Brief Comments on the Licona Dialogue at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Brief Comments on the Licona Dialogue

at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

 Professor Norman L. Geisler

August 2, 2012

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  1. One important point never came up in the dialogue, namely, this is not a one text issue (namely Matthew 27:52-53).  Licona not only (1) casts doubt on the literal resurrection of saints in Matthew 27, but he also (2) casts doubt on the existence of the angels in all four Gospels (The Resurrection of Jesus, 185-185), and (3) the story of the mob falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (ibid, 306), and (4) generally obscures the lines between historicity and legend in  the Gospels by his genre determination that it is “Greco-Roman” bios. For he admits that in such literature “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid, 34).  Indeed, in a debate at Southern Evangelical Seminary (2009), Licona declared:  “I think that John probably altered the day [on which Jesus was crucified] in order for a theological–to make a theological point here.  But that does not mean Jesus’ wasn’t crucified.” This flatly denies the inerrancy of the Bible by claiming there is a contradiction on the Gospels as to which day Jesus was crucified!  Nowhere has he addressed this issue.
  2. Those who believe Licona’s views are consistent with the ICBI statement on inerrancy miss a very important fact, namely, that all living framers of the ICBI inerrancy statement (Sproul, Packer, and myself) have declared that they believe Licona’s views are contrary to the ICBI inerrancy statements.  But the ICBI statement was adopted as a guide by ETS (in 2003), the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world,  Indeed, the original framer of the ICBI statement, R.C. Sproul, recently declared (May 22, 2012): As the former and only President of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Dr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI” (emphasis added).  To argue that Licona and supporters knew what the ICBI statement mean and the framers did not know is like insisting that Washington, Adams, and Madison did not know what they meant by the US Constitution but that some modern liberal judge does!  Such statements reveal the arrogance of those who make them.

 

One final word comes to mind.  Unfortunately, in their sincere attempt to appear balanced, Round Table discussions like this often unwittingly give undue credibility to views of persons whose views on the topic are not really evangelical.  In fact, such a forum often gives opportunity for participants to vent their personal attack on those who take seriously the biblical exhortation to defend the Faith (1 Peter 3:15) and to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke whose who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV).  This is one of the reasons I often, as in this case, decline to participate in panels of this kind.  For whatever reason, Al Mohler declined the invitation as well.  However, his critique of Licona’s views (on his web site) is well worth reading.  He got to the heart of the matter when he said, “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’…” (Emphasis added).

 

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

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

Blomberg_1_

Dr. Craig Blomberg

 

 

THE EROSION OF INERRANCY AMONG NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLARS:

A PRIMARY CASE IN POINT—CRAIG BLOMBERG

 Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

Copyright © 2012 F. David Farnell – All rights reserved

 

Background

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

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

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

 

Licona Supported by Craig Blomberg

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

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

 

Blomberg’s Shift in Hermeneutics

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

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Blomberg’s Defense of Robert Gundry

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Blomberg rehabilitates (!) Bart Ehrman’s Forged assertions

by his own advocation of False Writing

by False Authors of Canonical Books in the New Testament

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

Blomberg Even Cast Doubt of Historical Reliability of the New Testament

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

Blomberg Demonizes Critics of His Critical Views

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Licona also casts doubt on several other NT events, claiming that “Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches . . . and they often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.”  Further, he presents “A possible candidate for embellishment is John 18:4-6” [bold emphasis added] where, when Jesus claimed “I am he” (cf. John 8:58), his pursuers “drew back and fell on the ground.”[3] See Licona, The Resurrection, 306 fn. 114.

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

[5] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 824.

[6] Licona, Resurrection, 548.

[7] Licona, Resurrection, 552.

[8] Licona, Resurrection, 552.

[9] Licona, Resurrection, 553.

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

[11]“A Roundtable Discussion,” 92.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Perrin, “A Review,” 230.

[23] Marsden, Reforming, 250.

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

[25] Krentz, 76-77.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[51] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 417.

 

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

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

Copyright © 2013 Norman L. Geisler – All Rights Reserved

 

 

The Biblical Passage in Question

 

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God.’”

Mt. 27:51-54 ESV

The Current Challenge to Its Historicity

In his book on The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ), Mike Licona speaks of the resurrection of the saints narrative as “a weird residual fragment” (RJ, 527) and a “strange report” (RJ, 530, 548, 556, emphasis added in these citations).[1]  He called it “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,”and literary “special effects” (see 306, 548, 552, and 553). He claims that Matthew is using a Greco-Roman literary genre which is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34).  Licona also believes that other New Testament texts may be legends, such as, the mob falling backward at Jesus claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (See RJ, 306, note 114) and the presence of angels at the tomb recorded in all four Gospels (Mt. 28:2-7; Mk. 16:5-7; Lk. 24:4-7; Jn. 20:11-14; see RJ, 185-186).  Licona cites some contemporary evangelical scholars in favor of his view, such as, Craig Blomberg who denied the miracle of the coin and the fish story in Matthew (Matt. 17:27).[2]  Blomberg also said, “All kinds of historical questions remain unanswered about both events [the splitting of the temple curtain and the resurrection of the saints]” (Matthew,electronic ed., 2001 Logos Library System; the New American Commentary[421].  Broadman and Holman, vol. 22).  He also cites W. L. Craig, siding with a Jesus Seminary fellow Dr. Robert Miller, that Matthew added this story to Mark’s account and did not take it literally.  Craig concluded that there are “probably only a few [contemporary] conservative scholars who would treat the story as historical” (from Craig’s comments in Paul Copan, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? Baker, 1998).  On the contrary,  in terms of the broad spectrum of orthodox scholars down through the centuries, there are relatively “few” contemporary scholars who deny its authenticity, and they are overshadowed by the “many” (vast majority of) historic orthodox scholars who held to the historicity of this Matthew 27 resurrection of the saints.

The Evidence for Its Historicity

In spite of these contemporary denials, many scholars have pointed out the numerous indications of historicity in the Matthew 27:51-54 text itself, such as: (1) It occurs in a book that present itself as historical (cf. Mt 1:1,18); (2) Numerous events in this book have been confirmed as historical (e.g., the birth, life, deeds, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ); (3) It is presented in the immediate context of other historical events, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ; (4) The resurrection of these saints is also presented as an event occurring as a result of the literal death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Mt. 27:52-53); (5) Its lineage with the preceding historical events is indicated by a series of conjunctions (and…and…and, etc.); (6) It is introduced by the attention getting “Behold” (v. 51) which focuses on it reality;[3] (7) It has all the same essential earmarks of the literal resurrection of Christ, including: (a) empty tombs, (b) dead bodies coming to life, and (c) these resurrected bodies appearing to many witnesses; (8) It lacks and literary embellishment common to myths,  being a short, simple, and straightforward account;  (9)  It contains element that are confirmed as historical by other Gospels, such as (a) the veil of the temple being split (Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45), and (b) the reaction of the Centurion (Mk. 15:39; Lk. 23:47).  If these events are historical, then there is no reason to reject the other events, such as, the earthquake and the resurrection of the saints.

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

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

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

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

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

Ignatius to the Trallians

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

Ignatius to the Magnesians (AD 70-115)

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

Irenaeus (AD 120-200)

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

Clement of Alexandria (AD 155-200)

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

Tertullian (AD 160-222).

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

Hippolytus (AD 170-235)

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

Origen (AD 185-254)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome (AD 342-420)

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

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

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

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

Chrysostom (AD 347-407)

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

 

 

St. Augustine (AD 354-430)

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

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

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

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

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)

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

John Calvin (1509-1564)

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

Concluding Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Denial of Inerrancy

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

(1) The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy speaks against this kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospels, saying, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII).

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

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

(4) Again, “When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed beyond its proper limits (Sproul, EI, 55).

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Genre Criticism of the Gospels Contrary to the Inerrancy of Scripture?

Is Genre Criticism of the Gospels

Contrary to the Inerrancy of Scripture?

 

By Norman L. Geisler

 

 

Introduction

Since many evangelical scholars are involved in genre criticism, even some who claim to believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, it behooves us to examine the connection between genre criticism and inerrancy.  In order to do so, we must first define what we mean by the terms inerrancy and genre criticism. Once we define the terms, then we will examine whether genre criticism is compatible with inerrancy.

The Meaning of Inerrancy

By “inerrancy” we mean unlimited inerrancy which holds that everything the Bible affirms is true, including historical and scientific matters. In short, it is the view that the Bible is without error as defined by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).  There are many reasons for accepting this definition of inerrancy.

First, it was composed by the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world to write systematically on this topic.  It resulted from the work of nearly 300 evangelical scholars from around the country and several other countries that came from diverse denominational backgrounds and ecclesiastical traditions.  Virtually all of them were recognized scholars in their biblical and theological fields.  Some of them were pastor-scholars, a concept very compatible with the Reformation.  The earlier Lausanne Covenant statement (1974) was good and widely represented, but it was not systematic or comprehensive. The relevant part reads simply: “We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.” While this statement is good in general, it is not specific enough to deal with the issue at hand in genre criticism and the Bible.

Second, the ICBI view on inerrancy was comprehensive and complete, consisting of two major statements with affirmations and denials in each one, including official commentaries on each set of propositions so that later individuals could not interpret the statements any way they wished. The four major ICBI documents on the meaning of inerrancy are:

1) The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978)

2)  The Official ICBI Commentary on the Chicago Statement

3)  The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982)

4)  The official ICBI commentary titled Explaining Hermeneutics: A Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics

The last document is listed as “Appendix B” in the official ICBI book on Summit II.  It contains the papers from that conference, the officialStatements on Biblical Hermeneutics with Affirmations and Denials, and the official Commentary on the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics  by the “General Editor, ICBI” (p. viii) of the series of ICBI books on inerrancy.  For convenience, all four of these crucial documents have been placed in one volume:  Explaining Biblical Inerrancy: Official Commentary on the ICBI Statements (available at http://bastionbooks.com/shop/explainingicbi/).   

It is important to note that the commentaries were officially ICBI endorsed commentaries.   The particular editors of these statements were framers of the documents and were chosen by the ICBI and represented the official ICBI view on the topic. They were all published as part of the official ICBI literature.

Third, the ICBI work took place over a period of ten years (1978-1988), including three major Summits. However, the third and final Summit which dealt with applying inerrancy (1988) did not deal with the meaning of inerrancy (as the first two summits did) but with its application to the life of the church.  It produced a document titled Applying the Scriptures (Kenneth Kantzer ed., Academie Books, 1987).

Fourth, in addition to these documents, ICBI produced a series of books containing chapters on the various aspects of inerrancy. These books form the biblical and theological background for the four crucial documents defining and explaining inerrancy listed above.  These background books are mentioned in the ICBI book on Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, p. ix as follows:

________________________________________________________________________

“General Editor’s Introduction

    This book is part of a series of scholarly works sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI).  They include the following areas:

General—Inerrancy (Zondervan, 1979), Norman L. Geisler, ed.

PhilosophicalBiblical Errancy: Its Philosophical Roots (Zondervan, 1981), Norman L. Geisler, ed.

TheologicalChallenges to Inerrancy (Moody, 1984), Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, eds.

HistoricalInerrancy and the Church (Moody, 1984), John Hanna, ed.

Hermeneutics—Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible (Zondervan, 1984), Earl Radamacher and Robert Preus, eds.

The ICBI does not endorse every point made by the authors of these books, although all the writers are in agreement with the ICBI stand on inerrancy. Freedom of expression of this commitment was exercised throughout the various books.  All wrote with the hope that believers in Christ will become increasingly assured of the firm foundation for our faith in God’s inerrant Word.

Norman L. Geisler

General Editor, ICBI” ______________________________________________________________________________

Although there was freedom of expression in other written expressions by ICBI authors, there was complete unanimity on both ICBI statements and in the two commentaries on them. Those who did not agree with every point were free not to signs the statements, but very few did not sign them.

Fifth, the ICBI understanding of inerrancy was accepted by the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world (over 3,000), the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).  ETS began in 1949 based on the single doctrine of inerrancy: “The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.”  This served the society well for many years until, after a couple major controversies involving the meaning of inerrancy, ETS adopted the ICBI definition of inerrancy (in 2003) which affirms: “For the purpose of advising members regarding the intent and meaning of the reference to biblical inerrancy in the ETS Doctrinal Basis, the Society refers members to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy(1978).”

Sixth, the first ICBI document on the topic, known as the “Chicago Statement on Inerrancy” (1978), is crystallized in 19 basic statements of Affirmation and Denial.  Several of them touch on topics related to genre criticism, but one relates to it directly. Article 19 reads: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by the grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and Scripture is to interpret Scripture.  We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claim to authorship.”  The official ICBI commentary on Article XIII adds: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.  Some for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.  Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.”

In brief, the ICBI view is that of unlimited inerrancy which asserts that whatever the Bible affirms on any topic is true, that is, it corresponds with reality.  Inspiration is not limited to redemptive matters, but it includes historical and scientific matters as well. Further, the Bible is to be interpreted by the historical grammatical method of interpretation.  Hence, when it makes affirmations about the space-time world, they correspond to the facts.  Any attempt to reduce biblical narratives to myth, legends, or allegory is unacceptable and inconsistent with the inerrancy of Scripture.

Several ICBI citations will suffice to support these points: “We affirm that Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God” (Inspiration, Article I). Also, We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write” (Inspiration Article  IX).  “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.  We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Inspiration Article XII). Furthermore, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis…. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text…that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching…” (Inspiration, Article XVIII, emphasis added in all citations).

 

The Meaning of Genre Criticism

Biblical Genre Categories are Acceptable

Now that we have defined what is meant by “inerrancy,” we need to explain what we mean by “genre criticism.”  The word “genre” simply means kind or type. As applied to Scripture, it refers to classifying sections into certain categories such as, history, poetry, parables, allegory, etc.  Two kinds of genre criticism must be distinguished.

First, there is an acceptable use of “genre categories” such as allowed for in the following ICBI statements: “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” (emphasis added).  Also, we affirm that “Scripture communicates God’s truth to us verbally through a wide variety of literary forms” (Hermeneutics, Article X).  And “We affirm that awareness of the literary categories…is essential for proper exegesis, and hence we value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study (Article XIII).

In this sense, genre studies are an entirely proper endeavor by which a study of different types of literature presented in Scripture one can discern the difference between narratives, poetry, parables, allegory, and the like.  This enables the interpreter to know how “Scripture is [properly used] to interpret Scripture.”  This helps, for example, to avoid the confusion of interpreting poetry literally and history allegorically.

Extra-Biblical Genre Criticism is Unacceptable

However, second, there is an unacceptable form of “genre criticism” which is spoken against by ICBI.  It is when extra-biblical genre categories are used to determine what is meant by certain statements or events in Scripture. ICBI condemns this practice, declaring, “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 claim to authorship.”  The official ICBI commentary on Inerrancy Article 18 adds: “It is never legitimate, however, to run counter to express biblical affirmations.”  Inspiration Article XIII declares emphatically: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”  Hermeneutics Article XIV adds, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated (emphasis added).

Further, “We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (Hermeneutics, Article XX).  Inspiration Article 13 also relates to the topic.  It declares: “We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage and purpose.”  The official ICBI commentary on Article 13 clarifies: “’By biblical standards of truth and error’ is meant the view used both in the Bible and 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.”   It adds: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”

The ICBI statements oppose “dehistoricizing” sections of the Gospels by genre criticism. Article XVIII of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy(1978) declares: “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.”  Further, “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” (emphasis added).

When Inspiraton Article XIII affirms that we “value genre criticism as one of the many disciplines of biblical study,” it clearly does not mean the kind of genre criticism that denies the historicity of the text since it explicitly condemns “dehistoricizing” the text in the same article.  It means, as it says,“that in some cases extrabiblical data have a value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulting interpretations” (Hermeneutics Article XX, emphasis).  However, it rejects making anything outside the Bible hermeneutically determinative of affirmations or events inside the Bible.

We deny that extra-biblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (Inspiration Article XX).  Thus, “We deny that Scripture should be required to fit alien preunderstandings, inconsistent with itself, such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism” (Hermeneutics, Article XIX).

Further, “We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal sense…. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text” (Hermeneutics, Article XV emphasis added).   Thus, ICBI approves only of genre studies that come from studying and comparing individual texts of the Bible by means of the “grammatico-historical” method of interpretation which the ICBI framers were committed to from the beginning (see Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy).  But if externally determined genre is used to govern the meaning of the biblical text, then it is rejected. For in this kind of genre criticism the interpreter must know the genre before he can properly interpret the text. But this is tantamount to imposing genre expectations upon the text.  In hermeneutics, this is labeled eisegesis(reading meaning into the text), rather an exegesis (reading meaning out of the text)!  So, this widely used method of genre determination is contrary to the ICBI understanding of inerrancy.

In fact, ICBI declared: “We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write” (Inspiration Article  IX).  “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.  We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Inspiration Article XII).   Also, “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Inspiration Article XIII).

The ICBI commentary adds, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Article XII).  With regard to the historicity of the Bible, Article XIII in the official commentary points out that we should not “take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.”  Likewise, it affirms that we should not “take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.”  It adds, “We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and he flood” (Article XII of the “Chicago Statement”).

It is evident from these statements that the ICBI framers rejected any form of biblical criticism, genre or otherwise, which takes priority over biblical teaching, whether it is naturalism, relativism, or evolutionism.  Likewise they oppose using extra-biblical data to “dehistoricize” biblical narratives, whether in the Gospels or elsewhere.  Indeed, the name of Professor Robert Gundry came up in the ICBI proceedings.  It was explicitly mentioned in a plenary session by the drafters of the ICBI Statement on Hermeneutics as one who propounded a view which is excluded by this document (see Hermeneutics, Articles XIII and XIV).  The official ICBI commentary on this point (Summit II: Hermeneutics, 1983) also has Gundry’s position in view (p. 11), and the ICBI “Executive Council” voted unanimously to inform ETS that “Robert Gundry is inconsistent with the ICBI Summit II statement” (ICBI Council “Minutes,” October 21, 1983, p. 3).  From this it is clear that the ICBI statements on Inerrancy (also adopted by ETS for understanding inerrancy), including the one used by Robert Gundry to deny the historicity of sections of Matthew’s Gospel, was deemed incompatible with the ICBI view on inerrancy.  So, the difference between acceptable and unacceptable use of genre in interpreting the Bible can be contrasted as follows:

The Use of Genre in Biblical Studies

Acceptable Use of Genre Unacceptable Use of Genre
To Classify Genre inside the Bible To Critique Bible from Genre Outside the Text
To Use Extra-biblical Genre to Clarify the Meaning of a Text Use Extra-biblical Genre to Determine the Meaning of a Text
Use Biblical Genre to Confirm the Historicity of a Text Use of Extra-biblical Genre to Deny Historicity of a Text
Used as Part of the Historical-Grammatical Method Use of Extra-biblical Genre contrary to  the Historical-Grammatical Method

 

So, using Hebrew or Greco-Roman genre to negate the historicity of sections of the Gospels is clearly contrary to what the ICBI framers meant by inerrancy. Those who make claims to the contrary are creating their own view of inerrancy, but they clearly do not reflect the view of the ICBI framers.

 

Robert Gundry’s View’s on Genre Criticism was Rejected by ETS

As already noted, ICBI rejected the use of extra-biblical genre categories to deny truth affirmed in the Bible.  The genre views of Robert Gundry are an important case in point.

The Views of Gundry

A summary of the objectionable views of Robert Gundry which were rejected by an overwhelming majority of the ETS members are summarized in the following “Notes” given to the membership before they voted on the issue:

 

 

Quotations from R. Gundry’s Matthew Commentary (Eerdmans, 1982).

  1. “Clearly, Matthew treats us to history mixed with elements that cannot be called historical in a modern sense.  All history writing entails more or less editing of materials.  But Matthew’s editing often goes beyond the bounds we nowadays want a historian to respect.  Matthew’s subtractions, additions, and revisions of order and phraseology often show changes in substance; i.e., they represent developments of the dominical tradition that result in different meanings and departures from the actuality of events” (p. 623).
  2. “Comparison with the other gospels, especially with Mark and Luke, and examination of Matthew’s style and theology show that he materially altered and embellished historical traditions and that he did so deliberately and often” (p. 639).
  3. “We have also seen that at numerous points these features exhibit such a high degree of editorial liberty that the adjectives ‘midrashic’ and ‘haggadic’ become appropriate” (p. 628).
  4. “We are not dealing with a few scattered difficulties.  We are dealing with a vast network of tendentious changes” (p. 625).
  5. “Hence, ‘Jesus said’ or ‘Jesus did’ need not always mean that in history Jesus said or did what follows, but sometimes may mean that in the account at least partly constructed by Matthew himself Jesus said or did what follows” (p. 630).
  6. “Semantics aside, it is enough to note that the liberty Matthew takes with his sources is often comparable with the liberty taken with the OT in Jubilees, the Genesis Apocryphon, the Targums, and the Midrashim and Haggadoth in rabbinic literature” (p. 628).
  7. “These patterns attain greatest visibility in, but are by no means limited to, a number of outright discrepancies with the other synoptics.  At least they are discrepancies so long as we presume biblical writers were always intending to write history when they used the narrative mode” (p. 624).
  8. “Matthew selects them [the Magi] as his substitute for the shepherds in order to lead up to the star, which replaces the angel and heavenly host in the tradition” (p. 27).
  9. “That Herod’s statement consists almost entirely of Mattheanisms supports our understanding Matthew himself to be forming this episode out of the shepherd’s visit, with use of collateral materials.  The description of the star derives from v. 2.  The shepherds’ coming at night lies behind the starry journey of the magi” (p. 31).
  10.  “He [Matthew] changes the sacrificial slaying of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’ which took place at the presentation of the baby Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:24; cf. Lev 12:6-8), into Herod’s slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem (cf. As. Mos. 6:2-6” (pp. 34, 35).  [see N.L. Geisler, The ETS Vote on Robert Gundry at their Annual Meeting in December 1983.]

________________________________________________________________________

 

      The views of Gundry were described by the Christianity Today article on the matter as follows:

Even more controversial [than redaction criticism] has been Gundry’s suggestion that in the ‘infancy narratives’ (Mat. 1, 2) and elsewhere Matthew uses a Jewish literary genre called midrash.  Like many preachers today, the writer of a midrash embroidered historical events with nonhistorical additions…. Gundry says, for example, Matthew changed the shepherds in the fields into the wise men from the East because he wants to foreshadow and emphasize the mission of Jesus to Gentiles.  Gundry does not believe wise men visited Jesus” (Christianity Today, “Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His views on Matthew,” Feb 3, 1984).

This, of course, is the point of contention with genre criticism, namely, it denies the historicity of a number of biblical narratives.  In the words of the ICBI, it “dehistoricizes” sections of the Gospels.  Thus, contrary to the claim of some that there is no presumption of a biblical narrative being historical, the evidence is to the contrary. First, ICBI declared clearly: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Hermeneutics Article XIII).  Second, the “grammatico-historical” method affirmed by ICBI (Hermeneutics XVIII) entails, as the name implies, a commitment to the “historical” nature of the text.  Third, the “standards of truth and error” view of truth embraced by ICBI (in Inerrancy Article XIII) implied a presumption of historicity, stating emphatically, “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” (Official ICBI commentary on Article XIII).  But a correspondence view of truth affirms that statements must correspond with the facts.  Thus, when speaking of historical persons and events, the presumption is that the biblical narratives correspond with the actual historical facts.

The ETS Vote on Gundry’s Views

After three years of papers, publications, and discussion of the issue, and the rejection by ETS leaders of a petitions from 59 scholars (including several deans and seminary presidents), the membership of ETS called for a vote on the Gundry issue.  Roger Nicole made the motion: “As one of the five founders of the Evangelical theological Society, with a heavy heart I officially request that Dr. Robert Gundry submit his resignation, unless he retracts his position on the historical trustworthiness of Matthew’s Gospel.”  The vote was 116 to 41 (nearly 74% in favor) to ask Gundry to resign.  After a short speech in which Gundry urged his followers to stay in ETS, Gundry resigned, and the issue calmed down.  However, it did not die out.  According to theChristianity Today article (ibid.), at Gundry’s suggestion, the strategy was “to stay in the organization” and “to recruit evangelical scholars who are more likely to support their viewpoint.” Since ETS allowed members to interpret the doctrinal statement as they wished, it is understandable that the organization gradually moved to the left. ”

A result of this strategy was evident at the November, 2013 annual ETS meeting when one member of the panel discussion on inerrancy (Michael Bird) spontaneously called for an informal vote on how many members present wished to see Gundry return to the Society.  Two independent eyewitnesses reported that about one-third of the audience responded positively.  There has been a rumbling of other voices in favor of overturning the Gundry decision in recent days.  Early on some members have expressed their view in print.  Dr. Craig Blomberg wrote:

Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretation of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same. The problem will not disappear simply because one author [Gundry] is dealt with ad hominem. . . . How should evangelicals react? Dismissing the sociological view on the grounds that the NT miracles present themselves as historical gets us nowhere. So do almost all the other miracle stories of antiquity. Are we to believe them all?” (Blomberg, “New Testament Miracles and Higher Criticism: Climbing Up the Slippery Slope,”JETS 27/4 [December 1984] 436, emphasis added).

In view of all this, it is evident that if the ETS Gundry decision were ever reversed, it would open the flood gates to the rejection of the ICBI understanding of inerrancy.

This would do two undesirable things:  First of all, it would solve a serious problem for some current ETS members who have not signed the ETS statement in good conscience.  We know they exist based on how they voted on certain issues (like the Gundry and Pinnock cases) and by their own confession. For the report of the Executive Committee, confirmed by the membership vote, knowingly allowed in its membership persons who do not hold the same view on inerrancy as that of the framers of the doctrinal statement.  This they have knowingly done since 1976 when the 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 conscience they could not sign the statement” (1976 Minutes, emphasis added).  Further, an ETS Ad Hoc Committee recognized this problem when it posed the proper question in 1983: “Is it acceptable for a member of the society to hold a view of biblical author’s intent which disagrees with the Founding Fathers and even the majority of the society, and still remain a member in good standing?”(emphasis added).  The Society never said No.  The restoration of Gundry to the ETS would certainly calm the consciences of the more “liberal” members who are now signing the ETS statement with mental reservations.

Waiting in the Wings

Second, a reversal of the Gundry decision would mean a reversal of the historic position of ETS (and ICBI) to a more open-ended position in which every member could do hermeneutically what is right in his own eyes!  In short, it would mean the death of the historic view on inerrancy held by ETS and ICBI (see John Hanna, Inerrancy and the Church, 1984).  If the truth be known, there are many non-inerrantists (and those with a moral liberal view on the issue) “waiting in the wings” to join an organization like ETS.  However, honesty demands that they should join other organizations that do not believe in the historic traditional view of inerrancy as held by the ETS and ICBI framers.

One clear example of those hoping for a broader understanding of inerrancy that would be inclusive of genre criticism that “dehistoricizes” sections of the Gospels is Mike Licona.  He has expressed the belief that there is a disagreement among the living framers of ICBI statements as to the meaningof the ICBI statements with regard to this genre issue.  However, that this is not the case is evident from several facts:

(a) Even in its formal statement on inerrancy (“the Chicago Statement” of 1974) there is a reference to the “grammatio-historical” (i.e., literal) method of interpreting the Bible (Article XVIII) which demands that the Gospel narratives be taken in the literal historical manner.

(b) In the same article it condemns “dehistoricizing” the text of Scripture which is what Licona does in several New Testament passages, including the raising of the saints in Matthew 27, the angels at the tomb in all four Gospels, and the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim (in Jn. 18).

(c) In actuality, all the living ICBI framers (R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, and Norman Geisler) all agree that it is contrary to inerrancy (in the material sense) to “dehistoricize” the Gospel record and not take it as literal space-time history.

(d) As noted above, the ICBI framers affirmed a “correspondence” view of truth which demands that the affirmations in the Gospel record must have a literal referent in the real world (i.e., must be historical).  As the ICBI commentary put it, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (“Chicago Statement” Article XIII and Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy, 37).

The genre views of Mike Licona are basically the same as those of Robert Gundry who earned his dismissal from ETS by the use of the Hebrew Midrash genre in Matthew. The only difference is that the extra-biblical genre by which the biblical record is “dehistoricized” is Greco-Roman for Licona and Hebrew embellishment and legend for Gundry.  Otherwise, both views fall into the category of unacceptable use of extra-biblical genre by which the biblical text is interpreted.  The result is the same: both views are incompatible with the ETS (and ICBI) view on inerrancy.

 

 

Genre Criticism: A Comparison between Gundry and Licona

                 Gundry                                                Licona

Source of Genre                     Extra-biblical                                   Extra-biblical

Function of Genre                To Determining Meaning                To Determine Meaning

Relation to Historicity          To Determine Historicity                To Determine Historicity

Type of Genre Used              Hebrew Midrash                                Greco-Roman

Relation to Inerrancy           Incompatible                                     Incompatible

 

            As is clear from the comparison, the only real difference between Gundry’s and Licona’s use of Genre is the type of Genre used: Gundry used Hebrew midrash genre and Licona used Greco-Roman type genre.  The function and result are the same: both denied the historicity of certain Gospel texts, and both are incompatible with the ICBI view of inerrancy.

 

Stepping Way Over the Line 

To understand the serious inherent dangers in the genre view, in the Spring of 2009 in a debate with Bart Erhman at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Mike Licona claimed that the Gospel writers stated contradictory days on which Christ was crucified.  Licona said, “I think that John probably altered the day [of Jesus’ crucifixion] in order for a theological—to make a theological point there.  But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified.”  In short, John contradicts the other Gospels on which day Jesus was crucified.  Clearly this is a denial of the inerrancy of the Gospel record.

Licona attempts to justify this use of genre by contending that the Gospels, being written in Greco-Roman genre (as R. Burridge taught in What are the Gosples?), allow for contradictions.  Licona wrote: “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).”  Thus, “Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 34, emphasis added).  Licona points to similar phenomena in Plutarch where contradictions in his biographies are found.  However, as we have seen, a contradiction anywhere in the Bible is opposed to the doctrine of inerrancy as held by the ICBI.  In fact, it is also opposed to the Bible and to ICBI statements. (a) The Bible says emphatically, “Avoid…contradictions” (Gk. antitheseis).  (b) The Law of Non-contradictions forbids that opposites can both be true, and this Law is undeniable since it cannot be denied without using it in the denial.  (c) The ICBI statements demand that the contradictory statements cannot both be true, as is clear from the following ICBI declarations: “We affirm the internal consistency of Scripture.  We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible” (Innerancy Article XIV).  “We affirm the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture.”   “We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another” (Hermeneutics Article XVII). “We deny that later revelation, which any fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects of contradicts it” (Inerrancy Article V). “We affirm that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be inharmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it”  “We deny that Scripture should be required to fit alien preunderstandings, in consistent with itself….” (Hermeneutics Article XIX). “We affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truth, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere….”  Further, “We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (Hermeneutics XX). “We affirm the harmony of special with general revelation and therefore biblical teaching with the fact of nature.  We deny that any genuine scientific facts areinconsistent with the true meaning of any passage of Scripture” (Hermeneutics Article XXI).

The emphasized words make it clear that there is a non-contradictory “unity,” harmony, “coherence,” and “consistency” of the Bible within itself and with all other facts.  Any contradictions or errors must be merely “alleged” but not real.  The Bible never “contradicts” itself or any other truth.  This is all possible only because of the Law of Non-Contradiction which is part of God’s general revelation in nature—the undeniable nature of man as a rational being.  For one cannot deny the law of non-contradiction without using it in the very denial.  Therefore, a real contradiction in the Bible would be a denial of inerrancy.

 

ICBI Framers on Licona’s Use of Genre Criticism

Of course, the ICBI framers were before Licona wrote and, so, did not speak directly to his view.  However, the ICBI principles clearly apply to Licona’s position.  Indeed, Licona supporters often claim that his view is not contrary to the ICBI principles. Some point to a letter [2/12/2012] posted on the internet by a Mike Licona supporter which claims that “the framers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) don’t always agree on how to interpret ICBI.”  He claims to have received a letter from J. I. Packer that this matter of genre criticism and how to view Matthew 27 “is not an inerrancy question.”  However, the above ICBI texts which Packer helped to frame and which he signed is sufficient to respond to this misinterpretation.  And a phone call to my ICBI colleague J. I. Packer and co-framer of the inerrancy statements removed all doubt.  He expressed very clearly to me what I knew to be true from years of working with him on ICBI that:

(a) He was speaking of inerrancy in the formal sense, not the materialsense.  For, being a framer of the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (CSBI) Packer held that while hermeneutics and inerrancy are formally distinct, there is a material overlaps between them.

(b) Indeed, he helped to pen the whole article (Inerrancy, Article 18) which is dedicated to hermeneutics and inerrancy.  It reads: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by the grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of the literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.”

(c) Further, Packer added, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing,dehistoricising, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (emphasis added).  Having been part of the discussion and drafting committee, I can testify to the fact that the objection to “dehistoricizing”  was aimed at views like Gundry’s which denied the historicity of whole sections in Matthew (like the visit of the Magi).  This became even more explicit in the next ICBI Statement, the one on Hermeneutics and Inerrancy.

(d) What Packer said in the letter posted on the internet (2/12/2012) was that he rejected Licona’s view as not being “plausible.”  This is understandable since it is in fact an example of “dehistoricizing” of the text forbidden by the ICBI settlement (Inerrancy Article XVIII).

While some ICBI proponents may differ on how much symbolism or figures of speech (which are allowed by ICBI Inerrancy Article XVIII and Hermeneutics Article X) are involved in the Genesis story, nevertheless, all agree that Adam an Eve were historical persons and that Genesis 1-11 is a historical record. Hermeneutics Article XXII says explicitly, “We affirm that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.  We deny that the teachings of Genesis 1-11 are mythical….”

As for the New Testament, the original framer of the ICBI “Chicago Statement,” R.C. Sproul, has spoken explicitly and emphatically to this issue.  He wrote Dr. William Roach:

May 22, 2012

Thank you for your letter.

As the former and only president of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI.

You can use this comment by me however you wish.

  1. C. Sproul (emphasis added).

This letter should put the issue of the alleged compatibility of the unacceptable genre views and the ICBI Statements to rest for all but diehards who disregard the meaning of the framers of the Inerrancy Statement in a reckless post-modern manner.  By the same logic, they would reject the views of Washington, Adams, and Madison on the meaning of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, if it conflicted with their more liberal views of the subject.

As for other scholars who approve of Licona’s views as being compatible inerrancy, they either: (a) have their own private (non-ICBI) view of inerrancy, or else (b) they do not understand the ICBI view on inerrancy, or (c) they are putting fraternity over orthodoxy because of friendship with him.  Furthermore, the fact that others may hold views (or approve of views) that are similar to Licona’s does not thereby justify his views.  It simply makes more people guilty of approving the same doctrinal aberrations.  The fact is that Licona (ibid.), like Gundry, has written a major work using genre criticism (and has given scholarly presentations defending this view) which call into question the historicity of certain sections of the Gospels.  As such, this view is open to criticism.

 

                              Conclusion

Scholars like Robert Gundry and Mike Licona who hold to a form of genre criticism which denies the historicity of certain biblical text are not consistent with the meaning of the ICBI framers.  In this sense, the answer to the question with which we began is clearly negative.  Genre criticism used to deny the historicity of a Gospel narrative is not compatible with the ICBI view on inerrancy.  When it is remembered that ETS (2003) accepted the ICBI interpretation on inerrancy, this draws a large circle of evangelicals who reject the Gundry-Licona use of genre criticism to cast doubt on or deny the historicity of certain narrative sections of the Gospels.

In short, scholars who adopt the “New Historiographical Approach” using Greco-Roman Genre have every right to hold whatever view they wish on genre and inerrancy.  Thus, they have every right to reject the ICBI interpretation of inerrancy.  But they have no right to claim that their view—which includes holding that contradictions in the Gospels are compatible with inerrancy—is in accord with the view of inerrancy upheld by the nearly 300 scholars of the ICBI Summit (1978) which was subsequently adopted by the ETS (in 2003) as a  guide to understanding inerrancy in their doctrinal statement.  The two are simply and emphatically incompatible.  To repeat, as the originally ICBI framer R. C. Sproul put it, “I can say categorically that Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI” (cited above, emphasis added).

Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation (Baker Books, 2011)

DefendingInerrancyBookSm

 

Defending Inerrancy:
Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture
for a New Generation
Baker Books, 2011
     book | ebook


“Defending Inerrancy is a much-needed work and one that will start an important and timely conversation. This is a book that cannot, must not, and will not be ignored.”–Al Mohler Jr., president , The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.     “In the following pages Norman Geisler, who contributed as much as anyone to International Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s [ICBI] original legacy, and William Roach interact with evangelical hypotheses that have the effect of confusing that legacy. They are masterly gatekeepers, and I count it an honor to commend this work to the Christian world.”–J. I. Packer from the Foreward     “In this superb volume, Geisler and Roach have demonstrated once again that the attack [on the Bible], though and old one, must and can be answered. Anyone engaging the culture needs to read this book.”–Paige Patterson, president, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary