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

by Norman L. Geisler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Was Mark Confused or was it Mike Licona?

Was Mark Confused or was it Mike Licona?

by Norman L. Geisler

feedfish

The Problem

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

 

Proposed Solutions

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

 

A Brief Evaluation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


http://defendinginerrancy.com

Explaining Biblical Inerrancy

Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

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

Book Review of Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Christopher T. Haun[1]

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

Title:

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

PRICE:

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

Kindle: $15.00 at Amazon.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chapter by Chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 29 | Redating the Gospels | Phil Fernandes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Response to Mike Licona’s EPS Paper

A Response to Mike Licona’s EPS Paper

By Norman L. Geisler

 

 

Unscholarly Statements at a Scholarly Society 

 

Mike Licona asked the Evangelical  Philosophical Society (EPS) for an opportunity to provide a defense of his views (expressed in The Resurrection of Jesus) in which he denied the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.  His presentation was given at the EPS on November 18, 2011 and was posted on his web site.

 

Licona objected to internet presentations of matters like this and insisted that these discussions should take place in a “scholarly” context.  However, this premise is seriously flawed for several reasons.  First of all, Licona posted his paper and other discussion on this topic on his web site.  He also posted a YouTube video defending his views. Second, he has not restrained his family and friends from carrying on a defense of his view on the internet.  Third, Licona preferred an academic context which he knew would contain more persons who shared his view.  Fourth, public review is appropriate for any published view such as Licona’s, but he feared this would be more negative.  Fifth, the scholarly context of the EPS was not very scholarly in its format since no opposing paper was permitted on this controversial issue.  Sixth, giving a presentation by a scholar at a scholarly meeting in no way guarantees it will be done in a completely scholarly way.

 

Unfortunately, this is what happened when Licona presented his paper at EPS.  For much of the presentation was anything but scholarly in its language and tone.  He speaks of his critics saying “Bizzare” things, of “bullying” people around, of having “a cow” over his view, and of engaging in a “circus” on the internet.

 

Further, rather than taking the normal objective approach, Licona personalized the issue by claiming that scholarly critics of his views were “targeting” him and “taking actions against me [Licona].” He speaks about those who have made scholarly criticisms of his view as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” And he compares it to the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote: “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.”  This is unfortunate language in a scholarly context and, as anyone can verify by looking at the scholarly critiques of Licona’s view posted on our web site (www.normangeisler.com). Licona’s charges are contrary to the facts.  For example, we expressed our personal affection for him as a person in our “Second Open Letter,” saying, “I like Mike as a person and love him as a brother in Christ, and it would be a shame to see him fall permanently from the ranks of consistent biblical inerrantists.”  However, one should not put fraternity over orthodoxy when it comes to matters like the historicity and inerrancy of the Gospels.

 

False Statements about Alleged Punitive Measures 

 

            Further, charging that critics against one’s views have taken punitive measures may elicit pity, but it does not exemplify scholarship. Licona said to the EPS group: “Many of you have witnessed some of the actions taken against me on the internet since August and some of you are aware of the behind the scenes efforts to have me ostracized from all future ministry. But punitive measures havn’t been limited to me. Gary Habermas and Paul Copan have both been uninvited from previously established speaking engagements.”

 

However, President Joseph Holden of Veritas Evangelical Seminary who was involved in this matter responded in a letter to Gary Habermas, saying, “It would be difficult for me to believe you are not aware of this uninformed statement about the ‘uninvite,’ and failure to correct Licona on this.”  Rather, it was “…because of your own view of inerrancy that was contrary to the Veritas Seminary doctrinal statement on inerrancy. That is, your view accepts: the belief that inerrancy is consistent with the view that rejects Gospel narratives as completely historical (angels at the tomb, falling down of those seizing Jesus, and resurrection of saints)…. It is difficult for me to believe that you were not aware of Licona’s EPS paper, and did nothing to correct this falsehood that insinuates VES is punishing those who voice opinions…. I am disappointed that you would allow such an uninformed statement be left uncorrected, since it portrays VES as the one wielding unjustified ‘punitive measures.’ I would hope that you would clarify this fact with Licona who is clearly uniformed on the matter” (Letter, 11/21/11).

 

False Claims about the Alleged Dogmatism of His Critic’s Views 

 

Contrary to the actual words of those who criticized Licona’s views, he claims they become so committed to a particular interpretation of a text” that they “unconsciously canonize the interpretation, so that those who disagree with it are now disagreeing with Scripture.”  In fact, his critics do no such thing, as an examination of the record will show.  Further, Licona’s sword cuts both ways. One can be dogmatic about another’s dogmatism.  Hence, with equal justification one could argue that he is doing the same thing.  However, in fact and in fairness Licona and critics are doing no more or less than making truth claims and presenting evidence to support them.  The reader will have to weigh the arguments pro and con and decide which view corresponds to the facts.  But it is simply untrue and unfair to defame one’s critics by making an over statement that they unconsciously speak with canonical authority.

The False Allegation about Bullying Diminishing Good Scholarship

Licona claims that “There is also a cost to scholarship. For when evangelical scholars see this happening, some of them will go back to their office, save their recent research on a jump drive and, rather than publishing it, they will tuck it away in their home office for fear of becoming the next target. Thus, good scholarship is lost when theological bullying is unanswered.”  However, this statement has some serious shortcomings.  First, Licona implication  that casting doubt on Gospel narratives is “good scholarship” is highly questionable.  It certainly is not good evangelical scholarship.

 

Second, he offers no real evidence that he or anyone was actually bullied.  As was shown above, the statements about Copan and Habermas are false.  And no evidence has been given that anyone else was bullied.

 

Third, if Licona’s logic is carried through consistently, then it would be impossible to demonstrate that anyone is inconsistent with orthodoxy at any point.  The truth is that if orthodoxy is to be preserved, then (a) there must be a standard, and (b) it must be possible to determine someone has fallen short of it, and (c) there must be consequences for falling short of it, and (d) these consequences should be feared (respected) by those desiring to be considered orthodox.  To call this “bullying” is destroying the very basis for preserving orthodoxy.  In brief, there are doctrinal limits for preserving orthodoxy.  When one reaches those limits, he should put Lordship over “scholarship.”  The desire for a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship has been the downfall of many sincere and aspiring young evangelical scholars.  Let us pray that the body of Christ as a whole (not just scholar) has the courage to resist it, lest orthodoxy on this crucial doctrine of inerrancy be destroyed.

 Downplaying the Extent and Seriousness of the Problem 

 

Professor Licona minimizes the seriousness of his deviation from inerrancy by focusing on only one text (Matt 27:51-53).  Even though his similar treatment that casts doubt on other Gospel narratives has been brought to his attention, he has not addressed them.  In addition, Licona has not yet responded to the charge that his “methodological unorthodoxy” has also led him to cast doubt in principle on the historicity of many more sections of the Gospels.  Consider the following texts:

 

First, Licona suggested that the appearance of angels at Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection is also legendary.  He wrote: “It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes.  We may also be reading poetic language or legend at certain points, such as Matthew’s report of the raising of some dead saints at Jesus death (Mt 27:51-54) and the angel(s) at the tomb (Mk 15:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13” (185-186, emphasis added).  This extends the infiltration of legend beyond Matthew to all the other Gospels as well.

 

What is more, Licona offers no clear hermeneutical way to determine from the text of Scripture what is legend and what is not.  Calling a short unembellished Gospel account with witnesses “weird,” as Licona does (ibid., 527), is certainly not a very clear test, especially when the passage is directly associated with the resurrection of Christ (as the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is).  Many New Testament scholars think the bodily resurrection of Christ is weird too.  Indeed, Rudolf Bultmann, the Dean of NT scholars, called it “incredible,” “senseless,” and even “impossible” to the modern mind (Kerygma and Myth, 2-4).

 

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

 

Third, Licona’s basic problem is methodological.  He adopts an unorthodox methodology and system that is used on the whole Gospel narration.  One’s theology is not the only thing that can be unorthodox.  There can be methodological unorthodoxy as well.  As noted in our “Ten Points” article on our web site, the method of determining genre adopted by Licona and his supporters is clearly unorthodox.  This was pronounced unorthodox by ICBI, as shown below.  Licona said clearly, “there is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).”  Then he goes on to say that “Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid., 34, emphasis added in these citations).  Little wonder Licona has gotten himself into trouble.  A bad methodology leads to a bad bibliology and to bad theology. Like Robert Gundry before him, who was asked to resign by The Evangelical Theology Society (in 1983), Licona’s view is a form of methodological unorthodoxy.  There is no significant difference in kind between the two cases.   Both denied the historicity of sections of the Gospel record based on the use of genre determination by extra-biblical data they deemed similar enough to deny the historicity of part of the biblical record.  And in Licona’s case as well, it is not just a matter of a passage or event here or there that is the problem.  Rather, it is a radical unbiblical method that undermines the divine authority of the entire Gospel record.  Indeed, after the faculty at Southern Evangelical Seminary (where he once taught) examined Licona’s views, they considered them (to borrow the words of one faculty member) to be “unbelievable” since he claimed that even a method that denied the resurrection would not be considered contrary to the belief in inerrancy.  Upon hearing this, they voted not to invite him back as a teacher and removed his position from the catalog.

 

So, Licona does more than cast doubt on the historicity of one small text—something he still refuses to recant.  He claims that it is possible to hold to inerrancy and deny the historicity of many things in the Gospel narrative. As we have seen, he cast doubt on the story about the angels at the tomb (in all four Gospels) and doubts the historicity of  the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim and adopts a general method which casts doubt on much more of the Gospel record.

 

Minimizing the Importance of Inerrancy

 

               Unfortunately, in his attempt to minimize the seriousness of his deviant views, Licona claims this issue is not one of the “fundamentals of the faith.”  He rightly points out that “we should ask ourselves whether the matter under dispute involves one of the fundamentals of the faith. Not whether the issue can somehow be tied to a fundamental, because one can quite easily make a tie between a cherished position and a fundamental. Does the matter concern a fundamental?” Unfortunately, his answer is “No.”  As we have noted elsewhere (in our book,Conviction without Compromise), it is true that inerrancy is not one of the salvific (salvation) fundamentals, but it is nonetheless an epistemological (knowledge) fundamental.  For every authoritative thing we know about of the salvation fundamentals comes from the inspired and inerrant Word of God.  In this sense, inerrancy is the fundamental of the fundamentals.  And if the fundamental of the fundamentals is not fundamental, then fundamentally nothing is.  One can be saved without believing in inerrancy, but our authoritative knowledge of that salvation is not possible without the errorless Word of God.  Thus, as Francis Schaeffer and others have correctly pointed out, the inerrancy of Scripture is a “watershed” issue.  And denying the historic truth of the Gospel narrative at any point, as Licona does, is a denial of the inerrancy of that text.

 

It is Not Purely a Matter of Hermeneutics

 

Licona attempts to avoid the crucial nature of his denial of inerrancy by reducing the issue to a purely hermeneutical problem.  He claims that “In its most basic form, biblical inerrancy states there are no errors in Scripture. It says something about the character of the literature. It doesn’t interpret the literature.”  However, this bifurcation of inerrancy and hermeneutics fails for several reasons.  First, it is built on a serious misunderstanding about what inerrancy means, especially that of the ICBI, which Licona claims to support. The ICBI statements insist that the Bible does make true statements that “correspond to reality” and that the Bible is completely true (corresponds to reality) in everything it teaches and “touches,” including all statements “about history and science.”  So, inerrancy does not simply apply to contentless statements (which we can only know the meaning of by adopting a modern form of biblical criticism).  Rather, inerrancy as a doctrine covers the truthfulness of all of Scripture.  Such a false claim to inerrancy is vacuous since according to Licona the Gospel affirmations could be completely false—in that they did not correspond to any historic reality—and yet the Bible would still be considered completely true!

 

The ICBI statements are very clear on this matter. They emphatically declare that: “ holy scripture, being god’s own word, written by men prepared and superintended by his spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches (“A Short Statement, “no. 2) We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Article XIII). “We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write” (Article IX).  “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.  We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Article XII).  “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Article XIII).  So, inerrancy is not an empty claim.  It claims that every affirmation (or denial) in the Bible is completely true, whether it is about theological, scientific or historical matters (emphasis added in above quotations).

 

Further, this complete disjunction between hermeneutics and inerrancy is an example of “Methodological Unorthodoxy” which we first exposed in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) in 1983 and which article is now also on our web site. (1) If Licona’s total separation of inerrancy and hermeneutic is true, then one could completely allegorize the Bible (say, like Mary Baker Eddy did)—denying the literal Virgin Birth, physical resurrection of Christ, and everything else—and still claim that it was inerrant.  (2) Such a bifurcation of hermeneutics from inerrancy is empty, vacuous, and meaningless.  It amounts to saying that  “Whatever the Bible may be teaching is true, but inerrancy as such does not claim that it is teaching that anything is actually true.” But neither the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), nor ICBI, whose view of inerrancy was adopted as guidelines of understanding inerrancy, would agree with this contention, as the next point demonstrates.

 

Support for this conclusion comes from retired Wheaton Professor and ICBI signer Henri Blocher who speaks against totally separating interpretation from the inerrancy issue because “The precise meaning of dogmatic terms and statements, being somewhat flexible, is partly defined by the actual treatment of Scripture that follows and accompanies them.”  He adds, “It is thus possible to talk of Scripture’s supreme authority, perfect trustworthiness, infallibility and inerrancy and to empty such talk of the full and exact meaning it should retain by the way one handles the text.”   He adds, “I reject the suggestion that Matthew 27:52f should be read nonliterally, and I consider that it puts in jeopardy the affirmation of biblical inerrancy which I resolutely uphold.”  Blocher advocates a literal interpretation of the passage because the last words of verse 53 “sound as an emphatic claim of historical, factual, truthfulness with an intention akin to that of 1 Corinthians 15:6.”  So, a nonliteral interpretation “seems rather to be motivated by the difficulty of believing the thing told and by an unconscious desire to conform to the critical views of non-evangelical scholarship.”  He correctly notes that the pressure of non-evangelical scholarship weighs heavily on the work of evangelical scholars.  Thus, the non-literal interpretation is not only an exegetical mistake, but “In effect, it modifies the way in which biblical inerrancy is affirmed. Contrary to the intention of those propounding it, it undermines the meaning of ‘inerrancy’ which we should, with utmost vigilance, preserve” (Baptist Press, Nov. 9, 2011).

 

The False Presumption against the Literalness of Biblical Narratives 

 

Licona insists that he does not “deshistoricize” any biblical text because he contends that we must approach the Bible without any presumption as to whether a narrative is historical or not.  But this itself is a radical presupposition.  It is equivalent to saying we approach the Bible without the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.  But this is impossible for we must have a correct way of interpreting the Bible before we can interpret it correctly.  Likewise, it is absurd to say we can approach road signs (or any narrative) without the presumption that it is offering the literal truth of the matter, unless proven otherwise by the words or context.  Contrary to this common and necessary presumption, Licona claims, we can only know whether something narrated in the Gospels is historicalafter we have made a genre determination based on comparisons with extra-biblical literature of the time. He wrote, “I hope that it has become clear in this paper that my intent was not to dehistoricize a text Matthew intended as historical. If I had, that would be to deny the inerrancy of the text. Instead, what I have done is to question whether Matthew intended for the raised saints to be understood historically” (emphasis added).  But this presumption is contrary to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic and begs the question in favor of Licona’s “new historiographical approach.”  For presuming a historical narrative is non-historical until proven historical is a radical presupposition that is contrary to life and the literal historical-grammatical interpretation.

According the historical-grammatical method which ICBI adopts—and which is the common presumption in life—a narrative such as the Gospels should be presumed historical, unless otherwise proven by the context or by other Scripture.  But the evidence from the biblical text and context (which is the way the Bible should be interpreted) clearly indicates that Matthew meant for it to be taken literally (see below).  But, instead, Licona takes extra-biblical data (Roman and Jewish legends) as hermeneutically determinative of what the text should mean.  He says, “we observe that historical details are comingled with the poetic. And apparitions, phantoms, and spirits appear in several of these accounts. All of these reports weigh in favor of interpreting Matthew’s raised saints as an apocalyptic or poetic device.”

 

Further, the claim that a biblical narrative is historically neutral is clearly contrary to the ICBI view on inerrancy which Licona claims to hold. The “Chicago Statement” on inerrancy is clear on this issue for it affirms that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by a literal “grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.” This means that the presumption is in favor of taking a narrative historically, unless there are other indications in the text of context to the contrary.  Further, ICBI affirmed, We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII). 

 

ICBI also published an official commentary on its inerrancy statements titled Explaining Inerrancy.  It declares thatThough the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world. When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to be evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (EH, 37, emphasis added in above citations).

 

What is more, inerrancy implies a correspondence view of truth which many non-inerrantists deny in favor of an intentionalist view (see our new book, Defending Inerrancy [Baker], chap. 13).  The ICBI statements affirm clearly that “By biblical standards truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality” (Article XII). Article XVIII adds: When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship it has trespassed beyond its proper limits. By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.”

 

So, we can see that inerrancy is not an empty claim of the alleged “intention” of the author (as Licona seems to embrace).  Rather, truth rests in what the author expressed (affirms or denies) about something. Pure intentions of an author cannot be understood apart from his affirmations.  And these affirmations must be understood in their biblical context, not by applying extra-biblical texts to them.  And if the author has expressed himself in a narrative (as Matthew 27 does), then it is a narrative about something that really happened.

 

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

 

The Misuse of J. I. Packer

 

            Licona attempts to defend his view against the charge that it denies inerrancy by naming others who hold similar views and yet who are considered inerrantists.   However, this is the logical fallacy of diverting the issue.  At best, this would only prove that these other scholars (a) are subject to the same criticism as Licona’s view is or that (b) they hold positions that are inconsistent with their view on inerrancy.  It would not prove that Licona’s view is true.  Virtually every finite author makes inconsistent statement at one time or another, but this is not the point.  It is one thing to hold that the biblical or Gospel narrative is historical and yet make some statements that are inconsistent with this.  But it is quite another to deny the historicity of parts of the biblical narrative, as Licona does.

 

An important case in point is Licona’s use of J. I. Packer to support his view.  He includes a small selection of a recording without identification (and without documentation) in which Licona claims that Packer says that “Genesis 1:1—2:4 is a ‘prose poem’ and a ‘quasi-liturgical celebration of the fact of creation . . . and certainly not a kind of naïve observational account of what we would have seen if we could have traveled back in time and hovered above the chaos.’  This scholar [Packer] goes on to assert that stories such as Eve’s being created from Adam’s side, of her encounter with the serpent, and of the tree of life are symbols.”  However, the use of Packer is misleading for Packer did not, as Licona does, deny the historicity of the Genesis text and some Gospel narratives.  There are several good reasons to reject Licona’s conclusion here.

 

First, these private citations from Packer are beside the point of whether Licona’s view is orthodox.  At best, this would only prove that Packer was inconsistent with his view own inerrancy.  Furthermore, it is not scholarly to use these statements without any citation or validation of them.

 

Second, the question is not whether the Bible uses symbols or to what degree; it is whether parts of the Gospel narrative are historical or not. The book of Revelation uses symbols, but it makes clear they refer to literal events (cf. Rev. 1;20). One may disagree with the degree the alleged statements about symbolic representations on Genesis (as I do), but Licona fails to note that Packer does not deny the historicity of the literal events which these figures of speech describe.

 

Third, as a member of ICBI framing committee, J. I. Packer clearly affirmed the historicity of Genesis 1-11.  He also agreed with Article XXII (in Explaining Hermeneutics) clearly which “affirms that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book” (emphasis added).  It adds, “Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person”(EH Article XIV).  Packer was co-author of these statements.

 

Fourth, in a recent extended conversation with Packer (11/21/11) he assured me that: (a) he believes Genesis 1-11 is historical; (b) he holds to a literal Adam and Eve; (c) he is not a theistic evolutionists; (d) He believes that denying the literal, historical nature of Adam and Eve would seriously undermine several Christian doctrines the New Testament bases on a literal understanding; (e) Whatever statements he had made about figures of speech, symbols, or pictorial language in Genesis should not be taken to deny his firm belief in the facticity and historicity of Genesis 1-11in general and of Adam and Eve in particular.  (f) Packer also affirmed that the ICBI statements are directly contrary to a denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and beliefs like Licona’s denial of the historicity of Matthew 27.

 

In brief, Licona’s use (misuse) of this tape is not only unsubstantiated but is misleading and false.  Indeed, Packer wrote the Foreward for our new book, Defending Inerrancy (Baker), on this topic, saying,“In the following pages Norman Geisler, who contributed as much as anyone to ICBI original legacy, and William roach interact with evangelical hypotheses that have the effect of confusing that legacy. They are masterly gatekeepers [for inerrancy], and I count it an honor to commend this work to the Christian world.”

 

In view of this, Licona’s conclusion is unfounded when he claims that “Dr. Geisler says that the Chicago Statement requires interpreting Genesis 1 as “space-time events which actually happened.  But it’s obvious Packer would disagree. So, Geisler’s being an ICBI framer does not guarantee he has a correct understanding of it.”  First all, this is not my private statement on the matter; it is quotation from the stated ICBI view on the topic which is confirmed by the above citations from official ICBI literature.  Further, Packer and I as co-framers of the ICBI statements have the same understanding of them. So, it is not a matter of my interpretation of the ICBI statements about “space-time” events since that is what the official ICBI statements actually says: “Though the Bible is indeedredemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37, emphasis added).

 

Further, it is presumptuous for anyone to assume that he knows more about an ICBI statement than the framers do. This same kind of reconstruction of a text is what a liberal (broad constructionists) interpretation of the US Constitution does.  I suppose that if Washington and Madison were here, these reconstructionists would be bold enough to insist that they knew more about the Constitution means than the framers themselves did!  Likewise, one needs a good bit of hubris to tell framers of the ICBI statement that he knows better about what they framed than they do!

 

Failing to Consider Crucial Evidence

In defending his current agnosticism about the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, Licona admittedly leaves out many of the arguments in favor of its historicity.  Indeed, he even admits about one of the arguments in favor of the historicity of the text, “But the bottom line is that at least 2 and possibly 3 of the 4 early Church fathers regarded Matthew’s raised saints as historical.”  In fact, Licona even admits the strength of this argument that “I also find it noteworthy that none of the Church fathers interpreted Matthew’s raised saints as apocalyptic symbols or poetic devices.”

 

Why then reject its historicity, especially since there are nine other good reasons for accepting it as historical that Licona chooses not to address.  Together they are in brief: (1) This passage is part of a historical narrative in a historical record—the Gospel of Matthew which in its immediate and larger setting demand the presumption of historicity. (2) This text manifests no literary signs of being poetic or legendary, such as those found in parables, poems, or symbolic presentations. (3) It gives no indication of being a legendary embellishment, but it is a short, simple, straight-forward account in the exact style one expects in a brief historical narrative. (4) This event occurs in the context of other important historical events which, by the repeated use of “and,” shows its integral connection to the other historical events surrounding the report. (5)  The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ, and it makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection. (6) Early Fathers of the Christian Church, who were closer to this event, took it as historical, sometimes even including it as an apologetic argument for the resurrection of Christ.  (7) The record has the same pattern as the historical records of Jesus’ physical and historical resurrection: (a) there were dead bodies; (b) they were buried in a tomb; (c) they were raised to life again; (d) they came out of the tomb and left it empty; (e) they appeared to many witnesses.  (8) An overwhelming consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Church for nearly the past nearly two thousand years supports the view that this account should be read as a historical record. (9) Modern objections to a straight-forward acceptance of this passage as a historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic which violates sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra-biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical event is historical. (10) The faulty hermeneutic principles used in point 9 could be used, without any further justification, to deny other events in the gospels as historical.  It is simply special pleading to neglect this overwhelming evidence in favor of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.

The Questionable Use of Other Biblical Texts to Support His View

 

Licona cites the Mt. Olivet discourse (Matt. 24-25) of Jesus as containing apocalyptic elements that are not literal along with some that are.  But this begs the question in favor of one particular interpretation of this text.  It is possible that all the statements refer to literal events, including those about the sun and the moon being darkened.  Likewise, Licona assumes that all of Joel’s predictions cited in Acts 2 were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost but the sun and moon were not literally darkened.  But he passes over the view that these too are literal and refer to Christ’s Second Coming which are still part of the “last days” which began with Christ’s First coming (see Heb. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 4:1) and extend to his Second Coming and beyond (2 Pet. 3:3-10).  In any event, unless Licona is going to deny the literal Second Coming of Christ, the use of symbolic language about a literal event does not negate the literalness of the event. I know of no sophisticated proponent of the literal historical-grammatical hermeneutic who denies that the Bible sometimes uses figures of speech and even symbolic language about literal events.

 

However, what Licona is doing in the Gospels is doubting or denying the very historicity of the events in question themselves. This is a far more serious matter.  It is in fact the very kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospel narrative which ICBI inerrancy statements speak against by that very name.

 

The Old Earth view is sometimes used to argue that their view is also inconsistent with the ICBI view of inerrancy.  So, why not exclude them too?  However, this does not follow since many of the ICBI framers were Old Earthers.  Further, it was never made a test for orthodoxy on inerrancy by ICBI and for good reason, namely, the age of the earth was never included in an Creed or Council of the Church. Good and godly evangelicals scholars hold both views.  What is important is not the antiquity of Genesis but the historicity of Genesis. And the ICBI Old Earthers all affirmed the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and a literal Adam and Eve who were created by God.  Licona, on the other hand denied the historicity and literalness of events recorded in the Gospels.

 

One defender (Paul Copan) bases an argument for Licona on a clear misreading of the passage, claiming that it says that the saints in Matthew 27 are said to be raised before Jesus was raised which would conflict with Jesus as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20) of those raised from the dead.  This is, however, clearly the opposite of what the text says, namely, “and many bodies of the saints were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his [Jesus’] resurrectionthey went into the holy city and appeared to many” (vs. 52-53, emphasis added).  In fact, the whole point of the passage shows that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection and that these saints were resurrected as a result of Jesus’ resurrection.  What happened before this (at Jesus’ death) was that “the tombs were opened” (v. 52), that is, the stone was rolled back.  But the bodies in them were not raised from the dead until “after his [Jesus’] resurrection” (see J. W. Wenham, “When Where the Saints Raised?  Also, see John Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 3,  211-212 and Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea [Commentary According to St. Matthew], vol. 1, 963-964).

 

The Use of an Invalid Historical Verification Principle

 

Licona’s new book operates with an admittedly “new historiographical approach” (the subtitle of his book) to the resurrection of Christ which misplaced the locus of authority from the inspired Word of God to a lower authority.  The implicit historiographical verification principle used by Licona subverts the authority of the Word of God by, among other ways, placing it on par with external pagan authorities.  J. I. Packer spoke about this very issue inFundamentalism and the Word of God where he wrote: “But in fact this approach is not right. Faith does not wait on historical criticism. Certainly, there is value in reviewing the quantity and strength of the evidence that there is (regarded simply as human testimony) for the great Christian facts. It is good to test the credentials of Christianity by the most searching scholarship, and to make faith give account of itself at the bar of history. . . . [However], faith is rooted in the realization that the gospel is God’s word; and faith recognizes in its divine origin a full and sufficient guarantee of its veracity. So with Scripture, ‘God’s Word written’: faith rests its confidence in the truth of the biblical narratives, not on the critical acumen of the historian, but on the unfailing trustworthiness of God” (166-167).

 

Packer adds in a footnote, “It should perhaps be emphasized that we do not mean by this that Scripture history is written according to the canons of modern scientific history. Biblical historians are not concerned to answer all the questions which modern historians ask, nor to tell their story with the detailed completeness to which the modern researcher aspires….The biblical writers had their own aims and interests guiding their selection of the evidence, and their own conventions for using it; and if we fail to take account of these things in interpreting what they wrote, we violate the canon of literal interpretation …. Our point in the text is simply that, when Scripture professes to narrate fact, faith receives the narrative as factual on God’s authority, and does not conclude it to be legendary, or mythical, or mystical, or mere human authority (167, emphasis added).

 

This misdirected effort of Licona and other current New Testament scholars to embrace “a new historiographical approach” is discussed in detail in Chapter 11 of our new book Defending Inerrancy. The new historiography was conceived by liberal scholars and is suited to their end.  It is unwise for evangelicals to baptize it and try to use it to defend an evangelical view of Scripture.  As Licona’s efforts shows, it falls far short of their goal.

 

 

The Use of Other Scholars to Support His View

            Licona and some of his supporters appeal to other scholars who hold similar views or who support the orthodoxy of his views.  However, the value of this is dubious for several reasons.  First of all, if one wants to count numbers, the weight of history leans heavily against Licona’s views.  For it is difficult to find any orthodox scholars in the history of the Church up to modern times who denied the historicity of the Matthew 27 passage under dispute.  The largest gathering of scholars on the topic of inerrancy in the 20th century, the ICBI (1978), condemned a similar view to that held by Licona (as shown in the above citations).  Further, the largest group of evangelical scholars in modern time to speak to the issue voted overwhelmingly to ask Robert Gundry to leave the ETS (1983) because of the inconsistency of his view with inerrancy.

 

Second, one can always find scholars somewhere—even evangelical scholars—who agree with their deviant views.  However, what is interesting about many of the names used in support of Licona’s view is that: (a) some do not even believe in inerrancy; (b) others do not agree with Licona’s denial of the historicity of Matthew 27; (c) other agree only with the use of apocalyptic language but do not deny the historicity of events narrated in the Gospels, and (d) most who agree with Licona have been influenced by negative biblical criticism that springs from methodological naturalistic presuppositions that are contrary to evangelical thought.  All of this is treated more comprehensively in our new book, Defending Inerrancy (Baker).

Finally, at best the argument that other scholars hold similar views only demonstrates that their views are subject to the same criticism.  It does not show that Licona’s view is true.  Hopefully, the Licona issue will cause pause and self-examination among other evangelical scholars who have drifted into methodological unorthodoxy unwittingly.

Conclusion

 

Laying aside his emotive and ad hominem responses, Licona’s actual defense of his view is patently weak.  First, he completely ignores the bulk of the evidence against his “deshistoricizing” of the resurrection of the saints in Gospel narrative of Matthew 27.  Second, he offers only “possible” arguments in favor of his view.  Third, he ignores treatment of the other Gospel events that he thinks may be legends too, such as, the angels at the tomb and the mob in John 18 falling backward in the face of Jesus’ claim.  Fourth, contrary to his claim, his view is completely incompatible with the ICBI view on inerrancy as confirmed by living framers.  Fifth, he employs a faulty hermeneutic in coming to his conclusion that the Gospels may contain a mixture of legends with the history by using extra-biblical legends to determine  what is not historical in the records.  Finally, even Licona admits that “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 34). Thus, as Dr. Al Mohler observed,“Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.”

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

 

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

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

By Dr. Norman L. Geisler
November, 2011

 

Some Background Information

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

Strong Reaction to Licona’s View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is Worse than First Thought

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

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

A Response to the Baptist Press Articles on Licona

 By Norman L. Geisler

November 8, 2011

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

 

It is Much More than a One Verse Issue

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

It is Not Simply a Matter of Hermeneutics

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

 

It is Incompatible with the ICBI View on Inerrancy

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

By Norman L. Geisler

November 8, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

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

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

Norman L. Geisler 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved


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

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

Norman L. Geisler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventh, Licona ignores virtually all the arguments we presented for the historicity of the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 and then claims that we beg the question in favor of the historicity of the event in question. To state just a few of these arguments given in favor of historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27: (1) It occurs in a book that present itself as historical (cf. Matt 1:1,18); (2) Numerous events in this book have been confirmed as historical (e.g., the birth, life, deeds, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ); (3) It is presented in the immediate context of other historical events, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ; (4) The resurrection of these saints is also presented as an event occurring as a result of the literal death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Matt. 27:52-53); (5) It has all the same essential earmarks of the literal resurrection of Christ, including: (a) empty tombs, (b) dead bodies coming to life, and (c) these resurrected bodies appearing to many witnesses.  In view of all of this, there is simply no reasonably way one can dehistoricize the resurrection of these saints, particularly based on alleged similarities with extra-biblical stories and expressions.  Indeed, to dehistoricize the resurrection of these saints is to dehistoricize the resurrection of Christ which is said to be the cause of it.

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter

A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter

Norman Geisler (Sept 8, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely disappointed,

Norman Geisler

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