took particular pains to afford them convincing proof that Christ is the seed of David…” (ibid., 573).

Clement of Alexandria (AD 155-200)

Another second century Father verified the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, writing, “‘But those who had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’  Further, the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’—plainly as having been translated to a better state” (Alexander Roberts, ed. Stromata, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, chap. VI, 491).

Tertullian (AD 160-222).

The Father of Latin Christianity wrote:  “’And the sun grew dark at mid-day;’ (and when did it ‘shudder exceedingly’ except at the passion of Christ, when the earth trembled to her centre, and the veil of the temple was rent, andthe tombs burst asunder?) ‘because these two evils hath My People done’” (Alexander Roberts, ed. An Answer to the Jews, Chap XIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, 170).

Hippolytus (AD 170-235)

“And again he exclaims, ‘The dead shall start forth from the graves,’ that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal.  For this he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead” (Alexander Roberts, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5,  The Refutation of All Heresy, BooK V, chap. 3, p. 54).

Origen (AD 185-254)

“’But,’ continues Celsus, ‘what great deeds did Jesus perform as being a God?…Now to this question, although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than the Gospel narratives, which state that ‘there was an earth quake, and that the rock were split asunder, and the tombs were opened, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, an the darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light’” (Against Celsus, Book II, XXXIII. Alexander Roberts, ed.  Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, 444-445).

“But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, ‘This man was the Son of God’” (Ibid., XXVI, p. 446).

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. AD 315-c. 386)

Early Fathers in the East also verified the historicity of the Matthew test.  Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “But it is impossible, some one will say, that the dead should rise; and yet Eliseus [Elisha] twice raised the dead,–when he was live and also when dead…and is Christ not risen? … But in this case both the Dead of whom we speak Himself arose, and many dead were raised without having even touched Him.  For many bodies of the Saints which slept arose, and they came out of the graves after His Resurrection, and went into the Holy City, (evidently this city in which we now are,) and appeared to many” (Catechetical Lectures XIV, 16 in Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII, p, 98).

Further, “I believe that Christ was also raised from the dead, both from the Divine Scriptures, and from the operative power even at this day of Him who arose,–who descended into hell alone, but ascended thence with a great company for He went down to death, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose through Him (ibid., XIV, 17).

Cyril adds, “He was truly laid as Man in a tomb of rock; but rocks were rent asunder by terror because of Him.  He went down into the regions beneath the earth, thence also He might redeem the righteous.  For tell me, couldst thou wish the living only to enjoy His grace,… and not wish those who from Adam had a long while been imprisoned to have now gained their liberty? 

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. AD 330-c. 389)

“He [Christ] lays down His life, but He has the power to take it again; and the veil rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened;[5] the rocks are cleft, the dead arise.  He dies but he gives life, and by His death destroys death.  He is buried, but He rises again. He goes down to Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words are yours” (Schaff, ibid., vol. VII, Sect XX, p. 309).

Jerome (AD 342-420)

Speaking of the Matthew 27 text, he wrote: “It is not doubtful to any what these great signs signify according to the letter, namely, that heaven and earth and all things should bear witness to their crucified Lord” (cited in Aquinas, Commentary on the Four Gospels, vol. I, part III: St.Matthew (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), 964.

“As Lazarus rose from the dead, so also did many bodies of the Saints rise again to shew forth the Lord’s resurrection; yet notwithstanding that the graves were opened, they did not rise again before the Lord rose, that He might be the first-born of the resurrection from the dead”(cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963).

Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315-c.357)

The graves were opened, for the bands of death were loosed.  And many bodies  of the saints which slept arose, for illuminating the darkness of death, and shedding light upon the gloom of Hades, He robbed the spirits of death” (cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963).

Chrysostom (AD 347-407)

When He [Christ] remained on the cross they had said tauntingly, He saved others, himself he cannot save. But what He should not do for Himself, that He did and more than that for the bodies of the saints.  For if it was a great thing to raise Lazarus after four days, much more was it that they who had long slept should not shew themselves above; this is indeed a proof of the resurrection to come.  But that it might not be thought that that which was done was an appearance merely, the Evangelist adds, and come out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963-964).

 

 

St. Augustine (AD 354-430)

The greatest scholar at the beginning of the Middle Ages, St. Augustine, wrote: “As if Moses’ body could not have been hid somewhere…and be raised up therefrom by divine power at the time when Elias and he were seen with Christ: Just as at the time of Christ’s passion many bodies of the saints arose, and after his resurrection appeared, according to the Scriptures, to many in the holy city” (Augustine, On the Gospel of St. John, Tractate cxxiv, 3, Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. VII, 448).

“Matthew proceeds thus: ‘And the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arise, and come out of the graves after the resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.’ There is no reason to fear that these facts, which have been related only by Matthew, may appear to be inconsistent with the narrative present by any one of the rest [of the Gospel writers)…. For as the said Matthew not only tells how the centurion ‘saw the earthquake,’ but also appends the words [in v. 54], ‘and those things that were done’…. Although Matthew has not added any such statement, it would still have been perfectly legitimate to suppose, that as many astonishing things did place at that time…, the historians were at liberty to select for narration any particular incident which they were severally disposed to instance as the subject of the wonder.  And it would not be fair to impeach them with inconsistency, simply because one of them may have specified one occurrence as the immediate cause of the centurion’s amazement, while another introduces a different incident” (St. Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels, Book III, chap. xxi in Schaff, ibid., vol. VI, p. 206, emphasis added).

St. Remigius (c. 438-c. 533) “Apostle of the Franks”

“But some one will ask, what became of those who rose again when the Lord rose.  We must believe that they rose again to be witnesses of the Lord’s resurrection.  Some have said that they died again, and were turned to dust, as Lazarus and the rest whom the Lord raised.  But we must by no means give credit to these men’s sayings, since if they were to die again, it would be greater torment to them, than if they had not risen again.  We ought therefore to believe without hesitation that they who rose from the dead at the Lord’s resurrection, ascended also into heaven together with Him” (cited in Aquinas, ibid., 964).

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)

As Augustine was the greatest Christian thinker at the beginning of the Middle Ages, Aquinas was the greatest teacher at the end.  And too he held to the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, as is evident from his citations from the Fathers (with approval) in his great commentary on the Gospels (The Golden Chain), as all the above Aquinas references indicate, including Jerome, Hilary of Poitiers, Chrysostom, and Remigius (see Aquinas, ibid., 963-964).

John Calvin (1509-1564)

The chain of great Christian teachers holding to the historicity of this text continued into the Reformation and beyond.  John Calvin wrote: “Matt. 27.52.  And the tombs were opened. This was a particular portent in which God testified that His Son had entered death’s prison, not to stay there shut up, but to lead all free who were there held captive….  That is the reason why He, who was soon to be shut in a tomb opened the tombs elsewhere.  Yet we may doubt whether this opening of the tombs happened before the resurrection, for the resurrection of the saints which is shortly after added followed in my opinion the resurrection of Christ.  It is absurd for some interpreters to image that they spent three days alive and breathing, hidden in tombs.  It seems likely to me that at Christ’s death the tombs at once opened; at His resurrection some of the godly men received breath and came out and were seen in the city.  Christ is called the Firstborn from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18)…. This reasoning agrees very well, seeing that the breaking of the tombs was the presage of new life, and the fruit itself, the effect, appeared three days later, as Christ rising again led other companions from the graves with Himself.  And in this sign it was shown that neither His dying nor His resurrection were private to himself, but breathe the odour of life into all the faithful” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, trans. A. W. Morrison. Eds. David and Thomas Torrance.  Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1972, vol. 3, pp. 211-212).

Concluding Comments

Of course, there are some aspects of this Matthew 27 text of the saints on which the Fathers were uncertain.  For example, there is the question as to whether the saints were resurrected before or after Jesus was and whether it was a resuscitation to a mortal body or a permanent resurrection to an immortal body.  However, there is no reason for serious doubt that all the Fathers surveyed accepted the historicity of this account.  Their testimony is very convincing for many reasons:

First, the earliest confirmation as to the historical nature of the resurrection of the saints in the Matthew 27 passage goes all the way back to Ignatius, a contemporary of the apostle John (who died. c. AD 90).  One could not ask for an earlier verification that the resurrection of these saints than that of Ignatius (AD 70-115).  He wrote: “He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead” [Chap. IX].[6] And in the Epistle to the Trallians he added, “For Says the Scripture, ‘May bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened.  He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap. IX, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70). The author who is a contemporary of the last apostle (John) is speaking unmistakably of the saints in Matthew 27 who were literally resurrected after Jesus was.

Second, the next testimony to the historicity of this passage is Irenaeus who knew Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.  Other than the apostolic Fathers, Irenaeus is a good as any witness to the earliest post-apostolic understanding of the Matthew 27 text.  And he made it clear that “many” persons “ascended and were seen in their bodies” (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus XXVIII. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, ibid., 572-573).

Third, there is a virtually unbroken chain of great Fathers of the church after Irenaeus (2nd cent.) who took this passage as historical (see above).  Much of the alleged “confusion” and “conflict” about the text is cleared up when one understands that, while the tombs were opened at the time of the death of Christ, nonetheless, the resurrection of these saints did not occur until “after his resurrection” (Mt. 27:53, emphasis added)[7]  since Jesus is the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:23) of the resurrection.

Fourth, the great church Father St. Augustine stressed the historicity of the Matthew 27 text about the resurrection of the saints, speaking of them asfacts” and “things that were done” as recorded by the Gospel“historians” (St. Augustine, The Harmony of the Gospels, Book III, chap. xxi in Schaff, ibid., vol. VI, p. 206, emphasis added).

Fifth, many of the Fathers used this passage in an apologetic sense as evidence of the resurrection of Christ.  This reveals their conviction that it was a historical event resulting from the historical event of the resurrection of Christ. Irenaeus was explicit on this point, declaring, “Matthew also, who had a still greater desire [to establish this point], took particular pains to afford them convincing proof that Christ is the seed of David…” (Irenaeus, ibid., 573).

Some, like Chrysostom, took it as evidence for the resurrection to come.  “For if it was a great thing to raise Lazarus after four days, much more was it that they who had long slept should not shew themselves above; this is indeed a proof of the resurrection to come(cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963-964).

Origen took it as “evidences of the divinity of Jesus” (Origen, ibid., Book II, chap. XXXVI. Ante-Nicene Fathers, 446).  None of these Fathers would have given it such apologetic weight had they not been convinced of the historicity of the resurrection of these saints after Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 27.

Sixth, even the Church Father Origen, who was the most prone to allegorizing away literal events in the Bible, took this text to refer to a literal historical resurrection of saints.  He wrote of the events in Matthew 27 that they are “the evidences of the divinity of Jesus” (Origen, ibid., Book II, chap. XXXVI. Ante-Nicene Fathers, 446).

Seventh, some of the great teachers of the Church were careful to mention that the saints rose as a result of Jesus’ resurrection which is a further verification of the historical nature of the resurrection of the saints in Mathew 27.  Jerome wrote: “As Lazarus rose from the dead, so also did many bodies of the Saints rise again to shew forth the Lord’s resurrection;yet notwithstanding that the graves were opened, they did not rise again before the Lord rose, that He might be the first-born of the resurrection from the dead” (cited by Aquinas, ibid., 963).  John Calvin added, “Yet we may doubt whether this opening of the tombs happened before the resurrection,for the resurrection of the saints which is shortly after added followed in my opinion the resurrection of Christ.  It is absurd for some interpreters to image that they spent three days alive and breathing, hidden in tombs.”  For “It seems likely to me that at Christ’s death the tombs at once opened; at His resurrection some of the godly men received breath and came out and were seen in the city.  Christ is called the Firstborn from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 3, pp. 211-212).

Eighth, St. Augustine provides an answer to the false premise of contemporary critics that there must be another references to a New Testament event like this in order to confirm that it is historical.  He wrote, “It would not be fair to impeach them with inconsistency, simply because one of them may have specified one occurrence as the immediate cause of the centurion’s amazement, while another introduces a different incident” (St. Augustine, ibid., emphasis added).

So, contrary to the claims of critics, the Matthew 27 account of the resurrection of the saints is a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints. This is supported by a virtually unbroken line of the great commentators of the Early Church and through the Middle Ages and into the Reformation period (John Calvin).  Not a single example was found of any Father surveyed who believed this was a legend.  Such a belief is due to the acceptance of critical methodology, not to either a historical-grammatical exposition of the text or to the supporting testimony of the main orthodox teachers of the Church up to and through the Reformation Period.

Ninth, the impetus for rejecting the story of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is not based on good exegesis of the text or on the early support of the Fathers but is based on fallacious premises.  (1) First of all, there is an anti-supernatural bias beneath much of contemporary scholarship.  But there is no philosophical basis for the rejection of miracles (see our Miracles and the Modern Mind, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), and there is no exegetical basis for rejecting it in the text.  Indeed on the same ground one could reject the resurrection of Christ since it supernatural and is found in the same text.

(2) Further, there is also the fallacious premise of double reference which affirms that if an event is not mentioned at least twice in the Gospels, then its historicity is questioned.  But on this grounds many other events must be rejected as well, such as, the story of Nicodemus (Jn. 3), the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn. 4), the story of Zaccchaeus (Lk. 19), the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn. 11), and even the birth of Christ in the stable and the angel chorus (Lk. 2), as well as many other events in the Gospels.  How many times does an event have to be mentioned in a contemporary piece of literature based on reliable witnesses in order to be true?

(3) There is another argument that seems to infect much of contemporary New Testament scholarship on this matter.  It is theorized that an event like this, if literal, would have involved enough people and graves to have drawn significant evidence of it in a small place like Jerusalem.  Raymond Brown alludes to this, noting that “…many interpreters balk at the thought of many known risen dead being seen in Jerusalem—such a large scale phenomenon should have left some traces in Jewish and/or secular history!”[8]  However, at best this is simply the fallacious Argument from Silence.  What is more, “many” can mean only a small group, not hundreds of thousands. Further, the story drew enough attention to make it into one of the canonical Gospels, right along side of the resurrection of Christ and with other miraculous events.  In brief, it is in a historical book; it is said to result from the resurrection of Christ; it was cited apologetically by the early Fathers as evidence of the resurrection of Christ and proof of the resurrection to come.  No other evidence is needed for its authenticity.

A Denial of Inerrancy

According to the official statements on by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), the denial of the historicity of the Matthew 27 resurrection of the saints is a denial of the inerrancy of the Bible.  This is clear from several official ICBI statements.

(1) The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy speaks against this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospels, saying, “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).

(2) The statement add: “all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (Sproul,Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).

(3) ICBI framers said, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37).

(4) Again, “When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing 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 (Sproul, EI, 55).

Subsequently, 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 Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI” (Letter, May 22, 2012, emphasis added).

(5) Also, “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Explaining Hermeneutics (EH), XIII). “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (EH  XIV bold added in all above citations).

(6) Finally, as a framer of the ICBI statements I can testify that Robert Gundry’s like view deshistoricizing Matthew were an object of these ICBI statements. And they lead to his being asked to resign from the Evangelical theological Society (by a 70% majority vote).  Since Licona’s views do the same basic thing, then they should be excluded on the same basis. Gundry used Jewish midrash genre to dehistoticized parts of Gospel history, and Licona used Greco-Roman genre and legends, but the principle is the same.

 

 

[1] Licona has subsequent questions about the certitude of his view on Matthew 27 but has not retracted the view.

[2]  Craig Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to the Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012) 354 fn. 32.

[3] 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.

[4] Mike Licona, “When the Saints Go Marching in (Matthew 27:52-53): Historicity, Apocalyptic Symbol, and Biblical Inerrancy” given at the November, 2011 Evangelical Philosophical Society meeting.

[5] Despite the curious phrase about the “mysterious doors of Heaven are opened” when the veil was split, everything in this passage speaks of literal death and literal resurrection of Christ and the saints after His death. The book of Hebrews makes the same claim that after the veil was split that Christ entered “once for all” into the most holy place (heaven) to achieve “eternal salvation” for us (Heb. 9:12).

[6] See Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. Ignatius to the Magnesians in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885), reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations.

[7] See an excellent article clearing up this matter by John Wenham titled “When Were the Saints Raised?” Journal of Theological Studies 32:1 (1981): 150-152.  He argues convincingly for repunctuating the Greek to read: “And the tombs were opened.  The bodies of the sleeping saints were raised, and they went out from their tombs after the resurrection.”  While this affects the alleged poetic flavor of the passage, it is certainly Bizzare to hold like some that the saints were raised at Christ’s death and then sat around the opened tombs for three days before they left.  It also contradicts 1 Corinthians 15:20 which declares that Christ is the “firstfruits” of the resurrection and Matthew 27:53 which says they did not come out of the tombs until “after” the resurrection of Christ.

[8] Raymond E. Brown, “Eschatological events Accompanying the Death of Jesus, Especially the Raising of the Holy ones from Their Tombs (Matt 27:51-53)” in John P. Galvin ed., Faith and the Future: Studies in Christian Eschatology (NY: Paulist Press, 1994), 64.