C.S. Lewis on Biblical Criticism

 

Fern-Seed and Elephants
C.S. Lewis

Originally entitled ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism’, Lewis read this essay at Westcott House, Cambridge, on 11 May 1959. Published under that title in Christian Reflections (1981), it is now in Fern-seed and Elephants (1998).


This paper arose out of a conversation I had with the Principal one night last term. A book of Alec Vidler’s happened to be lying on the table and I expressed my reaction to the sort of theology it contained. My reaction was a hasty and ignorant one, produced with the freedom the comes after dinner. One thing led to another and before we were done I was saying a good deal more than I had meant about the type of thought which, so far as I could gather, is no dominant in many theological colleges. He then said, ‘I wish you would come and say all this to my young men.’ He know of course that I was extremely ignorant of the whole thing. But I think his ideas was that you ought to know how a certain sort of theology strikes the outsider. Though I may have nothing but misunderstandings to lay before you, you ought to know that such misunderstandings exist. That sort of thing is easy to overlook inside one’s own circle. The minds you daily meet have been conditioned by the same studies and prevalent opinions as your won. That may mislead you. For of course as priests it is the outsiders you will have to cope with. You exists in the long run for no other purpose. The proper study of shepherds is sheep, not (save accidentally) other shepherds. And woe to you if you do not evangelize. I am not trying to teach my grandmother. I am a sheep, telling shepherds what only a sheep can tell them. And now I begin my bleating.

There are two sorts of outsiders: the uneducated, and those you are educated in some way but not in your own way. How you are to deal with the first class, if you hold views like Loisy’s or Schweitzer’s or Bultmann’s or Tillich’s or even Alec Vidler’s, I simply don’t know. I see – and I’m told that you see – that it would hardly do to tell them what you really believe. A theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millennia – which either denies the miraculous altogether or, more strangely, after swallowing the camel of the Resurrection strains at such gnats as the feeding of the multitudes – if offered to the uneducated man can produce only one or other of two effects. It will make him a Roman Catholic or an atheist. What you offer him he will not recognize as Christianity. If he holds to what he calls Christianity he will leave a Church in which it is no longer taught and look for one where it is. If he agrees with your version he will no longer call himself a Christian and no longer come to church. In his crude, coarse way, he would respect you much more if you did the same. An experienced clergyman told me that the most liberal priests, faced with this problem, have recalled from its grave the late medieval conception of two truths: a picture-truth with can be preached to the people, and an esoteric truth for use among the clergy. I shouldn’t think you will enjoy this conception much once you have put in into practice. I’m sure if I had to produce picture-truths to a parishioner in great anguish or under fierce temptation, and produce them with that seriousness and fervor which his condition demanded, while knowing all the time that I didn’t exactly – only in some Pickwickian sense – believe them myself, I’d find my forehead getting read and damp and my collar getting tight. But that is your headache, not mine. You have, after all, a different sort of collar. I claim to belong to the second group of outsiders: educated, but not theologically educated. How one member of that group feels I must now try to tell you.

The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century. I want to explain what it is that makes me skeptical about this authority. Ignorantly skeptical, as you will all too easily see. But the scepticism is the father of the ignorance. It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers.

First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. It sounds a strange charge to bring against men who have been steeped in those books all their lives. But that might be just the trouble. A man who has spent his youth and manhood in the minute study of New Testament texts and of other people’s studies of them, whose literary experience of those texts lacks any standard of comparison such as can only grow from a wide and deep and genial experience of literature in general, is, I should think, very likely to miss the obvious thing about them. If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spend on that Gospel. But I had better turn to examples.

In what is already a very old commentary I read that the fourth Gospel is regarded by one school as a ‘spiritual romance’, ‘a poem not a history’, to be judged by the same canons as Nathan’s parable, the book of Jonah, Paradise Lost ‘or, more exactly, Pilgrim’s Progress‘. After a man has said that, why need one attend to anything else he says about any book in the world? Note that he regards Pilgrim’s Progress, a story which professes to be a dream and flaunts its allegorical nature by every single proper name it uses, as the closest parallel. Note that the whole epic panoply of Milton goes for nothing. But even if we leave our the grosser absurdities and keep to Jonah, the insensitiveness is crass – Jonah, a tale with as few even pretended historical attachments as Job, grotesque in incident and surely not without a distinct, though of course edifying, vein of typically Jewish humour. Then turn to John. Read the dialogues: that with the Samaritan woman at the well, or that which follows the healing of the man born blind. Look at its pictures: Jesus (if I may use the word) doodling with his finger in the dust; the unforgettable nv vuz (13:30). I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors – pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors, or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative. If it is untrue, it must be narrative of that kind. The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read. I would recommend him to read Auerbach.

Here, from Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament is another: ‘Observe in what unassimilated fashion the prediction of the parousia (Mark 8:38) follows upon the prediction of the passion (8:31). What can he mean? Unassimilated? Bultmann believes that predictions of the parousia are older than those of the passion. He therefore wants to believer – and no doubt does believe – that when they occur in the same passage some discrepancy or ‘unassimilation’ must be perceptible between them. But surly he foists this on the text with shocking lack of perception. Peter has confessed Jesus to be the Anointed One. That flash of glory is hardly over before the dark prophecy begins – that the Son of Man must suffer and die. Then this contrast is repeated. Peter, raised for a moment by his confession, makes his false step: the crushing rebuff ‘Get thee behind me’ follows. Then, across that momentary ruin which Peter (as so often) becomes, the voice of the Master, turning to the crowd, generalizes the moral. All his followers must take up the cross. This avoidance of suffering, this self-preservation, is not what life is really about. Then, more definitely still, the summons to martyrdom. You must stand to your tackling. If you disown Christ here and now, he will disown you later. Logically, emotionally, imaginatively, the sequence is perfect. Only a Bultmann could think otherwise.

Finally, from the same Bultmann: ‘the personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or John… Indeed, the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination.’

So there is no personality of our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum. If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. There are characters whom we know to be historical but of whom we do not feel that we have any personal knowledge – knowledge by acquaintance; such are Alexander, Attila, or William of Orange. There are others who make no claim to historical reality but whom, none the less, we know as we know real people: Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Mr. Pickwick. But there are only three characters who, claiming the first sort of reality, also actually have the second. And surely everyone knows who they are: Plato’s Socrates, the Jesus of the Gospels, and Boswell’s Johnson. Our acquaintance with them shows itself in a dozen ways. When we look into the apocryphal gospels, we find ourselves constantly saying of this or that logion, ‘No. It’s a fine saying, but not his. That wasn’t how he talked’ – just as we do with all pseudo-Johnsoniana. We are not in the least perturbed by the contrasts within each character: the union in Socrates of silly and scabrous titters about Greek pederasty with the highest mystical fervor and the homeliest good sense; in Johnson, of profound gravity and melancholy with that love of fun and nonsense which Boswell never understood though Fanny Burney did; in Jesus of peasant shrewdness, intolerable severity, and irresistible tenderness. So strong is the flavour of the personality that, even while he says things which, on any other assumption than that of divine Incarnation in the fullest sense, would be appallingly arrogant, yet we – and many unbelievers too – accept him as his own valuation when he says ‘I am meek and lowly of heart’. Even those passages in the New Testament which superficially, and in intention, are most concerned with the divine, and least with the human nature, bring us fact to face with the personality. I am not sure that they don’t do this more than any others. ‘We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of graciousness and reality… which we have looked upon and our hands have handled. What is gained by trying to evade or dissipate this shattering immediacy of personal contact by talk about ‘that significance which the early Church found that it was impelled to attribute to the Master’? This hits us in the face. Not what they were impelled to do but what impelled them. I begin to fear that by personality Dr. Bultmann means what I should call impersonality: what you’d get in a Dictionary of National Biography article or an obituary or a Victorian Life and Letters of Yeshua Bar-Yosef in three volumes with photographs.

That then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.

Now for my second bleat. All theology of the liberal type involves at some point – and often involves throughout – the claim that the real behavior and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by his followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars. Now long before I became interested in theology I had met this kind of theory elsewhere. The tradition of Jowett still dominated the study of ancient philosophy when I was reading Greats. One was brought up to believer that the real meaning of Plato had been misunderstood by Aristotle and wildly travestied by the neo-Platonists, only to be recovered by the moderns. When recovered, it turned out (most fortunately) that Plato had really all along been an English Hegelian, rather like T.H. Green. I have met it a third time in my own professional studies; every week a clever undergraduate, every quarter a dull American don, discovers for the first time what some Shakespearean play really meant. But in this third instance I am a privileged person. The revolution in thought and sentiment which has occurred in my own lifetime is so great that I belong, mentally, to Shakespeare’s world far more than to that of these recent interpreters. I see – I feel it in my bones – I know beyond argument – that most of their interpretations are merely impossible; they involve a way of looking at things which was not known in 1914, much less in the Jacobean period. This daily confirms my suspicion of the same approach to Plato or the New Testament. The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.

Thirdly, I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur. Thus any statement put into our Lord’s mouth by the old texts, which, if he had really made it, would constitute a prediction of the future, is taken to have been put in after the occurrence which it seemed to predict. This is very sensible if we start by knowing that inspired prediction can never occur. Similarly in general, the rejection as unhistorical of all passages which narrate miracles is sensible if we start by knowing that the miraculous in general never occurs. Now I do not here want to discuss whether the miraculous is possible. I only want to point out that this is a purely philosophical question. Scholars, as scholars, speak on it with no more authority than anyone else. The canon ‘If miraculous, then unhistorical’ is one they bring to their study of the texts, not one they have learned from it. If one is speaking of authority, the united authority of all the biblical critics in the world counts here for nothing. On this they speak simply as men; men obviously influenced by, and perhaps insufficiently critical of, the spirit of the age they grew up in.

But my fourth bleat – which is also my loudest and longest – is still to come.

All this sort of criticism attempts to reconstruct the genesis of the texts it studies; what vanished documents each author used, when and where he wrote, with what purposes, under what influences – the whole Sitz im Leben of the text. This is done with immense erudition and great ingenuity. And at first sight it is very convincing. I think I should be convinced by it myself, but that I carry about with me a charm – the herb moly – against it. You must excuse me if I now speak for a while of myself. The value of what I say depends on its being first-hand evidence.

What forearms me against all these reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.

Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense; by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. The very terms which the reviewers use in praising or dispraising often imply such a history. They praise a passage as ‘spontaneous’ and censure another as ‘labored’; that is, they think they know that you wrote the one currenete calamo and the other invita Minerva.

What the value of such reconstructions is I learned very early in my career. I had published a book of essays; and in the one into which I had put most of my heart, the one I really cared about and in which I discharged a keen enthusiasm, was on William Morris. And in almost the first review I was told that this was obviously the only one in the book in which I had felt no interest. Now don’t mistake. The critic was, I now believe, quite right in thinking it the worst essay in the book; at least everyone agreed with him. Where he was totally wrong was in his imaginary history of the causes which produces its dullness.

Well, this made me prick up my ears. Since then I have watched with some care similar imaginary histories both of my own books and of books by friends whose real history I knew. Reviewers, both friendly and hostile, will dash you off such histories with great confidence; will tell you what public events had directed the author’s mind to this or that, what other authors had influenced him, what his overall intention was, what sort of audience he principally addressed, why – and when – he did everything.

Now I must record my impression; then distinct from it, what I can say with certainty. My impression is that in the whole of my experience not one of these guesses has on any one point been right; that the method shows a record of 100 per cent failure. You would expect that by mere chance they would hit as often as the miss. But it is my impression that they do no such thing. I can’t remember a single hit. But as I have not kept a careful record my mere impression may be mistaken. What I think I can say with certainty is that they are usually wrong.

And yet they would often sound – if you didn’t know the truth – extremely convincing. Many reviewers suggested that the Ring in Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings was suggested by the atom bomb. What could be more plausible. Here is a book published when everyone was preoccupied by that sinister invention; here in the centre of the book is a weapon which is seems madness to throw away yet fatal to use. Yet in fact, the chronology of the book’s composition make the theory impossible. Only the other week a reviewer said that a fairy-tale by my friend Roger Lancelyn Green was influenced by fairy-tales of mine. Nothing could be more probable. I have an imaginary country with a beneficent lion in it; Green, one with a beneficent tiger. Green and I can be proved to read one another’s works; to be indeed in various ways closely associated. The case for an affiliation is far stronger than many which we accept as conclusive when dead authors are concerned. But it’s all untrue nevertheless. I know the genesis of that Tiger and that Lion and they are quite independent.

Now this surely ought to give us pause. The reconstruction of the history of a text, when the text is ancient, sounds very convincing. But one is after all sailing by dead reckoning; the results cannot be checked by fact. In order to decide how reliable the method is, what more could you ask for than to be shown an instance where the same method is at work and we have facts to check it by? Well, that is what I have done. And we find, that when this check is available, the results are either always, or else nearly always, wrong. The ‘assured results of modern scholarship’ as to the was in which an old book was written, are ‘assured’, we may conclude, only because the men who know the facts are dead and can’t blow the gaff. The huge essays in my own field which reconstruct the history of Piers Plowman or The Faerie Queen are most unlikely to be anything but sheer illusions.

Am I then venturing to compare every whispter who writes a review in a modern weekly with these great scholars who have devoted their whole lives to the detailed study of the New Testament? If the former are always wrong, does it follow that the later must fare no better?

There are two answers to this. First, while I respect the learning of the great Biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgement is equally to be respected. But, secondly, consider with what overwhelming advantages the mere reviewers start. They reconstruct the history of a book written by someone whose mother-tongue is the same as theirs; a contemporary, educated like themselves, living in something like the same mental and spiritual climate. They have everything to help them. The superiority in judgement and diligence which your are going to attribute to the Biblical critics will have to be almost superhuman if it is to offset the fact that they are everywhere faced with customs, language, race-characteristics, class-characteristics, a religious background, habits of composition, and basic assumptions, which no scholarship will ever enable any man now alive to know as surely and intimately and instinctively as the reviewer can know mine. And for the very same reason, remember, the Biblical critics, whatever reconstructions they devise, can never be crudely proved wrong. St. Mark is dead. When they meet St. Peter, there will be more pressing matters to discuss.

You may say, of course, that such reviewers are foolish in so far as they guess how a sort of book they never wrote themselves was written by another. They assume that you wrote a story as they would try to write a story; the fact that they would so try, explains why they have not produced any stories. But are the Biblical critics in this way much better off? Dr. Bultmann never wrote a gospel. Has the experience of his learned, specialized, and no doubt meritorious, life really given him any power of seeing into the minds of those long dead men who were caught up into what, on any view, must be regarded as the central religious experience of the whole human race? It is no incivility to say – he himself would admit – that he must in every way be divided from the evangelists by far more formidable barriers – spiritual as well as intellectual – than any that could exist between my reviewers and me.

My picture of one layman’s reaction – and I think it is not a rare one – would be incomplete without some account of the hopes he secretly cherishes and the naïve reflections with which he sometimes keeps his spirits up.

You must face the fact that he does not expect the present school of theological thought to be everlasting. He thinks, perhaps wishfully thinks, that the whole thing may blow over. I have learned in other fields of study how transitory the ‘assured results of modern scholarship’ may be, how soon the scholarship ceases to be modern. The confident treatment to which the New Testament is subjected is no longer applied to profane texts. There used to be English scholars who were prepared to cut up Henry VI between half a dozen authors and assign his share to each. We don’t do that now. When I was a boy one would have been laughed at for supposing there had been a real Homer: the disintegrators seemed to have triumphed for ever. But Homer seems to be creeping back. Even the belief of the ancient Greeks that the Mycenaeans were their ancestors and spoke Greek has been surprisingly supported. We may without disgrace believe in a historical Arthur. Everywhere, except in theology, there has been a vigorous growth of scepticism about scepticism itself. We can’t keep ourselves from muttering multa renascentur quae jam cecidere.

Nor can a man of my age ever forget how suddenly and completely the idealist philosophy of his youth fell. McTaggart, Green, Bosanquet, Bradley seemed enthroned for ever; they wen down as suddenly as the Bastille. And the interesting thing is that while I lived under that dynasty I felt various difficulties and objections which I never dared to express. They were so frightfully obvious that I felt sure they must be mere misunderstandings: the great men could not have made such very elementary mistakes as those which my objections implied. But very similar objections – though put, not doubt, far more cogently than I could have put them – were among the criticisms which finally prevailed. They would now be the stock answers to English Hegeliansim. If anyone present tonight has felt the same shy and tentative doubts about the great Biblical critics, perhaps he need not feel quite certain that they are only his stupidity. They may have a future he little dreams of.

We derive a little comfort, too, from our mathematical colleagues. When a critic reconstructs the genesis of a text he usually has to use what may be called linked hypotheses. Thus Bultmann says that Peter’s confession is ‘an Easter-story projected backward into Jesus’ life-time’. The first hypothesis is that Peter made no such confession. Then, granting that, there is a second hypothesis as to how the false story of his having done so might have grown up. Now let us suppose – what I am far from granting – that the first hypothesis has a probability of 90 per cent. Let us assume that the second hypothesis also has a probability of 90 per cent. But the two together don’t still have 90 per cent, for the second comes in only on the assumption of the first. You have not A plus B; you have a complex AB. And the mathematicians tell me that AB has only and 81 per cent probability. I’m not good enough at arithmetic to work it out, but you see that if, in a complex reconstruction, you go on thus superinducing hypothesis on hypothesis, you will in the end get a complex in which, though each hypothesis by itself has in a sense a high probability, the whole has almost none.

You must, however, not paint the picture too black. We are not fundamentalists. We think that different elements in this sort of theology have different degrees of strength. The nearer it sticks to mere textual criticism, of the old sort, Lachmann’s sort, the more we are disposed to believe in it. And of course, we agree that passages almost verbally identical cannot be independent. It is as we glide away from this into reconstructions of a subtler and more ambitious kind that our faith in the method waivers; and our faith in Christianity is proportionally corroborated. The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date. For this implies that we know, first of all, that there was any development in the matter, and secondly, how quickly it proceeded. It even implies an extraordinary homogeneity and continuity of development: implicitly denies that anyone could have greatly anticipated anyone else. This seems to involve knowing about a number of long dead people – for the early Christians were, after all, people – things of which I believe few of us could have given an accurate account if we had lived among them; all the forward and backward surge of discussion, preaching, and individual religious experience. I could not speak with similar confidence about the circle I have chiefly lived in myself. I could not describe the history even of my own thought as confidently as these men describe the history of the early Church’s mind. And I am perfectly certain no one else could. Suppose a future scholar knew I had abandoned Christianity in my teens, and that, also in my teens, I went to an atheist tutor. Would not this seem far better evidence than most of what we have about the development of Christian theology in the first two centuries? Would not he conclude that my apostasy was due to the tutor? And then reject as ‘backward projection’ any story which represented me as an atheist before I went to the tutor? Yet he would be wrong. I am sorry to have become once more autobiographical. But reflection on the extreme improbability of his own life – by historical standards – seems to me a profitable exercise for everyone. It encourages a due agnosticism.

For agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the sceptical elements in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.

Such scepticism might, I think, begin at the very beginning with the thought which underlies the whole demythology of our time. It was put long ago by Tyrrell. As man progresses he revolts against ‘earlier and inadequate expressions of the religious idea… Taken literally, and not symbolically, they do not meet his need. And as long as he demands to picture to himself distinctly the term and satisfaction of that need he is doomed to doubt, for his picturings will necessarily be drawn from the world of his present experience.’

In one way of course Tyrrell was saying nothing new. The Negative Theology of Pseudo-Dionysius had said as much, but it drew no such conclusions as Tyrrell. Perhaps this is because the older tradition found our conceptions inadequate to God whereas Tyrrell find it inadequate to ‘the religious idea’. He doesn’t say whose idea. But I am afraid he means man’s idea. We, being men, know what we think; and we find the doctrines of the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Second Coming inadequate to our thoughts. But supposing these things were the expressions of God’s thoughts?

It might still be true that ‘taken literally and not symbolically’ they are inadequate. From which the conclusion commonly drawn is that they must be taken symbolically, not literally; that is, wholly symbolically. All the details are equally symbolical and analogical.

But surely there is a flaw here. The argument runs like this. All the details are derived from our present experience; but the reality transcends our experience: therefore all the details are wholly and equally symbolical. But suppose a dog were trying to form a conception of human life. All the details in its picture would be derived from canine experience. Therefore all that the dog imagined could, at best, be only analogically true of human life. The conclusion is false. If the dog visualized our scientific researches in terms of ratting, this would be analogical; but it thought that eating could be predicated of humans only in an analogical sense, the dog would be wrong. In fact if a dog could, per impossible, be plunged for a day into human life, it would be hardly more surprised by hitherto unimagined differences than by hitherto unsuspected similarities. A reverent dog would be shocked. A modernist dog, mistrusting the whole experience, would ask to be taken to the vet.

But the dog can’t get into human life. Consequently, though it can be sure that its best ideas of human life are full of analogy and symbol, it could never point to any one detail and say, ‘This is entirely symbolic.’ You cannot know that everything in the representation of a thing is symbolical unless you have independent access to the ting and can compare it with the representation. Dr. Tyrrell can tell that the story of the Ascension is inadequate to his religious idea, because he knows his own idea and can compare it with the story. But how if we are asking about a transcendent, objective reality to which the story is our sole access? ‘We know not – oh we know not.’ But then we must take our ignorance seriously.

Of course if ‘taken literally and not symbolically’ means ‘taken in terms of mere physics,’ then this story is not even a religious story. Motion away from the earth – which is what Ascension physically means – would not in itself be an event of spiritual significance. Therefore, you argue, the spiritual reality can have nothing but an analogical connection with the story of an ascent. For the union of God with Goad and of man with God-man can have nothing to do with space. Who told you this? What you really mean is that we can’t see how it could possibly have anything to do with it. That is a quite different proposition. When I know as I am known I shall be able to tell which parts of the story were purely symbolical and which, if any, were not; shall see how the transcendent reality either excludes and repels locality, or how unimaginably it assimilates and load it with significance. Had we not better wait?

Such are the reactions of one bleating layman to Modern Theology. It is right that you should hear them. You will not perhaps hear them very often again. Your parishioners will not often speak to you quite frankly. Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar; now he tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.


We wanted to make this somewhat hard-to-find essay easier to find. Dr. Geisler has commented on Lewis’ bibliology in Chapter 8 of his book Is Man the Measure: An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism and in Norman Geisler and William Nix, “A Liberal-Evangelical View of Inspiration: C.S. Lewis,” in A General Introduction to the Bible, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), p 176-177. Also see Donald T. Williams “Text Versus Word: C. S. Lewis’s View of Inspiration and the Inerrancy of Scripture,” in Terry L. Miethe, ed., I Am Put Here for the Defense of the Gospel: Dr. Norman L. Geisler: A Festschrift in His Honor (Pickwick, 2016).

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

I am Put Here for the Defense of the Gospel: Dr. Norman L. Geisler: A Festschrift in His Honor

IAPHFDOTG

I Am Put Here for the Defense of the Gospel: Dr. Norman L. Geisler:

A Festschrift in His Honor

Edited by Terry L. Miethe

Pickwick Publishers | 2016

480 pages

Order at Wipf&Stock and use “Geisler” as a 40% off coupon code!

Or purchase from AMAZON. 

Contents

Preface by Ravi Zacharias · xi

Introduction by Terry L. Miethe · xiii

Tributes to Norman L. Geisler

Thanks for the Memories by William E. Nix · xxi

A Tribute to Norman L. Geisler by Patty Tunnicliffe · xxiii

A Personal Story by John Ankerberg · xxvii

Yesterday, Today, and Forever: Personal Reflections on a Favorite Professor

by Timothy Paul Erdel · xxix

A Tribute to Dr. Norman L. Geisler by Mark M. Hanna · xxxii

Personal Experience with Norm by Grant C. Richison · xxxiv

Biographical Reflections about Norm Geisler by Winfried Corduan · xxxv

Norma Turbulenta: “Stormin’ Norman” by Donald T. Williams · xxxvii

Apologetics

chapter 1: Using Apologetics in Contemporary Evangelism by David Geisler · 1

chapter 2: Distinctive Elements of a Judaeo-Christian Worldview by William E. Nix · 22

chapter 3: Our Faith Seeks Their Understanding: Evangelistic-Apologetics & Effective Communication by Ramesh Richard · 57

Biblical Studies

chapter 4: Beware the Impact of Historical Critical Ideologies on Current Evangelical New Testament Studies by F. David Farnell · 76

chapter 5: Building Babel: Genesis 11:1–9 by Thomas Howe · 99

chapter 6: The Task of Bible Exposition by Elliott Johnson · 122

chapter 7: God’s Ultimate Purpose for Creation by Grant C. Richison · 135

chapter 8: Text Versus Word: C. S. Lewis’s View of Inspiration and the Inerrancy of Scripture by Donald T. Williams · 152

Philosophy

chapter 9: Some Features of Finite Being in St. Thomas Aquinas by Winfried Corduan · 169

chapter 10: Unamuno and Quine: A Meta-Philosophical Parable Concerning Faith, Reason, and Truth by Timothy Paul Erdel · 192

chapter 11: Open Theism, Analogy, and Religious Language by Joseph M. Holden · 204

chapter 12: Defending the Handmaid: How Theology Needs Philosophy by Richard G. Howe · 233

chapter 13: Aristotle: God & The Life of Contemplation, or What is Philosophy & Why is it Important? by Terry L. Miethe · 257

chapter 14: The Enlightenment, John Locke & Scottish Common Sense Realism by Terry L. Miethe · 281

Ethics

chapter 15: Big Data, Big Brother, and Transhumanism by J. Kerby Anderson · 297

chapter 16: Using Expository Preaching to Address Ethical Issues in Our Day by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. · 307

chapter 17: Moral Absolutes and Moral Worth: A Proposal for Christian Ethics Inspired by Norman Geisler by Richard A. Knopp · 317

chapter 18: A Christian Response to Homosexuality by Patty Tunnicliffe · 346

Other Religions & Cults

chapter 19: Why They Blow Themselves Up: Understanding Islamic Suicide Bombers from a Christian Perspective by John Christian · 370

chapter 20: A Theological and Apologetical Assessment of Positive Confession Theology by Ron Rhodes · 382

Norman L. Geisler’s Impact

chapter 21: The Impact of Norman Geisler on Christian Higher Education by Wayne Detzler · 400

chapter 22: A Detroit Yankee in King Cotton’s Court: Love Expressed in the Thought and Writings of Norman Geisler by Paige Patterson · 417

Tabula Gratulatoria: Testimonials to Dr. Geisler’s Impact on our Time · 427

“Geislerisms” · 431

About Norman L. Geisler · 433

IAPHFDOTG-frontandback

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

Considering Michael Licona’s Historiographical Approach

Considering Michael Licona’s Historiographical Approach

by Christopher Cone, Th.D, Ph.D
April 2012

[This article is reproduced and abridged here with permission.   Click here to read the full article on Dr. Cone’s blog and leave comments.]

In arguing for the historicity of the resurrection, Michael Licona attempts to compare five naturalistic theories of the resurrection (offering non-supernatural explanations for what happened to Jesus) with the theory that the resurrection was in fact historic.… However, I would argue that in his work there is a significant methodological flaw that undermines his case…. Licona does some excellent work here, and I hope his efforts serve as a springboard for other Biblical scholars to fill in the gaps left by his work. As an overall project – as a scholarly and objective presentation of the arguments for and against the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, this work is worthy. Nonetheless, the methodological flaw is perhaps fatal to his case, and at least undermines the authority of his primary sources (the canonical Gospels). Further, it is worth noting that this methodological device assumed and employed by Licona is gaining in popularity and influence….

It is evident at this point that there will be some friction between Licona’s historiography and the idea of inerrancy. Whereas Licona’s historical method demands only a provisional understanding of truth, it would seem his Biblical theology would demand a very different approach. Where these two concepts collide, there is a decision to be made as to what interpretation of the data is to be preferred. This subtle tension has not –so- subtle results as Licona explains his interpretation of the Gospel data, and as he underscores his rationalistic preference for historiography over theology….

I don’t mention these passages to suggest doubt on his part; rather I think they are important as they betray a preference for historiography over and against the Biblical data as inspired. In other words, if I understand Licona’s case correctly, it seems he values first determining historicity, and then appreciating its doctrinal value. This order of priority has significant hermeneutic consequences, as we will see. The question arises: What if historicity cannot be determined beyond the immediate claims of a particular text? How this question is answered in Licona’s work underscores what I believe is the fundamental flaw in the method employed.

One such passage, described as “a strange little text,” for which there is no external historical verification is Matthew 27:52-53. This passage describes the bodily resurrection and post-resurrection ministries of saints in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s death. Licona explains (away) this passage as follows: “Given the presence of phenomenological language used in a symbolic manner in both Jewish and Roman literature related to a major event such as the death of an emperor or the end of a reigning king or even a kingdom, the presence of ambiguity in the relevant text of Ignatius, and that so very little can be known about Thallus’s comment on the darkness…it seems to me that an understanding of the language of Matthew 27:52-53 as “special effects” with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible.

Special effects. Since the events in these verses are historically unverifiable, their literal interpretation (as historical fact) is implausible, and consequently redefined as special effects. How does Licona arrive at this conclusion? … Very early on, he inserts a very pivotal statement: “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).  Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches in order to communicate the teachings, philosophy, and political beliefs of the subject, and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determining where history ends and legend begins. And there it is.Bios is flexible. Some of it can be historical, other aspects can be mere special effects…..

To his credit Licona anticipates the question this begs. He notes, “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 offers two brief arguments against that conclusion (no indication of early poetic interpretations, and no known early opponents of Christianity critiqued on the basis of misunderstanding poetry as history). Despite these two points, I believe the damage has been done. Burridge uses the Bios classification in the same way Philo utilized allegorical interpretation – to redeem the Scriptures from rationalistic critiques. By adopting the Bios theory, Licona is participating in genre override, which allows for explaining away difficult passages, via a menu approach to historicity in the Gospel events.

Admittedly, for a historian who adopts Licona’s historiographical presuppositions, Matthew 27:52-5 is problematic because (1) it sounds implausible, and (2) there is no external historical verification. To resolve the difficulty by changing a genre classification creates a far greater problem, precisely due to the hermeneutic implications Burridge identified. Such a hermeneutic move is useful for resolving isolated difficulties, but it is also useful for undermining the authority of the entire text. If it is implausible that people could be resurrected at the death of Christ, then it would seem equally implausible that Jesus should be the Son of God – even God Himself – and should be raised from the dead. As Licona admits, if any of the text is legend, it becomes difficult to know where the legend ends and the history begins. What he may view as history, I may view as legend, and he has made the case for my understanding-as-legend to be legitimate. And if the Gospel writers had the flexibility of inventing speeches, how can I have any certainty about what Jesus said? Sometimes “useful” can be the enemy of truth (e.g., Gen 3:6).
Why not view the Gospels not as Bios, which is so nebulous as to defy definition and certainty, and instead view them simply as historical narrative – which even Burridge admits is possible (at least if only by implication). After all, should Matthew be viewed as a totally different genre than Luke, who described his work as “the exact truth?” (asphaleia –certainty, Lk 1:4)? Why not take the writers at face value? Granted if we do so, we are stuck with these pesky resurrection narratives that we can’t historically verify – and which still look foolish to skeptics no matter our historiographical method.

At the time this article was written, Dr. Cone was serving as the President of Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute and as pastor of Tyndale Bible Church.  His areas of focus are Bible exegesis and exposition, systematic theology, hermeneutics and theological method, epistemology, philosophy, apologetics and worldview, environmental ethics, conference speaking and classroom pedagogy, pastoral leadership, and executive leadership. For more on Dr. Cone click here. Cone-Pics1_021

BEWARE OF PHILOSOPHY: A WARNING TO BIBLICAL SCHOLARS

BEWARE OF PHILOSOPHY:

A WARNING TO BIBLICAL SCHOLARS

Presidential Address to The Evangelical Theological Society November 19, 1998

 

by Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.

Moved!

This article has been updated (in 2012), converted to an eBook, and moved to here:

http://bastionbooks.com/shop/beware-of-philosophy-a-warning-to-biblical-scholars/

Please check it out!

Copyright © 1998 by Norman L. Geisler – All Rights Reserved

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy

and empty deceit, according to human tradition,

according to the elemental spirits of the world,

and not according to Christ.”

Col 2:8 ESV

 

Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy: The List Grows

Licona’s Denial of Inerrancy: The List Grows

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

  Licona’s Denial of the Historicity of New Testament Texts

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

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

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

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

 

 A Response by Licona

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

It is not Just a Matter of Hermeneutics

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Counting Heads on the Inerrancy Issue

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

                                          

Why Some Scholars Endorse Licona’s View

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

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

 

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

 

An Alleged Lack of Criticism of Other Evangelical Scholars

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

 

 Attacking the Person vs. Critiquing the Position

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

Where Does the Issue Go From Here?

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

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

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

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

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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