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

Book Review of Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Christopher T. Haun[1]

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


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


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

Kindle: $15.00 at


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter by Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 29 | Redating the Gospels | Phil Fernandes

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] To purchase at a 40% discount, use “inerrant” as a coupon code upon checkout at Also available at

An Evaluation of John Henry Newman’s Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine

An Evaluation of John Henry Newman’s

Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine 

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler



            More properly this evaluation should be titled A Defense of the Roman Catholic Claim to be the one true Church with Explanation of the Changing Doctrines and Practices of Rome throughout the Centuries in Terms of the Development of Doctrine.  Newman’s essay (titled An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine) is one of the most famous defenses of Roman Catholicism by one of its most noted convertsIn our response, we have organized the materially systematically and quoted from it extensively, using the 1845 edition (Pelican Books, 1974). 

The Stated Purpose of Newman’s Essay

Newman wrote: “The following Essay is directed towards a solution of the difficulty which has been stated—the difficulty which lies in the way of using testimony of our most natural informant concerning the doctrine and worship of Christianity, viz., the history of eighteen hundred years” (90). That is, “that the increase and expansion of the Christian creed and ritual, and the variations which have attended the process in the case of individual writers and churches, are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and the heart and has had any wide or extended dominion; that, from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas; and that the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, as received and transmitted by minds not inspired and through media which were human, have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation.  This may be called the Theory of Development” (90).

The Logic of the Argument

  1. Roman Catholic Doctrine as known today is “…the historical and logical continuation of the body of doctrine…in every preceding century successively till we come to the first. Whether it be a corrupt development or a legitimate, conducted on sound logic or fallacious, the present so-called Catholic religion is the successor, the representative, and the heir of the religion of the so-called Catholic Church of primitive times” (240).

            Response:  First, a historic continuity of the early and present Roman Catholic churches is acknowledged.  However, this proves nothing as such because, as admitted, it may be a corruption of the original doctrine. Second, this assumes without justification that the original doctrine was correct.  But, as will be shown below, the original two sources view (Scripture and Tradition) is not correct.  For a parallel example, the present US government is the historic descendant of the first one.  However, many decisions of the Supreme Court are directly contrary to the First Amendment of the Constitution as envisioned by its framers.

For instance, the framers did not intend it to enact a separation of Church and State and never even used the terms.  The First Amendment says simply “Congress [the Federal Government] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Nor did the Federal Government forbid the States from having their own State religions which five of the 13 colonies had at the time and were never required to disestablish.  But the current Supreme Court following the Everson ruling in 1947 declared: “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another…. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.’”  Clearly there is a historical continuity between early and current America, yet there is a doctrinal discontinuity on some important matters.  So, it is with the earlier and later Roman Church (as shown below).

  1.   “…the doctrines of which the present Catholic religion consist are prima facie the correct, true, faithful, legitimate development of the doctrines which preceded them, and not their corruption” (240.)   No “case can be made out against that religion, to prove that it is materially corrupt, and not in its substance Apostolic” (240).  So, “It appears then that there has been a certain general type of Christianity in every age, by which it is known at first sight…. And it appears that this type has remained entire from first to last, in spite of the process of development which seems to be attributed by all parties, for good or bad, to the doctrines, rites, and usages in which Christianity consists; or, in other words, that the changes which have taken place in Christianity have not been such as to destroy that type…” (335).

Response: This premise is challenged on two grounds.  First, even if Catholicism was an uncorrupted development of the original idea, Catholicism would not be true, if the original idea was false.  It would just be a logical development of a false idea.  Second, as will be shown below, there was significant doctrinal corruption between earlier and later Catholicism.

  1. The tests to determine whether development or corruption of the ideas occurred include:

(A.) Preservation of the Basic Idea (122).

“It was said, then, that a true development retains the essential idea of the subject from which it has proceeded, and a corruption loses it (241). This parallels the development of a living organism from conception to maturity (241).  “An empire or a religion may have many changes: but when we speak of its development, we consider it to be fulfilling, not to be belying its destiny” (122).  “A popular leader may go through a variety of professions, he may court parties and break with them, he may contradict himself in words, and undo his own measures, yet there may be a steady fulfillment of certain objects, or adherence to certain plain doctrines, which impress upon beholders, not his scrupulousness, but his sincerity and consistency” (123).

Response: There are several problems with this test.  First, the starting premise of the “basic idea” behind Christian doctrine can be challenged.  Protestants take it to be sola Scripture (see below) and Roman Catholics believe it is Scripture plus Tradition, that is, as interpreted by the Roman Catholic teaching Magisterium.  The development of these different basic ideas will bring about different results.

Second, one can question whether the analogy between the development of a doctrine and the development of a living organism is a proper analogy.  There are, after all, some significant differences between the two: one is living and one is dead.  But Newman’s whole thesis and conclusion depends on the appropriateness of this challengeable analogy (see below).   Even Newman himself claims a heresy is like a living organism.  He wrote: “The church is a kingdom; a heresy is a family rather than a kingdom; and as a family continually divides and sends out branches, founding new houses…” (275).

 (B.) Continuity of the Principles (124).

“Doctrines expand variously according to the mind, individual or social, into which they are received; and the peculiarities of the recipient are the regulating power, the law, the organization, or, as it may be called, the form of the development.  The life of doctrines may be said to consist in the law or principle which they embody” (124).

“Principles are abstract and general, doctrines relate to facts; doctrines develop, and principles do not” (127).  “Principles are popularly said to develop when they are but exemplified; thus the various sects of Protestantism, unconnected  as they are with each other, are called development of the principle of Private Judgment, of which really they are applications and results” (129).

“Doctrine without its correspondent principle remains barren, if not lifeless, of which the Greek Church seems an instance” (129).   “Pagans may have, heretics cannot have, the same principles as Catholics…. Principle is a better test of heresy than doctrine” (129) “The doctrines of heresy are accidents and soon run to an end; its principles are everlasting” (129).

Response: Non-Roman Catholics acknowledge a doctrinal continuity between original and later Catholicism without accepting Catholicism.  For example, Protestants agree with Catholics on the dogmas of the first four ecumenical councils and Eastern Orthodox agrees on the first seven councils.  The basic idea could have been preserved in these earlier councils, as it has been noted: “One Bible, two Testaments, Three Creeds, and Four centuries” is the common core of most forms of Christianity.  Since Catholicism embraces these as well, it too has a doctrinal continuity with earlier Christianity.  However, this does not as such support the Catholic claim to be the true Church.

(C.) The Power of Assimilation (130). 

“In the physical world whatever has life is characterized by growth, so that in no respect to grow is to cease to live.  It grows by taking into its own substance external materials; and this absorption or assimilation is completed when the materials appropriated come to belong to it or enter into its unity” (130).  “Thus, a power of development is a proof of life, not only in its essay, but in its success; for a mere formula either does not expand or is shattered in expanding.  A living idea becomes many, yet remains one.  The attempt at development shows the presence of a principle, and its success the presence of an idea.  Principles stimulate thought, and an idea keeps it together” (131).

Response:  As mentioned above, this is dependent on the alleged validity of the analogy of Roman Catholicism’s development with a living organism.   But this is a questionable analogy.  Ideas are not living entities and do not “assimilate” the way a living organism does.  Further, since this is based on the first two tests and is a continuation of them, it is subject to the same criticisms of these two tests (see above). Finally, even if this principle was valid, it would only demonstrate that ideas develop in a certain way; it would not prove that the original ideas were true.

 (D.) Early Anticipation of Aspects of the Idea (133).

“When an idea is living, that is influential and operative in the minds of recipients, it is sure to develop according to the principles on which they are formed; instances of such a process, though vague and isolated, may occur from the very first, though a lapse of time be necessary to bring it to perfection.  And since developments are in great measure only aspects of the idea from which they come, and all of them are natural consequences of it, it is often a matter of accident in what order they are carried out in individual minds; and it is in no wise strange that here and there definite specimens should very early occur, which in the historical course are not found till a late day…. Nothing is more common, for instance, than accounts or legends of the anticipations, which great men have in boyhood of the bent of their minds, as afterwards displayed in their history” (133-134).

Response:  This test shows indication of being devised in advance to help explain a severe difficulty in Catholicism, namely, that many of its doctrines have no real root in the Bible or in the early church.  Indeed, many of them are late in origin.  Hence, positing that faintness and lateness can be explained by comparison with a living organism is suspect.  This is particularly true when later ideas (doctrines) of Rome are in conflict with earlier ones.  This is most evident in the contradictory “infallible” pronouncements of Rome regarding ex cathedra declarations (see Popes below).

Further, Newman’s concept of slow development is countered by admitting the supernatural confirmation of God’s revelation.  He wrote: “But this progress of events, vague and uncertain as it seemed to be, notwithstanding the miracles which attended it, has been directed by Him who works out gradually what He has determined absolutely” (161).  But what could be greater than the original revelation as supernaturally confirmed by God.  How does time outweigh the Transcendent?

(E.) Logical Sequence of the Idea (136). 

“Though it is a matter of accident in what order or degree developments of a common idea which show themselves…, yet on a large field they will on the whole be gradual and orderly, nay, in logical sequence” (which may not be a conscious process) (136). “Afterwards, however, this logical character which the whole wears becomes a test that the process has been a true development, not a perversion or corruption from its naturalness” (137).  “Again, the doctrine of the Sacraments leads to the doctrine of Justification; Justification to Original sin; Original sin to the merit of Celibacy” (199). “The Mass and Real Presence are parts of one; the veneration of Saints and their relics are part of one; their intercessory power, and the Purgatorial State, and again the Mass and that State are correlative…. You must accept the whole or reject the whole; rejection does but enfeeble, and amputation mutilate: (199).  “Moreover, since the doctrines all together make up the integral religion, it follows that the several evidences which respectively support those doctrines belong to the whole, and are available in the defense of any” (199).

Response:  To the degree that ideas have logical consequences, this point is true.  However, it does not show that the later doctrines are true anymore than the earlier ones.  For instance, prayers for the dead may help lead to the idea of Purgatory, but this does not prove that either idea is true; it may merely show a logical connection between two false ideas.  Furthermore, it is a stretch to see the alleged connection between earlier and later doctrines.  For example, Newman held that belief of Christ’s resurrection in flesh leads to doctrines of the Real Presence, Virginity of Mary, and her Mother of God (378).  But this is a stretch, to say nothing of the fact that the original doctrine (of the Real Presence) may be challenged (see “Does the NT Support the Roman Catholic View of Communion?”).

(F.) Preservative Addition (141). 

“As developments which are preceded by definite indications have a fair presumption in their favour, so those which do but contract and reverse the course of doctrine which has been developed before them, and out of which they spring, are certainly corrupt; for a corruption is a development in that very stage in which it ceases to illustrate” (141).  The development is gradual.  However, “…so great a paradox cannot be maintained as that truth literally leads to falsehood” (142).  But “True religion is the summit and perfection of false religion; it combines in one whatever there is of good and true separately remaining in each.  And in like manner the Catholic Creed is for the most part the combination of separate truths, which heretics have divided among themselves, and err is dividing” (143).  “And thus a sixth test of a true development is its being an addition which is conservative of what has gone before it” (144).

Response: Within proper limits, this is a valid principle, but it may be questioned whether later Catholicism is the proper and logical development of what has gone before. This is particularly true when some later practices contradict the earlier doctrines.  Such practices are not conservative, but contradictory, of what has gone before.  Even Newman recognized that this is precisely the Protestant criticism of Catholicism.  He spoke of Roman Catholics as being “…accused of substituting another Gospel for the primitive Creed” (144).  When Catholics point out that they are as faithful as anyone to the original creeds, Neman recognized the Protestant rebuttal that Catholics “…obscure and virtually annul them by their additions; thus the cultus of St. Mary and the Saints is no development of the truth, but a corruption, because it draws away the mind and heart from Christ” (144).  The Catholic response to this is weak and unsatisfactory, as is its response to the charge that Purgatory (see below) diminishes the all sufficiency of the death of Christ (Jn. 19:30; Heb.1:3; 10:11-14).

Newman critiques Islam for revoking previous revelations in view of later contradictory ones, pointing to their principle of abrogation which he claims revoked about 150 of Muhammed’s previous revelations (143).  But this is a more credible way to deal with the problem than Newton’s Essay which attempts to show there is a progress in Dogma wherein later formulations (which in some cases are contrary to earlier ones) are accepted and the previous ones rejected. How can this be true if the earlier one was infallible (see Pope below).

(G.) Chronic Continuance of the Idea (144).

“Since corruption of an idea, as far as its appearance goes, is a sort of accident or affection of its development…it is as has been observed, a brief and rapid process…. Corruption cannot, therefore be of long standing; and thus duration is another test of a faithful development” (145). “The course of heresies is always short.  It has a “’transitory character’” (147).  “If Christianity is a fact…and impresses an idea of itself on our minds, that idea will in course of time develop in a series of ideas connected and harmonious with one another, and unchangeable and complete, as is the external fact itself which is thus represented” (148).  “And the more claim an idea has to be considered living, the more various will be its aspects; and the more social and political is its nature, the more complicated and subtle will be its developments, and the longer and more eventful will be its course.  Such is Christianity” (148).  Newman adds, “Hence, all bodies of Christianity develop the doctrines of Scripture” (150).

Response:  This test is false as stated.  For it is simply not true that “Corruption cannot, therefore be of long standing; and thus duration is another test of a faithful development” (145).  Even Newman admits that Islam—a false religion—is an apparent counter example. He said, Islam has “…a living idea somewhere in that religion, which has been so strong, so wide, so lasting a bond of union in the history of the world” (131).  Yet he said elsewhere that “A corruption is of brief duration, runs itself out quickly, and ends in death” (442).

Further, Arianism was a widespread and long enduring heresy.  At one time it encompassed much of the Christian Church.   It is still alive in the Jehovah’s Witness cult. Likewise, not all forms of Christianity “developed” the doctrine of Scripture in the way Roman Catholicism has.  For other than drawing logically necessary conclusions from Scriptural premises, as in the Trinity and Incarnation, Protestants believe that the perspicuity (clearness of the central message) of Scripture as interpreted by the historical-grammatical method (see below), there is no Catholic-like “development” of Scripture in biblical Protestantism.

 4. When applied to the Catholic Church, these principles show that it is a development, not a corruption, of the original Idea. 

Newman’s conclusion from his premises is:

“It appears then that there has been a certain general type of Christianity in every age, by which it is known at first sight…. And it appears that this type has remained entire from first to last, in spite of the process of development which seems to be attributed by all parties, for good or bad, to the doctrines, rites, and usages in which Christianity consists; or, in other words, that the changes which have taken place in Christianity have not been such as to destroy that type…” (335).

            Response:  First of all, the conclusion is no better than the premise.  A chain is no better than its weakest link.  And the foregoing discussion shows the weakness of Newman’s premises.  At best, even if the basic premises of development versus corruption are correct, it would show no more than Roman Catholicism in its present form is a natural outworking of the core idea which is Scripture plus Catholic interpreted Tradition plus time yields current Roman Catholicism.  This leads us to examine this core premise more carefully.

Second, Newman frankly admits that his view is only a theory: “it will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is…. “Then he adds quickly, “…[but] all depends on the strength of that presumption.”  Of course it does, and that is the point.  If Newman’s basic idea (of Scripture plus tradition as interpreted by Rome) is accepted, then to no one’s surprise, one can make a convincing case the current Roman Catholic Church is the developmental result of its long history from the seminal beginning.  Then Newman adds a negative argument, namely,               “Supposing there be otherwise good reasons for saying Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it” (212).  But neither is there anything that really supports it either.  In fact, as we shall see, there is much to contradict it.

Third, Newman’s stress on the necessity of faith to accept the system and explanations of Catholicism is a key to understanding how otherwise intelligent and thinking persons can accept a view with such incredible beliefs as Transubstantiation and the Infallibility of the Pope.  He claims that faith is preferred to reason in making a decision about a religious system (242f.).  He said that “Men were not obliged to wait for proof before believing” (346).  Then he attempts to justify this conclusion by citing Aquinas and Augustine out of context (348) and by neglecting clear passages to the contrary.  For example, Augustine said, “No one indeed believes anything unless he has first thought that it is to be believed.  For… it is yet necessary that everything which is believed should be believed after thought had led the way” (On Predestination of the Saints, 5).  However, “faith” in a “theory” as big and boasting as is Catholicism (which claims to be the only true religion) and which holds teaching so contrary to experience and reason (e.g., transubstantiation) needs careful scrutiny before one makes the leap of faith into it.


Newman’s Rejection of Sola Scriptura 

Of course, accepting the Catholic starting point means rejecting sola Scripture. Many arguments against the Protestant principle of the Bible alone are offered by Newman.  However, all of them fail to dethrone the doctrine. Let’s examine them carefully.

1) He rejects sola Scripture saying,

“It may be objected that inspired documents, such as the Holy Scriptures, at once determine its doctrine without further trouble.  But they were intended to create an idea, and that idea is not in the sacred text, but in the mind of the reader” (149).  But that idea is complete and accurate and only “…comes to perfection in the course of time” (149).

Response: this argument begs the question by assuming that the Bible is not sufficient in itself to convey a central message.  Rather, he believes that its purpose is “…to create an idea, and that idea is not in the sacred text.”  But the Bible as a revelation of God’s true in itself and not merely an instrument to create an idea in our minds.

Furthermore, the idea conveyed by the sacred text does not have to wait for centuries to come to perfection.  “The Law of the Lord is perfect” (Psa. 19:7).  And when that idea is conveyed to our minds by the Holy Spirit enlightening them to God’s truth, neither centuries of development nor a teaching Magisterium is necessary to do the Holy Spirit’s work for Him.

Newman’s attempt to counter this misses the point.  He wrote, “Nor is the case altered by supposing that inspiration did for the first recipients of the Revelation what the Divine Fiat did for herbs and plants in the beginning, which were created in maturity.  Still, the time at length came, when its recipients ceased to be inspired; and on these recipients  the truth would fall, as in other cases, at first vaguely and generally, and would afterwards be completed by development” (149). However, any distortions that occur after a perfect and mature revelation are given are irrelevant to the point which is that God gave a complete and clear understandable revelation in the Bible

2)  Newman claimed that important theological questions like “the intermediate state between death and Resurrection” are not answered in Scripture but imply a later development (153).

Response: The Bible tells us all we need to know about the intermediate state.  It is found in many verses like these: “it is far better to depart and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23); “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8); “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43); ”We must all appear before he judgment seat of Christ that each one may receive a reward for what was done in the body” (2 Cor. 5:10 cf. Mat. 17:2-3; Rev. 6:9).  As for the rest, “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but to us and to our children the things that are revealed” (Deut. 29:29).

3)  Newman claims that doctrines like the duty to worship and that the day of worship is Sunday are not revealed in the Bible.  Thus, without the Catholic Church’s “development” of the original deposit of revelation in the Bible and the Catholic teaching Magisterium interpreting this, we would not know on which day to worship.

Response:  Not everything in the Bible is taught by direct command.  Some things are taught by principle and example.  As for Church attendance, Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us “Do not neglect to meet together.”  And Jesus set the example for meeting on Sunday by rising from the dead on Sunday (Mat. 28:1), by appearing to his disciples on Sunday (Jn. 20:1), by sending the Holy Spirit to baptize the disciples into the body of Christ on Sunday (Acts 2:1).  Following this example, the early disciples met “on the first day of the week they gathered together to break bread” (Act 20:7).  And Paul exhorted the Corinthians, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside” to give to the Lord (1 Cor. 16:2).  This is sufficient for faith and practice on this matter.  No pronouncements by a teaching Magisterium are necessary.

4) Newman argued that

“The Bible does not answer basic questions like how we got “the Canon of Scripture.“  That is, “unless we suppose a new revelation, from the revelation we have, that is by development [deduction]” (151).

Response: A new revelation is not necessary to establish the canon.  All that is necessary is, as the Westminster Confession states, that everything we need is “…either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequences may be deduced from Scripture” (I, VI).  The Bible speaks of the Old Testament canon in “the Law and the Prophets” (Lk. 24:27) and in the Jewish “Scripture” (2 Tim. 3:15-16).  The epistles speak of the Gospels as “Scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18).  Peter speaks of Paul’s epistles as “Scripture” (2 Pet 3:15-16), and by “good and necessary consequences” we deduce that the other New Testament books written by apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20) were also Scripture (see Geisler, From God to Us in

Even Newman admits elsewhere that one does not need an infallible writer to confirm an infallible writing.  And he acknowledges that even though “the Apostles were made infallible” in their inspired writings, “yet we are only morally certain that they were infallible” (170).  Similarly, we can be morally certain about the canon of Scripture by the Bible’s claim for itself and as confirmed by the early Fathers’ citations from the canon.

Further, contrary to Catholic claim, the Church did not determine the canon of Scripture; God determined it by inspiring the canonical book.  The Church merely discovered the books that God had determined to be canonical by noting the earmarks of inspiration such as, was it written by a prophet of God?  Was he confirmed to be a prophet of God by miracles (Heb. 2:3-4) or other means? Did it tell the truth about God in accordance with other prophetic writings?  If so, then these were collected by the people of God (cf. Duet 31:24-25; Dan. 9:1; Zech. 7:12;   2 Pet. 3:15-16).

All the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments were eventually recognized by the Early Fathers as part of the canon of Scripture by citations, translations, and official listings (see From God to Us, chaps 6-10). By the time of Irenaeus in c. A.D. 180 (who knew Papias the disciple of John the apostle) all the New Testament books (except the tiny one chapter book of 3rd John) were recognized as canonical.  Only a few years later (c. A.D. 200) even 3rd John was cited as canonical.  By the time of the councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) the Christian Church in general had recognized the entire canon of Scripture, including the 27 books of the New Testament as inspired of God and rightfully in the canon of Scripture.  For a discussion of The Old Testament Apocrypha see below.

5) Newman claimed that only the Church can properly interpret the Bible.  

“We are told that God has spoken.  Where?  In a book?  We have tried it, and it disappoints; it disappoints, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given.  The Ethiopian’s reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading (Acts 8:34), is the voice of nature: ‘How can I unless some man guide me?’  The Church undertakes that office; she does what none else can do, and this is the secret of the power” (175).

Response: This does not deny the Protestant principle of the perspicuity which holds only that the main message of the Bible is clear, not every particular detail.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was: a) only one man, b) reading one text.  He did not represent a failure of believers in general to understand the central message of the Bible in general.  Further, the Ethiopian was a new convert who had not yet heard about Jesus, his death and resurrection for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-4).  There is every indication that once he heard the Gospel that he had no difficulty understanding it.  Indeed, once the Ethiopian heard about Jesus he understood the message and wanted to obey him in baptism immediately (Acts 8:35-38) without the help of an ecclesiastical authority.

6) The Claim of Need for Absolute Authority. “The absolute need of spiritual supremacy is at present the strongest argument in favour of its supply” (177). “The only general persuasive in matters of conduct is authority; that is when truth is in question, a judgement which we consider superior to our own” (177).  While there are many conflicting authorities, “The question is, which of all these theories is the simplest, the most natural, the most persuasive.

Response: There are several problems with this argument.  First, the need for something does not guarantee it will be obtained; it merely shows that it is needed.  Thirsty people need water and hungry people need food, but still many die of hunger and thirst.  Second, Newman does not demonstrate (but merely posits, but does not prove, that absolute authority is a need).  Indeed, he admits elsewhere that infallibility does not need an infallible argument to support it (169).  Finally, he assumes a questionable hypothesis that the “simplest” explanation is the best.  This is sometimes called “Ockham’s Razor,” but Ockham did not say this. He said “Don’t multiply causes without necessity.”  The true explanation may not always be the simplest one.

Newman’s Argument for a Mystical Interpretation of Scripture

Hand in hand with the rejection of sola Scriptura is Newman’s rejection of the sufficiency of the historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture.  There is a good reason for this because once a sufficiency of knowing God’s Word (that is adequate for faith and practice) is no longer found in the Bible and its historical-grammatical interpretation, one must find a source elsewhere.  Newman finds this in the teaching Magisterium (see Pope below) and in a mystical interpretation of the Bible.

Catholicism Can’t be established by Scripture Alone. 

Newman argued that the Catholic Faith can’t be proven from Scripture alone without using a mystical interpretation.  He wrote,

“Nor am I aware that Post-tridentine writers deny that the whole Catholic faith may be proved from Scripture, though they would certainly maintain that it is not to be found on the surface of it, nor in such sense that it may be gained from Scripture without the aid of Tradition.  And this has been the doctrine of all ages of the Church, as is shown by the disinclination of her teachers to confine themselves to mere literal interpretation of Scripture.  Her most subtle and powerful method of proof, whether in ancient or modern times, is the mystical sense, which I so frequently used in doctrinal controversy as on many occasions to supersede any other” [e.g., Mal. 1 is used by Trent to support the Sacrifice of the Mass] (339).

Response: This is an incredible admission. He admits “…the disinclination of her (the Church’s) teachers to confine themselves to mere literal interpretation of Scripture” (339, emphasis mine).  This is a confession that they cannot establish the truth of Catholicism from the Bible alone using the normal method of interpretation.  He adds, “Her most subtle and powerful method of proof… is the mystical sense, which is so frequently used in doctrinal controversy as on many occasions to supersede any other” For example, Malachi 1 is used by the Council of Trent to support the Sacrifice of the Mass (339).  But the inability of the mystical method to be anchored in the objective text of divine Scripture, along with the inability to provide an objective criteria by which to guide one’s understanding of Scripture, is sufficient evidence to show the inadequacy of Rome’s “most powerful method” of establishing its unique but aberrant doctrines.

2) The Bible is not Self-Interpreting

Newman argues that the Bible is not self-interpreting. He wrote:

“The whole Bible, not its prophetical portions only, is written on the principle of development” (156).  “But this progress of events, vague and uncertain as it seemed to be, notwithstanding the miracles which attended it, has been directed by Him who works out gradually what He has determined absolutely” (161).

Response:  First of all, pointing to fulfilled prophecy is not a good example of Newman’s principle of development which demands more than the Bible to understand the Bible.  For using the Bible to understand the Bible is not contrary to sola Scripture; it is an example of sola Scriptura at work.  For literal predictions of Christ’s first coming found literal fulfillment in the New Testament, whether it was the place of his birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), the manner of his birth by a virgin (Isa. 7:14), the manner of his death (Isa. 53), or his resurrection (Psa. 16:10 cf. Acts 2:27-31), or numerous other literal predictions and literal fulfillment (cf. Isa. 61:1-2 cf. Lk. 4:16-21).

Second, Newman’s passing reference of miracles to confirm a message from God (“notwithstanding the miracles which attendee it”) is evidence against his view.  For if a clear revelation is accompanied by a literal divine confirmation) what need is there of a further gradual development before one can understand it.

Third, if one carried this logic out consistently, then there would be need of a further “development” of divine confirmation for that and so on, ad infinitum.  And if one agrees the process can be stopped, then why not stop it with God’s supernatural revelation as confirmed by miracles.  In this case there is no reason to add an infallible interpreter for God’s infallible Word.  For Newman argued that there is no need of infallible proof for the doctrine of infallibility (169).  If moral certainty is sufficient in this case, then why not in the case of miracles confirming a revelation from God.


Newman’s Arguments for an Infallible Authority (Pope)

            Not only do Roman Catholics insist the Bible is not sufficient for faith and practice, but they insist there must be an infallible authority (Pope) to interpret the Bible.  Indeed, as retroactive as it is and as arrogant as it seems, Newman claims later Pope are in a better position than the earlier Fathers to know what they meant.  He wrote: “Rome knows the meaning of the Fathers better than they did.”  So, the “testimony of all the Fathers, supposing such a case, would not have a feather’s weight against a decision of the Pope in Council…” (227). The reasons given for the infallibility of the Pope include the following:

1)  There must be an infallible authority to adjudicate the conflict between all the sects and heresies.  Newman claims that “The Church is everywhere, but it is one; sects are everywhere, but they are many, independent, and discordant” (275).  What is necessary to counter this disunity?  According to Newman, “Councils and Popes are the guardians and instruments of the dogmatic principle; they are not that principle themselves; they presuppose the principle; they are summoned into action at the call of the principle…” (359).  “In a thousand instances of a minor character, the statements of the early Fathers, are but tokens of the multiplicity of openings which the mind of the Church was making into the treasure-house of Truth” (360). “The doctrinal determinations and the ecclesiastical usages of the middle ages are the true fulfillment of its self-willed and abortive attempts at precipitating the growth of the Church” (362).  “Doctrine too is percolated, as it were, through different minds, beginning with writers of inferior authority in the Church, and issuing at length in the enunciation of her Doctors” (363).

Response:  An infallible authority is not necessary to discern between truth and error, just as clear understanding of truth.  Jesus said to the Father, “Your Word is truth” (Jn. 17:17).  The Bible is more than sufficient for that task.  It is certainly a lot better than the hundreds and thousands of conflicting statements of the Fathers and even some flat contradictions in the alleged infallible Councils of the later Church (see Popes below).  As for confirmation of the essentials doctrines, there are the Creeds of the first few centuries of the Church.  With the infallible Scriptures and its historical grammatical interpretation and confirmation by the ministerial guidance of the Fathers and Creeds, there is no need for a Magisterial function of a Pope. In fact, history has demonstrated that with the anti-Popes, heretical Popes, and contradictory papal pronouncements, the so-called infallible Magisterium has not proven to be very effective (see Popes below).

2)   Newman claimed:

“No Church can do without its Pope.  We see before our eyes the centralizing process by which the See of St Peter became the Head of Christendom” (213).

“To this must be added the general probability…that all true developments of doctrine and usage which have been permitted [is] in favour of the existence, in some quarter, of an infallible authority in matters of faith” (213).

Response:  First, in the political realm, centralizing governments do not lead to better results but worse.  Rather than being an argument for an infallible authority, this centralizing tendency leads to a spiritual monarchy.  Further, there is no guarantee of its orthodoxy. Diverse independent authority is a better check-and-balance in preserving orthodoxy. Second, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Checks and balances are needed to preserve the integrity and orthodoxy of an institution. The scandalous conflicts between numerous anti-Popes strongly supports this conclusion.  The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1974 ed.) lists some 40 anti-popes.  Sometimes a third party (a Church Council) had to intervene and resolve the conflict between the Popes (see Council of Constance 1413-1418).

3) Newman claimed that basic doctrines cannot be truly understood without a period of doctrinal development. Even the name “Trinity” did not appear until the Third century (in Tertulliam) after it was revealed in the Bible.

Response: The truth of the Trinity was revealed in the first century revelation in the Bible, even though the term “Trinity” came later.  As the Westminster Confession declared (I, VI) that “The whole counsel of God…is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequences may be deduced from Scripture.”  For the Bible clearly teaches that (1) there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; 1 Cor. 8:1-6).  Further, (2) there are three Persons who are called God: Father Son, and Holy Spirit (Mat. 3:16-17; 28:18-20; 2 Cor. 12:13).  So, there is no need for a long doctrinal development to understand that: (3) there is One God who exists in three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All that is necessary is a logical deduction from the basic biblical truths to have the basic meaning of the Trinity.  Of course, the implications (significance) of the doctrine takes time and development, but the basic meaning is known immediately from the Biblical texts and necessary logical deductions.

The same is true of another great Christian doctrine:  the Incarnation of Christ.  Its meaning is taught clearly and simply in Scripture in two premises: 1) The Person of Christ has a human nature; He is a human being.  2) The same Person also has a divine nature; He is God. Now only one conclusion validly comes from these premises, namely, 3) The Person of Christ has both a divine nature and a human nature.  He is both God and man in one and the same Person.  So while plummeting the depths of the significance and implications of this doctrine takes time and involves a process, nonetheless, the meaning is clear from the Bible alone.  Thus it is with all basic salvation truths; they are known from the Bible alone without any infallible teaching authority.

This is not to say that there is no role for creeds or systematic theology.  There is.  It is only to say that the basic biblical propositions are clear and sufficient as a revelation of God.  They do not need years, even centuries, of development for their truth to be understood.  Later nuancing, systematization, and application are welcomed, but they are not necessary for discovering the basic truths of God’s revelation in Scripture.

As even Newman admits, many doctrines assumed to be apostolic were not actually formed until centuries later.  He wrote: “Certain doctrines come to us, professing to be Apostolic, and possessed of such high antiquity that, though we are able to assign a date of their formal establishment to the fourth, or fifth, or eighth, or thirteenth century, as it may happen, yet their substance may, for what appears, be coeval with the Apostles, and be expressed or implied in texts of Scripture” (192).   If the “formal establishment” was not until centuries later it is merely a “theory” (212) based on “faith” (242f.), then this allows Catholics to claim they were apostolic.


The Teaching Magisterium Rome (the Pope)

Did Jesus establish Peter as the first Pope, the first infallible interpreter of God’s infallible Word?  According to Rome, the infallible Scriptures need an infallible interpreter, and God chose Peter to be the first one.  The chief biblical text used to support this doctrine is Matthew 16:18-19: Jesus said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Other verses used by Rome are even less convincing (see Geisler, Is Rome the True Church?, Chap. 5).

Matthew 16:16-18 Does not Make Peter Alone the Basis of the Church

Despite Rome’s current claim, this text does not support their claim that Peter alone was given this Magisterial authority and that it was infallible.

Response:  First, Peter alone was not given the authority to bind and loose since all the disciples were given this authority only two chapters later (in Matt. 18:18).

Second, the church was not built on Peter alone but on “the apostles [plural] and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).  Indeed, the names of all the apostles (not just Peter’s name) are inscribed on “the twelve foundations” of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14).

Third, even though Peter preached the sermons that opened the kingdom to the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10), these were only one-time events.  Indeed, after the conversion of Paul (Acts 9), Paul becomes the dominant apostle through most of the rest of the book of Acts. Indeed, Peter fades into the background.  When the first big doctrinal dispute occurred, it was not Peter alone who made the decision, but “the apostles and elders” together (Acts 15:6, 22).  And James seemed to be the leader of the apostles since it was he who spoke last and summed up the decision (Acts 15:13, 19), saying, it is “my judgment.” Indeed, the New Testament speaks of “pillars” (plural) in the church (Gal. 2:9), not only one pillar.  Peter himself spoke of Christ as the chief “Cornerstone” of the church (1 Pet. 2:7).

Fourth, the authority in the early church was the “apostles” as a body, not a single individual.  Paul spoke of the church being built on them (Eph. 2:20; Rev.21:14) and they had the power to do its work (Mat. 18:18) in “the laying on of hands of the apostles” (Acts 8:18) to anoint others to do the work of building the church (Mat. 18:18; Acts 2:42), and in performing special confirming miracles (Acts 5:12; Heb. 2:3-4).

Fifth, with regard to Peter being the alleged Rock on which the Church was built, there is strong evidence to indicate that it was not a reference to Peter alone: (1) The term “rock” is in the  third person whereas Peter (“you”) is in the second person; (2) “Peter” is masculine singular” but “rock” is feminine singular; (3) “Peter” (petros) means little rock, but the Church was built on petra, the big Rock, Christ.  (4) No Catholic commentator gives Peter primacy in evil a few verses later because Jesus called him “Satan” (v. 23); (5) Peter himself refers to Christ as “the chief Cornerstone” (1 Pet 2:7); (6) Even some great Catholic commentators, like St. Augustine, affirm that the “Rock” is Christ; “’Upon this Rock’ which thou hast confessed…will I build My Church.’  I will build thee upon Myself, not Myself upon thee (Augustine Sermons on the NT), XXVI, p. 340 (in Schaff Vol. VI of Nicene and Ante-Fathers); (7) According to Catholic dogma of Vatican I, no dogma of the Church should be established apart from “the unanimous consent of the Fathers,” but even Catholic authorities (see Ludwig Ott, Sources of Catholic Dogma, 996) admits many early Fathers did not affirm the primacy of Peter.  Peter was only the little rock (petros) who confessed the big Rock (petra) on whom the Church of Christ was built.

Peter was not Given Infallibility in His Official Teaching

Not only was Peter never given the sole authority for defining faith and practice, neither he nor the apostles were given infallible authority to do this.  So, Newman’s claims for the infallibility of the Pope are groundless.  Indeed, even he recognizes some serious problems with Rome’s claim to infallibility.

First of all, he defines infallibility thus:  “When we say that a person is infallible, we mean no more than that what he says is always true, always to be believed, always to be done” (170).  But when we examine this more carefully, we discover that it is infallibility only when speaking ex cathedra, that is, “out of the chair” [of St. Peter].  And when we examine that, we find that there is no infallible way to determine when that is.  It is certainly not anytime he engages in teaching doctrine for even Newman admits there were heretical Pope’s.  He even names three, saying, “Three Popes, Liberius, Vigilius, Honorius, have left to posterity the burden of their defence” (15).  So, the Popes do not even have infallibility whenever they teach doctrine, but only when they do it while sitting in St. Peter’s chair.  However, there seems to be no real way to know when this is.  It certainly is not in the regular teachings and writings of the Pope.  At a minimum it probably has only been a couple times in the last two centuries, once pronouncing the Pope infallible (1870) and once declaring the Bodily Assumption of Mary (1950).  In between, the faithful must accept an authoritative but fallible Pope.

Second, neither can we say the Pope is infallible only when he sits in Council with the other Bishops for even then we run into two serious problems.  First of all, this contradicts an infallible dogma of the Church given at the First Vatican Council (in 1870) which declares that the Pope’s definitions are “irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church” whenever he is speaking ex cathedra.  That is, they do not need the council and consent of the Bishops. Second, this infallible statement itself is contradicted by the Council of Florence (1413-18) which declared (in Haec Sancta) that “this Council holds its power direct from Christ; Everyone, no matter his rank of office, even it be papal, is bound to obey it in whatever pertains to faith….”  Here we have an irresistible dogmatic force hitting an immovable dogmatic object!  In short, this is a flat and unequivocal contradiction of allegedly infallible pronouncements.

Newman admits, “It is possible for the Pope, even as Pope, and with his own assembly of counselors, or with General Council, to err in particular controversies of fact, which chiefly depend on human information and testimony” (174).  However, “whether it is possible for him to err or not, [he] is to be obeyed by all the faithful” (174).

Newman proposes a way out of this dilemma in his progress of dogma theory.  However, his position collapses upon careful scrutiny because of the contradictions of dogma with Scripture and of Dogma with Dogma.  Even the dogma of infallibility is questioned by Newman.  He wrote: “Again, it may be discussed whether infallibility is a principle or a doctrine of the Church of Rome, and dogmatism a principle or doctrine of Christianity” (127).  According to Newman, principles don’t change but dogmas do.  But herein is a dilemma of Rome.  If the infallibility of the Pope is only a dogma which can change, then how can it be infallible?.  One of the characteristics of infallibility is irreformability.  That is, what is infallible cannot change, and what changes is not infallible.  If, on the other hand, infallibility is a principle that cannot change, then they are left with no explanation of the contradiction between two infallible Church councils (the 16th and 20th).  The first (Council of Constance, 1413-1418) declared the Council could act apart from the Pope).  And the later (First Vatican Council, 1870) declared that the Pope could make infallible pronouncements apart from the Council.


The Doctrine of Development

According to Newman, the Doctrine of Development is “…the doctrines of which the present Catholic religion consist are prima facie the correct, true, faithful, legitimate development of the doctrines which preceded them, and not their corruption.”  He adds, no “case can be made out against that religion, to prove that it is materially corrupt, and not in its substance Apostolic” (240).  “If there are developments in Christianity, the doctrines propounded by successive Popes and Councils through so many ages, are they” (183).

Further, “We have no reason to suppose that there is so great a distinction of dispensation between ourselves and the first generation of Christians, as that they had a living infallible guidance, and we have not” (173).  We can argue “…on the analogy of Nature, and from the fact of Christianity.  Preservation is involved in the idea of creation… (173). “And, then, in addition, is the high antecedent probability that Providence would watch over His own work, and would direct and ratify those developments of doctrine which were inevitable” (193).

“From necessity, then of the case, from the history of all sects and parties in religion, and from the analogy and example of Scripture, we may fairly conclude that Christian doctrine admits of formal, legitimate, and true development, or of development contemplated by its Divine Author” (164).  “It has now been made probable that developments of Christianity were but natural, as time went on, and were to be expected; and that these natural and true developments, as being natural and true, we of course contemplated and taken into account by its Author, who in designing the work designed its legitimate results” (165).

“If the Christian doctrine, as originally taught , admits of true and important developments…this is a strong antecedent argument in favour of a provision in the Dispensation for putting a seal of authority upon these developments” (168). ”There are various revelations all over the earth, which do not carry with them the evidence of their divinity” (168).  “Thus developments of Christianity are proved to have been in contemplation of its Divine Author, by an argument parallel to that by which we infer intelligence in the system of the physical world [given by Butler]” (154), namely, “gaps” in the creeds, like gaps in nature, imply a Divine Author (154).  Likewise, earlier prophecies imply and expect later ones (155).  “But the whole Bible, not its prophetical portions only, is written on the principle of development” (156).  “But this progress of events, vague and uncertain as it seemed to be, notwithstanding the miracles which attended it, has been directed by Him who works out gradually what He has determined absolutely” (161).

Response:  First of all, Newman makes the same error that some divine design in nature theorist did.  It is called the “God-of-the-gap” fallacy.  For gaps as such do not prove divine intervention.  They simply show the lack of evidence.  Newman superimposed divine design on his human attempt to explain the widespread lack of evidence that all these major Catholic doctrines were found in seminal form from the very beginning—even if the evidence is lacking or contrary.

Second, of course, granted the Christian view of God’s providence, we can accept the idea that God will preserve the truth He has provided for the saints of all time.  However, serious question can be raised as to whether God granted a living infallible authority for the saints of all the ages.  Again, the analogy of nature breaks down.  Of course, God will provide for his creation now as he did in the past.  However, it is a giant step to assume that an infallible authority is like God’s provision for nature.

Third, there are in fact is good reasons to believe that God never intended to perpetuate a living infallible authority for the church on earth between the First and Second advents of Christ.  An infallible Bible is sufficient (see sola Scriptura above).  We don’t need an infallible interpreter of it.  Even Newman admits that a less than infallible authority is sufficient to establish an infallible authority (169).  Even so, a less than infallible guide is sufficient for understanding God’s infallible Word.  Likewise, if the Bible can be infallible without another infallible authority for it, then why is it necessary to have another authority after Christ even in the first century—let alone in the centuries to come.  Sola Scriptura plus the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture (dependent on the Historical-Grammatical interpretation) is sufficient for understanding the main message of the Bible.

Fourth, the evidence is lacking that Peter was a living infallible authority in the first century.  And if he was not, then there is no succession of infallible authorities after him.  There was not even a first link in the chain, to say nothing of an unbroken chain after Peter.  Consider the following:

(1) Peter made a serious mistake in “faith and practice,” and had to be rebuke by the Apostle Paul for it.  Paul wrote: “When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him [Peter] to his face, because he stood condemned…. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the gospel…,” I rebuked them for their “hypocrisy” (Gal. 2:11-13).

(2) The doctrinal dispute was not settled by Peter, but by the whole group of “apostles and elders” (Acts 15:23).

(3)  The first opportunity Peter had to exercise his alleged infallible authority not to mislead the faithful in “faith of practice” he totally blew it so that Jesus had to say “Get behind me Satan” (Mat. 16:23). “Immediately after Peter had earned commendation by his acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah, the doctrine of the crucified Messiah was proposed to him and he rejected it.”  So if “…the Apostles had believed that the words ‘On this Rock I will build my church’ constituted Peter their infallible guide, the very first time they followed his guidance they would have been led to miserable error” (Salmon, Infallibility, 343).

Fifth, even according to Newman, “development” of doctrine cannot include contradictions (123).  Yet these two infallible pronouncements (from Councils 16 and 20) are contradictory.  The Council of Constance (1413-1418) declares flatly that the Council can make infallible pronouncements without consulting with the Pope.  And the First Vatican Council (1869-70) declared that the Pope can make infallible statements without consulting the Council of Bishops. Both of these cannot be true without violating the law of non-contradiction. The only way out of this dilemma is to deny the absolute truth of one or both infallible pronouncement.

Adding the Apocrypha to the Old Testament

            Roman Catholics accept eleven extra books not found in the Jewish (and Protestant) Bible (7 of which appear in the table of contents plus four small books appended, three in Daniel and one in Esther).  These are sometimes called Deutero-Canoncal (Second Canon) books.  These books were mostly written between 250 B.C. and the time of Christ.  Catholics accept these as divinely inspired books and Protestants do not, considering them of various degrees of value historically and devotionally (hence, they were sometimes read in services).  Although from the time of Augustine on these books were increasingly cited by some Church Fathers and even some local councils, they were not given an infallible status in the Old Testament canon by Catholics at the Council of Trent (in 1546).  In actual fact, this is a good example of the corruption of doctrine in Catholicism since: (1) Unlike most canonical books, there is no implicit or explicit claim in them for divine inspiration; (2) Judaism never accepted these books as inspired.  In fact, the first century Jewish historian lists the inspired books of the OT by name which excludes the Apocrypha(see Josephus, Against Apion 1.8); (3) Most of the early Church Fathers did not grant them canonical status; (4) The great Catholic biblical scholar and translator of the Latin Vulgate rejected this books as part of the canon; (5) Although Jesus cited  the vast majority of the Jewish Old Testament books as inspired, he never once quoted from an one of the eleven apocryphal books as inspired; (6) None of the apostles or writers of the New Testament ever cited any of these eleven books as inspired; (7) The Catholic official acceptance of these books (at Trent in 1546) was a sign of its doctrinal deterioration.  For they inconsistently rejected an Apocryphal book opposed to praying for the dead (2) [4] Esdras 7:105 and yet accepted an apocryphal book in favor of praying for the dead (2 Mac. 12:45-46). This tended to support several Catholic doctrines which were part of the corruption of Christianity which included prayers for the dead, Purgatory, the unfinished nature of the Atonement, and Indulgences.

Adding the Doctrine of Purgatory to the Bible

            Newman attempts to justify adding Purgatory to the list of biblical doctrines by several different argumentsFirst, he opines: “Thus we see how, as time went on, the doctrine of Purgatory was opened upon the apprehension of the Church, as a portion or form of Penance due for sins committed after Baptism” (417).  Of course, this assumes baptism actually washes way sins when the apostle declares baptism is not part of the Gospel (1 Cor. 1:17), but the Gospel alone is that by which we are saved (Rom. 1:16).

Second, he rationalizes that there are people too good for hell but not good enough for heaven:   “How Almighty God will deal with the mass of Christians, who are neither very bad nor very good, is a problem…; (418).  But the Bible speaks only of two categories of people; believers and unbelievers (Jn. 3:36), saved and lost (Lk. 19:10), sheep and goats (Mat. 25:32). Further, apart from the saving grace of God received by faith (Eph. 2:8-9), all men are evil and lost (Rom.3:10-23).  What is more, Christ died for all men and purged our sins on the cross (Heb.1:2) once and for all (Heb. 10:11-14).  His work was “finished” on the Cross (Jn. 19:30).

Third, Purgatory is necessary to account for “the universal and apparently apostolical practice of praying for the dead in Christ” (421), according to Newman.  However, the practice was not universal or apostolic, and the Bible says emphatically that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” (Rom. 8:1).  Finally, when we are saved, we are instantaneously made “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  So, we need not be further purified from our sins in order to qualify for heaven.

Fourth, other than text taken out of context (1 Cor. 3) which speak of rewards and loss of rewards (not of loss of heaven), Catholics have to resort to mystical (allegorical) interpretations of Scripture or adding books to the Bible to support their doctrine of Purgatory.  Thus 29 years after Luther spoke out against buying indulgences and praying for the dead in Purgatory, the Catholic Church officially and infallibly added 2 Maccabees to the Bible which declares: “Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 ac.12:45 RSV).  While at the same time they rejected an Apocryphal book that forbid praying for the dead, saying, “No one shall ever pray for another on the day” (2 [4] Esdras 7:105).


Other Indications of Catholic Doctrinal Corruption

Contrary to Newman’s hypothesis, the facts support a doctrinal corruption, not a doctrinal development. By reading subsequent history back into prior history (207), Newman was able to argue that Catholic dogmas that were late in the appearance, often many centuries later, he attempted to counter the stark silence of the Bible and early Christian history by assuming they were there is implicit of seed form.  He said,  “For instance, it is  true, St. Ignatius is silent in his Epistles on the subject of the Pope’s

authority; but…such silence is not so difficult to account for as the Silence of Plutarch about Christianity itself, or Lucian about the Roman people” (208).  “And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgement of the doctrine of the Trinity till the fourth” (209).  The reason, he hypothesized, was that “The state of the most primitive Church did not well admit such universal sovereignty.  For that did consist of small bodies incoherently situated, and scattered about in very distant places, and consequently unfit to be modeled into one political society, or to be governed by one head” (210/211).

However, the evidence, much of which ironically Newman revealed, was exactly to the contrary of his speculations about development. Consider the following evidence. First, there is an acknowledged late date for the official ecumenical pronouncement of many crucial Catholic doctrines, with no orthodox acknowledgement of an earlier date for the doctrine:

1) Transubstantiation of the Communion Elements (1215)

2)  Prayers for the dead (and Purgatory) (1546)

3)  The Canonicity of the Apocrypha (1546)

4)  Worship of the Consecrated Communion Elements (1546)

5)  The Veneration of Mary (1546)

6)  The Immaculate Conception (1854)

7) The Infallibility of the Pope (1870)

8)  The Bodily Assumption of Mary (1950)

Second, in most cases there is scant, if any, evidence that the given aberrant view was held by even most, let alone, all orthodox Fathers long before these late dates.  Most Roman Catholic views emerged for unorthodoxy to orthodoxy by infallible pronouncement many centuries after the time of Christ.  In fact, many seem to violate Newman’s principle that error cannot give rise to truth.  For he declared that “…a development, to be faithful, must retain both the doctrine and the principle with which it started” (129).

Third, most of these later dogmas violate the Catholic principle annunciated infallibly by Trent that a dogma must have “the universal consent of the Fathers.” For many of these later dogmas did not even have a majority consent of the Fathers, let alone a universal consent or meet St. Vincent’s canon that orthodoxy is what is “believed everywhere, always, by all.”

Fourth, Newman frankly admits that many of the additions Rome made to Christianity were of Pagan origin (see next point).

Pagan Religions are the Source of Many Roman Doctrines and Practices

Newman acknowledged that “We are told in various ways by Eusebius, that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own.”  This included, holy water, temples, holy days, sacerdotal vestments, images, incense, and candles.  These “are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church” (369).  “It [the Church] need not therefore because if the absurd use of the Greeks, to abolish our use which is so pious” (371). “The continuity of these various principled own to this day, and their operations, are two distinct guarantees that the theological conclusions to which they are subservient are, in accordance with the Divine Promise, true developments, and not corruption of the Revelation” (374).  He adds,  “There is in truth a certain virtue or grace in the Gospel which changes the quality of doctrines, opinions, usages, actions, and personal characters which become incorporated with it, and makes them right and acceptable to its Divine Author.… Thus outward rights, which are but worthless in themselves, lose their own character and become Sacraments under the gospel [e.g., circumcision becomes baptism]” (365).

Response: First of all, this is a surprising admission, one that fits the counter thesis that Rome contains a corruption, not merely a development of Christian truth.  In fact, his words need to be put in bold for they are self-condemning: These “…are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adoption into the Church” (369).  He adds, “It [the Church] need not therefore because if the absurd use if the Greeks, to abolish our use which is so pious.”  But how does adoption by the Church “sanctify” paganism?   How does the piety of the Church justify the absurdity of the Pagan teachings or practice (371).  Baptizing Paganism and giving it a Christian name does not somehow make it Christian.  The Gospel does not “change” a false doctrine into a true one, nor take pagan practices and “make them right.”

Second, this focuses one of the most serious charges that can be leveled against Roman Catholicism, namely, it sanctions idolatry and, as such, stands under the condemnation of Scripture.  This is does in several ways: (1) By the veneration (dulia) of saints, (2) by the veneration of (hyper-dulia) of Mary (3) by the veneration of images, (4) by prayers to saints, (5) by prayers to Mary, (6) by prayers for the dead, and (7) by the actual worship (latria) of the consecrated communion elements.

Communicating with the dead was a Pagan practice condemned in the Old Testament (Deut 18:11).  Making, not just worshipping, graven images was forbidden in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:4).  Likewise, prayer (a form of worship) was forbidden by Moses (Deut. 6:13) and Jesus when he commanded, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  In vain Newman attempts to explain why early Christians were opposed to the use of an image as an object of worship.  He wrote, “In like manner Celsus objects that Christians did not ‘endure the sight of temples, altars, and statues;’ Porphyry, that ‘they blame the rites of worship, victims, and frankincense;’ the heathen disputant in Minucius asks, ‘Why have Christians no altars, no temples, no conspicuous images’ and ‘no sacrifices’” (366).  Newman’s response that only images and sacrifices to false gods were condemned; the true God can overcome false gods (367) is just another unconvincing Example of Catholicism capitulation to the Pagan culture around it.

Perhaps one of the most egregious examples of compromise was in the developing Mariolatry.  Prayers to Mary “the Mother of God” became part and parcel of the faithful Catholic’s devotional life.  Indeed, Newman acknowledges that “Her being the Mother of God is the source of all the extraordinary honours due to Mary” (441).  One of the most popular of all Catholic devotional guides, the Glories of Mary (1750), illustrates the excessive exuberance in devotion to Mary.  It affirms, for example, that: “The way of salvation is open to none otherwise   than through Mary” or “Many things are asked from God, and are not granted: they are asked of Mary, and are obtained” or “At the command of Mary all obey—even God”[!!!].  These prayers are repugnant, if not blasphemous.  It is not possible to so highly exalt a creature without withdrawing the heart from the Creator.

Newman’s theory of “development” is a beautiful theory, but it is ruined by a brutal gang of facts about the Paganism that was adopted by Catholicism.  It is clearly a corruption of biblical truth, not a true development of it.   In fact, there is a better model for understanding what Jaroslav Pelikan called The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (1959) in his excellent book on the topic.

A Package Deal: Evidence for One Part Supports the Whole: When Neman finds it difficult to support a given Catholic dogma, then he appeals to the evidence for another in a “Package deal” kind of reasoning.  He wrote: “One strong argument imparts cogency to collateral arguments which are in themselves weak” (199).

Of course, this can be true, if the “collateral” arguments are logically necessary.  But here again this is not the case with Newman’s argument. For often there is no logical connection between the two arguments.  For instance, just because there is evidence that canonical books were written by prophets of God, confirmed by acts of God, telling the truth about God, having life-transforming power of God, and received by the people of God, it does not follow that we should accept Apocryphal books into the canon which lack these characteristic.   Further, just because God graciously blessed Mary to give birth to the Messiah, it does not justify the veneration of Mary or praying to her.


A More Adequate Model of Roman Catholicism

A more appropriate model for understanding Roman Catholicism is an eclectic one which combines: (1) A basic Christian doctrinal core; (2) A Roman hierarchical structure; (3) A Jewish ritualistic form, and (4) Some Pagan idolatrous practices.  These different aspects vary in dominance from time to time and place to place, but they are all part of the total system.

(1) The basic doctrinal core (expressed in the early creeds and accepted by all major forms of Christianity) has not changed or “developed” by addition or subtraction from the original truth of the Incarnation and Trinity, regardless of later wording or nuancing.  And it is this doctrinal core which provides the Christian element in Catholicism.  It is the affirmation of all these essential doctrines that saves Roman Catholicism from being a “cult” which is designated as a religious group that denies one or more essential Christian doctrines (see Geisler, Conviction without Compromise, Part 1). However, the addition of the other three elements of Roman Catholicism has evolved down through the centuries and it has placed layers of distortion on the core Christian element.

(2) The Roman hierarchical structure, adopted from the dying Roman Empire has obscured, blurred, and at times contradicted the simplicity of the Gospel.  For example, the Episcopal authoritarian structure was not found in the biblical or later first century church.  It evolved from a first century (a) plurality of elders (=bishop) in a local church (cf. Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:5, 7) to (b) a Bishop over the elders in a local church (in the second century) to (c) a Bishop over a group of churches (in the third century) to (d) the Bishop of Rome (Pope) over all the churches (in the fourth century).  As Newman admitted, “Here is assuredly abundant evidence of the nature of the unity, by which the Church of those ages was distinguished from the sects among which it lay.  It was a vast organized association, co-extensive with the Roman Empire, or rather overflowing it” (290).  While this may have been a “natural” development, it does not mean it was biblical one. The same is true of other doctrines like baptism and communion.

(3) The Jewish ritualistic form was a natural progression from the Old Testament priesthood, sacrifices, and ceremonies.  It was a legalist and typological progression from a Jewish heritage.  As Newman put it, “Their ranks and numbers were insensibly multiplied by the superstitions of the times, which introduced into the Church the splendid ceremonies of a Jewish or pagan temple; and a long train of priests, deacons, sub-deacons…to swell the pomp and harmony of religious worship” (287).  Thus, reality became lost in ritual and substance in symbols.  A form of godliness evolved but denying the power thereof.

(4)  Finally, along the way Pagan practices infiltrated the Church.  The temptation to imbibe the surrounding Pagan culture, as Newman admits, added new dimension to the corruption of Christianity.  This became manifest in the magical and sacramental interpretation of these symbols as time went on.  The idolatrous influence of Paganism became visible in the veneration of saints and images, and the exaltation of Mary.  Thus, salvation by grace alone through Christ alone, by faith alone became obscured by a system of works. Rome became an institution of salvation. Rather than obtaining a right standing with God by faith alone, it was mediated to the faithful a sacrament at a time through the institutionalized church.

Thus, pure, unadorned New Testament Christianity became encrusted and overlaid with layers of Romanism, Ritualism, and Paganism.  The simplicity of the Gospel became lost in the complexities of Catholicism.  It is this Pagan influence that properly earned the Church the title of “cultic.”  Indeed, by the time of Luther, the Church cried out for reformation.  Some since then have called for Restoration, believing that NT Christianity has been lost in Rome and needs a complete restoration.  To use Newman’s words, “When Roman Catholics are accused of substituting another Gospel for the primitive Creed, they answer that they hold, and can show that they hold, the doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement, as firmly as any Protestant can state them.  To this it is replied that they do certainly profess them, but that they obscure and virtually annul them by their additions” (144).


Assuming “Private Judgment” is a basic the Protestant Principle

Newman argues that “Private Judgment” is the basic principle of Protestantism.  But he insists that this principle leads to sects and heresies.  Because without a unified authority, as in the Catholic Church, division and schism are inevitable (129).

However, the unified authority (In Rome) of the Catholic Church did not hinder the two biggest schisms the Catholic Church even has, the one with Eastern Orthodoxy (11th cent.) and the reformation (16th cent.).  Nor has the alleged unified authority in Rome settle the numerous divisions within Rome between Calvinists and Arminians, between Augustinians and Thomists, and myriads of Orders with opposing beliefs.  Indeed, the majority of Catholics do not agree with the Church’s stand on contraceptives, and many Catholics believe in abortion.

Further, the so-called “Private Judgment” is not a core belief of Protestants. For the individual is not the final authority, the Bible is—sola Scriptura.  And as for how the Bible is interpreted, apostolic guidance is provide.  This guidance is found in the unified statements on doctrine found in the Creeds of the first four centuries.  As for tradition, it offers guidance but is not infallible.  Essential to the idea of tradition is the concept of good history back to the apostles.  Jesus promised to give his apostles guidance by the Holy Spirit to understand Scripture.  This has been passed down to the Church historically.  But its function is ministerial not magisterial.  It is not centered in the Roman hierarchy but is dispensed to the body of the Church on earth generally.  Further, the means of interpreting Scripture is the historical-grammatical method.  So, the Bible alone is the final authority for non-Catholic believers as interpreted by the historical-grammatical method and guided by the early creeds.  The final authority is in Scripture so understood, not in the private judgment of individuals.

The Improbable use of Probability

Newman makes strange use of evidence.  He claims that “A collection of weak evidences makes up a strong evidence” (199).  This must be part of the “new” math.  Or else it is the old leaky bucket argument.  Adding up arguments that don’t hold much water don’t fill in the holes in the bucket.  Of course, adding up the number of witnesses (whose testimony is probable) can strengthen the argument, but this is not what Newman has here.  For some of the Catholic dogma has virtually no evidence of being apostolic such as the bodily assumption of Mary, her veneration, the infallibility of the Peter and successors, prayers to Mary, and the worship of the consecrated host

He also says that “The truth of our religion, like the truth of common matters, is to be judged by all the evidence taken together” (200).  This is true, providing that there is a reasonable probability for each piece of evidence.  However, this is not the situation with Newman’s argument for the Catholic Church being the one and only true church.  For many aspects crucial to the overall argument are not strong links.  And a chain is no stronger than its weakest link.  And, as we have shown, some of the links in the argument for the infallibility of Peter and his successors are weak links.

Newman’s Attack on Justification by Faith Alone

            He argued that “Few but will grant that Luther’s view of justification had never before been stated in words before his time” (150).  Perhaps Newman was reading too much Trent and not enough of St. Paul when he wrote: “But when does not work, yet believes in the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5, Catholic NAB).  And “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9, Catholic NAB).  Or, perhaps did not know about the Angelic Doctor (Aquinas) who when commenting on these same verses, declared: “Men receive the hope of this salvation when they are justified from sin in the present…. But this salvation of grace is by faith in Christ…. According to Romans 11 (6); ‘If by grace it is not now by works; otherwise grace is no more grace.’ He follows with the reason why God saves man by faith without any preceding merits, that no man may glory in himself but refer all the glory to God” (Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, Magi Books, 1966, 95-96).

Contrast this with the infallible pronouncement of Trent that “If anyone shall say that the good works of the man justified are in such a way the gift of God that they are not also the good merits of him who is justified, or that the one justified by the good works…does not truly merit increase of grace, eternal life, and the attainment of eternal life (if he should die in grace), and also an increase in glory; let him be anathema” (Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma, no. 842).

             Concluding Comments

            The crucial question can now be addressed: Is Roman Catholicism a true church with significant error.  Or, is it a false Church with significant truth.  In view of the forgoing discussion, it would seem that the former is the better description, at least if judged by the doctrines of the early Creeds which Rome clearly affirms.  Of course, if judged by reformation standards, it would be a false Church since it would thereby have denied justification by faith alone.  One thing seems clear, Rome is not the true church.  At best it is a true Church.  Spiritually, all believers are part of the true Church which is the body of Christ, even though organizationally we may belong to different visible manifestations of the true Church.

As Professor Merrill Tenney put it (in The Gospel of Belief, 248), “Unanimity means absolute concord of opinion within a given group of people.  Uniformity is complete similarity of organization or of ritual.  Union implies political affiliation without necessarily including individual agreement.  Unity requires oneness of inner heart and essential interest or a common life.”   So, when Jesus prayed that we “all may be One” (Jn. 17:21), he certainly was not praying for unanimity or uniformity.  Even the Roman Catholic Church does not have that.  Nor was he praying for union, otherwise his prayer has been unanswered for at least a thousand years since Rome split with eastern Orthodoxy.  Rather, Jesus was praying for true unity which all orthodox Christians have, East and West, by virtue of our common confession in the early creeds and outward conduct of love manifest to all men (Jn. 13:35).  He certainly was not praying that we all belong to the Roman Catholic Church which demands that one belong to this particular organization.  That would be organizational union with Rome.  Rather, Jesus was praying for spiritual unity among all believers, even if we differ in our organizational associations.  This is clear from his statement that we all may be one, “even as we [the Father and Son] are one” (Jn. 17:11).  There is no sense in which this is true organizationally, but only spiritually.  However, this does not mean that this unity will not be manifested visibly in doctrine and deed, in truth and in love.  In short, the error of Rome is in confusing organizational union with spiritual unity.

Dr. Geisler is the author of Should Old Aquinas Be Forgotten? Many Say Yes but the Author Says No. (Bastion Books:2013), What Augustine Says (Bastion Books:2013), Is the Pope Infallible: A Look at the Evidence (Bastion Books:2012), Is Rome the True Church? A Consideration of the Roman Catholic Claim (Crossway Books:2008), and Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Baker Academic:1995). For additional resources by Dr. Geisler on Roman Catholicism, please visit

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 – 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 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 – All rights reserved


An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52-53

An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52-53

by Norman L. Geisler


Dear Mike:

I have examined your work on the resurrection (The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP, 2010).  Overall, it is a massive (718 pages), scholarly resource, and I commend you for your efforts and for your defense of the bodily resurrection of Christ.

There is, however, one thing I found in it that raises some serious questions.  You speak of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53 after Jesus’ resurrection as a “strange little text” (548 cf. 556).  Indeed, you call it “poetic” or “legend” (185-186).  You appear to include the angels at the tomb (Mk. 16:5-7) in the same category (186).  You speak of it as similar to Roman legends that use “phenomenal language used in a symbolic manner” (552).  You add, “…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).   You say that by this legend “Matthew may simply be emphasizing that a great king has died” (552).   You add, “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).  You conclude 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).

Then you address the obvious problem that “If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same” (553, emphasis added).  This is a very good question.  However, your answer is disappointing.

First, you say that “There is no indication that the early Christian interpreted Jesus’ resurrection in a metaphorical or poetic sense to the exclusion of it being a literal event that had occurred to his corpse” (553).  But neither is there any indication in the text that a historical understanding of the resurrection of the saints should be excluded from this text.  Indeed, the reference to these saint’s “bodies” coming out of “tombs” and going into the “holy city” (Jerusalem) and “appeared” bodily to “many”—all as a result of Jesus’ literal death and physical resurrection—are too many physical details to take this as purely poetical.    And just because one event (Jesus’ resurrection) is a bigger event would not, by the same reasoning, make it any less a legend.   There is no less evidence in the text that the smaller event (the resurrection of the saints) is any more metaphorical, to the exclusion of life returning to their dead corpses as well than there was Christ’s resurrection which was the cause of it.

Your second reason is even less convincing.  You argue that Jesus’ resurrection must have been literal (and the resurrection of these saints was not) since “no known Christian opponent criticized the early Christians or their opponents for misunderstanding poetry as history” (553).  But this is a well-know fallacy of an argument from silence.  Further, why should the enemies of Christians focus on this relatively minor byproduct of Christ’s resurrection when the major issue was whether Christ had risen bodily from the grave.  Neither did they concentrate on attacking the resurrection (resuscitation) of Lazarus or others who came back from the dead by the hands of Jesus and the apostles.  After all, the essential truth of Christianity did not rest on these resurrections, as it did on the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Finally, the same mistake seems to be occurring in your interpretation of this text as is made by many current liberal scholars in dehistoricizing other biblical texts, namely, using extra biblical sources as determinative for understanding a biblical text.  So what if other Roman or Jewish legends are similar?  The context of biblical text and other biblical texts are the best way to understand what a given passage is teaching.  And both of these favor a literal interpretation of the resurrection of these saints as a “firstfruits” of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20).  Using extra-biblical sources in this way is similar to the false analogies used to deny the Virgin Birth of Christ because there are similarities with other non-Christian “virgin birth” stories.  They both overlook crucial differences!  None of these legends involve   the Second Person of the Triune God  becoming incarnate in human flesh as the New Testament does.

In short, dehistoricizing a seemingly incidental event in the biblical record may seem to be a relatively minor issue , but it is in fact very important.  This is so for several reasons.

First of all, what is being done here is the same basic thing that Robert Gundry did in dehistoricizing sections of Matthew and for which he was asked to resign from the Evangelical  Theological Society in 1983.  How then can another evangelical interpretation of the same kind be overlooked as unimportant to orthodox Christianity?  In fact, being one of the ICBI framers, I can tell you that we had Gundry in mind when we framed Article XVIII of the famous “Chicago statement” (which speaks against “dehistoricizing” the Bible).  And even The Evangelical Theological Society has adopted the ICBI statement as its guideline for understanding inerrancy.

Second, the size and relative significance of the event that is being dehistoricized is not relevant to the importance of the hermeneutical issue, namely, the principle being used to undermine the historicity of biblical events.  Once upfront genre decisions are made based on extra-biblical legends, then one has adopted a hermeneutic that can undermine orthodox Christianity

In brief, I heartedly agree with the first part of your title (“The Resurrection of Jesus”) but cannot concur with the last part of it (“A New Historiographical Approach”).  We don’t need a “new” historical approach.  The “old” historical-grammatical approach is sufficient, as it has been down through the centuries.  Indeed, if the principles of your historical approach (of using extra-biblical material as determinative of the meaning of a biblical text) were used consistently on the Bible, then it would undermine orthodoxy by dehistoricizing many crucial passages of the Bible.

Your brother in Christ,
Norm Geisler



*I sent a copy of the letter to Mike over a month ago.  He has not yet responded to its points but said he is still considering the matter, though he anticipated that it would take him some time.


Copyright © 2012 – All rights reserved


A Critical Review of The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (2005)

A Critical Review by Dr. Norman L. Geisler


The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave

(Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005)

ed. by Robert Price and Jeffrey Lowder


Chapter One: “Is there Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?” By Robert Greg Cavin

Summary of the Argument:

Cavin argues that even on the assumption of “complete historical reliability,” the New Testament does not “provide sufficient information to enable us to establish the historicity of the resurrection” (p. 19; hereafter just the page number) because: (1) Resurrection is not mere revivification but involves an imperishable supernatural body (23-24). (2) And there is no New Testament evidence that Jesus’ post-revivified body was imperishable and supernatural. (3) Therefore, even if Jesus was revivified, there is no evidence of His resurrection (in this New Testament sense of the term).

Response to the Argument:

First, even revivification is a miracle that supports Jesus’ claim to be God in the flesh (Matt. 12:40; John 2:19-21; 10:18 cf. Mark 2:10). So, the objections really gain nothing by making this distinction. And if He is deity, then He will by nature be able to make his body immortal.

Second, there is evidence in the Gospels that Jesus’ post-revivified body was imperishable and that it was supernatural: (a) It was able to supernaturally appear and disappear (Luke 24; John 20). (b) It ascended into heaven (Acts 1:8-11; Luke 24: 50-51). c) It appeared many years after it was in heaven to Paul. Even granting that both Steven’s (Acts 7) and John’s (Rev. 1) experiences were visions and not physical appearances of Christ, the one to Paul (Acts 9) was not a non-physical appearance because of several reasons: (1) There was physical light and sound that was seen and hear by others with him by their natural senses. (2) Paul said, “Have I not seen our Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1). This is perfect indicative active (heoraka from horao) which entails an active seeing with his own natural eyes. (3) Paul’s experience of seeing Christ is listed along with the appearance of Christ to other disciples in 1 Corinthians 15:7-8. (4) The Bible also says Jesus is currently positioned in heaven (Heb. 1:3; Rev. 4) and further verification will come when He returns from heaven (Rev. 1:7) in the same resurrected body (Acts 1:10-11; cf. Zech. 12:10). (5) What is more, the Old Testament predicted and Jesus miraculously fulfilled this prophecy that His body would not corrupt in the grave (Psalm 16:10; cf. Acts 16:31). Thus, by miraculously fulfilling this prophecy he proved that His resurrection body was incorruptible. So, contrary to Cavin’s claim, there is evidence for the resurrection of Christ into an imperishable and supernatural physical body in both the Gospels and epistles.

Third, my colleague Dr. Thomas Howe, has noted that Cavin’s “inductive” method is based on an unjustified nominalist epistemology that one cannot know the essence of a matter on the basis of a few instances. This in turn is based on Hume’s atomistic epistemology which affirms that “all events are entirely loose and separate.” But this is not the case, as our experience reveals, particularly internal experience that one’s mind is the cause of his ideas and words.

Fourth, another of Cavin’s arguments must be challenged, namely, that it is possible for the Christian God to permit “a major theological deception . . . misleading even the elect” (35). If this is taken to imply that God could permit a revivification of a corpse by “a powerful evil spirit,” then it is contrary to reason and to fact. Nowhere in the Bible is such an event noted. The work of the Anti-Christ, the greatest of all early deceivers, is said to be a “false” miracle (2 Thess. 2:9). The Devil is a master magician and a super-scientist, but he cannot perform a truly supernatural act like creating life or resurrecting the dead. When God created life from dust by the hand of Moses, the magicians who had counterfeited Moses’ efforts to that point declared: “This is the finger of God!”(Ex. 8:16-19). Only God can create life (Gen. 1:21; John 1:3), and only God can resurrect the dead. And since God is morally perfect, He would not deceive anyone allowing a miracle to occur by an evil spirit that leads people astray from the truth. God cannot lie or deceive (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). For a miracle is an act of God to accredit a prophet of God who is telling the truth of God (John 3:2; Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3-4). And a morally perfect God cannot accredit falsehood and evil which are by nature contrary to His character.

Finally, Cavin claims that the real problem with those opposed to miracles is not a metaphysical bias against the supernatural, but it is with the logic of the argument for the resurrection. However, this does not seem to be the case for several reasons. First, all the so-called “logical” arguments they pose fail.1 Second, they admit that even if one could prove the revivification of the body of Jesus three days later, they would still not count it as a miracle. Even their skeptical mentor, David Hume, admitted that such an event would be a miracle.2 When considering the incorrigibility of such antisupernaturalism, one is reminded of Jesus’ statement that “neither would they believe though one were raised from the dead” (Luke 16:31)!

Chapter Two: The Resurrection as Initially Improbable. By Michael Martin

Summary of the Argument:

Martin argues that “Bayes theorem indicates that if the initial probability of the resurrection is very low, the historical evidence must be extremely strong to make rational belief in the resurrection possible” (53). Further, he insists that even on the assumption of supernaturalism it is low because “there is good reason to expect God would not perform miracles” (53). And “even if some miracles could be expected, there is good reason to suppose they would be rare and thus a priori unlikely in any given case” (53). What is more, even suppose God has a good purpose for redeeming humanity, “given the many alternative ways that this could have been achieved, it is a priori unlikely that he would have chosen to do this in the manner, time, and place depicted in scripture” (53). His argument is summarized thus: “1. A miracle is initially improbable relative to our background knowledge. 2. If a claim is initially improbable relative to our background knowledge and the evidence for it is not strong, then it should be disbelieved. 3. The Resurrection of Jesus is a miracle claim. 4. The evidence for the Resurrection is not strong. 5. Therefore, the Resurrection of Jesus should be disbelieved” (46).

Martin rejects the free will objection that whatever the probabilities are, a person is free to chose otherwise. He insists that the improbabilities for the resurrection of Christ remain low since we do not know God’s mind.
He also rejects the argument that if God exists, there is a high probability that God wants to redeem mankind. He insists that, even granting this, it is still low because we do not know when or where God will chose to resurrect Christ, nor even whether He will since he could redeem mankind some other way.

Response to the Argument:

Martin’s argument is particularly weak for several reasons. First, it admits that given God’s existence, a miracle is possible. If so, then he cannot eliminate the possibility of miracles without disproving God’s existence which no one has succeeded in doing.3

Second, his argument does not eliminate the probability of miracles since if God exists and if He wants to intervene supernaturally, then it is it more than probable that a miracle will happen – it is certain. This in spite of all alleged a priori probabilities to the contrary.

Third, whether a miracle has occurred is not determined by a priori probabilities but by a posteriori facts. Even from a purely experiential perspective, even though the a priori probability is 216 to 1 against getting three sixes on the first toss of three die, it does happen sometimes. And when it does happen, then all probabilities as to whether it would happen are irrelevant. All that is relevant is the evidence as to whether indeed this event did happen.

Fourth, when the free will of God is concerned, the only antecedent factor that is relevant for a miracle is whether He wills for a miracle to happen. And from the empirical side, the only relevant factor as to whether someone came back from the dead is the evidence that he was dead and that he later was alive again. Thus, Martin misses the point on his answer to both proposed objections. For if God wills a resurrection to occur, then there is a 100% chance it will occur. Hence, contrary to the anti-supernaturalist’s claim, given God’s existence, the entire issue boils down to a factual one, namely, what is the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth died and then came back to life some time later.4

Chapter 3: “Why Resurrect Jesus?” by Theodore Drange

Summary of the Argument:

Drange argues that the resurrection of Jesus is not important, saying, “It would have seemed more like a real death if Jesus, or at least his body, had stayed dead. . . . That would have been a greater sacrifice on God’s part. So, the way Christian theology portrays the matter, there is an apparent inconsistency between the atonement and the resurrection” (55).

Further, he finds Charles Hodge’s reasons for the resurrections inadequate.

First, as for Hodge’s claim that “all of Christ’s claims and the success of His work rest on the fact that He rose from the dead” (56), Drange insists that at best, the resurrection would only be a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition. But even this is rejected since “all that the gospel maintains is that Christ’s atonement was successful, and, consequently, salvation has been made possible for humanity. It was the death of Christ, not his resurrection, that was supposed to have atoned for humanity’s sins” (57).

Second, Hodge argued that “on His resurrection depended the mission of the Spirit, without which Christ’s work would have been in vain” (60). This mission included the source of our spiritual life, the revealing of divine truth, the inspiration of the Bible, the influence of people toward faith, the regeneration of their souls, making the sacraments effective, and calling men to ministries in the church. But Drange sees “nothing in this list which could not be accomplished even if Christ’s body had been permanently destroyed” (60).

Third, Hodge argued that Christ’s resurrection secured life for his people. “As He lives, they shall live also. If He had remained under the power of death, there would be no source of spiritual life to men . . .” (61). But Drange believes an afterlife could be possible without a resurrection, and people could have a resurrection without Christ having one shortly after His death.

Fourth, Hodge also contended, “If Christ did not rise, the whole scheme of redemption is a failure . . .” (63). But Drange believes that his response to the first argument of Hodge suffices here also. Some may argue that even if the resurrection was not a necessary way to accomplish redemption, it may have been God’s chosen way. But Drange insists that all Christ’s resurrection would show is that His body was revived, not that this is logically necessary so that ours can as well (65). And as for the claim that the resurrections showed something to humankind in general, he argues that an omnipotent being could have done a better job at marketing or advertising the fact. And even then “the resurrection could have been accomplished through some sort of magic or superscience” (66).

So, “Hodge’s reasons for regarding the Resurrection to be an important event are all failures. . . . So far as Christian theology is concerned, all of them could go on quite well without it . . .” (66). In short, Drange claims that the question “‘Why Resurrect Jesus?’ does not have any reasonable answer within Christian theology. Instead of being essential to the overall system, the Resurrection may very well have been a kind of afterthought on the part of the biblical authors” (67).

Response to the Arguments:

First of all, Drange’s argument is clearly contrary to the biblical record which makes the resurrection necessary for salvation (Rom. 4:25; 10:9). Indeed, Paul said, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17).

Second, Jesus did make an important connection between His life and our spiritual life when He said we shall rise because He did (John 11:25). And Paul did also when he pointed out that Christ was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20; cf. Matt. 27:52-53). In short, if Jesus the Son of God cannot defeat death, then how can we mortals do it. Further, since death was brought about by the Devil, then resurrection is necessary to defeat God’s Adversary the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15).

Third, Christ’s resurrection can be an objective demonstration of God’s work of salvation in Him without all men knowing about it. Wars are often officially over for a long time before all combatants are aware of it. Even laws are officially promulgated without all persons knowing about them.

Fourth, according to the Bible all men will be resurrected but not all will be saved because Christ was resurrected (1 Cor. 15:22; cf. John 5:29). Thus, there is an actual effect on all humankind, even if many are not now aware of it. Indeed, many believers (at least before the time of Christ) were saved on the basis of Christ’s resurrection without knowing about the fact of His resurrection.

Fifth, the incorrigible nature of Drange’s antisupernaturalism is revealed in the fact that he was willing to acknowledge that Christ could have come back from the dead by an act of “some sort of magic or superscience.” Even David Hume admitted that this would be a miracle. If not a resurrection, then what would count as a miracle?

Sixth, it is irrelevant that an afterlife is possible without a resurrection. What is relevant to the discussion is whether the resurrection happened and whether this would constitute a miracle. And the evidence is very strong for both. No amount of a priori improbability or speculation about the alleged logical necessity of it can be determined from the fact of the resurrection and its miraculous nature. And if it is connected with a truth claim of Christ’s deity, then that alone makes it very important. Furthermore, as others have noted, while the resurrection is not necessary to show an afterlife, it certainly evidences heavily the Christian notion of the after life, as well as the truth of Jesus’ teachings.5

Chapter 4: “Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation” by Robert Price

Summary and Response to the Arguments:

Price argues “This periscope presents us . . . with a piece of later, post-Pauline Christianity” (69). In other words, it was not written by Paul but is a later interpolation or redaction. In his own words, “A scribe felt he could strengthen the argument of the chapter as a whole by prefacing it with a list of ‘evidences for the resurrection’” (91). Price offers the following reasons for his view. Response will be given to each argument as presented.

First, Price attempts to shift the burden of proof from those who accept the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 to those who reject it.

Response: But clearly this would unreasonably undermine virtually all ancient texts by the same argument. Further, his argument from the adage that “history is written by the winners” (71) is implausible and contrary to fact. For this is not always true. Indeed, on the accepted dates of 1 Corinthians (A.D. 55-56) by even most critical scholars, Christianity was not a political winner. In fact, it was not a winner until centuries later. What is more, it is Price who bears the burden of proof on his otherwise implausible speculation.

Second, Price’s rejects the argument that a text is “innocent till proven guilty.” Indeed, he argues just the opposite.

Response: But if this were so, hardly anything could be believed from the past or present. For life would be a chaos if we assumed that road signs, speed limits, food labels, and restroom signs were wrong until proven right!

Third, he chides B. B. Warfield for claiming that only the originals are without error. He claims this is misguided and is an unfalsifiable view.

Response: First, it was not Warfield who first claimed this. St. Augustine pointed out 1500 years earlier that only the original manuscripts are without error.6 Further, inerrancy is not unfalsifiable. All one need to do is find an original with an error in it. So, inerrancy is falsifiable in principle and could be in practice, if one found an original with an error in it. The fact that no one has yet found an error leaves open the possibility that there are none. Further, not positing inerrancy halts research for if one assumes an error in the text, then why research the matter any further. Scientists do not stop researching when they come upon an anomaly in nature, and why should we when we find a discrepancy in Scripture.

Fourth, Price lists several internal arguments against the authenticity of the resurrection. However, none are even close to being decisive. Perhaps the strongest argument is: “If the author of this passage were himself an eyewitness of the resurrection, why would he seek to buttress his claims by appeal to a thirdhand list of appearances . . . ?” (88).

Response: First of all, Price is seemingly unaware that he implies the answer in the word “buttress.” Paul did give his own first-hand experience, and then he sought to buttress it with further support from other living eyewitnesses to the event so that his readers could give confirmation. Further, even Price admits there are other possible explanations for each of his objections then. In fact, he makes a very revealing admission that his hypothesis “can in the nature of the case never be more than an unverified speculation” (93).

Fifth, Price makes the strange claim that “the resurrection of Jesus is not even at issue in 1 Corinthians 15” (96)! Thus, he thinks it is not crucial to Paul’s argument.

Response: It is difficult to see how one can read verses 12-19 and make such a claim. Here Paul lists seven disastrous consequences of denying the resurrection of Christ. Later, he calls the resurrection of Christ the “firstfruits” of those who have died (v. 20). And still later he makes Christ in His resurrection power the “last Adam” who brought life to the race in contrast to the “first Adam” who brought death (vs.46-49). Thus, it is central to Paul’s whole argument here. Finally, couple the foregoing point with Price’s acknowledgment of his view that “I freely admit the lack of direct textual evidence” (92). Indeed, one wonders why he even bothered to write the article since it gives all the appearances of grasping for straws. To summarize: (1) He has no manuscript evidence for his view. (2) He admits it is “unverified speculation.” (3) He himself lists possible alternatives to his speculation. (4) It is contrary to some of the earliest testimony of the Church Fathers (1 Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and many others). And (5) other verses in this same section which he rejects speak of the miraculous resurrection of Christ and believers (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12, 20, 22, 26, 42-46, 53-56). So, it is simply untrue that the resurrection of Jesus is not in view here.

Sixth, Price discusses William Craig’s contention that Paul would not have made known the resurrection to them without providing this evidence by claiming it is implicit in verse 12 which Price claims reads well as a continuation of verse 2. And as for Craig’s argument that verse 12 refers back to verse 11, Price contends it refers to verse 1. In response to Craig’s argument that the logic of the chapter demands the authenticity of these verses, Price contends that he has missed the logic of the chapter with the unlikely hypothesis that “the resurrection of Jesus is not even at issue in 1 Corinthians 15” (96). In fact, “‘evidence for the resurrection’ is way out of place there, as Bultmann and others . . . [have] observed” (96). Price also rejects Craig’s attempt to explain why the Gospels do not mention an appearance to the 500, claiming that if it had happened, then surely the Gospels would have mentioned it (81).

Response: At best, Price offers here a faulty argument from silence. He has no positive evidence for his view. What is more, as Habermas notes, even Bultmann admitted that Paul is trying to produce evidence in 1 Cor. 15. Further, some believe this appearance may be mentioned in the Gospels (as the appearance in Galilee – Matt. 28:16). Even if it is not, there is no reason why it cannot be true. After all, almost all scholars agree, even the critics, believe that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and that it is very early – by the mid fifties. By virtue of its being written by an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8) at such an early date and which offers multiple confirmations by other eyewitnesses, it has a rightful claim to authenticity. Further, as Habermas observes, Price also uses Galatians 1 to note Paul’s comment that he received this materials from the Lord and so he didn’t go to Jerusalem to see the other apostles. This shows that Paul was convinced by his own experience that Christ had been raised from the dead (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1).

Chapter 5: “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of te Empty Tomb” by Richard Carrier

Summary of the Argument:

Carrier believes that “The evidence suggests the first Christians, at least up to and including Paul, thought Christ’s ‘soul’ was taken up to heaven and clothed in a new body, after leaving his old body in the grave forever. The subsequent story, that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century” (105). In order to come to this conclusion, Carrier says, “I will also argue that the claim that his tomb was empty, and his corpse missing, arose a generation or two later” (106). In order to advance his conclusion he posits several premises:

1) New Testament Judaism was favorable to “the idea of a disembodied life separate from one’s body” (107).

2) “It is a very small step to go from that to an idea of the departed soul becoming or being clothed in an entirely new body” (110). He claims both Philo and Josephus indicate this view. The apostle Paul held this view in his use of “change” (= “exchange”) in 1 Corinthians 15 of the mortal for the immortal (135-37 [see n. 158]). Also, his use of the seed analogy shows we get a new body (135). Further, he affirmed the resurrection body was “spiritual” (126-28). And it was not “flesh and blood” (134-35). Hence, Luke 24 can’t be true that it is “flesh and bones” (135). Nor can it have “wounds” (135) for that contradicts Paul’s claim that it is “glorious” and “indestructible” (135). He concludes, “We can therefore reject all the Gospel material emphasizing the physicality of Christ’s resurrection as a polemical invention. Such stories could not have existed in Paul’s day – or, if they did, Paul would surely have regarded them as heresy, a corruption of the true gospel . . .” (135).

3) The “appearances” of Christ were not physical encounters but “spiritual experiences” (151). Paul said he got a “revelation” from Christ (Gal. 1). “This clearly does not mean a flesh-and-blood Jesus knocked on his door, sat down, and told him” (152). It is “an internal and psychologically subjective event, like an ‘out of body experience’” (153). “Acts also depicts Paul’s experience as a vision. . . . However, in every other respect I believe Acts is worthless as a source, because Luke presents three different accounts that all contradict each other, and all contain details that seem contrary to Paul’s own story in Galatians . . .” (154).

4) The empty tomb is a legend based on Mark who wrote about A.D. 70 (plus or minus ten) (155). “This Gospel contains the first known appearance of an empty tomb story. All other accounts rely upon it and basically just embellish it or modify it to suit each author’s own narrative and ideological agenda” (155). “This does not mean these authors must be considered liars. The logic of their sectarian dogma would lead to an honest and sincere belief in an empty tomb: since Jesus must have risen in the flesh, his tomb must have been empty” (156 emphasis in original). They accepted the then respectable, now dubious, premises that: “(1) historical truth can be revealed directly by God through the Holy Spirit, and (2) whatever isn’t historically true is nevertheless didactically true” (156). This means that “the Gospel authors create narratives with deeper, hidden meaning under a veil of history. It was an honest work then, even if it disturbs us today” (156 emphasis in original).

As for the idea of an empty tomb, Carrier says, “I believe he invented it. For Mark the empty tomb was not historical, but symbolic” (156 emphasis in original). This was based on the “‘core’ Gospel inherited from Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which is ambiguous as to whether Jesus rose in the flesh or the spirit), but also maintaining Mark’s own narrative theme of ‘reversal of expectation’” (156).

In summary, “What I have presented so far is an articulation of my theory as origins of the empty tomb story, first as a metaphor in Mark, then as an inspiring element in the development of a Christian heresy that took the empty tomb as literal, using it to bolster their own doctrine of a resurrection of the flesh. That his heresy became the eventual orthodoxy is simply an accident of history and politics” (167).

5) This theory moves from possible to “plausible” (167) when we note the “fertile soil for the growth of legend” in New Testament times (168). Carrier responds to Craig’s contention that “the sort of legendary embellishment I am advocating should be impossible in so short a time (two generations, roughly forty or fifty years)” (168). This he believes fails for many reasons: (a) “Nor does he discuss the empty tomb narrative, or any miracle at all – his remarks are confined solely to the trial of Jesus” (168). (b) Sherwin-White [Craig’s source] admits that distortion, embroidery, and symbolic exposition of ideas “can arise within two generations” (168). (c) “The Gospel writers are much more akin to the people who believed the legends, than they are to a careful critical historian like Herodotus himself, who often doubts them” (169). (d) Sherwin-White’s test was biased in that he overlooks contrary cases (169 cf. 173). (e) Craig does not define what White means by “hard historic core” (169). This core might not include a physical resurrection, or death and epiphanies. (f) “Herodotus . . . reports that between 480 and 479 BCE the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lighting bolts, and collapsing cliffs, a pseudo-historical event that makes an ‘empty tomb’ look quite boring by comparison” (173). (g) Likewise, Josephus records an “obvious legend” in Jewish War (written A.D. 75-79) that allegedly happened only ten to fifteen years earlier (c. A.D. 66) in which it was as bright as noon at 3 A.M., and “a cow gave birth to a lamb.” Josephus added, “I would have dismissed it as an invention, had it not been vouched for by eyewitnesses, and followed by disasters that bore out the signs. These legends in Herodotus and Josephus are no more incredible than an empty tomb” (174). (h) He adds the Roswell UFO legend that developed “only thirty years after the fact” (174).

He makes an interesting observation that the argument from silence, to be valid, demands that: (1) the writer would have known about the event; and (2) if he knew it, he would have mentioned it. Then he asks, “Are there any authors still extant [in Mark’s day] who would have known there was no empty tomb, and who would have challenged Mark’s claim that there was one? No.

Thus, “I have shown that the culture and time were especially suitable for the rise of a legend, that many comparable legends arose with the same speed of development, that we cannot expect any challenge to an empty tomb legend to have survived, and that our pervasive ignorance makes legend even more likely. Therefore, my theory that the ‘empty tomb’ is a legend is plausible” (182).

6) The appearances traditions make my view move from plausible to probable because they support the post death encounters of Christ as “spiritual epiphanies” not physical appearances (182). The evidence offered for this is: “Obviously hallucination is a far more plausible explanation” (186) because they are like other bereavement experiences. If post resurrection experiences are “hallucinations involving bereavement,” then “Why Paul? He wasn’t among the disciples and experienced Jesus much later than they did. So what brought about his revelation? We can never know for sure – Paul tells us precious little. But I can hypothesize four conjoining factors: guilt at persecuting a people he came to admire; subsequent disgust with fellow persecuting Pharisees; and persuasion (beginning to see what the Christians were seeing in scripture, and to worry about his own salvation); coupled with the right physical circumstances” (187) like heat and fatigue along a lonely road. These conditions induced a “convincing ecstatic event – his unconscious mind producing what he really wanted: a reason to believe the Christians were right after all and atone for his treatment of them, and a way to give his life meaning, by relocating himself from the lower, even superfluous periphery of Jewish elite society, to a place of power and purpose” (187). Matthew embellished with the story of the women grabbing Jesus’ feet (189). Luke is overtly polemical (191) and John’s story “becomes enormously embellished” and “more overtly polemical” (191). All this “directly contradicts Paul” who was earlier and “would not have failed to mention it if it were true” (191-92).

His conclusion is that “the common elements, after wiping away the polemic, propaganda, symbolism, and embellishments, are these: a vision of some mysterious kind inspires or informs someone (perhaps Peter or Mary) with the basic outline of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and then scriptures are searched for confirmation . . .” (193-94). “And when we examine the Gospels as a whole, what we see is a chronology of exaggeration: from nothing more than ‘revelatory’ experiences in Paul, to a vanished body in Mark, to a vaguely physical encounter with Jesus in Matthew, to a very physical encounter in Luke, all the way to an incredible physical encounter in John (and if we go beyond the canon, the next stage is reflected in the Gospel of Peter: actual witnessing Jesus rise from the grave)” (194).

Finally, “if we add to this the strength of an inference to naturalism . . . , as well as the extraordinarily low probability of a genuine resurrection . . . , then we have a truly strong case, and only one conclusion is justified by the evidence: Jesus is dead. There is no good reason to believe he was physically raised from the grave as later Gospels struggle to show” (196-97). As for the twelve “facts” widely accepted by contemporary scholars, Carrier claims: “My theory is consistent with all but one of them: the discovery of an empty tomb. And I have given ample reason to doubt that.” So, “Christianity cannot be maintained against Naturalism on the case for Christ’s bodily resurrection” (197).

Response to the Arguments:

This is not merely a chapter; it is a small book of 127 pages! Since there is no way to respond to every particular point, we will concentrate largely on the central point of his presentation. First we will make general comments which speak to central points in his thesis. If any one of the first four of these criticisms is correct (and they all appear to be), then Carrier’s conclusion fails. Then we will respond to specific misinterpretations relevant to his thesis.

I. Some General Comments on Significant Points:

1. His dates for the Gospels are too late. Luke was written by A.D. 61-62.7 Carrier believes Mark was written before Luke which would be the late 50s. This is too early for embellishment since the apostles were still alive.

2. His interpretation of Paul and 1 Corinthians is faulty. (a) The resurrection body was not immaterial. The word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) used by Paul in Corinthians means physical, as is demonstrated by its use of the water, manna, and rock God used to nourish Israel (1 Cor. 10:3-4). (b) Soma, which is used of the resurrection body, means a physical body.8 (c) Appearances are literal, and (d) the Gospels overlap with Paul (1 Tim. 5:18 cites Luke 10:7 and were written before Paul died). Also, Tom Wright’s research in The Resurrection of the S on of God shows that anastasis is almost uniformly used by ancient Jews, pagans, and Christians as bodily in nature, with this being the case until about A.D. 200.9

3. Further, in 1 Cor. 6:13-15 Paul makes it very clear that it is the physical body (soma) that will be raised, saying, “Foods for the stomach and stomach for foods, but God will destroy both of them [by death]. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a Harlot? Certainly not.” Several things are clear from this text. First, in each case the word body is soma which Gundry10 demonstrates always means physical body when used of an individual human being. Second, in this context it clearly means physical body since it that which of (a) eats food and (b) has a stomach, and (c) is the instrument of fornication. Third, what will be “raised up” later is clearly that which is “destroyed” by death.

4. There is an identity between pre and post resurrection body11 (a) See John 2:19-22 where the “it” affirms that the same body that died comes back to life. (b) It had the crucifixion scars on it (Luke 24; John 20). (c) Paul’s seed analogy implies identity. Carrier wrongly concludes that those who “grew up in an agricultural society” (146) would not imply identity, but he is mistaken since the same dormant plant (inside the seed) that goes in the soil comes out of it. Every farmer knows that if you plant wheat, wheat comes out – the same wheat you planted, not another kind. (d) Romans 8:11 says “our mortal bodies will be ‘made alive’” (149), not replaced by another body. In order to avoid this, Carrier has to claim that this is either a “contradiction” in Paul, or it is not about the resurrection but about our “present life” (149). But this cannot be because: (1) Paul uses “flesh” made alive, not spirit, and (2) Verse 23 in context speaks of resurrection (150). (e) 1 Corinthians 15 says to “put on” not replace. And (f) resurrection is “standing up” of a physical body.

5. He admits his argument is weak and biased. He says, “nor do I have any direct ‘proof’ that legendary embellishment is at play” (180). He claims, “This sparseness of the historical record thwarts everyone’s ability to fully understand these narratives” (180 emphasis in original). He admits the argument from silence is weak (177); however, he uses it to support his thesis (see below). Yet he comes to the unwarranted conclusion that his argument is probable and even highly probable (196).

6. He admits the early Fathers held resurrection of the flesh (123) in opposition to his view. Indeed, later Fathers did too. Only Origen, whose views were condemned as heretical, is quoted in his favor of his view. He cites Origen’s unorthodox views, saying, “It is clear that Origen’s conception is much closer to Paul’s than anything we find in the rest of the Church Fathers” (144). He cites Gnostic cults favorably on a spiritual resurrection body (137-38). In short, he claims second and third century heretics and cults are right, and that the first century apostles and eyewitness testimony are wrong on the physical resurrection.

7. How can an implausible hypothesis move a view from plausible to probable? He claims that the appearances traditions make his view move from plausible. But these appearances recorded in the Gospels were physical not “spiritual epiphanies,” as he claims (182).

8. His counter-examples are not parallel cases. The Josephus legend about a cow giving birth to a lamb is not the same as the empty tomb story for many reasons (174). First, it is a single example, not multiple cases. There were twelve resurrection appearances to a total of over 500 people. Second, the Josephus story is based on hearsay evidence whereas there were numerous eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ (Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, James, and Paul). Third, the Josephus story is against the natural; the biblical reports are of events that are beyond the natural (i.e., supernatural) but not against the natural. Even in Christ’s virgin birth it is a human giving birth to a human, not a cow giving birth to a lamb! Fourth, something that extraordinary needs multiple confirmations. The resurrection did. It had over 500 witnesses on twelve different occasions, with direct physical encounters (seeing, hearing, touching, and eating) which turned skeptics into the world’s most jealous and effective missionary society.

Likewise, the Roswell UFO case was different in crucial respects. First, it was exposed as a fraud by contemporaries; the resurrection was not. Second, there is physical evidence for the alleged UFO men, namely, the military dummies used, etc. At best, this illustrates how credulous some people can be, but it does not show how the evidence for the empty tomb and resurrection can be explained naturally. And to explain its success in revealing a fraud a result of modern technology (a) begs the question; (b) is an argument from silence; (c) a could on the same ground explain away are unusual events from the past like the victories of Napoleon.12

II. Some Specific Comments:

There are numerous points related to his argument that are worthy of brief comment, most of which lead to an opposite conclusion from his.

1) Carrier admits that “Luke probably believed he was writing history . . .” (p. 225, n. 315). Indeed, Luke did write history, and it was very good history (see Hemer). And contrary to Carrier, there are no contradictions in Luke’s accounts.13 If so, then there is no good reason to reject his account of the resurrection of Christ in the same physical body in which He died (Luke 24).

Carrier’s attempt to undermine the accuracy of Luke is feeble (p. 230, n. 364). He says Luke had a penchant to double (e.g., two angels at the tomb, two angels at ascension, two men on road). But Matthew has two blind men healed and Luke only one. As for how there can be both two and one at the same time, there is an infallible mathematical principle that reconciles these verses: whenever you have two, you always have one. It never fails! The Gospels that say one do not say only one. Further, no one else mentions the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and it would be unlikely that one would walk alone. Further, he claims that Luke mistakenly gives the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus as seven miles when it was really fourteen. This is not doubling; it is half-ing. Further, Josephus (Wars of the Jews 7.6.6), a first century eyewitness, gives the exact same distance as Luke did (24:13)!

2) Carrier claims: “Nor do any of the other epistles, whoever actually wrote them, assert a resurrection in the flesh or even suggest it” (148). This is not true. Paul did (Rom. 8:11 cf v. 23). Paul says the resurrection body was “soma” (1 Cor. 15:44) – a word which means a physical body when used of individuals in the New Testament (as Gundry demonstrated). Further, John refers to Christ in his post resurrection body as being in “the flesh” – 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7). Indeed, Paul speaks of the same body that was taken from the cross as being raised from the dead (Acts 13:29-30). He even cites the same verse Peter did in proof of the resurrection of the “flesh” (Acts 13:35 cf. Acts 2:31). Paul also uses soma which means physical body as interchangeable with flesh (1 Cor. 15:38-39).

3) Carrier acknowledges that two words are used for resurrection in the New Testament (anastasis (rising up) and egersis (waking up), but both of these words imply a physical body which he denies (154). Further, Jesus said that at the resurrection of believers they would “come forth” from the “graves” (John 5:28-29). But this is where their dead bodies were. Further, it is the body that sleeps, not the soul. The soul is conscious between death and resurrection (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 6:9; Luke 23:43; Matt. 17:3). Hence, it is the body that arises out of its “sleep” which Jesus said refers to death (John 11:11, 14).

4) He also wrongly claims that Mark records Jesus as saying, “I will destroy this holy residence made by hands, and in three days build another house not made by hands” (157). What Mark actually recorded is that Jesus’ accusers claimed: “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days” (Mark 15:29, emphasis added). This fits with what Jesus actually said, namely, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 emphasis added). It is clear that the temple (body) that died was the same one that would be raised from the dead (cf. v. 21). Paul said substantially the same thing in Acts 13:29: “. . . they took Him [i.e., His body’] down from the cross, and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. And He was seen for many days…” (Emphasis added). Clearly the first two references to “Him” are to His body that was killed and then laid in a tomb. But the last two references (which are to resurrection and appearances) are to the same “Him” (or He), revealing the identity of the pre and post-resurrection body of Jesus.

5) Carrier attacks the argument used by defenders of the physical resurrection that no one ever produced the body or refuted Paul’s claim of the many witnesses who were still alive, saying, it is an illicit argument from silence (177). Yet he himself uses the same kind of argument, claiming that his legend theory is correct even though there is no direct evidence for it. He argued, “This is because, unlike today, very little got recorded in antiquity, and of that little, very little came into the hands of later writers, and of that, very little again survived the intervening two thousand years, in its entirety or in quotation, for us to consult today” (177). But this is clearly an argument from silence. By contrast, Paul provides positive, eyewitness evidence for the resurrection.

6) Further, he contends that an argument from silence is sometimes valid if (a) the writer would have known about the event, and (b) if he knew it, he would have mentioned it. The writer knew about the event. But by this same argument, Acts is dated before 62 and Luke before that (see Acts 1:1 and Luke 1:1) (see Hemer). For surely Luke would have known if Jerusalem had been destroyed and if Peter and Paul had died. And surely he would have mentioned it since he is writing a history of events surrounding that place and time period. Further, when Carrier’s test is applied to his own legend theory that Mark added the empty tomb story and the other Gospels embellished it, neither of his two criteria is met. But, as important as this alleged embellishment was, then surely it would have been known and mentioned by one of the many contemporary New Testament writers, but it was not.

7) Carrier uses another weak argument from silence when he declares that “we have no evidence that Christ’s tomb was venerated. For the site of the greatest miracle in history, in which God Incarnate himself once rested, would have been venerated even if empty – indeed, especially then” (179 emphasis in original). This meets the first criteria (surely it was known) but not the second. For monotheistic Jews, as the disciples were, would not involve themselves in idolatry which this would have been to them. Any later attempt by others who would have made a shrine of it would have been thwarted by the fact that the Christians were scattered and then Jerusalem was destroyed. As Habermas notes, this argument is somewhat strange in that, in the scholarly literature, that the tomb was not venerated is an argument in favor of the empty tomb.

8) He admits “nor do I have any direct ‘proof’ that legendary embellishment is at play” (180). He claims “this sparseness of the historical record thwarts everyone’s ability to fully understand these narratives” (180 emphasis in original). Isn’t this too an argument from silence? Further, this does not hinder scientists or historians from reconstructing the past.

9) “Hence I [Carrier] agree with Robert Gundry . . . [that soul can’t survive without soma] though soma could be used in antiquity to mean ‘person’ in an abstract sense, Paul does not use it that way” (215, n. 211). If so, then the resurrection body must have been physical since Gundry proved that soma always means a physical body when used of an individual human being in the New Testament. But Paul used the word soma of it in 1 Cor. 15:44.

10) He claims Herodotus was a critical historian and yet says, “Far from being a model of accuracy, Herodotus was widely known even in antiquity as the ‘Father of Lies’” (225, n. 314).

11) He denies the historicity of Luke but admits that “unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke probably believed he was writing history, and may have believed, though wrongly, that Mark had too” (225, n. 315). But Colin Hemer firmly establishes the historicity of Luke’s writings.

12) He claims that Mary did not touch Jesus nor did Jesus keep his promise to Mary (230, n. 368). But this is refuted by several lines of evidence. First, she was already touching Jesus in this encounter for the text should be translated “Do not hold me” (John 20:17 RSV). Or “Do not hold on to me” (NIV) Or better, “Stop clinging to Me” (NASB). The Greek word is haptou (fr. hapto) which means “touch, take hold of, hold.” Indeed, Arndt and Gingrich list a case where it means “stop clinging to me” (p.102). Second, the women in Matthew “clasped his feet” and Mary was among them (Matt. 28:1, 9). Further, He promised to ascend to His Father which He did bodily (Acts 1:10-11).

13) Finally, there are many problems with his speculative reconstruction of why Paul converted. Not only do we not have any evidence for any of these, but there is often evidence to the contrary, such as Paul’s remorse.14

Chapter 6: “The Case Against the Empty Tomb” by Peter Kirby

Summary of the Argument:

In his own words, Kirby declares: “I will argue that the empty tomb narrative is the invention of the author Mark. This conclusion will be supported by showing that all reports of the empty tomb are dependent upon Mark, that there are signs of fictional creation in the empty tomb narrative in Mark, that the empty tomb story as told by Mark contains improbabilities, and that other traditions of the burial and appearances support a reconstruction of the events that excludes the discovery of an empty tomb” (233).

First, there are at least four other possibilities: “1. Jesus was left hanging on the cross for the birds. 2. The Romans disposed of the body, perhaps in a ‘limed pit.’ 3. The body of Jesus was buried by the Jews in some sort of criminal’s grave. 4. The body of Jesus remained buried in a tomb” (233). He adds, “On the face of it, each one of these hypotheses is plausible” (234). Kirby does not defend any one of these but is content simply to attempt to show that Mark fabricated the story.

Second, Mark’s story of the empty tomb is probably a fiction for several reasons. First of all, the other Gospels depend on Mark. “Paul nowhere mentions the empty tomb in his letters,” (234) and his account is earlier than Mark. Further, there are evidences of “redactional changes to Mark in Luke” (234).

Third, there are fictional characteristics in Mark. The existence of previous stories of the same type is a “well-known indication in favor of fiction.” Such is found in the 2 Kings 2:9-18 where Elijah is taken into heaven and his body cannot be found (237). There is also evidence that Joseph of Arimathea is “a fictional character” since the location has not been found and his name means “best disciple in town” (238). What is more, there are improbabilities in Mark that point to the fictional nature of his resurrection story like why the women went to the tomb if they knew there was a stone, there and they could not get into it (242)?

Fourth, according to Kirby, “There are traditions concerning the burial and appearances of Jesus that provide evidence against the story of the discovery of an empty tomb” (246). He cites the apocryphal Secret Book of James saying Jesus was buried in the sand as an example (246). The Gospel of Peter says Jesus’ body was taken down by his Jewish enemies (248).

Fifth, 1 Corinthians 15 “. . . is widely acknowledged to be the earliest and best evidence that is available” (248). But here Peter was the first witness, not the women (249). The story of the women “is probably not a historical tradition” (249). For it “has every sign of being redactional” (249). Neither Mark nor Luke mentions it which is strange if it is historical.

So, if there was no empty tomb, no resurrection is needed to explain it; “an alternative explanation, such as the relocation hypothesis, will serve us well. But if there were no empty tomb, then there was no bodily resurrection.” (256).

Response to the Argument:

This chapter is weak in evidence and strong in assumptions – all of which can be seriously challenged with good evidence. Let us examine the assumptions and invalid conclusions.

First of all, the empty tomb is found in the earliest Christian documents on which critics and non-critics agree. 1 Corinthians was written by A.D 55-56, and it affirms that Christ was “buried” [in a grave] and that he was “raised” from this grave. By simple logic that means the tomb was left empty. Further, critics like Kirby accept Mark as the earliest Gospel, with Matthew and Luke coming later. But there are very strong arguments for Luke writing about A.D. 60-61 (see Hemer). This would place Mark in the late 50s. Even critical scholar, Bishop Robinson dated Mark as early as A.D. 45-60. At this point Kirby’s whole hypothesis collapses since it is too early for his redaction thesis to unfold. It is during the time of multiple eyewitnesses whose memories were still fresh with these impact events. Further, all the “core” truths of the gospel, namely, Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances are in these early documents. So, even if there were later literary enhancements, they would not affect the core truths of Christianity which include a bodily resurrection leaving an empty tomb behind.

Second, Kirby assumes that Mark wrote first, but this can be seriously challenged on several grounds. The earliest historical testimony (of Papias) affirmed that Matthew wrote first. Further, almost all the early Fathers of the Church agreed. Indeed, even some contemporary liberal scholars (like Farmer) and many conservative scholars (like Harold Hoehner) agree that Matthew wrote first. What is more, all the literary data can be explained equally well with Mark following Matthew. At any rate, the issue of whether Matthew or Mark writes first does not affect the strong evidence that both Matthew and Mark write before Luke, probably in the late 50s.

Third, putting Mark first fits Kirby’s unproven evolutionary redaction assumption because Mark is shorter and the others can be made to look like a longer development of Mark. This is akin to Bruno Bauer putting John in the second century as a result of assuming an unfounded Hegelian dialectic that demanded this because John was allegedly a later synthesis of the earlier thesis of Peter and antithesis of Paul. However, the early dating of John within the first century due to the discovery of the John Ryland Fragment was dated just after the end of the first century in a little town in Egypt. This along with the evidence from Qumran let the Dean of Archaeology of the twentieth century, Professor William F. Albright, to date the entire New Testament by A.D. 75 and John even earlier.15 So, the factual evidence flies in the face of the a priori evolutionary and developmental hypotheses.

Fourth, even granting (against the evidence) a late date for Mark, Kirby’s redactional assumptions are improbable. Even he seems to admit that they are for he uses tentative terms like “possibilities” (233), “I have a vague sense of implausibility” (254) “a weak indication” (249), “vestiges” of a tradition (248), “suggests”(250), “suggestive possibility” (251), “likely” (248), “does give the impression of” (251). To conclude that all this leads to a conclusion that is a “convincing case” and “extremely likely” (256) is a non sequitur which way oversteps the premises.

Fifth, like other skeptics, Kirby denies the use of a strong argument from silence to conservative scholars and uses the weak and obviously invalid argument from silence for himself. In fact, his central thesis (that Mark fabricated the empty tomb story) is an argument from silence. For he does not have a shred of historical evidence to support it. In fact, he admitted the same when he said he has no direct positive evidence for his view.

Sixth, his hypothesis is totally opposed to the New Testament repeated claim of eyewitness basis for their reports. John says, “The man who saw it [the crucifixion] has given testimony, and his testimony is true” (John 19:35). Again, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true (John 21:24 cf. 1 John 1:1). The Book of Acts records that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32). Peter and John declared, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Again, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10:39-40). Paul affirms that “. . . He [Jesus] was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Even critics admit this was written A.D. 55-56 only twenty or so years after the resurrection when numerous eyewitnesses were still alive, including most of the apostles. Luke asserts: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1-2). And as Habermas adds, if critics object to the use of these straightforward New Testament attestations, it is odd how often they use other New Testament texts when they think they fit their needs.

Seventh, Kirby’s hypothesis does not account for the fact that the New Testament writers carefully distinguish their words from those of Jesus (cf. Jn. 2:20-22; Acts 20:35). In fact, any intelligent youth could make a red letter edition of the Gospels with little trouble whatsoever. The apostle Paul did the same (1 Cor. 7:10-12; 11:24-25). Thus, protests of innocent redactions to the contrary, his view makes liars out of multiple eyewitnesses who testified to the resurrection. And he has nothing to account for the fact that honest eyewitnesses and martyrs deliberately fabricated stories about Christ’s resurrection and appearances.

Eighth, in spite of the difficulties in reconciling the eyewitness and contemporary accounts, they are all explainable (see Geisler and Howe, When Critics Ask). Further, the problems we have in the New Testament pale in comparison with the implausibility of his redactional hypotheses of the events. A good example is that of making the story of Elijah’s disappearance the basis for the empty tomb story (237). Besides being a post hoc fallacy (after this, therefore, because of this), it is not a parallel case since Elijah did not die and rise again. In short, Kirby’s redactional explanation is more difficult to believe than Mark’s account of the empty tomb.

Ninth, many of the links in Kirby’s chain of argument are weak. For example, the argument that Joseph of Arimathea is “a fictional character” since the location has not been found and his name means “best disciple town” (238). The first is the weak argument from silence, and the second is senseless. I knew an actual man who was the road commissioner in our county near Dallas whose name was Dusty Rhoads. It is unlikely and humorous but not fictional!

Chapter 7: “Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story” by Jeffery Lowder

Summary of the Argument:

Lowder responds to William Craig’s ten arguments for the empty tomb view (which is a key point in his evangelical apologetic), saying, “I shall argue that Craig has not shown that the resurrection is the best explanation for that emptiness.” He adds, “Though I shall not argue the story is false, I shall argue that even if the story is historical, its historicity is not established on the basis of any of Craig’s arguments as they stand” (261).

The overall logic of the argument is summarized well by Lowder: “The relocation hypothesis is clearly superior to the resurrection hypothesis according to the other criteria. . . . However, the relocation hypothesis does not so far exceed its rivals that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis exceeding it in meeting these conditions. It would not take much specific counter evidence – such as a first-century Jewish text specifying that a criminal like Jesus did not have to be buried in the criminals’ graveyard, combined with an account by Joseph of Arimathea himself stating he was a sympathizer of Jesus – to make the honorable burial hypothesis more acceptable than the relocation hypothesis. Nevertheless, such evidence does not exist. On the other hand, we lack direct evidence for the relocation hypothesis. According to McCullagh’s methodology, then, we should suspend judgment on it” (297 emphasis in original). So, “in the absence of inductively correct arguments for or against the historicity of the empty tomb story, I suggest that the historian qua historian should be agnostic about the matter” (298).

Response to the Argument:

First, Lowder’s argument is based on a priori probability, not a posteriori fact. He admits he has no “direct” evidence for his view (297). He also speaks repeatedly about advance probability in terms like “initial probability” (265), “prior probability” (264), “prior to considering the unique circumstances” (264), and “intrinsic improbability” (265). But all one needs is an actual fact, or even probable evidence for an event, in order to overcome whatever advanced improbability it may have had. For example, all naturalists (anti-supernaturalists) hold to spontaneous generation of first life in the cosmos, but the advanced probability is exceedingly low. In fact, it is so low, for since Redi and Pastuer no biology teacher would allow it for an explanation of how life can allegedly appear in a properly sterilized and capped beaker in a science lab.

Second, Lowder admits that the resurrection story may be true, saying, “I shall not argue that the story is false” (261). But this admits that it might be true. Why then should one reject it on a priori grounds. It should be sufficient that our earliest documents affirm it (both 1 Cor. 15 and Mark 16).

Third, he admits that his thesis is weakened further if Joseph was a disciple or if Jesus need not have been buried in a criminal’s grave. But the first century eyewitness account of John (cf. Jn. 21:24 cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-2) affirms clearly that Joseph was “a disciple of Jesus” (Jn. 19:38). Further, there were exceptions to the common practice of burying criminals in a common grave. And the text says explicitly that “Pilate gave him permission” to bury Jesus (Jn. 19:38). This being the case, by his own confession, Kirby’s argument collapses.

Fourth, his basic argument is an invalid argument from silence. The repeated use of “for all we know”(277, 284, 288, 291) is ample evidence for this conclusion. This euphemism is just another way of saying “I have no actual evidence for my position.” This is in fact an admission that he has no real basis for his speculation.

Fifth, there are factually unsubstantiated premises in Lowder’s argument. For example, it is crucial to his view that Jesus as a criminal was not given an honorable burial in a tomb. But even if this was a common practice, it does not follow that it was likely that Jesus actually was given this kind of burial. Indeed, the facts are to the contrary. The early documents only speak of his being buried in Joseph’s tomb in a honorable way. There is no evidence to the contrary.

Sixth, his hypothesis that Joseph moved Jesus’ body on Saturday is without any actual evidence and is contrary to the evidence we do have. First, he admits Joseph was a pious Jew and we know pious Jews did not work on the Sabbath (271). But moving the body would have been a violation of the Sabbath. Second, his view does not explain how Joseph got past the guards who protected the tomb and who were not disciplined for negligence of duty.

Seventh, Lowder’s conclusion is defended by another unsupported contention that “there is no evidence that the Jewish authorities . . . even cared to refute Christian claims” (273). This is contrary to fact for several reasons. 1) The Jewish authorities opposed Christianity as a sect and had every reason to want to squelch it. 2) They also opposed the early Christian claims that Jesus rose from the dead (cf. Acts 4-9).

Eighth, he ignores the overwhelming evidence for the historicity of the book of Acts (see Hemer) which refutes Lowder’s thesis by recording that Jesus did rise from the dead as indicated by many “indisputable proofs” (Acts 1:2) by which God has “given assurance of this to all by raising Him [Christ] from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Indeed, the physical appearances of Christ are verified in Acts by Jesus “being seen by them during forty days” (Acts 1:3) and even “eating with them” (Acts 1:4–NIV). Even Peter, who is accepted by Carrier as the first witness, recorded Jesus eating after the resurrection in Acts 10:41 in his kerygma sermon as affirming that “God raised [Jesus] up on the third day, and showed him openly . . . to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after he arose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). Indeed, earlier Peter spoke of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Christ in the “flesh” (sarx) (Acts 2:31).

Ninth, Lowder’s thesis is based on unacceptably late dates for the Gospels of A.D. 70 and beyond. Both the Dean of twentieth century archaeology, William F. Albright,16 and the radical New Testament critic, Bishop John Robinson,17 posited earlier dates during which most of the apostles and eyewitness were still living. Their presence leaves no room for Lowder’s relocation thesis or for any view short of a physical resurrection of Christ.
Further, he totally ignores the evidence that Luke wrote his Gospel by about A.D. 60 (see Hemer and Luke 1:1 cf. Acts 1:1). But Luke speaks not only of the empty tomb but physical appearances of Christ with tangible evidence of scars and the ability to eat food. This totally defeats Lowder’s hypothesis.

Chapter 8: “Taming the Tehom: the Sign of Jonah in Matthew” by Evan Fales

Summary of the Arguments:

Fales claims that “it is a familiar feature of the Gospel passion narrative that virtually every major element of the story, in each of its differing versions, is anticipated in the Hebrew Bible” (307). He notes his dependence on “Durkeim and Levi-Strauss which I draw heavily upon” (309) “with some significant divergences” (317). “Levi-Strauss, influenced by Hegelian dialectic, by the structural semantics of Ferdinand de Saussure, and by information-processing theory, analyzes myths as being comprised of layers of ‘contradicting’ or contrasting themes, each layer somehow resolving itself in or reducing to the next . . . thereby defusing the dissonance caused by the original difficulty” (317). He asserts that “Matthew’s passion narrative offers, as we shall see, some sterling examples for structural analysis . . .” (319). “I presuppose two hypotheses that are clearly controversial – that Matthew is myth, and that myths are (primarily) engaged in the business of social/political theorizing (and not speculations about ‘spooky stuff’)” (320).

As for miracles, he adds, “I think Hume was correct in arguing that no sensible person will accept a miracle report as veridical, except possibly on the basis of massive verifiable independent testimony from verifiably competent witnesses” (311). The basic steps of his reasoning are as follows: First, Jesus was not in the grave 72 hours as “three days and three nights imply.” Second, Fales finds the explanation in Hebrew mythology about Jonah (322) and Greek myths (323) which depicts Israel’s deliverance from Assyria and Jesus’ resurrection the Israel’s deliverance from the powers that be (325).

Fales admits that “there is no logical incompatibility between accepting my analysis of Matthew’s chronology, and a literalist conception of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Most readers will, of course, recognize the profound distance between the interpretive methodology I have employed and that favored by fundamentalists” (331). He argues that “the hypothesis that Matthew’s project is to propose a serious political program allows the approach taken here to escape other stock objections regularly raised against ‘liberal’ and skeptical interpretations of the Gospels” (332). For example, the resurrection was not necessary to the survival of Christianity and the courage of early Christians. Rather, it survived because “it was able to formulate a political theory, strategy, and program that spoke powerfully to the condition of many people, rich and poor, Jewish and Gentile, in Judea and across the Roman Empire” (333). “There is, therefore, no reason to assume (though also no particular reason to deny) that Peter, Paul, or any other Christian leader may have had some subjective religious experience, whether involving an apparition of Jesus or some more inwardly directed ecstatic state” (333).

As to whether Matthew has a “historical core,” Fales says “it does not matter very much to the project I have undertaken here” (334 emphasis in original). For “once one adopts the theoretical framework proposed here, one can proceed without knowing how to answer these particular historical questions, interesting as they might be in their own right” (334). “There is nothing in my reading of Matthew’s Gospel that excludes the possibility of a historical founder of Christianity who taught in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and courted execution at the hands of the authorities” (334). “On the other hand, we can see clearly from the theoretical perspective I am recommending how artificial is the project of trying to separate history from legend, by ‘peeling away’ putatively apocryphal accretions to an unvarnished historical memory so as to reveal a mundane core upon which to confer the mantle of truth. For the ‘realistic’ elements of the plot are just as integral to the message of the narrative as are the fantastical ones. If some of them are historical, that is a lucky accident; if it had served Matthew’s purpose to make up realistic episodes, he would not have hesitated to do so” (334). “Was Jesus bodily raised from the tomb after a day and two nights? Anyone who accepts the interpretation offered here will recognize this question is profoundly misguided, but not because the answer must surely be no” (334). Why? “. . . because to entertain it is to reveal a complete incomprehension of Matthew’s purpose, a misunderstanding so fundamental as virtually to preclude recognition of the truths Matthew means to convey” (334).

Response to the Argument:

First of all, Fales admitted that “there is nothing in my reading of Matthew’s Gospel that excludes the possibility of a historical founder of Christianity who taught in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and courted execution at the hands of the authorities” (334). Further, he does not rule out the possibility of a literal resurrection of Christ. Indeed, he admits that “there is no logical incompatibility between accepting my analysis of Matthew’s chronology, and a literalist conception of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (331).

Second, his rejection of miracles in based on Hume’s faulty argument (see Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind) against them (311) and does not allow for the resurrection to be a historical event (334). But if God exists, miracles are possible. And if the evidence shows one has occurred – as the evidence for the resurrection does – then no prior probability against them can counter the fact that one has occurred. Further, extraordinary events do not need extraordinary evidence (unless one is biased against miracles); they just need good evidence. There is no extraordinary evidence for the “Big Bang” origin of the universe; there is just such good evidence that even some agnostics accept that the universe had a beginning (and thus by logical implication, must have had a Beginner).18 (see Jastrow).

Third, all five reasons he gives for rejecting a literal view of the resurrection (see 332) can be seriously challenged. Contrary to his contention, (1) The appeal to a divine Cause does have explanatory value and still grips hearts. (2) There is evidence not otherwise explainable that favors the bodily resurrection, namely, all the evidence for the historicity of the New Testament. (3) The alleged historical implausibility is an unjustified historical uniformitarianism that begs the question. (4) We cannot set the question of miracles aside because if God exists, miracles are possible. And if the New Testament documents are historical, then miracles are actual. (5) Uniform experience of the past cannot be used against miracles (singularities); otherwise naturalists could not believe in the Big Bang or the spontaneous generation of first life, as they do.

Fourth, all the philosophical presuppositions used by Fales have been challenged, even by others who do not believe in the miracle of the resurrection. Hegelianism has been shown not to fit the facts of history. Structuralism’s bracketing the question of existence is self-defeating and begs the question. Mythologism is contrary to the biblical text and is self-defeating since it assumes we know the literal truth about the past so that we can call a text myth. Saussure’s conventionalism (relativism) view of meaning is self-defeating since it assumes the meaning of the conventionalist’s claim is objective. And the basic foundational laws of thought are not culturally relative. That is, we cannot deny the laws of logic without using them in the very denial.

Fifth, Fales claims that “it is a familiar feature of the Gospel passion narrative that virtually every major element of the story, in each of its differing versions, is anticipated in the Hebrew Bible” (307). If this is so, then, first of all, what need is there to find Old Testament origins in Greek myth which he and other critical scholars use? Further, since the Old Testament foreshadowed the bodily resurrection of Christ (Psalm 2, 16) and of believers (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2), then why deny a bodily resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, even New Testament personages believed in a physical resurrection such as the Pharisees (Acts 23:8), Jesus’ Jewish audience (Matt. 22:23-30), his friend Martha (John 11:23-24), his disciple Matthew (27:52-53), and John the apostle (John 5:28-29).

Sixth, the Bible condemns the use of myth every time the word is used. Indeed, Peter said “We did not follow cunningly devised fables (Gk. muthois) . . ., but were eyewitness of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Paul exhorted not to “give heed to fables” (1 Tim. 1:4; cf. 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14).

Seventh, Fales states but dismisses without argument the view that “the genre of the Gospels is that of biography, on the strength of arguments that Acts is ‘clearly’ a historical work, that Luke, continuous with Acts and declared by Luke 1:1-4 to be ‘historical,’ is therefore so as well, and that the other Gospels share the same genre as Luke” (309). But given the decisive work of Colin Hemer,19 whatever the genre, Luke is clearly claiming his account is historically accurate. Further, the alleged Hellenistic mythical ‘parallels’ to Gospel stories are not really parallels at all. The figure and ideology of Jesus are thoroughly rooted in messianic orthodox Judaism, which rejected Hellenistic religious ideas; hence neither Jesus nor his biographers would even have borrowed Hellenistic themes which were polytheistic, not monotheistic (309-310).

Eighth, Fales criticizes conservatives for neglecting the “enormous Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature regarding death and resurrection (both Jewish and pagan)” (322) found in Frazer’s Golden Bough.20 First of all, evangelicals have not ignored it. Professors Ronald Nash21 and Edwin Yamauchi22 have addressed it. And the truth is that these are largely cases of reincarnation into another body, not resurrection of the same body to immortality by polytheistic gods, not by a theistic God. These are crucial differences that invalidate the Greek myths as a source of biblical truth. There are three isolated quotes on in the New Testament, but none is on the resurrection (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). There are absolutely no references to pagan sources for the resurrection. Rather, the Old Testament is quoted and alluded to hundreds of times as the source of New Testament truth, including the physical resurrection (cf. Acts 2:25-32; Acts 13:33-37 cf. Acts 17:2-3).

Ninth, while Fales promotes a symbolical mythological interpretation of the New Testament, he fails to realize this cannot be done without a literal understanding of the text. For one cannot know what is not literal (e.g., symbolic), unless he knows what is literal. Indeed, Fales illustrates this point in his approach to the Jonah text by Matthew. For he reasons that “three days and nights cannot be understood literally, since Jesus was only in the grave for a day and a half. Hence, it must be taken symbolically.”

Tenth, as Fales admits, his theses are controversial. Indeed, his central thesis is farfetched and is rejected by the vast majority of New Testament scholars. How he can take the intention of the biblical author as the source of meaning and claim the resurrection was the political triumph of Christianity over the political powers that wished to dominate it is beyond imagination! It is pure and unmitigated eisegesis of the text!

Eleventh, ironically, his whole symbolic structuralism castle in the sky is based on the failure to see the phrase “three days and three nights” as a figure of speech which conservative scholars acknowledge. Also, had he only taken his own affirmation seriously that the roots of the New Testament, especially Matthew, are in the Old Testament, he would have known that this phrase is a Hebraism meaning any part of a “day/night” unit. For the Psalmist said the righteous person was to meditate on God’s law “day and night.” Certainly he did not mean for 24 hours but daily. Second, the book of Esther shows that three days and three nights can mean less than that. For she appeared “on the third day” before the king (which would be Sunday, if it was then Friday) and yet they were not to drink or eat for “three days, night or day” (4:16) in the interim. The literal method of interpretation always leaves room for figures of speech within the overall literal meaning.23

Chapter 9: “The Plausibility of Theft” by Richard Carrier

Carrier claims, “But there are still other accounts that remain at least as good as the supernatural alternative. So even if the empty tomb story is not a legend, it is not necessary to conclude that only a genuine resurrection would explain it” (349). “The present essay demonstrates the plausibility (but by no means the certainty) of the hypothesis that the body of Jesus was stolen. In the process, it also presents several reasons to doubt Matthew’s claim that the tomb of Jesus was guarded, including the fact that the entire episode bears apparent and deliberate parallels with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den” (349).

Carrier challenges William Craig’s arguments that there is no positive evidence for the stolen body hypothesis for several reasons.

First, he responds to Craig’s argument that we don’t know anyone who had a motive to do so. Carrier argues that necromancers did, looking for body parts for use in their ceremonies (350). The disciples did also as Trypho the Jew charged to Justin Martyr (351). An annoyed vindictive gardener could have a motive (351). At least one of Jesus’ entourage of 70 could have engaged in pious deceit (352).

Second, Craig said only a few persons knew where the grave was, but Joseph and the women knew, as did the Roman guards (and anyone who may enquire from them by bribery or otherwise) (352).

Third, contrary to Craig, there was plenty of time to pull it off. There were thirty-six hours. There were two whole nights before the guards were stationed when most people were home for the Sabbath – “there could hardly be better conditions” (352).

Fourth, the grave clothes did not preclude theft since body-snatchers want body parts not clothes and the location was known well enough (353).

Fifth, not all conspiracies come to light and not all grave robbing involves conspiracy. Many crimes go unsolved. Iran-Contra and Watergate are atypical illustrations, but in the first century they had none of the technologies that broke these scandals (353-54).

Sixth, as to Craig’s argument that the theft view does not explain the appearances, “There is simply nothing improbable in an empty tomb being the result of a theft, which then is linked with . . ., independent reports of appearances, especially appearances of a visionary kind, such as that which converted Paul. The physicality of appearances in the Gospels can be a doctrinal and legendary development . . . considering that appearances are wholly absent from the earliest Gospel . . . and nothing in the epistles entails physical appearances. . . . Indeed, mere rumor can start legends of postmortem appearances almost immediately . . .” (354).

Finally, as to Craig’s statement that at least a “rumor” of the theft theory should have remained, Carrier responds that it has (in Matt. 28:15 and three other texts) (355). As to whether Christianity could have survived if a theft had been discovered, Carrier believes it could have. He points to numerous examples where cults survived after their claims were falsified such as the so-called UFO coverup, NASA’s “face on mars,” Heaven’s Gate cult, and the Jonestown suicides. The fact that these did not explode into great world religions is explainable because “they were born in infertile soil. Christianity, by contrast, found itself in ideal social conditions for growth” (357). Why didn’t some records survive on the alleged theft coverup? Because we have no records of attacks on Christianity in the first century. “Christianity at its start was too tiny a sect to end up on anyone’s literary radar . . .” (357). “It is even possible that Jospehus did record the theft accusation, which was then erased by the Christian editor of the famous Testimonium Flavianum” (357 emphasis in original).

“The only conclusion left is that Craig is wrong: theft of the body is plausible, in both a general and a specific sense. In general, theft of a body, especially that of a crucified holy man, is the sort of thing that happened with some frequency at the time. In contrast, we cannot say the same about miraculous resurrections” (364 emphasis in original).

“Of course, we cannot know whether the body of Jesus was stolen, since all direct evidence has been erased by secrecy and time. But there is little justification for resorting to a supernatural explanation. For we know too little about what actually happened that weekend in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, and we have no good evidence that any form of supernaturalism is true” (364). “All the evidence we have that could be said to support resurrection over theft is scanty and not very reliable. And even that can all be explained by other natural phenomena, such as hallucination and legendary development” (364).

He concludes in the last footnote, “. . . even if resurrection were the most probable of all explanations available, it would still be more probable that something else happened. . . . As often happens when we know too little to be certain, even if we thought resurrection was the most likely explanation of the facts, we would not know enough to be sure it was the right explanation” (368, no. 38 emphasis in original).

Response to the Arguments:

First, even Carrier admits that his central thesis cannot be known to be true and that he has no “direct evidence” for it (364). He said, “Of course, we cannot know whether the body of Jesus was stolen, since all direct evidence has been erased by secrecy and time.” Further, he admits that “all the evidence we have that could be said to support resurrection over theft is scanty and not very reliable” (364). One wonders, then, how he can say that it is “plausible”? Indeed, how can he conclude that “he only conclusion left is that Craig is wrong” (364)?

Second, his anti-supernatural bias plays heavily in his decision. Following Hume, he speaks of a greater antecedent probability for natural explanations (364). But we do not determine whether events happened by antecedent probability. Otherwise, neither the Big Bang origin of the universe nor spontaneous generation of first life could be known to be true – which Carrier and other naturalists believe did occur. Nor could macro-evolution be known to have occurred which many naturalist take as a proven fact. The antecedent probability of getting a perfect bridge hand is only one in 635 billion plus. But this does not mean that there is no good evidence that one has ever been dealt. In fact, the persons who have had them (and their witnesses) have one hundred percent certainty that it did happened, despite the great odds against it.

Third, Carrier’s overall logic is strange. For he contends that “even if we thought R[resurrection] was the most likely explanation of the facts, we would not know enough to be sure it was the right explanation.” Why? Because, “is often happens when we know too little to be certain . . .” (368, no. 38). If he means absolute or mathematical certainty, then he surely is right. But if he means general certainty based on high probability, then the naturalist is clearly wrong. All naturalists (like Carrier) believe macro-evolution is so firmly established that it is virtually certain – so certain that many call it a “fact.” Yet, macro-evolution, like the historicity of Jesus, is based on fragmentary evidence from the past. For we have only a tiny fraction of all fossil evidence of all the animals from the past. Yet, naturalistic evolutionists believe they can reconstruct what actually happened with a high degree of certainty. Why, then, cannot we do the same with the main events of Jesus life such as his death and resurrection?

Fourth, all of his arguments for the theft hypothesis are based on the unproven assumption that the canonical Gospels are not reliable. But there is strong evidence to the contrary.24 Hence, the theft theory fails in the light of the evidence.

Fifth, even granting Carriers basic premises that Paul wrote Corinthians in the mid-fifties and Mark wrote about twenty years later while many eyewitnesses were still alive, his skepticism about what Matthew, Luke, and John say is unwarranted. First of all, everything we need to know about the physical resurrection of Christ and physical appearances is known from Paul.25 Second, usually myths about crucial events do not occur while the eyewitnesses are still alive. Carrier provides no evidence that macro-myths of this proportion (claiming that Jesus did not rise bodily) take long to gain widespread following.

Sixth, Carrier criticizes the argument from silence, yet he has to admit that his central argument rests on it. For he acknowledges that he has no direct evidence for the theft hypotheses. And blaming this on the lack of available first century records is an illicit argument from silence, he says, “Christianity at its start was too tiny a sect to end up on anyone’s literary radar . . .” (357). In response, it was big enough to generate more early books, manuscripts, and witnesses than any other event from the ancient world. And the probable – virtually certain – conclusion that Alexander the Great lived and conquered much of the world is based on only a fraction of the evidence we have for Christ’s death and resurrection.

Seventh, without objective grounds, Carrier chooses parts of the Gospels that favor his theft hypothesis and rejects others that are against it. Sometimes he does this in the same chapter and even on the same topic – the resurrection. For example, he is happy to accept Matthew 28:14-15 as an authentic report (even though Matthew says it is a lie) but rejects a few verse earlier (v. 9) when the women touch him in his resurrection body. He does the same with other texts as well.

Eighth, Carrier says that the appearances are “wholly absent” in Mark. Habermas notes that this is misleading. For “even critical scholars realize that Mark is very much aware of Jesus’ appearances—he simply chose to reveal these in a different manner. Otherwise Mark would not have (1) predicted the appearances at least four times in Mark 8, 9, 10, and 14; (2) had the angels announce not only the resurrection itself, but also that Jesus would appear to them in Galilee; and (3) scholars note that the reference to ‘go tell the disciples and Peter’ may well have been a purposeful forecast of the appearance to Peter as noted in the early creeds in 1 Cor. 15:5 and Luke 24:34.”

Chapter 10: “The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law” by Richard Carrier

Summary of the Argument:

Carrier claims that, “the surviving evidence, legal and historical, suggests the body of Jesus was not formally buried Friday night when it was placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, that instead it had to have been placed Saturday night in a special public graveyard reserved for convicts. On this theory the women who visited the tomb Sunday morning mistook its vacancy. That, in conjunction with other factors (like reinterpretations of scripture and things Jesus said, the dreams and visions of leading disciples, and the desire to seize an opportunity to advance the moral cause of Jesus), led to a belief that Jesus had risen from the grave. . . . And so Christianity began” (369).

Since the evidence is scant, “it is probably impossible to determine which explanation [resurrection or relocation] is correct, since the evidence we would need to decide the matter is gone. But so long as there are plausible natural explanations available, the resurrection story cannot be used as evidence of a supernatural event. For an inference to naturalism remains reasonable . . .” (370).

Carrier believes there are three plausible natural explanations, though he favors the first: First, “. . . the story is an outright legend (though with a genuine ‘spiritual’ core); and second, that the body was stolen, giving rise to belief that Jesus rose from the grave. Here I present a third: that the body of Jesus was legally moved, leading to a mistaken belief in his resurrection” (370 emphasis in original). For this view, Carrier offers the following argument: “First, Joseph of Arimathea’s action in seeking the body of Christ Friday evening was probably a standard procedure, required by Jewish law. Second, Joseph’s use of his own or an available tomb to hold Jesus temporarily during the Sabbath was also probably provided for by the law. And third, the law probably required Joseph to bury Jesus Saturday night in a special public graveyard reserved for blasphemers and other criminals of comparable ignominy” (371). The women then went to the vacated tomb and mistakenly assumed Jesus was resurrected, and the rest is history.

Carrier’s argument involves the acceptance of several premises:

1) We know Jewish burial law from the time of Christ (371-72).

2) The Roman’s allowed the Jews to practice their own burial rights (373-74).

3) Accordingly, Jesus had to be buried by sunset (375-79).

4) Jewish law allowed for temporary storage of a criminals dead body in a cool place on the Sabbath until permanent burial could be accomplished (382-85).

5) Jewish law demanded that criminals, such as Jesus was considered to be, be buried dishonorably in special graveyards reserved for this purpose (380-81).

6) Joseph of Arimathea, being a devout Jew, would not have violated this law and, so, he moved Jesus body to this criminal graveyard on Saturday (386).

7) Thus, the women discovered an empty tomb – the wrong one (387).

8) The women mistakenly began the resurrection myth (387).

9) This myth developed into a full blown belief in the resurrection and appearances of Christ and the immediate rapid spread of Christianity, the conversion of Saul, the conversion of James, and the willingness of early Christians to die for their beliefs (387).

Carrier concludes, “We are now left with a plausible natural explanation for reports of an ‘empty tomb,’ which may have sparked the entire Christian faith” (385).

Response to the Argument:

First, we note that even Carrier admits that “it is probably impossible to determine which explanation is correct . . .” (370). So, to claim, as he does, that this is a “plausible” explanation goes beyond the evidence. At best, it is only a logically possible explanation, but in the light of the historical evidence it is highly improbable.

Second, several of his premises are questionable (e.g., 5, 6, and 7). First of all, there were possible exceptions to this law (#5). Further, once permission was granted to Joseph for burial, no law was violated (#6). Finally, once permission was granted, this was the final burial site and a later empty tomb of this guarded grave was sign of a resurrection (#7).

Third, another premise is misconstrued (#4). Just because temporary storage was possible does not mean this was a case of it. The evidence is that it was not, since Jesus was prepared for burial (John 19), and a guard was placed there (Mt. 27:65) indicating that he was to be there for at least three days – the predicted time of His resurrection.

Fourth, even if one granted the first seven premises of Carrier’s argument (which I do not), the conclusions (# 8 and 9) do not follow. For not only did the women see an empty tomb but also saw an angel confirming Christ had risen and then met and handled Jesus themselves (Mt. 28:5, 9). Nor does it account for the fact that Peter and John had the same experience of seeing the empty tomb, as well as the grave clothes and the folded head cloth – things that would not have been left behind in that condition in a transfer to another tomb.

Fifth, even if #8 followed from #1-7 (which it does not), #9 does not follow from the preceding premises since it involves greater leaps in logic to believe that over 500 people on eleven occasions in the next few weeks (who saw his scars, heard him teach, touched his body, and ate with Jesus) were all hallucinating. On top of this, they immediately began to turn the world upside down with their bold and death-defying witness that Christ had risen from the dead. It takes a greater miracle to believe this than it does to believe in the simple, straight-forward account of the resurrection.

Chapter 11: “Financial Aspects of the Resurrection” by Duncan Derrett

Summary of the Argument:

Derrett proposes that what happened to Jesus’ body can be answered by “whom did any scenario profit? With this, key problems raised by our self-contradictory New Testament story may be resolved” (394).

Derrett acknowledges that “the disciples had, on four separate grounds, a most unpromising product to sell” (394). First, “if Jesus taught that the classic fetishes of Jewry (like the Scapegoat) were nonsense . . . a host of conservative people would object, especially in Jerusalem where the cult was an excellent money spinner” (394). Further, “Jesus’ own shameful execution was a second discouragement to any potential follower” (394). “The third discouragement was the continual falling-off of sympathetic objectors, reasonable or not” (395). “The fourth discouragement was that Jesus’ message never admitted as operationally valid the common principles of profit and loss” (395). He admitted, “So the disciples’ commodity was hard to sell. This very fact can be tendered with some confidence as a genuine witness to the Resurrection, for no one would peddle Jesus’ message without the most startling impetus. And no alternative has ever been offered. What was in their favor? What could outweigh these discouragements and attract such a man as Ananias?”(396).

In response, Derrett claimed Jesus’ message appealed to the poor, but “there was also an aspect that appealed to the well-to-do. In Jesus’ ‘irrational’ economy there was a peculiar balance between input and output. As one was prepared to invest in moral self-training . . . so there arose a sense of doing for the creator what he/she could not do for him/herself: one relished becoming Yahweh’s creditor instead of being his debtor (Prov. 19:17) . . .” (397). Thus, “One who looks after the poor gains a superiority which mere financial exchange cannot supply” (397).

“Did Resurrection Help the Business” (397)? Derrett answers in the affirmative for “Jesus’ strange experience even as truth was a ready-prepared parable. It could be construed, absurd as it seems, as an earnest of the general resurrection” (397). For “whatever they denied themselves in life (as he had) would be amply compensated for hereafter (Mark 10:30)” (398). As for the two “proofs” for the resurrection, (1) “It [Jesus’ body] could have been stolen; or Jesus was simply reburied (John 20:2); or he could have revived and been rescued” (398). (2) Further, “the appearances lack one feature which an appearance from the dead calls for – none give us any information which we did not have before” (398). Further, the witnesses were not credible because “no court is compelled to accept such testimony where there is a likelihood that a witness is disqualified by relationship, by want of religious status (orthodoxy), or by his having an interest in the outcome of the enquiry” (398).

But how could any event (but a resurrection) overcome the doubt and discouragement of his disciples at the execution of their leader as an impostor? But how were they to present their message of death and resurrection? “This is where entrepreneurial skill comes in.” To deny this “is to undervalue Jewish traditional gifts. For many centuries they supplied international traders, financiers. . . . They were active where large profits were to be made” (399).

“On the reappearance of Jesus after his burial the obvious question would arise: ‘What profit is there in this for us?’” The answer is “it enhanced the individual” and “the hostility of a section of the Jewish aristocracy seemed . . . to guarantee this” (400). Their motives were enhanced by the “divine recompense of the just, especially the righteous sufferer” (399). The ascension belief was based on that of Elijah (400-01). For “Throughout Jewish history, there have been people so holy that they were ‘taken up’; they entered heaven alive” [Enoch, Elijah, and Ezra are given as examples] (402). “When we come to the Appearances, the position is just as favorable. Pagan gods appeared when they chose. Disappearance leads naturally to expectation of reappearance without warning.” (404).

“Here was the scenario: here the origin of the fanciful theologizing which has served the Christian faith until unsympathetic skeptics tried to demolish what remains of useful legend. What was real about Jesus remains in his teaching, but it must be accepted that it required authoritative supplementation” (404).

Response to the Argument:

One can divine Derrett’s his central thesis from the word “financial” in the title and his introduction which raises the question of “profit.” The basic argument seems to be: (1) No one acts without a profit motive; (2) The disciples of Jesus had ample profit motive to construct the legend of Jesus’ death, resurrection, appearances, and second coming. (3) Hence, the New Testament is such a legend. In response, both premises can be challenged.

First, even the author admits there was no earthly, material profit motive for the self-denial and self-sacrifice of the disciples. To overcome this formidable difficulty Derrett constructs what even he calls a concocted and contrived “irrational” economy with a “peculiar balance between input and output” in which the disciples trade self-denial in order to relish “becoming Yahweh’s creditor instead of being his debtor . . .” (397). On the material face of it even Derrett has to admit that “the disciples had, on four separate grounds, a most unpromising product to sell” (394). Indeed, they did. In fact, Derrett never makes a convincing case that these real obstacles were ever overcome by his imaginary “scenario.” He never even overcomes the problem in his own statement of the problem: “So the disciples’ commodity was hard to sell. This very fact can be tendered with some confidence as a genuine witness to the resurrection, for no one would peddle Jesus’ message without the most startling impetus. And no alternative has ever been offered. What was in their favor?” (396).

Second, he never succeeds in demonstrating that the disciples of Jesus constructed this “irrational” economy. Further, he has to deny the well-established historicity of the core New Testament events in order to construct his air-castle of legend (see Hemer and Blomberg). Here again, Derrett never satisfies his own question: “Did the Resurrection Help the Business?” (397). He even admitted his answer was “strange” and could be construed “absurd” (397). Indeed, it is. For how can a profit motive be construed from the denial of all earthly visible profit in this life for an invisible, intangible one in the next life? And what besides a resurrection could convince Jesus’ Jewish disciples to do this?

Third, crucial premises of Derrett’s fairy tale are notably implausible. For example, that the early spread of what the disciples knew to be false in the face of death was accomplished by their Jewish “entrepreneurial skill”! Equally implausible is a concocted “irrational” economy with a “peculiar” twist to overcome the obvious anti-profit making motives of early Christian martyrs.

Fourth, his responses to the two kingpin “proofs” for the resurrection are evidentially deprived. (1) As for the empty tomb, he leaves the reader with mere possibilities and no real historical evidence. “It could have been stolen; or Jesus was simply reburied (John 20:2); or he could have revived and been rescued” (398 emphasis added). (2) As for his response to the twelve appearances to over 500 people over a forty day period of time (with varied physical evidence and contacts), Derrett’s response is like letting air out of a balloon. It rests on an a priori assumption and it provided no a posteriori evidence (398).

All in all, this is one of the weakest chapters in the book and which, thereby, will be as counter productive as any. Indeed, it will probably encourage most neutral readers toward belief in basic historicity of the resurrection narratives.

Chapter 12: “By this time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus” by Robert Price

Summary of the Argument:

Price charges that like scientific creationism, Craig’s view of the resurrection “denote[s] a major step backward in terms of scientific method” (411). He insists that the fact New Testament scholarship is more conservative than it once was and has more “to do with which denominations can afford to train the most students, hire more faculty, and send more members to SBL.” Further, “most biblical scholars are and always have been believing Christians, even if not fundamentalists” (412).

Craig defends his appeal to authority by noting that it is not always bad, particularly when the authority is honest and reliable (e.g., DNA experts). Price calls this a “false analogy” since in those cases it is a life-threatening matter unlike the intellectual considerations of the New Testament (413).

He charges Craig with a “double truth” view based on his “distinction between knowing Christianity is true and showing it is true” (415). He then scolds Craig for his assertion that “I know Christianity is true because God’s Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. . . . If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now to try to show you it is true, I’ll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that’s my fault, not God’s” (415). Price castigates this view, claiming Craig is admitting that “his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon . . . [is true because] he gets a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it’s true” (416). Price sees Craig’s whole argument as “completely circular” and “he holds his faith on purely subjective grounds” (416). Thus, he sees Craig’s apologetic approach as a kind of “double truth” approach.
Price also thinks Craig “would retreat to the old red herring of ‘naturalistic presuppositions’ as a way of doing an end run around the most fundamental postulate of critical historiography” (417). He claims that “this is the most blatant kind of scurrilous mudslinging, no different from Creationist stump debater Duane Gish charging that ‘God-denying’ evolutionists must want society to become a den of murderers and pornographers” (417-18).
Since the New Testament asserts that Jesus was buried by the same people who crucified him (Acts 13:28-29), “in a case like this, one can easily imagine Jesus’ disciples knowing (or surmising) that he had been buried, but not knowing where, or knowing it to be a common grave, e.g., the Valley of Hinnom . . .” (422). Further, the New Testament hints and Tertullian states that some believed Jesus was only buried temporarily in Joseph’s tomb (423). What is more, the disciples did not start preaching until fifty days later when “it would have been moot to produce the remains of Jesus” (423). “In fact, one might even take the seven-week gap to denote that the disciples were shrewd enough to wait till such disconfirmation had become impossible” (423).

Price concludes that Craig is not a poor workman with bad tools. The tools are good, but “the job, in fact, cannot be done” (430). He cannot “know” Christianity is true without being able to “show” it is true. For to know subjectively what one cannot show objectively is to posit, in effect, a double view of truth.

Response to the Arguments:

First, it is obvious that, not just Price’s language but also his conclusions are excessive. Indeed, Price admits he has just “vented” and a brief reminder of his terms supports this. Consider words used of Craig’s arguments like “exegetical alchemy,” “tortuous attempts” that “smack of priestcraft and subterfuge” (426) and “the most blatant kind of scurrilous mudslinging,” etc. Me thinks thou doth protest too strongly.

Second, when Price gets down to the point, he misses it. He recognizes but denies the charge that critics of the resurrection have an antisupernatural bias, only to unconsciously admit it by adopting Bradley’s antisupernatural presupposition of critical history. He confuses uniformity (analogies from the present to study the past) which is a good principle with uniformitarianism (all events, present, and past will be assumed to have natural causes). His repeated reference to creation science makes the point. Analogies in the present, which are based on repeated observations (which is a proper basis for studying the past), are to show that not all events in the present (and past) are the result of natural causes. The sciences of archaeology and cryptology are cases in point. Namely, specified complexity, irreducible complexity, and anticipatory design all point to an intelligent cause in the present. We observe this repeatedly. Hence, when we have evidence that like events occurred in the past (like the specified complexity in DNA the first one celled organism [which is equal to a thousand volumes of an encyclopedia]), then we have good reason to posit a non-natural intelligent cause for them too. By this same forensic logic, we have no reason to deny that a resurrection of the body of Jesus of Nazareth could have (in a theistic world) a divine cause. Price fails to see that his uniformitarian view of so-called “critical history” is really a form of methodological naturalism which eliminates miracles a priori. Thus, he has not evaded the charge Craig leveled that antisupernaturalism is at the base of the denial of the historicity of the gospel accounts of the resurrection. This is true both logically and historically.

Third, Price argues that Craig should have seen that Paul modeled his view after the “Mystery Religion” groups that took “body” as an inner “spiritual body” which begins at baptismal regeneration (428). Apparently Price does not recognize this is itself a post hoc fallacy, lacking positive identification of the two which he does not provide.

Fourth, Price engages in a “Straw Man” argument,” claiming Craig is like “Duane Gish charging that ‘God-denying’ evolutionists must want society to become a den of murderers and pornographers” (418). Neither Craig’s nor Gish’s arguments depend on such a connection. Neither “want” society to become this. However, both would argue that denying a divine basis for morality will have, given time, a significant consequence of moral actions. Neither “want” the evil that results from denying a solid basis for ethics to occur. But experience tells us that it will.

Fifth, Price criticizes Craig for appeal to a majority of scholars in support (412), yet he does the same when he says “most New Testament scholars” believe (422) and “many New Testament scholars observe . . .” (426). Craig is correct in affirming that reliable experts (like DNA experts) are valuable in discovering truth, and Price is wrong in thinking the New Testament issues are not life and death issues. In fact, if the words of Jesus are correct, they are eternal life and eternal death issues!

Sixth, Price is mistaken in assuming that there are more conservatives now simply because there is more denominational money for them. He forgets that it just may be that there is more money from conservative churches because they actually believe the truth that transforms, namely, that Jesus conquered death! Further, to claim that “most biblical scholars are and always have been believing Christians” makes them biased, is like saying that no survivor of the holocaust is a reliable witness because he is biased against it. On the face of it, who is more likely to be biased against the miracle-ridden New Testament documents: atheistic antisupernaturalists or those that believe miracles are possible?

Seventh, while it does not affect the overall argument for the resurrection itself, Price has made an important point in criticizing Craig’s subjectivistic and seemingly dualistic approach to the verification of truth. It seems to me that Craig’s strategy, while conceived with good intent, not only can but has backfired. In fact, when I first heard about it some time ago, I feared this consequence. While evangelicals believe in the essential role of the Holy Spirit in confirming and convincing persons of the truth of Scripture, it is unwise and unbiblical to make the subjective and objective two separate sources of confirmation. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit, who through the objective truth, subjectively confirms it to the hearts of those who are willing to receive it. R. C. Sproul captured this important point in his article on the topic (see below). See also our article on “The Holy Spirit, Role in Apologetics” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.

Chapter 13: “Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli on the Hallucination Theory” by Keith Parsons

Summary of the Argument:

Parsons says, “I conclude that the thirteen objections that Kreeft and Tacelli offer against the hallucination theory are devoid of cogency. Neither individually nor collectively do they undermine the claim that the postmortem ‘appearances’ of Jesus are best regarded as hallucinatory or visionary” (448-49). He concludes, “In fact, just about everything Kreeft and Tacelli have said about the ‘appearances’ of Jesus could be said about the various ‘close encounters’ with ETs” (448). This includes large numbers of people, physical evidence, personal encounters and conversations (448). Parsons depends heavily on Gerd Ludemann’s contention that the appearances were visionary (434). He points to psychological studies of hallucinations that show they can be collective, happen to people who were in similar conditions to the disciples.

Parsons challenges the premise that the Gospel reports of the appearances are trustworthy. He doubts them because they are “(1) written by persons unknown . . ., (2) composed forty or more years after the events . . ., (3) based on oral traditions, and therefore subject to the frailties of human memory, (4) containing many undeniably fictional elements, (5) each with a clear theological bias and apologetic agenda, (6) contradicting many known facts, (7) inconsistent with each other, (8) with very little corroboration from non-Christian sources, and (9) testifying to occurrences which, in any other context, would be regarded as unlikely in the extreme” (439).

Response to the Arguments:

First, some general comments are in order. (1) Parsons admits his view is “not at all unlikely” (441) which being translated means any where from merely possible to plausible. But he makes no real comparison with the opposing view which based on the reliability of the documents is between highly probable and virtually certain. (2) He acknowledges that many other skeptics differ on important points with him (445). (3) He admits there are other possible naturalistic theories that disagree with his (445, 447). (4) He acknowledges the speculative nature of these naturalistic views, saying, “any number of such scenarios can be generated” (447).

Second, all of his points are arguable and none is undeniable. Put positively, at best he does not destroy Kreeft’s arguments and at worst only calls for a more precise statement of some of them. In short, his efforts fail. Further, with a little refinement, most of the anti-hallucination arguments can be strengthened. And in any case the numerous physical appearances to 500 people over a forty day time period make them unnecessary.

Third, if the New Testament record is historical, all of his arguments fall flat. The New Testament record is historical (see Hemer and Blomberg). Therefore, all his arguments fall flat. Taken one by one – (1) They were not written by unknown persons. Matthew was an apostle,26 Mark was an associate of the apostle Peter, Luke was a contemporary and companion of the apostle Paul, and John was an apostle.27 (2) They were not composed after A.D. 70 Luke was written by about A.D. 60 (see Hemer). By Parson and company’s own admission, Matthew and Mark were earlier than Luke (that would be in the 50s). By their own acknowledgment, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the mid 50s and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans in about the next five years, and all the essentials of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and appearances are found there between A.D. 55 and 60 just as they are in the Gospels. Even noted New Testament critics, like Bishop Robinson, date the Gospels A.D. 40-65+. All these dates are much too early to cast doubt on the essentials of Christ’s death and resurrection. (3) As just shown, they are not based on oral traditions but written accounts by eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events. Their memories were not frail nor fallible since they were assured by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13). But even on a purely human basis, memories from this period were highly developed and accurate (see Linnemann)28. (4) There are no demonstrable fictional elements in the Gospels, certainly not in the resurrection accounts. This fictional view is a fiction based on unjustified late dates, antisupernatural bias, and other assumptions. (5) Having a specific purpose, certain religious beliefs, or interest in the topic does not automatically disqualify a work as unreliable. If it did, then survivors of the holocaust could not be allowed as witness of this atrocity. (6 and 7) Properly understood, there are no real contradicting or factual errors in the Gospels (see Geisler and Howe, Critics) many known facts. (8) No corroboration is needed from other sources. The New Testament has twenty-seven books written by eight or nine authors, all of which come from the time of the eyewitnesses. Further, there is substantial corroboration from non-Christian sources on all the elements necessary to make a best-case scenario in favor of the bodily resurrection (see Habermas, The Historic Jesus). (9) Without denying the possibility of the miracles, there is nothing “unlikely in the extreme” in the Gospels (439). In short, one would have to disprove the existence of a theistic God (by whom miracles are possible) in order to eliminate the possibility of miracles. And if God exists, then miracles are possible. And if miracles are possible, then the miracles recorded in the Gospels are credible (believable).

Chapter 14: Swinburne on the Resurrection. By Michael Martin

Summary of the Argument:

Martin argues that Swinburne’s conclusion that “it is overwhelmingly probable that Jesus was God Incarnate and was resurrected from the dead” is wrong (453). Rather, “all of his probability estimates are either unrealistically too high or too low. Once these are corrected, the probability of the Resurrection is well below 50 percent” (466).
Martin reaches his conclusion by challenging the assumption that the existence of God is as probable as not (454). If this assumption fails, then it is improbable that Jesus rose from the dead since its probability is based in large part upon this assumption.

Martin’s challenge to the probability of God’s existence is based on the following objections: “his concept of God is incoherent, the theistic explanations he puts forward conflict with our background knowledge, his reliance on the criterion of simplicity is problematic, his solution to the problem of evil is dubious, and his account of miracles is seriously flawed” (454). Add to this the implausibility of Swinburne’s view that God does not have infallible foreknowledge of future free acts which is necessary for God’s moral perfection (455), and Swinburne’s solution to the problem of evil and free will are insufficient (457), and Martin concludes that the existence of God is not more probable than not. If so, then miracles are not probable, including the miracle of the resurrection and the related conclusion that Jesus is God Incarnate.

Response to the Argument:

Even if one accepts all of Martin’s criticisms (and some seem compelling), it does not follow that the resurrection is improbable. All that would follow is that the necessary conditions for probability of the resurrection laid down by Swinburne do not yield the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus is probable. One could hold an alternate view of God and evidence, evil, and free will that does not have the alleged inadequacies of Swinburne’s view and still construct a probable argument for the existence of the resurrection. Indeed, the classical view of God does not have the particular problems (see Geisler, Battle for God) that Swinburne’s Openness View of God has. Hence, it is not subject to the criticisms that Swinburne’s view is. In short, Martin has not shown that no probable view of the resurrection is possible. At best, he has only demonstrated that Swinburne’s Openness View of God on his view of probability fails to make the resurrection probable.

In point of fact, a stronger argument can be constructed both against Swinburne’s view and for the classical theistic view as follows: (1) If God does not exist, then miracles are impossible (not just improbable). For a miracle by definition is an act of a theistic God. And if there is no God who can so act, then there cannot be any such acts of God as miracles. In short, the resurrection is impossible (not just improbable) if a theistic God does not exist since God is a logical prerequisite for miracles.

However, if a theistic God exists, then miracles are automatically possible. For in a theistic universe, the biggest miracle (creating something from nothing) has already occurred. Hence, nothing forbids God doing lesser miracles. And if in addition, the New Testament documents are historically reliable (even in the essential matters of the resurrection), then the resurrection miracle is as highly probable as the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament record. All a priori improbability for a resurrection to the contrary, since all that counts, if God exists, is the probability of the reliability of the New Testament documents which record this miracle. Of course, if it is probable that God exists and probable that the New Testament documents are reliable, then on a combined probability it is highly probable that the resurrection occurred. We have made this very case elsewhere.29
A few comments on other important points are in order. First, I am inclined in general to agree with Martin against the use of the simplicity test – at least in its common sense notion that the simplest explanation is the best. It is much stronger in its original sense proposed by Ockham that “We should not multiply causes without necessity.”

Second, the presence of evil does not make God less probable. For (a) If God is all powerful, He can defeat evil. (b) If He is all good, then He will defeat evil. (c) Hence, if evil is not yet defeated, then it will be. We know that because the very nature of an all-powerful and all good being guarantees it. The anti-theist, not being omniscient (as a theist God is) cannot know the truth of the only premise that can defeat this argument, namely “Evil never will be defeated.”

Third, the classical theist can easily answer Martin’s argument about God not knowing certain things we know (like knowing evil by experience) by noting that God knows what we know (and infinitely more) but not the way we know it. We know finitely and sometimes sinfully, but God is neither. Hence, God does not know this way since He is infinite and morally perfect. But it is no limitation on God not to know the way we know. The limitation is on the finite and sinful creature, not the infinite and sinless Creator.

Fourth, Martin sneaks in an invalid Humean anti-miracle argument under the ambiguous phrase “theism is less probable than not, given the commonsense scientific theories that explain the empirical world” (456). Non-theists usually mean this the way Hume did, namely, given the regular and repeated laws of nature (e.g., which reveal that dead people do not rise), it is highly improbable that a resurrection will occur. And if one does, then it would take near miraculous empirical evidence to overcome it. But on this same logic non-supernaturalists should not believe in the Big Bang, the spontaneous generation of first life, or even macro-evolution (most of which are accepted by them). For these are rare and unrepeated singularities against which the odds are great. Nonetheless, non-supernaturalists believe the evidence is great for these events. In short, they do not allow prior odds (whether a priori or empirical) to rule out the good evidence that an event has actually occurred. The theist uses the same kind of argument for the resurrection.

Fifth, it is a twisted logic to claim that “Swinburne’s admission of the existence of heaven seems to undermine his explanation of moral and natural evil.” In fact, the opposite is the truth, for without a heaven evil would never be defeated and the atheist’s argument against a theistic God from evil would stand. Unless this evil world is a necessary condition for the better world to come, it is hard to see how allowing it would have been justifiable. In short, admittedly, this is not the best possible world, but it could be the best possible way to get to the best possible world. Hence, the problem of evil does not make God’s existence more improbable; it makes it more necessary. For without an all-powerful, all-perfect God there is no guarantee evil either exists or will ever be defeated. And the physical resurrection is evidence that God can defeat evil, bringing in an immortal state.

Chapter 15: “Reformed Epistemology and Biblical Hermeneutics” by Evan Fales

Summary of the Argument:

Fales begins by noting that “contemporary apologists sometimes write as if modern Bible critics just assumed some sort of ontological or methodological naturalism because it suited them, and not because they had read, e.g., Spinoza or Hume or Kant, and found in them arguments carrying conviction” (470 emphasis in original). He says of Plantinga and other Reformed epistemologists, “All of them reject the methodological constraints that characterize modern historiography . . .” (470). He writes that Plantinga also rejects the “internalist foundationalism characteristic of the Enlightenment in favor of externalism” (470). He says, “Christians . . . know what he calls the Great Things of the Gospel – the essential salvific message of the New Testament . . . in a properly basic way” (471). They are “directly led to know them by ‘internal instigation’ of the Holy Spirit” (471). That is, “reading or hearing the Bible might serve as an occasion for one’s coming to believe these things . . . not to be understood as a matter of performing overt or covert inferences from evidence. It is rather that reading or hearing these words may open one’s heart to the promptings of the HS [Holy Spirit]” (471 emphasis in original). So, “a properly basic belief that is generated by a sufficiently reliable cognitive process in favorable circumstances, and that is accompanied by the right kind of doxastic experience – strong confidence – has sufficient warrant to constitute knowledge. But it is only prima facie warrant; it can be defeated, e.g., by evidence that counts against the belief or against the reliability of its means of acquisition, if that evidence sufficiently undermines confidence” (472).

Plantinga outlines several views. “TBC [Traditional Christian Biblical Commentary] holds that Scripture is divinely inspired. . . . Moreover, the unity of the Bible licenses using one part to interpret another part” (472). “The way in which a believer comes to know the Canon is divinely inspired is not by way of historical investigation, but by being so informed by the HS (which either implants just this belief or one entailing it [in believer’s hearts] . . .” (472-73).

HBC [Historical Biblical Criticism] “undertakes an assessment of the meaning and historical reliability of Scripture from the perspective of reasons (and sense) alone. It refuses the assistance of faith: it eschews the authority of creed, tradition, and magisterium” (473). There are three methodologies in this view: Troeltschian, Duhemiean, and Spinozistic. Plantinga rejects all of these as excluding miracles (474). He takes it that “the disarray within HBC scholarship is an independent reason for Christians not to be overly concerned about the implications of HBC for the faith” (475). Fales disagrees and suggests it is because they are dealing with a difficult topic and that one can be a good practitioner without being a good explainer of the theory (475). He then defends “reasonably firm historical conclusions” from their method including: (1) “The first three chapters of Genesis owes a large debt in style, imagery, and content to the creation myths of the Sumerians and the other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) pagan religions” (476). (2) “There appears to be not a single biblical prophecy that meets minimal conditions for being genuinely prophetic, and whose fulfillment can be independently confirmed” (476). (3) “The Gospels were composed later than the collapse of the Jewish revolt in 70 CE.” (477). He refers to the opposing view that Acts (hence Luke and Mark) were prior to A.D. 64 as “lame” for two reasons: “The first is that the rest of Acts has simply been lost. The second . . . it would hardly be surprising if the Roman execution of Paul was such a severe embarrassment to the Church that the author of Acts felt it best to omit it – and hence to terminate his history by portraying Paul’s stay in Rome in decidedly positive terms” (477). (4) “It is generally acknowledged that an understanding of the Gospel passion narratives cannot proceed in isolation from an examination of the large body of ANE literature and cultic practices that deploys the notion of death and resurrection, and links it to other themes that pervade the lore of the Hebrew Bible and a wide range of ANE religious traditions . . .” (478).

Fales questions miracles on several grounds. Can they be scientifically investigated? (478). Are they intelligible? How does God perform them? What is the mechanism? How can we trust testimony to confirm them? He responds to the objection to Hume— that his claim to “uniform experience” is question-begging—by arguing that Hume is referring only to “uniform experience” where “there is no prima facie reason to doubt” (481).

As for the testimony of the Spirit, Fales remarks: “Reformed epistemology would, in effect, return us to the biblical hermeneutics of the sixteenth century. . . . Did these voices achieve greater unanimity over Christian doctrine and the proper interpretation of Scripture than HBC scholars have? They did not” (482). As to perspicuity of Scripture, Fales believes “it is entirely plausible that Scripture would have been comprehensible by an intended audience – ancient Jews and Gentiles. . . . It is another matter altogether to claim that Scripture is perspicuous for us now” (484-85 emphasis in original).

He says, “I want, in conclusion, to suggest that adoption of the hermeneutical approaches recommended by Plantinga, Evans, and van Inwagen would represent not only a cognitively disastrous step backward in Bible studies, but a dangerous one. Nineteenth-century Bible scholars and their heirs were moved not by a tendentious naturalism but by a respect for common sense and an acute awareness of the intellectual and social disasters of sixteenth-century religiosity. For Fales, Plantinga’s argument boils down to this: “1. Christians know the Great Things of the Gospels. 2. If Christians know the Great Things, then in all probability something like the A/C model is correct. 3. Therefore, in all probability, something like the A/C model is correct” (485). Fales rejects premise two and therefore the conclusion.

Response to the Arguments:

First, his critique about evangelical complaints against Bible critics like himself is misdirected. We too have read “Spinoza or Hume or Kant” (470) but found their arguments wanting (see Geisler, Miracles). Spinoza’s argument fails because it begs the question by defining natural laws as unbreakable. Even Fales admits this is an open universe and miracles can’t be ruled out a priori (478). Hume’s argument fails because the evidence for the rare is not always less than the evidence for the regular, as is demonstrated by the antisupernaturalist’s acceptance of the Big Bang, spontaneous generation of first life, and macroevolution. We know the arguments, have analyzed them, and have found them seriously flawed.30

Second, as for Plantinga’s rejection of foundationalism, it is not crucial to the evangelical acceptance of miracles or the historicity of the New Testament. I agree that Plantinga is wrong and have defended classical foundationalism. For one thing, Plantinga’s arguments against foundationalism are directed against a Cartesian type of deductive foundationalism (which many evangelicals also reject). He has not penetrated the traditional foundationalism of Aristotle, Aquinas, and followers which demonstrates that first principles of thought are self-evident and undeniable.31 In any event, the failure of Plantinga on this point has nothing to do with the success or failure of miracles and the historicity of the Gospels.

Third, Fales wrongly assumes that Historical Criticism has a franchise on “reasons and sense” in defending the reliability of the Gospels and resurrection. This is to show ignorance of both the Thomistic tradition and the Old Princetonian tradition of Warfield, Hodge, and Machen – indeed, of Calvin himself.32 This tradition is continued by many evangelical philosophers as well (David Beck, Win Corduan, John Gerstner, Richard Howe, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howe, Jason Reed, R.C. Sproul, and myself – to name a few).

Fourth, his contention that the New Testament authors did not intend to engage in “historical reportage” (482) flies in the face of facts inside and outside of Scripture. Luke clearly claims to the contrary (Luke 1:1-4), and he reports the same basic things about Christ (including his bodily resurrection) as do the other Gospels. Further, Luke’s writings have been confirmed by nearly one hundred historically accurate statements by a noted Roman historian (see Hemer). Further, the essence of the New Testament affirmation about Christ and his resurrection are supported by non-biblical authors of the period.33

Fifth, Fales downplays the contradictions and failures of Historical Criticism which evangelicals have highlighted (see Archer, Harrison, Carson, Kline, Linneman, and others).

Sixth, he does not avoid the criticism that Historical Criticism is based on ontological and/or methodological naturalism. Spinoza’s metaphysics (monism) was naturalistic. Both Hume and Kant had a non-theistic worldview. The former was a Skeptic and the latter a Deist, both of which views disallow miracles. Following Troelsch, Fales adopts a methodological naturalism by way of the principle of historical analogy. As understood and applied by Troelsch and the biblical critics, it implies a uniformitarianism which is based on only natural causes (see 472, 474).

Seventh, Fales’ dismissal of the argument for Luke writing before Paul’s death is laughable. Hemer provides 15 arguments for Acts being written by A.D. 62 – which have never been refuted by critics. Indeed, many of them are based on a rock solid argument from silence as defined by Carrier in this very book (178), namely, that when an author knew about an event that would have been important to mention and did not, then the event had not yet occurred. Surely the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), the death of Paul (c. 65), the Jewish Wars (A.D. 64 f), and the death of James the apostle (which Josephus placed at A.D. 62) were important events to the history of that time and yet Luke (in Acts) mentions none of them. It is akin to writing a life of John Kennedy and not mentioning his assassination. One thing is certain, namely, it must have been written before it happened in 1963. Likewise, Acts must have been written before 62 and surely before A.D. 70. But critical scholars reject that date because it destroys their anti-miraculous, anti-historical view that Jesus rose from the dead.

Concluding Comments

This book is widely claimed by skeptics to be the best response to the arguments for the physical resurrection of Jesus. If so, then the best they have to offer is a poor case indeed. It presents no real positive evidence that Christ did not rise from the grave bodily. Instead, it offers supposition upon presupposition, speculation upon theorizing, and unfounded rationalization upon ungrounded theories. Indeed, many of the hypotheses offered are mutually contradictory. The aim of the book seems to be a frustrated attempt to blow smoke on the solid historical facts for the physical resurrection of Christ in the desperate hope that one of the many conflicting and highly speculative possibilities might cause enough doubt to lead to disbelief in this cornerstone of Christianity.

In place of solid facts they offer implausible hypotheses. The case for the resurrected Christ stands firm. In spite of over 500 pages of wasted ink, the bottom line is that there are some unsubstantiated theoretical possibilities that Jesus did not rise from the grave. On the other side of the ledger, there is overwhelming historical evidence that Jesus did rise bodily from the tomb. Lest we forget, these pure skeptical speculations fail miserably when contrasted with the following powerful evidence. There are more documents, better copied documents, and earlier documents for the New Testament than for any book from the ancient world (see Kenyon and Metzger).34

Further, there are more authors, earlier authors, more well authenticated authors of these New Testament documents than for any authors from the ancient world. This authenticity comes from the fact that historical evidence supports that: (1) Many (if not all) of these nine New Testament authors were eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries of the events. (2) They wrote twenty-seven different books. (3) Some of the books are known to have come from within about twenty years of the events (and were based on creeds that go back within years of the events). 4) They were known to be honest men. (5) They were willing to die (and many did) for what they taught. (6) Their testimony has been verified by noted legal experts (see Greenleaf).35 (7) One Gospel writer (who confirmed the same basic truths as others) is known to have been a first rate historian and contemporary of the period (see Hemer). (8) Early church Fathers, some of whom overlapped with the apostles, have confirmed their testimony to the resurrection. (9) Non-Christian sources outside the New Testament have confirmed the same basic truths about Jesus as the New Testament writers (see Bruce). (10) The internal evidence shows every sign of authenticity (see Blomberg). (11) The majority of New Testament scholars, including critics, admits to the basic facts which are best explained by the resurrection (see Habermas). (12) When compared to other documents of the period, noted Roman Historians have praised the New Testament documents (Sherwin-White).36 (13) Experts on myths (like C.S. Lewis) have vouched for the non- mythological nature of the New Testament documents. (14) By contrast with later apocryphal writings, the New Testament has an unimbellished simplicity and authenticity. (15) Unless one presupposes an unjustified antisupernatural posture (see Geisler, Miracles), there is no good reason to reject the general authenticity of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. (16) By comparison with other great figures of the ancient world (like Alexander the Great) whose historicity is almost universally accepted, the evidence for Christ’s death and resurrection are overwhelming (see Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith).

1 See Norman Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).
2 See David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, book 10, On Miracles, ed. Chas. W. Hendel (New York: Liberal Arts, 1955).
3 See Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999).
4 See Steven B. Cown, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 331-4, 337-8.
5 See Gary Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980).
6 See St. Augustine, “Reply to Faustus the Manichaen,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publication Co.,1887; reprint Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 4:155-345.
7 See Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).
8 See Robert Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology: with Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
9 See N. Tom Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003).
10 Gundry, Soma.
11 See Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), chapter 3.
12 See Richard Whately, “Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte,” in Famous Pamphlets, ed. H. Morley (New York: Routledge, 1890).
13 See Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask (Wheaton: Victor, 1992).
14 For many responses/details on this, see Gary Habermas’ Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman and
Littlefield, 2003). 49-50, n. 157.
15 See William F. Albright, “William Albright: Toward a More Conservative View,” Christianity Today, 18 January 1963.
16 Ibid.
17 See John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976).
18 See Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978).
19 See Colin Hemer, The Book of Act.
20 James G. Frazer, Golden Bough (Lindon: Macmillan, 1890; reprint New York: Crown, 1981), 342, n.38.
21 Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks (Dallas: Probe, 1992).
22 Edwin Yamauchi, “Easter-Myth, Hallucination, or History?” Christianity Today (29 March 1974 and 15 April 1974).
23 See Gary Habermas’ detailed response to Fales in Philosophia Christi, volume 3 (2001), 76-87.
24 See Hemer Acts of the Apostles, and also Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity, 2001).
25 See Norman Geisler and Wayne House, The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001).
26 Donald Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).
27 See also Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction: the Gospels and Acts (London: Tyndale House, 1965).
28 Eta Linnemann, Biblical Criticism on Trial (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001).
29 See Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to
be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004).
30 See also C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1947), and Douglas R. Geivett and Gary Habermas, eds. In Defense of Miracles (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997).
31 See Louis Marie Régis, Epistemology, trans. Imelda Choquette Byrne (New York: Macmillan, 1959).
32 See Kenneth Kantzer, John Calvin’s Theory of the Knowledge of God and the Word of God (Harvard University Thesis, 1950).
33 See Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, and also F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).
34 See Sir Fredric Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 4th ed., rev. A. W. Adams (New York: Harper, 1958); and Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).
35 Simon Greenfield, The Testimony of the Evangelists (1874; reprint Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984).
36 See A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963).

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.


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).


A Review of Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism

A Review of Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution:

The Search for the Limits of Darwinism

By Norman L. Geisler


This book is the follow up of Behe’s revolutionary work, Darwin’s Black Box. Like the first volume, this 307 page tome will also created a stir in the perennial creation-evolution debate. Unlike the first book, the emphasis here is on the limits of evolution rather than the need for intelligent design. Behe’s general conclusions are based largely on the Malaria and HIV studies which enable scientists to determine the rate of “helpful” chance mutations (13) for micro evolution. When this is applied to mutations in living things, Behe believes the mathematical odds eliminate the Darwinian belief that the origin of all living forms can be explained by random mutations and natural selection. This attempt to define the limits of Darwinism provides a way to determine the borders for micro-evolution within an overall intelligent design framework. It is one of the most sophisticated attempts to define the border between macro and micro evolution. The previous effort was by Ray Bolin’s book, The Limits to Biological Change (1984). Much of Behe’s work deals with a technical microbiological discussion of the nature of the cell. However, because of the use of good illustrations, even the scientifically untrained reader can understand the overall argument.

The Central Thesis

Behe concludes that everything from biological classes, types, and phyla clearly need a designer. Everything from species, varieties, and individuals can be explained by purely natural processes like “random mutations, natural selection, and common descent” (1). The Line, then, between, Darwin and design is somewhere in the area of orders, families, and genera (218), though he thinks it is likely that even the orders are designed (193, 199).

In other words, micro evolution (changes within different types) can be accounted for Darwinian processes without any intelligent design. Before that level, however, only an Intelligent Designer can account for the irreducible complexity in living things. Thus, the origin of new life forms cannot be accounted for by a completely Darwinian random processes of chance mutations, and natural selection.

Theistic Evolution

Creationists who missed the fine print in Behe’s first book, acknowledging that he held an overall evolutionary common ancestry thesis, will be disappointed with The Edge of Evolution. For here Behe makes it clear that he is a theistic evolutionist (166, 182, 232). He says: “I’ll show some of the newest evidence from studies of DNA that convinces most scientists, including myself, that one leg of Darwin’s theory–common descent–is correct” (65). He adds, “when two lineages share what appears to be an arbitrary genetic accident, the case for common descent becomes compelling …. This sort of evidence he sees in the genomes of humans and chimpanzees” (70-71). “More compelling evidence for the shared ancestry of humans and other primates comes from …a broken hemoglobin gene” which they share (71). Creationists, however, have shown that a common Creator explains this same data as a result of intelligent design (see Fazele Rana and High Ross, Who Was Adam?, 2005, Chapter 14).

Behe seems to favor the position that “intelligent design is quite compatible with the view that the universe operates by unbroken natural law, with the design of life perhaps packed into its initial set-up” (166). Thus, “the bottom line is this: Common descent is true; yet the explanation of common descent … is in a profound sense trivial” Why? Because “It does not even begin to explain where these commonalities came from, or how humans subsequently acquired remarkable differences” (72). Behe believes that it comes from pre-planned and pre-set intelligent design, perhaps from the moment of the Big Bang.

Random Changes are Inadequate

As one would suspect from his first work, Behe reaffirms his initial thesis that “Random duplicating a single gene, or even the entire genome, does not yield new complex machinery… [or] novel, complex forms of life” (74). Indeed, he insists that the studies since his first book show that “the problems of its [cilium’s] irreducible complexity has been enormously compounded” (94). And “The cilium is no fluke. The cell is full of structures whose complexity is substantially greater than we knew just ten years ago” (95). He also points to the incredible timing it takes to construct a cell, comparing it to the preparation and execution of the material and machinery necessary to erect a large building (96).
Returning to the bacterial flagellum (motor mechanism), he calls it “mind-boggling complexity” (101) since we know there are control switches that exert control over its construction. Citing noble laureate Francis Crick, Behe concludes that “An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going” (216).

Possible Divine Interference

In spite of his common descent thesis, Behe allows for the possibility of divine “interference” after the initial creation at the Big Bang. He concludes: “The bottom line is that, if one allows that a being external to the universe could affect its laws, there is no principled reason to rule out a priori more extensive interaction as well” (210). In short, “If there really does exist an agent who tuned the general laws of nature with the goal of producing intelligent life, then it’s reasonable to think the agent would have taken whatever further steps were necessary to achieve its goal” (213). However, typical of evolutionists, with or without and initial Creator, Behe agrees with the party-line criticism that this positing a series of creative events after the beginning is an unnecessary God-of-the-gaps move.

The Anthropic Connection

Behe skillfully ties his intelligent design thesis in with the anthropic principle (207-208), saying, “It’s reasonable to conclude not only that the universe is designed, but that the design extends well beyond general laws, at least down into particularities of the physical and chemistry of certain molecules” (210). This has the advantage of showing that the designer is beyond the world and that He preplanned emergence of complex life before the Big Bang. He declares that “the hard work of many scientists across many scientific disciplines in the past century unexpectedly demonstrated that both the universe at large and the earth in particular were designed for life. The heavens and earth–and life itself–alike are fine-tuned” (210). In spite of this, Behe strangely allows the view that the Designer may be within the universe like Fred Hoyle proposed (228). However, this is not consistent with the fact that the Designer preplanned the original Big Bang event before the natural world existed and pre-packed it with the necessary conditions for human life to emerge.

The Evidence for Intelligent Design

Behe posits two criteria for an intelligent cause. First, the odds against a natural cause must be great. Random mutations cannot explain the irreducibly complex nature of life for “the majority of even helpful mutations are lost by chance before they get an opportunity to spread in the population” (111). In short, the complex structure of the cell makes it unreasonable for blind Darwinism to navigate the maze necessary for life (113). For both the necessary parts and the action to achieve cell construction make it highly improbable that it would occur naturally (121).

By comparison with the HIV virus in which nothing “significantly new or complex” (155) developed in 1020 copies, Behe concludes that the likelihood of even simple helpful changes for complex cell construction are virtually nil. It is in this connection that Behe offers a helpful distinction between mere theoretical possibility (which Darwinian evolution depends on to make its case) and biologically reasonable expectation (103), namely, something that is likely to occur in nature (which Darwinians is not).

Second, the evidence of purpose is necessary to posit an intelligent cause. Indeed, Behe defines “design” as “the purposeful arrangement of parts” (168). Rational agents can coordinate things into a large system like a ship. Such an arrangement is not only highly unlikely to occur by chance, but we know from previous experience that an intelligent agent can organize things in this manner. All necessary parts must not only fit together but they must stick together (124-126). Even two new useful properties need an intelligent cause since the odds are 1040 against it. This is more than all the mammals that ever lived (135). This is so unlikely that it calls for an intelligent cause at the outer edge of evolution (145-146).

The Role of Chance (220).

The design thesis is not extended by Behe to every detail of the universe. He asks: “Is nothing left to chance? No, there is no reason to think that any but a minuscule fraction of the details of the universe or life are intended” (219). So, “we have no scientific evidence of the design of the details of most inorganic matter” (220). Hence, “Explicit design appears to reach into biology to a certain level, to the level of the vertebrate class, but not necessarily further, Randomness accounts perfectly well for many aspects of life. Contingency is real” (220). In making this claim, Behe is not discounting that even the tiniest cells are elegantly designed. He insists that random mutations can not take many coherent steps by purely natural processes (179).

Addressing Objections
Behe addresses several objections to His view. One deals with the possibility of numerous universes of which this one is the lucky shot that turned up where life emerged, as improbable as it may have been in a single universe.

The Multi-Universe Hypothesis

Behe addresses the atheistic response that this universe is only an isolated oasis of apparent design in a vast dessert of chance involving multi-universes (221) which make this unusual universe in which we live a plausible result of chance. He believes this hypothesis actually undercuts Darwinism for the models are purely speculative and iffy. That is, there is no observational evidence for such an hypothesis–which is the very basis for science. Further, on such a scenario only a bare-bones universe would be produced, not the lush one we have (223). Science can only deal with what is–not with what one imagines or wishes there to be.

Behe struggles with the infinite universes possibility which would explain this one as one of the many that would actualize in that amount of time and space. However, being unarmed with solid philosophical reasoning, he does not seem to realize that one cannot have an actual infinite number of actual universes (but only abstract ones). He does note that an infinite universes hypothesis would undermine both any meaningful sense of evidence and the fact that all false thought will appear endlessly in such a scenario. More fundamentally, he asserts that science is based on the premises that the universe is real and our senses are reliable. Without this even the first steps of reasoning are impossible (226). But granted these, the infinite universe scenario is unfounded.

The Religious Connection

In answer to the objection that the design position leads to God, Behe quotes Nick Bostrom with approval, affirming that “The ‘agent’ doing the designing need not be a theistic God …,” even though that is one possibility (228). He believes–I think wrongly–that “To reach a transcendent God, other nonscientific arguments have to be made–philosophical and theological arguments” (229). Much of the book deals with a technical microbiological discussion of the nature of the cell. However, by the use of good illustrations even scientifically untrained readers can understand the overall argument.

The God of the Gaps Objection

This reasoning, Behe insists, is not “God of the gaps” because non-randomness “encompasses the cellular foundation of life as a whole” (147). In short, it is not the lack of evidence for a natural cause but the presence of an all-permeating presence of purpose that points to a designer. According to Behe, “purposeful designer” is taken in a broad sense (229) to include either a supernatural cause beyond the universe or one inside the universe. For “the designer need not necessarily even be a truly ‘supernatural’ being.” Thus, he argues that “if one wishes to be academically rigorous, he can not leap directly from design to a transcendent God” (228). But this conclusion is unnecessary in view of Behe’s own argument since the anthropic evidence points to a supernatural cause beyond the universe, as does the evidence for the Big Bang to which he alludes. For the cause of the whole natural universe cannot be part of the universe. And the only Cause beyond the natural universe is by definition a supernatural Cause. Indeed, on his own definition of science as a conclusion relying on physical evidence, “plus standard logic” (233) one can logically infer a supernatural cause from the Big Bang origin of the entire natural universe, as we just did.

Common Ancestor or Common Creator

Behe argues that: “If mammals and flies use the same switching genes, it is reasonable to think that they inherited them from the same ancestor or ancestors” (182). Indeed, it is true that “every Hox gene seen in the fruit fly has a very similar counterpart in humans!” (180). However, Behe forgets that from this we need not infer common ancestry. For it is also reasonable to conclude that they have a common Creator. For common design points more reasonably to a common Designer than to a common ancestor. For example, the progressive models of airplanes from the Wright brothers to space ships are not evidence of a common ancestor but a common creator. And in many case a function that worked well in a previous model was incorporated into a later one.

Is the Bible Scientific?

Behe claims that it is “silly” to treat the Bible “as some sort of scientific textbook” (166).
However, while the Bible is not a systematic science text on the various sciences, nonetheless, there is no evidence to demonstrate that it is not scientifically accurate when it speaks on matters of origin. Indeed, modern science has confirmed the basic facts of Genesis one: 1) There was a Creator of the universe (Gen. 1:1). 2) First life was created (Gen. 1:21). 3) The basic kinds of multi-cellular life “exploded” on the scene in the Cambrian (Gen. 1:21-24). 4) All forms of life appeared fully formed from the beginning. 5) These forms of life remain basically the same throughout their geological existence, producing after their kind (Gen. 1:24). 6) Human beings are unique creatures with distinctive intellectual and moral capacities, even God-consciousness (Gen. 1:27). Even the Agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow concluded, “”Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commence suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy” (God and the Astronomers, 14).

Does Nature Self-Organize?

Darwinian evolutionist claim that nature performs self-organizing acts such as hurricanes. But, as Behe points out these systems are not like “complex genetic systems” (159). They have no irreducible complexity, nor do they have any specified complexity such as the DNA has. Hence, this Darwinian analogy is fallacious.

Origin vs. Operation Science

Behe shows no evidence that he understands the distinction between origin and operation science distinction that we made in our book, Origin Science (1987). In fact, he seems to blur them in his definition of science as “any conclusion that relies heavily and exclusively on detailed physical evidence, plus standard logic” (233). But this is too broad and does not bring out the distinctives of each domain. Operation science deals with observed regularities in the present, but origin science treats unobserved singularities in the past. The first one is an empirical science which includes micro-evolution, but not macro evolution. It relies on observation (and experimentation) and repetition. Each theory, therefore, must be measured against a recurring pattern in the present.

However, origin science operates like a forensic science. It involves neither repetition nor direct observation of events. Rather, it relies on two other principles: causality and uniformity. The first principle posits that there is a cause for every event. The second principle declares that the kind of causes know by repeated observation in the present to produce certain kinds of events in the present are assumed to be the same kind of causes to produce like events in the past. And the two basic kinds of causes are intelligent and non-intelligent natural causes. Sciences that deal with intelligent causes in the past includes both forensic science and origin science. Had Behe explicitly used this distinction, he could have solved more problems more readily. Likewise, speaking of “testing” (233-234) an origin hypothesis is misleading in the normal sense of an empirical test. In a forensic situation, being a singular unobserved past event, there is no such way to “test” the event. One can only posit a certain kind of cause (known from repetitions in the present) as the most likely cause of that past event of origin, whether a non-intelligent natural cause or an intelligent cause.

Prediction or Retrodiction?

Failing to distinguish origin science form operation science, Behe labors to explain how intelligent design can make predictions better than Darwinian evolution (188-189, 234). But neither theory as such is primarily concerned with making predictions, though some may be inferred from them. Origin science, such as macro evolution and creation, deals with projecting back (retrodiction) from present evidence to past causes based on uniformity (the present is the key to the past). Hence, the main concern is not with verifying the theory by predictions, but with identifying the proper cause for the specific events, whether non-intelligent natural one or an intelligent one.

Suffering and Design

Behe briefly tackles the painful problem of suffering (237f.). He responds to the argument that “because it is horrific, it was not designed” by pointing out that the “revulsion is not a scientific argument.” Indeed, he insists that “denying design simply because it can cause terrible pain is a failure of nerve, a failure to look at the universe fully in the face” (239). Of course, this is a less than satisfying answer to the problem. A more direct response would be to point out two things. First, suffering does not negate the strong evidence for design. At worst, it only raises questions about the nature and purposes of the Designer. Second, the attempts to disprove the Creator based on the apparent lack of purpose for suffering are notoriously unsuccessful. At best they boil down to this: “The Creator cannot have a good purpose for allowing suffering because the creature cannot think of one.” But clearly if the Creator is infinite in knowledge, then we would expect that He would know infinitely more than we do. And if He is absolutely good (which He must be or else we could not know the world is not-perfect without this absolute standard of Perfection by which to measure it), then He must have an absolutely good purpose for everything, even if we do not know it (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33).

Purpose for Apparent Randomness

Behe seems to lack a full understanding of the relation of randomness and design. They are not mutually exclusive. There is a purpose or design for randomness. For example, the random mixing of carbon dioxide which humans exhale has a good purpose, namely, it keeps them from inhaling the same poison because it did not mix with the air we inhale. Likewise, random natural selection has a good purpose: It enables various kinds of animals to survive by adapting to adverse circumstances. In short, it helps the race survive when weaker individuals are eliminated. Just as a saw mill uses the “wasted” saw dust to make other products, even so there is a purpose for the “wasted” animals who did not survive. They provide food and fertilizer for those who do survive.

Likewise, Behe’s argument for common ancestry based on alleged common mutations in genes between primates an humans is fallacious. Just as the once 180 vestigial organs of Darwin’s day have diminished to virtually none, even so, the recently so-called “junk” genes are now known to have a crucial purpose in the development of life. Any alleged “ waste” in God’s universe is probably a byproduct of a good purpose such as higher life living on lower forms. But even this byproduct of a good process (like saw dust from cutting logs) has a good use. Darwin’s view of nature that is “red in tooth and claw” was not the paradise God made in Eden (Gen. 2), nor will it be the Paradise regained in the end (Isa. 65:25; Rev. 21-22). It is the Paradise lost because of man’s sin (Gen. 2:16-17).


In summation, Behe’s work is a mixed blessing to the creation and intelligent design movements. It is a blessing in that: 1) It strengthens the already good argument from specified complexity to an intelligent Designer; 2) It provides a scientific basis for the limits of biological change known as micro-evolution or variation within created kinds or types of life. On the down side: 1) Behe does not seem to understand the difference between operation science and origin science (see my book Creation in the Courts (Crossway, 2007), Chap. 8); 2) He does not see how the scientific evidence leads to a supernatural Cause; 3) He buys into the unfounded argument that similarity shows a common ancestor, rather than a common Creator; 4) He wrongly assumes that some apparent mutations are evidence for common ancestry when they are really highly complex means produced by an intelligent Designer. Thus, so-called “junk” genes are not really junk. Crucial roles have been discovered for them in the increasing complexity of life. And not all apparent mutations are real ones. Granted that it took a supernatural and super intelligent Cause to produce this world (as the Big Bang and Anthropic evidence shows), there is good reason to believe that “God does not make junk!” And if it looks like junk, then scientists need to take another look. For the history of science has shown that apparent left-over organs and junk genes have turned out to have important functions. Any One who can pre-plan and produce a highly complex universe as this one should not be charged with purposeless activity. It is more likely that we are dumb than it is that a supernatural Creator is dead.


A Friendly Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Last Disciple

A Friendly Response to Hank Hanegraaff’s Book, The Last Disciple

by Norman L. Geisler


There are many reasons I am writing this congenial response to Hank’s recent views expressed in
The Last Disciple. First of all, Hank and I are long time friends and have discussed this topic many times. Second, we both agree that the issue here is not one of orthodoxy vs. unorthodoxy since no great fundamental of the Faith is being denied on either side. We are both fighting in the same orthodox trench against the same unorthodox enemies of the Faith. Third, I have been a faithful defender of Hank against the many false charges leveled against him and have thereby earned the right to offer some friendly criticism of his view. Fourth, Hank knows I have a strong commitment to the premillennial futurist view opposed in The Last Disciple. Indeed, the imminent premillennial view has been a treasured part of Southern Evangelical Seminary’s doctrinal statement from the very beginning. As president, I have been asked by numerous constituents whether I agree with Hank’s position. In brief, my answer is that we agree on all the essentials of the Faith, but on the question of the last days Hank knows I do not agree with his opposition to the futurist view. Hence, as long-time friends, we just agree to disagree agreeably. It is in this spirit that I offer a friendly response to his book The Last Disciple (hereafter “LD”) and statements on it taken primarily from the interview (hereafter designated “I”) printed on the CRI web site ( accessed on 1/20/05). In all fairness, Hank promises a fuller expression of his position in a forthcoming book. But based on what he has written, my comments will be listed after the citations from Hank Hanegraaff’s statements.


A. LD claims to be “an alternative to the Left Behind view of Tim LaHaye” (LD, 393).

Comments: It is that, but it is also much more. It is in fact a strong rejection of the futurist view of the Tribulation as well as premillennialism. And like the preterist view, LD holds that the texts in the Mt. Olivet Discourse (Mt. 24-25) and in the Book of Revelation refer to Nero and the 1st century (see point “I” below) and not to any future seven year period dominated by the Antichrist and preceding the literal Second Coming of Christ to earth to reign. In short, LD is a critique of the basic futurist view held by Dallas Seminary, Grace Seminary, the Master’s Seminary, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Philadelphia Biblical University, most Bible Colleges in the country, and numerous Christian leaders who support the ministry of CRI. These include Dr. Wayne House, Dr. Ron Rhodes, Dr. J. P. Moreland, Dr. Barry Leventhal, Dr. Thomas Howe, and many of the faculty of the above institutions. In view of this, it is understandable that we offered here a brief response in support of the widely held futurist view.

B. LD claims not to be committed to “any particular model of eschatology” (LD, 393).

Comments: This statement can easily be misinterpreted. Everyone has an eschatology, formal or informal, including the authors of LD. The question is whether or not it is Bible-based, fits all the data consistently, and corresponds to the facts. Further, everyone is committed to their view in varying degrees. The authors of The Last Disciple claim to be “deeply committed to a proper method of biblical interpretation” (303). But methodology determines theology. Indeed, they speak of “remarkable evidence” for their view (I, #3) and of “no biblical warrant” for the opposing view (I, #6). They speak also of their interpretation of certain disputed terms which allegedly “demonstrate conclusively” that their view is right (I, #7). Clearly, they are committed to the view which opposes the standard futurist interpretation to which a great number of evangelical scholars, including myself, are firmly committed.

C. LD does not “call into question the orthodoxy of the Left Behindauthors”(395) and, thereby, the futurist view.

Comment: This is an important point. There is no charge of heresy here on either side, and there should not be (see “F” below). Certainly, the traditional futurist view has a strong basis in the early Church (see “P” below) and the above listed faculty and schools have provided biblical support for it. Indeed, the classic, exhaustive, and seldom read three volume set of George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, offers biblical support for the imminent premillennial view. The common orthodox belief of all premillennial and amillennial views is a literal return of Christ and a physical resurrection of the dead. On this part of the future, there is basic agreement.

D. The authors of LD wish to “demonstrate the dangers inherent in the interpretive method . . . dispensationalists employ” (LD, 395).

Comments: We agree that the method of interpretation is crucial to one’s conclusions on last things. We also agree that the literal (historical-grammatical) method of interpretation is the correct one. We do not agree, however, as to who is more consistent in their use of this method. Dispensationalists see an inconsistency in the anti-futurist method since many predictions in Matthew 24-25 and Revelation 6-18 were not fulfilled in A.D. 70 – at least not literally. For example, the stars did not fall from heaven (Mt. 24:29), nor were one-third of humans killed (Rev. 9:18), and neither did all the creatures in the sea die (Rev. 16:3) in A.D. 70.

E. LD opposes “Placing the Beast [of Rev. 13] in the twenty-first instead of the first century” (LD, 395).

Comments: Although LD disavows the label of “partial preterism” as well as “post-millennialism,” this conclusion is in agreement with preterism. And if LD is right, then the rest of the Tribulation (Rev. 6-18) must be placed there too. But if it is taken literally, then it cannot be placed there since Jesus did not visibly return to earth in A.D. 70 (Mt. 24:30 cf. Rev. 1:7 and Acts 1:10-11). Nor did Christ literally execute all the judgments listed in Revelation 9 and 16 at that time. And since LD claims to hold a literal method of interpretation, then its consistency can be seriously challenged at this point.

F. LD affirms that “John was told not to seal up the prophecy because its fulfillment was [in the] fore future,” not in the “far future” as Daniel was told his was (Dan. 8:26; 12:4) (LD, 395).

Comments: Here again, this agrees with the partial preterist view that John is speaking about the first century, whatever applications it may have to later generations. But if Revelation 6-18 refers to the first century, then why not the whole book since John was told, according to LD, that all of Revelation was to be unveiled for the near future? And if this refers to the first century, then one is driven to full preterism which both sides admit is a heresy since it says the resurrection is past (2 Tim. 2:18). There is no consistent hermeneutical way to separate Rev. 19-22 from 6-18 on preterist grounds. Indeed, the seventh trumpet (Rev. 11:15) which is during the Tribulation announces the coming of Christ. And the verses speaking of a “soon” coming, as LD interprets them, refer to the whole book of Revelation from beginning to end (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10).

G. LD asserts that “John’s repeated use of such words and phrases assoon and the time is near demonstrate conclusively that John could not have had the twenty-first century in mind” (LD, 395; I, #3).

Comments: If so, then on this premise the whole book of Revelation (including the Second Coming and Resurrection – Chapters 19-20) must refer to the first century since the word “soon” applies to the whole book of Revelation (1:1; 22:10). In this case, full preterism follows which is heretical. So, while the conclusions of LD are not unorthodox, if this understanding is applied consistently to other texts, then the logical implications will lead to unorthodox conclusions. Hence, while doctrinallythis is an intramural orthodox discussion, nevertheless, methodologicallythis is a very important issue.

Further, these words do not refer to a soon event but a swift event. This is borne out by the Greek lexicons and dictionaries. The Greek word for “quickly” is tachu which occurs thirteen times in the New Testament (Mt. 5:25; 28:7, 8; Mk. 9:39; 16:8; Jn. 11:29; Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:11; 11:14; 22:7, 12, 20). Arndt and Gingrich (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 814) say it means “quick, swift, speedy.” It is what happens “quickly, at a rapid rate.” Thayer (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 616) agrees, saying, it means “quickly, speedily.” Likewise, Vine (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 913) concurs that it means “swift, quick . . . , quickly.” Hence, this term need not, as LD argues, refer to a first-century event but to the imminent coming of Christ whenever it occurs.

H. The LD view affirms that “Unlike the Left Behind authors, we believe that when John in Revelation says ten or more times that the events about which he is writing ‘must soon take place,’ or for which ‘the time is near,’ that is precisely what he means” (I, #4).

Comments: First, if this is precisely what he means in the whole book, then, as already noted, the heretical view of full preterism follows. Second, these may be interpreted, as the futurist holds, as indicating the imminence of Christ’s coming, namely, that it may happen at any time (see 1 Cor. 4:5; 15:51-52; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; James 5:7-9; 1 John 2:28). The great Greek scholar A. T. Robertson said that by “quickly” in Revelation “I am coming (imminent) . . . is meant to be understood.” He adds, “we do not know how soon ‘quickly’ is meant to be understood. But it is a real threat” (Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6.306). Noted New Testament scholar Leon Morris commented: “The imminence of the coming is repeated” (Morris, The Revelation of St. John, 258). In his classic commentary on Revelation, J. A. Seiss affirmed: “Everywhere the promised Apocalypse of the Lord Jesus is represented as close at hand, liable to occur at any moment” (Seiss, The Apocalypse, 523, emphasis added). The word translated “shortly”(Rev. 1:1; 22:6) is tachei which is from the same root as tachu (see above) and, like it, means swiftly or speedily. As such it does not necessarily refer to a soon but a sudden event. Further, as hermeneutical expert, Dr. Thomas Howe, has pointed out, John was not told to “unseal the revelation he received.” Rather, he was told, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” This does not mean the prophecy was fulfilled in John’s day but that the words of the prophecy could be understood by those who read them in his day.

The word “near” (Rev. 1:3) is the Greek word eggus which means “near” or “at hand.” But this is a relative term like “short” and “long,” of which one can ask how near? And as measured by whom? What is long to us is short for God. Peter said, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Further, there are clear biblical examples where a “short” time was really a long time for us. Hebrews 10:37 says Jesus would come in just “a little while” and it is nearly 2000 years since then, and He has not come yet. Haggai 2:6-7 says the time from his day (c. 500 B.C.) to the glorious temple to be rebuilt at Christ’s coming was only a “little while.” Even to Christ’s first coming this was 500 years, and the prophecy will not be completely fulfilled until His second coming which is over 2500 years already.

I. LD contends that “The Great Tribulation instigated by Nero is the antitype for every type and tribulation that follows before we experience the reality of our own resurrection at the Second Coming” (LD, 395).

Comments: It is understandable how a literal first century Tribulation could be an encouragement to later sufferers, but where in Scripture does it say it is an antitype for all future tribulations? Further, if LD takes this to refer to Nero and the first century, as it says repeatedly, then that is the meaning of the text. And that is what partial preterism means. So, in spite of any disavowal of the term, this is an anti-futurist view of these texts common to preterism.

J. “The Last Disciple series places the Great Tribulation precisely where it belongs, in a first-century milieu in which ‘the last disciple’ comforts believers in the throes of the mother of all persecutions” (LD, 395).

Comments: If the “Great Tribulation” meant by John in Revelation was “precisely” a first century event, then this is indistinguishable from preterism, no matter how many later applications are made of the text for future sufferers. If this is so, then there is no future “Great Tribulation” as futurists claim and the LD view is a form of preterism, despite any protests by LD authors to the contrary.

K. “The Last Disciple, then, will develop the necessary skills for reading Scripture – particularly the book of Revelation-for all its worth” (I, # 1).

Comments: In all candor, this is a bit of an over claim. I wish it were that simple, and given that the method used in LD deviates from the literal interpretation of many events in Revelation mentioned above, I don’t think the book accomplishes this goal. This is so especially in view of the fact that the authors admit the Old Testament background for the language and images of these New testament predictions. But if Revelation is patterned after the deliverance of His people through tribulation in the Old Testament, then why reject the view that the plagues of Revelation are as literal as those executed on Pharaoh in the Exodus after which Revelation is modeled? Further, if other parts of the prophecy Jesus gave in Matthew 24-25 are taken literally by LD and fulfilled literally, then how can it consistently deny a literal fulfillment of the others in the same text?

L. “There is also remarkable evidence for Nero as the Beast and his persecutions as the great tribulation” (I, #3).

Comments: Actually, the opposite is true. There is strong evidence that Revelation was written in the 90s well after Nero was dead during Domitian’s reign. If so, this would make the LD false. Briefly stated the evidence for dating Revelation in the 90s A.D. is as follows: First, this futurist view of the Tribulation, Antichrist, and/or even Millennium was held by many of the earliest Fathers including Irenaeus (2nd century) who said “It was seen not very long ago, almost in our own generation, at the close of the reign of Domitian” (Against Heresies 5.30.3). This was confirmed by Victorinus (3rd century) who wrote: “When John said these things, he was in the island of Patmos, condemned to the mines by Caesar Domitian” (Commentary of Revelation 10:11). Likewise, Eusebius (4thcentury) confirmed the Domitian date (Ecclesiastical History 3.18). Second, other early Fathers after A.D. 70 refer to the Tribulation or Antichrist spoken of in Revelation as yet future (see Commondianus [3rd century], Instructions 44, and Ephraem of Syria [4th century], On the Last Times, 2). Third, the conditions of the seven churches (Rev. 2-3) fit this later period rather than that reflected in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Timothy which were written in the 60s. For example, the church at Ephesus in Revelation had lost its first love (Rev. 2:4) and others like Laodicea (Rev. 3:14f.) had fallen from the Faith. Fourth, it was not until the reign of Domitian that emperor worship as reflected in Revelation was instituted. Fifth, Laodicea appears as a prosperous city in Revelation 3:17, yet it was destroyed by an earthquake in c. A.D. 61, during Nero’s reign, and would not have recovered so quickly in a couple of years. Sixth, John’s exile on the island of Patmos implies a later date when persecution was more rampant (1:9). Seventh, the references to persecution and Martyrdom in the churches reflect a later date (cf. Rev. 2:10, 13 cf.). Eighth, Polycarp’s reference to the church at Smyrna (to the Philippians 11.3) reveals that it did not exist in Paul’s day (by A.D. 64) as it did when John wrote Revelation 2:8. Ninth, the Nicolaitans (of Rev. 2:6, 11) were not firmly established until nearer the end of the century. Tenth, there is not sufficient time on the early date for John’s arrival in Asia (late 60s) and replacement of Paul as the respected leader of the Asian Church (see discussion in Donald Guthrie,New Testament Introduction, vol. 2, chapter 7).

M. LD objects to “The pretribulational rapture model featured in theLeft Behind series [that] interprets Revelation 13, for example, in a strictly literal fashion” (I, #3).

Comments: It all depends on what is meant by “strictly literal.” If “strictly literal” means the unique interpretation of Tim LaHaye that the Antichrist resurrects himself, then we agree with LD that this is wrong. However, we must be careful not to paint all futurists with the same broad brush. There are a lot of them who do not agree with LaHaye here, including the commentary produced by the Dallas Seminary faculty (see Walvoord and Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, p. 960). And it would not be fair to leave the impression that LaHaye’s interpretation of Revelation 13 is essential to, or even characteristic of, the futurist view of Revelation. After all, if we take the text literally, it does not say the Beast was “resurrected” from the dead. It says that his deadly “wound” was “healed” (Rev. 13:12).

N. LD affirms that “As the characters in the novel deal with tribulation, they are sustained by the hope of resurrection that Jesus gives all of us, not with a belief that they are meant to be taken away from trouble by a rapture” (I, #4 cf. I, #5).

Comments: This is a false either/or when it is a both/and situation. The resurrection and the rapture take place at the same time, whenever that time is (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Even those who are raptured will receive their permanent glorified body at that time (1 Cor. 15:50-56). Of course, they are distinct events in the sense that the dead are raised “first” and those alive are “caught up” with them to “meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). But these events happen at the same time, and they both receive their permanent immortal, imperishable body at that moment (1 Cor. 15:50-56). So, the two hopes cannot be separated.

O. LD declares that “Prior to the nineteenth century all Christians-including all premillennialists-believed the rapture or the resurrection of believers and the second coming of Christ were simultaneous events and not two distinct happenings separated by at least seven years” (I, #6).

Comments: This is plainly and simply false. The early Ephraem manuscript (see Thomas Ice, When the Trumpet Sounds, 110-111) reveals the pretrib view was held as early as the 300s A.D. And even if the first known reference is later, truth is not determined by time. This is the fallacy of “Chronological Snobbery.” The amillennial view itself (with which this point in LD accords) is “late” since most of the early Fathers were premillennial including Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and the early Augustine. Other futurists (whose view is opposed by LD) include even earlier subapostolic writings like Irenaeus, Ignatius, the Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas, Papias, Clement of Rome, Lactantius, Methodius, Epiphanius, and others (see George Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 1, pp. 304, 324, 451) .

P. “First, there is not a single passage in Scripture that teaches a pretribulational rapture” (I, #6).

Comment: In one sense this is true, but it is very misleading. For in the strict sense, there is not a single passage of Scripture that teaches the Trinity either, but that does not mean it is not biblically based. And in this broader sense of biblically based, which must be allowed for the doctrines of the Trinity and inerrancy, the pretrib view is biblical as well (see Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord Comes). For in the broader sense, these doctrines are not based on a single text but on all the data of Scripture on the topic put in a consistent systematic whole that best explains them with whatever varying degree of certitude (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, chap. 12).

Q. “There is no biblical warrant for LaHaye’s hypothesis that believers will be resurrected some one thousand seven years before the resurrection of unbelievers” (I, #6).

Comments: If this means there is no biblical warrant for believing in the pretrib view, then one must beg to disagree. Detailed reasons are listed in the forthcoming volume four of our Systematic Theology: The Church and Last Things (chapter 17). Or, if this means there is no biblical basis for believing there are two resurrections, one before and one after “the thousand years,” then one must strongly disagree. Even non-dispensationalists, like George Ladd, agree that a literal (historical-grammatical) interpretation of Revelation 20 demands a premillennial conclusion of a first physical resurrection before the thousand years and a second physical resurrection after it (see Ladd, The Blessed Hope). Just the phrase, “and the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:5) makes this view clear. The alternative interpretations must spiritualize (allegorize) this text. Indeed, to deny the premillennial view one must take the first resurrection as spiritual and the second one as literal. Ironically, only the first one is actually called a “resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), though “live again”(Gk. ezasan) is used of both (vv. 4-5). Nowhere in Scripture is the word “resurrection” ever used in a spiritual sense. So, to spiritualize the “first resurrection” is a gross violation of the literal (historical-grammatical) method of interpretation.

R. “The plain and proper reading of a biblical passage must always take precedence over a particular eschatological presupposition or paradigm” (I, #7).

Comments: We agree. But if this is so, then the plain and proper reading of Revelation 20 will yield a futurist premillennial view contrary to LD. Yet LD opposes this futurist view in favor of a kind of amillennial view. (1) This conclusion is inconsistent with its alleged literal method of interpreting the Bible.



The basic goals of LD are admirable, and its basic doctrines are within orthodoxy. Nonetheless, the dialogue on methodology is important since orthodoxy is dependant on a proper literal (historical-grammatical) interpretation of the Bible. However, LD does not appear to measure up to the standards of its own alleged literal method. In rejecting a futurist (2)interpretation of Revelation, LD must reject a literal interpretation of many passages in Revelation and in Matthew 24-25 which they claim were fulfilled in the first century. And if this same non-literal method were applied to other passages like the Gospels, then it would undermine historical Christianity. Hence, the issue is of great importance. So, on this matter we must respectfully disagree agreeably with our good friend Hank Hanegraaff.

Yet I would suggest a more excellent way. LD rightly criticizes excesses in some futurists’ interpretation of some texts. But the same could be done for preterists’ interpretations which claim these predictions were fulfilled in A.D. 70. Would it not be better for LD to be content to show the inconsistencies of some futurists’ interpretations, rather than attacking the whole premillennial futurist scheme which is firmly rooted in the historical-grammatical interpretation of all of Scripture, including prophecy, and amply exhibited in the majority of writers in the earliest centuries of Christianity? For when the literal method is applied to the unconditional Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, it yields a futurist interpretation of Scripture which affirms that Christ will not only physically return to earth but He will also establish a literal kingdom (Mt. 19:28) and reign for a literal thousand years (Rev. 20), restoring the literal Land of Promise to the literal descendants of Abraham from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon, the territory of the Palestinians, and all the way to Egypt (Gen. 13:15-17; 15:7-21) “forever” (Gen 13:15). Likewise, the literal method of interpretation demands that there will be a literal throne of David on which the Messiah will actually reign on a throne in Jerusalem over the restored literal descendants of Abraham “forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-16). But these unconditional promises have never been fulfilled, even though God made them with an “immutable” oath (Heb. 6:17-18 cf. Ps. 89:20-37). However, if the Bible is to be taken literally, then the basic premillennial futurist view which LD critiques must be right. Indeed, if LD wished to take all of Scripture literally and consistently, then it would be better to affirm these unconditional promises which are at the heart of the premillennial futurist view, rather than occupy its time with criticizing excesses in some popular presentations of these views.


1. In personal conversation with Hank, he disavows both the premillennial and the postmillennial views by name, which in terms of the three basic views leaves him in the amillennial camp, though he is reluctant to use this word for his view.

2. Of course even partial preterists are “futurists” regarding the Second Coming and Resurrection. But they reject the futurist understanding of the bulk of Book of Revelation.


The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?

The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?

by Norman L. Geisler and Bill Roach

Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler.  All rights reserved.

[Click HERE to open this as a PDF file]


THIS E-BOOKLET IS BASED on one of the most highly demanded reviews I have ever done. There are many reasons for this. First of all, it is about a wildly popular book, being a New York Times best seller with millions of copies in print. Second, untold thousands of people have been blessed from reading The Shack (THE SHACK) by William P. Young (2007). Third, it is on a topic which untold numbers of people have experienced—why God permits tragedy.

The problem is that so many people allow the emotional impact of the book strike them without really analyzing the theological message it contains. While many books have been written in response to THE SHACK, few have penetrated its aberrant theology. Even fewer have summarized the deviant doctrines it contains succinctly and to the point which we have done in this article. The Bible exhorts us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) so that we can know “the spirit of truth” (v. 6). Paul warned against “deceitful spirits” (1 Tim. 4:1), and Jesus exhorted us to beware of “false prophets” (Mat. 24:11) who are really “wolves” that come “in sheep’s clothing” (Mat. 7:15).

Unfortunately, the truth is that one cannot discern what is false unless he is trained in what is true. Government agents who deal in counterfeits spend much of their time in studying genuine currency. The reason is simple:  we cannot recognize a counterfeit unless we know the genuine. Since Barna surveys show that less than ten-percent of evangelical Christians even have a Christian world view, it is no surprise that even the masses of Christians can be fooled by a good counterfeit theology—especially when it is package in a gripping story well told. This is precisely what has occurred in the Shack phenomenon.


LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS SAY they have been blessed by its message, but its message is precisely what calls for scrutiny. Responses to The Shack range from eulogy to heresy. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message predicted that The Shack “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” Emmy Award Winning Producer of ABC Patrick M. Roddy declares that “it is a one of a kind invitation to journey to the very heart of God. Through my tears and cheers, I have been indeed transformed by the tender mercy with which William Paul Young opened the veil that too often separated me from God and from myself.” People from all walks of life are raving about this book by unknown author “Willie” Young, son of a pastor/missionary, and born in Canada. He is a graduate of Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon.


The shack is Christian fiction, a fast-growing genre in the contemporary Christian culture. It communicates a message in a casual, easy-to-read, non-abrasive manner. From his personal experience, Young attempts to answer some of life’s biggest questions: Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the Trinity? What is salvation? Is Jesus the only way to Heaven? If God, then why evil? What happens after I die?

In the final section of the book titled “The Story behind THE SHACK,” he reveals that the motivation for this story comes from his own struggle to answer many of the difficult questions of life. He claims that his seminary training just did not provide answers to many of his pressing questions. Then one day in 2005, he felt God whisper in his ear that this year was going to be his year of Jubilee and restoration. Out of that experience he felt lead to write The Shack. According to Young, much of the book was formed around personal conversations he had with God, family, and friends (pp. 258—259). He tells the readers that the main character “Mack” is not a real person, but a fictional character used to communicate the message in the book. However, he admits that his children would “recognize that Mack is mostly me, that Nan is a lot like Kim, that Missy and Kate and the other characters often resemble our family members and friends” (p. 259).


The story centers on a note that Mack, the husband and father in the story, received from “Papa,” who is supposed to represent God the Father. It reads, “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you. I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together” (p. 19). From this, the story moves through the personal struggles Mack has with such questions as: Why would someone send me this letter? Does God really speak through letters? How would my seminary training respond to this interaction between God and man? The story takes a turn when Mack’s son almost drowns while canoeing. During the chaos his daughter is abducted and eventually killed. This is what caused Mack to fall into what the book calls “The Great Sadness.” This time period is supposed to reflect his spiritual condition after the death of his daughter and the questions he has been asking for many years.

Grieved with the death of his daughter and the possibility that the note might be from God, Mack packs his bags and heads for the shack. The point of this journey is to suggest that his traditional teaching, Sunday prayers, hymns, and approach to Christianity were all wrong. He comes to the conclusion that “cloistered spirituality seemed to change nothing in the lives of people he knew, except maybe Nan [his wife]” (p. 63). In spite of being an unlikely encounter with God, Young uses this fictional encounter as a vehicle for Mack’s spiritual journey and encounter at the shack.

While at the shack, Mack discovers that God is not what we expect Him to be. In fact, God the Father appears as a “large beaming African-American woman,” Jesus is presented as a “Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves,” and the Holy Spirit is named Sarayu, “a small, distinctively Asian woman.” The book identifies these three people as the Trinity (pp. 80—82). After trying to reconcile his seminary training with this new encounter with God, he concludes that what he had learned in seminary was of no help.


YOUNG’S POINT IS CLEAR: forget your preconceived notions about God, forget your seminary training, and realize that God chooses to appear to us in whatever form we personally need; He is like a mixed metaphor. We cannot fall back into our religious conditioning (p. 91). THE SHACK attempts to present a Christian worldview through the genre of religious fiction, but just how Christian it is remains to be seen.


Beneath the surface of THE SHACK is a rejection of traditional Christianity (p. 179). He claims that traditional Christianity did not solve his problem. Even Seminary training didn’t help (p. 63). He insists that Christianity has to be revised in order to be understood, reminiscent of McClaren’s Emergent Church book titled, EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE. However, one might question whether it is Christianity that needs revision or Christians that need to be revitalized. One thing is certain; Christianity should not be rejected because it has some hypocritical representatives. To be sure, some seminary training is bad, and even good seminary training doesn’t help, if you don’t heed it. But the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. Christ established the Church and said the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mat. 16:16-18). THE SHACK, as gripping as its story is, trades a church occupied with people who hear the Word of God preached for an empty shack where there is neither.


An underlying problem with the message of THE SHACK is that it uses personal experience to trump divine revelation. The solutions to life’s basic problems come from extra-biblical experience, not from Scripture (pp. 80—100). Non-biblical voices are given precedent over the voice of God in Scripture. These alleged “revelations” from the “Trinity” in the shack are the basis of the whole story. While biblical truth is alluded to, it is not the authoritative basis of the message. In the final analysis, it is experience that is used to interpret the Bible; it is not the Bible that is used to interpret experience. This leads to a denial of a fundamental teaching of Evangelicalism.


THE SHACK rejects the sole authority of the Bible to determine matters of faith AND PRACTICE. Rather than finding a Bible by the altar in a little old country church and getting comfort and counsel from the Word of God, he is instructed to go to an empty shack in the wilderness with no Bible and get all he needs to cope with the tragedies of life from extra-biblical voices. THE SHACK’S author rejects what “In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture. . . . God’s voice had been reduced to paper. . . . It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients. . . . Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book” (p. 63).

However, the Bible clearly declares that “Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added). Indeed, our comfort is not found in extra-biblical revelations but is realized in that “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). In short, the Bible is sufficient for faith and practice. No new truth beyond the Bible is needed for doctrine or living the Christian life. Of course, this does not mean that God cannot bring biblical principles to our minds when needed through various experiences, even tragic ones. He can and He does. Nor does it mean that God cannot guide in circumstances that help us in the application of biblical principles to our lives. He can and He does. But these experiences bring no new revelation. They are merely the occasion for God focusing our attention on the only infallible written source of His revelation, the Bible and the Bible alone. To forsake this fundamental principle is to leave Protestantism for Mysticism.


In addition to an errant view of Scripture, THE SHACK has an unorthodox view of the Trinity. God appears as three separate persons (in three separate bodies) which seems to support Tri-theism in spite of the fact that the author denies Tri-theism (“We are not three gods”) and Modalism (“We are not talking about One God with three attitudes”—p. 100). Nonetheless, Young departs from the essential nature of God for a social relationship among the members of the Trinity. He wrongly stresses the plurality of God as three separate persons: God the Father appears as an “African American woman” (p. 80); Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern worker (p. 82). The Holy Spirit is represented as “a small, distinctively Asian woman” (p. 82). And according to Young, the unity of God is not in one essence (nature), as the orthodox view holds. Rather, it is a social union of three separate persons. Besides the false teaching that God the Father and the Holy Spirit have physical bodies (since “God is spirit”—John. 4:24), the members of the Trinity are not separate persons (as THE SHACK portrays them); they are only distinct persons in one divine nature. Just as a triangle has three distinct corners, yet is one triangle. It is not three separate corners (for then it would not be a triangle if the corners were separated from it). Even so, God is one in essence but has three distinct (but inseparable) Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Another claim is that God does not need to punish sin. He states, “At that, Papa stopped her preparations and turned toward Mack. He could see a deep sadness in her eyes. ‘I am not who you think I am, Mackenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It is not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it’” (p. 119). As welcoming as this message may be, it at best reveals a dangerously imbalanced understanding of God. For in addition to being loving and kind, God is also holy and just. Indeed, because He is just He must punish sin. The Bible explicitly says that” the soul that sins shall die” (Eze. 18:2). “I am holy, says the Lord” (Lev. 11:44). He is so holy that Habakkuk says of God, “You . . . are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” (Hab. 1:13). Romans 6:23 declares: “The wages of sin is death . . .” And Paul added, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).

In short, THE SHACK presents lop-sided view of God as love but not justice. This view of a God who will not punish sin undermines the central message of Christianity—that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1f.) and rose from the dead. Indeed, some emergent Church leaders have given a more frontal and near blasphemous attack on the sacrificial atonement of Christ, calling it a “form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful father, punishing his son for offences he has not even committed” (Steve Chalke, THE LOST MESSAGE OF JESUS, p. 184). Such is the end of the logic that denies an awesomely holy God who cannot tolerate sin was satisfied (propitiated) on behalf of our sin (1 John 2:1). For Christ paid the penalty for us, “being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God through him” (2 Cor. 5:21), “suffering the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).


Another area of concern is a false view of the person and work of Christ. The book states, “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this universe, we now became flesh and blood” (p. 98). However, this is a serious misunderstanding of the Incarnation of Christ. The whole Trinity was not incarnated. Only the Son was (John 1:14), and in His case deity did not become humanity. Rather, it was the Second Person of the Godhead who assumed a human nature in addition to His divine nature. Neither the Father nor Holy Spirit (who are pure spirit—John 4:24) became human, only the Son did.


Another problem emerges in the message of THE SHACK. According to Young, Christ is just the “best” way to relate to the Father, not the only way (p. 109). The “best” does not necessarily imply the only way, which then means that there may be other ways to relate to God. Such an assertion is contrary to Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes unto the Father except through me” (John14:6, emphasis mine). He added, “He who believes in Him [Christ] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John. 3:18). He declared, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 9:24). Jesus is not merely the best way, but He is the only way to God. Paul declared: “There is one God and one mediator between God and Men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).


The book also contains a classic heresy called Patripassionism (Literally: Father Suffering). Young claims that God the Father suffered along with the Son, saying, “Haven’t you seen the wounds on Papa [God the Father] too?’ I didn’t understand them. ‘How could he . . .?’ ‘For love. He chose the way of the cross . . . because of love’” (p. 165). But both the APOSTLES’ CREED and the NICENE CREED (A.D. 325) made it very clear that it was Jesus alone who “suffered” for us on the Cross. And that He did this only through His human nature. To say otherwise is to engage in “confusing the two natures” of Christ which was explicitly condemned in the CHALCEDONIAN CREED (A.D. 451). Suffering is a form of change, and the Bible makes it very clear that God cannot change. “I the Lord change not” (Mal. 3:6). “There is no shadow of change with Him” (Jas. 1:17). When all else changes, God “remains the same” (Heb. 1:10-12).


THE SHACK also claims that there is no hierarchy in God or in human communities modeled after Him. He believes that hierarchy exists only as a result of the human struggle for power. Young writes of God: “‘Well I know that there are three of you. But you respond with such graciousness to each other. Isn’t one of you more the boss than the other two…. I have always thought of God the Father as sort of being the boss and Jesus as the one following orders, you know being obedient. . . .’ ‘Mackenzie, we have no concept of final authority among us; only unity. We are in a circle of relationship, not a chain of command. . . . What you’re seeing here is relationship without any overlay of power. . . . Hierarchy would make no sense among us’” (p. 121).

However, Young cites no Scripture to support this egalitarian view of God and human relations—and for good reasons since the Bible clearly affirms that there is an order of authority in the Godhead, the home, and the church. Submission and obedience are biblical terms. Jesus submitted to the Father: “O My Father, . . . not my will be done but yours” (Mat. 26:39). “He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. . . .” (Phil. 2:8). In heaven “then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). Children are to submit to their parents: Paul urged, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. . . .” (Eph. 6:1). Likewise, women are urged: “Wives submit to your own husband, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). “The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Members are to “obey your leaders” (Heb. 13:17). Indeed, citizens are commanded “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient. . . .” (Titus 3:1).

The hierarchical order in the Godhead is the basis for all human relationships. And pure love does not eliminate this; it demands it. The Bible declares; “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). Portraying God as a Mother, rather than a Father, reveals an underlying anti-masculinity in Young’s thought. He wrote, “Males seem to be the cause of so much of the pain in the world. They account for most of the crime and many of those are perpetrated against women. . . . The world, in many ways, would be a much calmer and gentler place if women ruled. There would have been far fewer children sacrificed to the gods of greed and power” (p. 148). He does not explain how this would not be a hierarchy of women ruling the world.


The Shack is totally silent about the important role the community of believers plays in the life of individuals needing encouragement. In fact there is a kind of anti-church current born of a reaction to a hypocritical, legalistic, and abusive father who was a church leader (pp. 1—3). However, this is clearly contrary to the command of Scripture. A bad church should not be replaced with no church but with a better church. God gave the church “pastors and teachers, to equip the saints . . . for building up the body of Christ . . .” (Eph. 4:11-12). Paul said, “To each [one in the body] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Young replaces a Bible-based church in the wildwood with a Bible-less shack in the wilderness. Comfort in bereavement is sought in a lonely, Bible-less, empty shack in the wilderness where one is to find comfort by heeding deceptive presentations of God. At this point several scriptural exhortations about being aware of deceiving spirits come to mind (1 Tim. 4:1; 1 John 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:14). As for the need for a church, the Scriptures exhort us “not to forget the assembling together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as we see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Without the regular meeting with a body of edifying believers, proper Christian growth is inevitably stunted.


While THE SHACK falls short of the universalism (“All will be saved”) found in other emergent writings, it does have a wide-sweeping inclusivism whereby virtually anyone through virtually any religion can be saved apart from Christ. According to Young, “Jesus [said] . . . ‘Those who love me come from every system that exists. They are Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist, or Muslims, . . . and many who are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institution. . . . Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christians, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa. . . .’ ‘Does that mean…that all roads will lead to you?’ ‘Not at all…. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you’” (p. 184).

Again, there is no biblical support for these claims. On the contrary, the Scriptures affirm that there is no salvation apart from knowing Christ. Acts 4:12 pronounces that “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” 1 Tim. 2:5 insists that “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” And Jesus said, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John. 8:24). For “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). And “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).


The Shack embraces a non-rational view of faith. It declares: “There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it is surely not rational” (p. 64). Even common sense informs us that this is no way to live the Christian life. The Bible says, “‘Come now let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 1:18); “Give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15); “Paul…reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2); “These were more fair-minded [because] they searched the Scriptures daily…whether these things be so” (Acts 17:11); “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1, emphasis added in above quotes). Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and reasonable Christians would add, “The unexamined faith is not worth having.”


According to Young, God is wholly other; we can’t really know Him. Young: “I am God. I am who I am. And unlike you . . .” (p. 96). “I am what some would say ‘holy and wholly other than you’” (p. 97). “I am not merely the best version of you that you can think of. I am far more than that, above and beyond all that you can ask or think” (p. 97). One basic problem with this view is that it is self-defeating. How could we know God is “wholly other”? Wholly other than what? And how can we know what God is not unless we know what He is?  One cannot know not-that unless he knows what “that” means. Totally negative knowledge of God is impossible. Further, according to the Bible, we can know what God is really like from both general and special revelation. For “Since the creation of the world his invisible attributes are clearly seen…even his eternal power and Godhead…” (Rom.1:20). As for special revelation, Jesus said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (John. 14:7) and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:6). God does speak of Himself in His written Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and when He does it tells us something about the way He really is. His words are not deceptive but descriptive.


According to THE SHACK, God is revealed in ways contrary to His nature. The Father is revealed as a black woman and having a body when He is neither. The reason given for this is that in love God revealed Himself in ways that would be acceptable to the recipient (who had a bad father image) but were not so. But this is case of divine deception. God is a spirit (John 4:24) and He has no body (Luke 24:39). God is never called a “Mother” in the Bible. It is deceptive to portray God’s Nature in any way that He is not, even though ones motive is loving (pp. 91—92). A lie told with a loving motive is still a lie. Of course, when God speaks to finite creatures He engages in adaptation to human limits but never in accommodation to human error. Portraying God as having a black female body is like saying storks bring babies. Young calls it a “mask” that falls away (p. 111). But God does not have masks, and He does not masquerade. “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). Paul speaks of the “God who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). It is only the Devil, the Father of lies, who engages in appearing in forms he is not. “For even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). To be sure, there are figures of speech in Scripture, speaking of God as a rock or a hen, but they are known to be metaphorical and not literal, since there are no immaterial rocks and God does not have feathers.


THE SHACK may do well for many in engaging the current culture, but not without compromising Christian truth. The book may be psychologically helpful to many who read it, but it is doctrinally harmful to all who are exposed to it. It has a false understanding of God, the Trinity, the person and work of Christ, the nature of man, the institution of the family and marriage, and the nature of the Gospel. For those not trained in orthodox Christian doctrine, this book is very dangerous. It promises good news for the suffering but undermines the only Good News (the Gospel) about Christ suffering for us. In the final analysis it is only truth that is truly liberating. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). A lie may make one feel better, but only until he discovers the truth. This book falls short on many important Christian doctrines. It promises to transform people’s lives, but it lacks the transforming power of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12) and the community of believers (Heb. 10:25). In the final analysis, this book is not a PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, but doctrinally speaking THE SHACK is more of a PILGRIM’S REGRESS.


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The Shack: Helpful or Heretical?