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

Setting the Record Straight on the Best Schools Interview with Dr. Michael Licona


Setting the Record Straight on the Best Schools Interview with Dr. Michael Licona

By Norman L. Geisler

Recently Mike Licona recorded an interview for theBestSchools.org(5/2/2012). There are many things in this interview which have serious implications for the ongoing inerrancy debate among evangelicals to which we have spoke more fully in our recent book, Defending Inerrancy (Baker, 2012; link). Being familiar with the circumstances and issues involved here, I feel obligated to comment on this interview.  The issue is simply too important to neglect.

  1. Among other passages (listed below in # 4), in his book on The Resurrection of Jesus [hereafter RJ], Licona denied the historicity of the raising of the saints in Matthew 27:51-53. Even after subsequently rethinking the matter, he still retains serious doubts about it. This is important for inerrantists since, as we shall see, to deny the historicity of this text is to deny its inerrancy (see # 3 below).

Contrary to Licona, there are many lines of evidence for the historicity of this text. Considered cumulatively, they place it beyond reasonable doubt that this passage is historical and not legendary, as Licona affirmed.  Here is a brief summary of the arguments for the historicity of this text:

(1) This passage is part of a historical record—the Gospel of Matthew.  Hence, as such, it too should be taken historically;

(2) Both the larger setting (the Gospel of Matthew) and the specific context (the crucifixion and resurrection narrative) demand the presumption of historicity for this narrative, unless there is strong evidence to the contrary in the text, its context, or in other Scripture—which there is not;

(3) This story manifests no literary signs of being poetic, apocalyptic, or legendary, such as those found in parables, poems, or other 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) The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ.  Contrary to Licona’s view, the passage states that 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).  The tomb was initially opened as a result of the earthquake at the time of the crucifixion, but the saints were not raised until after Jesus’ resurrection (Mt. 27:53).  It makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection;

(6) 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;

(7) This text is connected to the preceding historical events surrounding the death of Christ by a repeated series of “and…and…and” etc;

(8) The preceding events are literal events, one of which is confirmed in two other Gospels, namely,  the temple veil being torn in two (Mt. 27:51 cf. Mk. 15:38; Lk.23:45).  (90)  As will be shown in the next point, from the earliest times—even during apostolic times—this text was taken literally and historically by the great Fathers of the Christian Church.

  1. 2. Strangely, Licona claims that “Matthew’s story of some saints raised at Jesus’ death has left people scratching their heads, from the early Church through modern scholarship.”  However, this is totally misleading since one is hard pressed to find any orthodox scholar in early or later pre-modern church history who denied the historicity of this passage.  Indeed, from the earliest times it was considered historical. Ignatius of Antioch from the first century (c. A. D. 35-107), a contemporary of the apostle John, referred to the resurrection of these saints as a historical event (Epistles to the Trallians, chap. 8 cf. Epistle to the Magnesians, chap. 9).  Irenaeus (2nd) who knew Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John (Fragment 28) and even Origenin the third century (Against Celsus, Book II, chap 33), who had a strong propensity to allegorize, considered Matthew 27 to be a literal raising of these saints from the graves. St. Jerome (4th cent.), and Thomas Aquinas(13th cent.) also held to its historicity (see Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea [Commentary According to St. Matthew], vol. 1, 963-964).  So did the reformer John Calvin (see John Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 3, 211-212), and many others.  So, there is a virtual unbroken line from apostolic times through the early and medieval fathers to modern times for the historicity of the Matthew 27:51-52 resurrection of the saints.  So, the relatively few and late contemporary scholars who deny the historicity of this text must buck the full weight of the great Fathers of the Christian Church on this issue.
  1. Licona claims that his view is consistent with inerrancy—even with the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) view of inerrancy.However, this is clearly not the case for inerrancy involves the historicity of the Gospel narrative.  Consider the following ICBI citations:  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 9:We affirm that inspiration… guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write.  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 [like figures of speech], 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.”  In addition, selections from the official ICBI commentary titled Explaining Inerrancyconfirm it. Article 12: “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world.… 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 adehistoricizing of the Bible…it has trespassed beyond its proper limits. Another official ICBI commentary on Explaining Hermeneutics declares (in 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 unmistakably clear that myths, legends, and embellishments, such as Licona allows in the Gospels, are not part of  the ICBI view of an inerrant (wholly truthful) book such as the Bible.
  1. Also, Licona does not challenge the interviewer who said, “Norman Geisler accused you of denying biblical inerrancy for your interpretation of a few verses in Matthew 27. As a result, you resigned your appointment with the North American Mission Board and left Southern Evangelical Seminary.”  First of all, if the Bible errs on even one verse, it is a denial of inerrancy.  For if it is the inerrant Word of God, then it cannot err even once—for God cannot err (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18; Jn. 17:17).  Furthermore, it was not just a few verses in Matthew but Licona’s denying the historicity of many places in the Gospels that warrants the charge of denying the ICBI view on inerrancy.  Consider the following denials or doubts about the historicity of events in the Gospels stated by Licona: (1) A denial of the physical resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-54 (RJ, 548-553); (2) Doubting the historicity of the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (RJ, 306, note 114); (3) 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); (4) 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);

(5) 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 Licona believes that text is in error! This is a flat denial of the inerrancy of Scripture!

Further, it is misleading to leave the interviewer’s statement stand uncorrected that Licona simply “left Southern Evangelical Seminary.” The truth of the matter is that after the faculty examined his views personally, they voted to no longer have him listed as a faculty member and to dissolve his position.  Thereupon, Licona picture and position were removed from the SES faculty on their web site. After they examined Licona, one faculty member who questioned him declared, “His view is worse than I thought.”

  1. Licona also casts doubt on the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 by asking: “Why is Matthew the only one to report it?” But we may ask in response: How many times does something have to be mentioned in a historical Gospel record for it to be historically true?  And since Licona claims to believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture, then we may ask how many times does God have to say it for it to be true? Many events are mentioned only once in the Gospels, such as Jesus’ sermon to Nicodemus (Jn. 3); His encounter with the woman at the well (Jn. 4); the story of Zacchaeus (Lk. 19), the visit of the wise men (Mt. 2), the healing of the invalid (Jn. 5), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (Jn. 11), the coin in the mouth of the fish (Mt. 17:27), and may other events. Shall we reject all of these too?
  1. Licona claims that “If these saints [of Mt. 27] were raised with resurrection bodies, then Matthew contradicts Paul who wrote that Jesus was the first to have been raised with a resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:20).” However, this is a misinterpretation of Matthew 27 which says that the saints were not resurrected until after Jesus was. The doors of these tombs were “opened” when Jesus died (Mt. 27:52), but the bodies only came “out of the tombs after his [Jesus’] resurrection” (Mt. 27:53, emphasis added).  See the excellent article on this point by John Wenham titled “When Were the Saints Raised” (JTS 32 (1981: 150-152).  Furthermore, even if these saints were raised prior to Jesus’ resurrection it is still a historical event since Jesus raised Lazarus before His resurrection (Jn. 11).  In this case these saints would have received their same mortal bodies as Lazarus did and, hence, would not have been part of “the firstfruits” of the resurrection in an immortal resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:20) but would have eventually died again.
  1. Lacking biblical (see #1) and historic Christian support (see # 2) for denying the historicity of the account in Matthew 27 of the resurrection of the saints, Licona identifies his source as a noted contemporary New Testament scholar, Richard Burridge. From him he acquired the belief that the Gospels are a Greco-Roman genre which allows legends in the text [RJ, 34, 202-203]. This influence in manifested in the denial or doubting of the historicity of many Gospel events (see # 3).  Licona wrote, “As I had been reading through the Greco-Roman and Jewish literature of the period, I found numerous examples of similar reports of phenomena that were connected to historical events having a huge amount of significance. In one case, Virgil lists 16 phenomena related to the death of Julius Caesar in what is certainly a poetic genre.” But since when do extra-biblical legendary accounts become hermeneutically definitive in determining the historicity of a Gospel narrative?

The ICBI framers (with which Licona claims to agree) spoke to this very point in Explaining Hermeneutics, declaring (in EH Article 13): “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.” And 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, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.”  Nowhere is it stated that part of the historical-grammatical method of interpreting the Bible is that extra-scriptural texts are to be used to interpret scripture.  So, again, Licona’s view is contrary to the ICBI understanding of inerrancy.  As a matter of fact, as a framer of these statements I can assure the readers that one person we had in mind was Robert Gundry who, like Licona, had denied the historicity of sections of Matthew by appeal to extra-biblical stories to do so.

  1. Licona claims, “I immersed myself in literature written by philosophers of history and professional historians on the nature of historical knowledge…” and admits being “obsessed with my [his] research.” Yet he does not seem to be aware of the degree to which he was poisoned by his baptism into Greco-Roman literature which penetrated his mind by unbiblical presuppositions which are manifest in the skeptical conclusions he came to about many Gospel events (see # 4). He claims, “I subjected a variety of hypotheses to strictly controlled historical method in a more comprehensive manner than has been previously offered.” However, he does not seem to realize that this “new historiographical approach” (as he calls it in the subtitle of his book onThe Resurrection of Jesus) actually undermines evangelical beliefs about the complete historicity of the Gospels.
  1. Licona also mentions the strong influence Gary Habermas was on him and that they became close friends. Indeed, he refers here and elsewhere to the advice given to him by a close friend not to engage in dialog with me on this matter.  However, Habermas’s view on inerrancy   straddles both sides of the fence.  It is for this that he was let go from the Faculty of Veritas Evangelical Seminary, namely, “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)….” (VES Letter from the president, 11/21/11).

On the one hand, Habermas does not agree with Licona’s view that the Matthew 27 raising of the saints is unhistorical. On the other hand, Habermas defends Licona’s view as orthodox.  Habermas wrote, “In my opinion, Mike Licona doesn’t at all deny inerrancy by his interpretation of Matthew 27:52-53,” saying, “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, …angels on Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, or [whether] the signs in the sun, moon and so on were fulfilled literally on Pentecost.”  In response, it should be pointed out that first of all that no evangelical, using the historical-grammatical hermeneutic denies the historicity of Genesis, however long he considers the “days” of Genesis chapter one to be.  Second, both old-earth inerrantists, as well as young-earthers, affirm the historicity of Genesis. Third, no orthodox theologians, let alone an inerrantist, that 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 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, shouldn’t he feel the same way about his friend, Mike Licona’s view?  Or is he is allowing fraternity to trump orthodoxy?

  1. Licona refers to leaving a position he loved with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) at their North American Mission Board (NAMB). But he fails to mention that before he resigned he flew across the country and tried to convince a key SBC leader that his views were orthodox. After failing to convince him by arguments similar to those given by Habermas (in #9 above), he knew that his days were numbered in the SBC and resigned. As one SBC leader told me, “this is the very thing we fought against in the Southern Baptist convention, and so many suffered so greatly in the process.”  Thus, he hoped that Licona would “no longer continue to bring that kind of trouble into Southern Baptist life.” (Letter of August, 2011).
  2. Licona insists that dehistoricizing a Gospel narrative is not really different from using figures of speech. He wrote, “It’s much like we might say that the events of [September] 9-11 were ‘earth shaking’ or that ‘it rained cats and dogs.’” However, this is a false analogy.  For figures of speech can be, and often are, used of literal events.  The Bible speaks of putting “chains” on Satan to bind him (Rev. 20), but this should not be used to deny the real literal existence of Satan.  It also speaks of God having arms and even eyes (Heb. 4:13), but yet He is pure Spirit (Jn. 4:24).  Yet behind these figures of speech there is a literal reality.
  1. Licona unfairly stereotypes those who oppose his denial of the historicity of certain Gospel events. He caricaturizes them as “ultraconservatives who have what I regard as an overly wooden view of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy accused me of dehistoricizing the biblical text because I didn’t believe it because of its supernatural nature.”  But this is clearly not the case. If it were, then virtually all the great orthodox commentators in the history of the Christian Church up to and through the Reformation were “ultraconservatives” with an “overly wooden view of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy” have been guilty! (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church). Further, the nearly 300 contemporary ICBI scholars would also guilty of the same.  It does not seem to occur to Licona that perhaps it is the few contemporary scholars (in comparison to the whole history of Christianity) that follow Greco-Roman legends who are wrong.
  1. Licona relies on a misuse of the hermeneutical principle of looking for the “intention” of the author to determine the true meaning of a text. He affirmed, “The matter for me was whether Matthew had intended for his readers to think that some saints had actually been raised” (emphasis added).  This ambiguous term “intention” can mean unexpressed intention orexpressed intention.  But there is no way to determine the New Testament author’s unexpressed intention.  And his expressed intention in the text of Matthew 27 clearly indicates that Matthew intended it to be taken literally and historically for many reasons (given in #1).   In short, the meaning of a text is discovered by examining the text in its context.  But both the immediate and more remote contexts indicated this text should be taken literally (see #1 above).  For it is written in the same historical fashion as Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.  One thing is certain: the intention of a biblical author is not found in Greco-Roman authors, but in the Bible itself. The Bible is still the best interpreter of the Bible.
  1. Licona uses a false analogy to justify his position, claiming that “Many early Christian males castrated themselves after misinterpreting Jesus’ teaching about some making themselves eunuchs for the sake of God’s kingdom (Matthew 19:12).” First of all, the issue at hand is whether the passage in Matthew 27 is historical, not whether it has figures of speech in another passage should be taken literally. Second, the context in Matthew 19 and the rest of Scripture would indicate that Jesus was using a figure of speech when he spoke of making oneself a “eunuch” for the kingdom.  The immediate context is about whether or not someone should marry (Mt. 19:10), not whether they should mutilate their bodies so that they could not marry. Further, the rest of Scripture indicates that we should not mutilate our bodies which embody the image of God (Gen. 1:27; Jas. 3:9), but should respect and care for them (Eph. 5:29).
  1. Licona passes over one of the most crucial objections to his view with only brief comments, namely, the objection that “one might attempt—as many already have—to make the same move with Jesus’ resurrection.” But the brief treatment in his book does not exonerate his view from the charge.For if the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 which was a result of Jesus resurrection is taken as legendary, then does this not undermine confidence that Jesus’ resurrection is historical. As noted Southern Baptist scholar Dr. Al Mohler put it on his web site: “Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely ‘poetic device’ and ‘special effects’… (emphasis added).”
  1. Licona engages in a case of special pleading when he claims that “Most of the highly respected evangelical scholars sided with me in the controversy.” First of all, opponents of his view could easily say the same thing. It all depends on who is choosing the test group and on what grounds. Second, a survey of thousands of Christian leaders and laypersons which I took shows that some 76 percent did not agree with Licona’s view. Further many scholars who disagree with Licona are presented on my web site (http://normangeisler.net/). Third, Licona himself acknowledged that even of those who believed his view was not unorthodox, nevertheless, “Many did not agree with the interpretation of Matthew’s raised saints I proposed.”  Fourth, as shown above, denying the historicity of this text is contrary to the vast majority of the great teachers of the Christian church up to modern times (see #2 above).
  1. Licona boasts of his successful debates with many noted unbelieversusing his “new historiographical approach.”  Yet I was told by some persons friendly to Licona view who were present at the Bart Ehrman debate that they believed that Licona had lost the debate. After the event, one father told me that he was informed by his son who heard the debate that he did not want to go to church any more!  Indeed, as we have seen, Licona’s views actually opens the doors to skepticism about the Gospel records by claiming the Gospels are Greco-Roman genre which he affirms is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34).
  1. Licona downplays the Southern Baptist reaction to his deviant view, saying, “I remain persona non grata with some SBC entities and that’s unfortunate…. I’ve never regarded Southern Baptists as the only true evangelical Christians.” However, the truth of the matter is that both inside and outside the SBC there are hundreds, even thousands, who believe Licona’s view is contrary to the ICBI understanding of inerrancy which was also adopted by the ETS (the largest group of scholars in the world confessing inerrancy). The truth is that the leaders of most SBC seminaries do not believe his view on this matter is orthodox.  Many, like Paige Patterson and Al Moher have spoken out against it in print.  Another SBC president wrote me, saying, he would never hire Licona.  Still another SBC president agreed with the International Society of Christian Apologetics (seewww.ISCA–Apologetics.org) that his view was not consistent with the ICBI view on inerrancy.  The board of the largest SBC linked School, Liberty University, decided not to give Licona a faculty position, even though some long-time Licona friends on staff were pushing for it.  The faculty of a non-SBC school, Southern Evangelical Seminary, voted to exclude Licona from their staff, and his picture and position were dropped from their catalog.  The list goes on.
  1. Strangely, Licona complained about critics of his view: “I’ve been very disappointed to see the ungodly behavior of a few of my detractors. The theological bullying, the termination and internal intimidation put on a few professors in SBC…all this revealed the underbelly of fundamentalism.” The truth is that name-calling, such as this, has no place in a scholarly dialog. All of those I know (many of whom are identified above) who disagree with Licona’s view are sincere, dedicated scholars who desire to preserve the orthodoxy of the Christian church against deviant view such as Licona’s. Calling their defense of the Faith an act of “bullying” diminishes their critic, not them.  Indeed, calling ones opponent a “tar baby” (which Licona does) and labeling their actions as “ungodly behavior” is a classic example of how not to defend one’s view against its critics.  What is more, while Licona condemned 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 a friend who falsely caricatured a scholarly critique of his view.  The video wrongly claims that we said Licona had “sinned.”  No such statement was ever made.  Further, producing cartoon caricatures portraying a critic of his view as a “Scrooge” may reflect creativity, but it is no substitute for orthodoxy.  Even Southern Evangelical Seminary, where Licona was once a faculty member before his dismissal, 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). The former president of the SES student body declared: “I’ll be honest that video was outright slander and worthy of punishment. I was quite angry after watching it” (Letter 12/17/2011).  Further, when asked to apologize for claiming on the internet that this kind of slam was appropriate, Licona refused to do so.
  1. One is shocked to hear Licona claim that the inerrancy of Scripture debate here described is only “splitting hairs” and is not really an “essential” doctrine. He wrote, “So, I also didn’t want to spend my time splitting hairs over an interpretation that, in my opinion, doesn’t have any bearing on the essentials.  He wrote, “I do not regard the doctrine of biblical inerrancy to be foundational to the Christian faith”! (emphasis added).  If he means by this that a person could be saved without believing in inerrancy, then there is no problem.  There are saved people who do not believe in inerrancy. However, without an inerrant Bible we would have no divinely authoritative basis for our salvation.  The doctrine of inerrancy (the total truthfulness of the Bible) is foundational to every other doctrine of the Christian Faith. For every other foundational doctrine (like the deity of Christ, His death and resurrection) are based on the Scriptures. And if the Bible is not divinely authoritative (and thereby, inerrant), then we would have no divinely authoritative basis for believing any other fundamental doctrine of Scripture based on it. In this sense, the inerrancy of Scripture is the fundamental of the fundamentals.  And if the fundamental of the fundamental is not fundamental, then what is fundamental?  The answer is fundamentally nothing.  Of course, Jesus’ death and resurrection could be true without there being an inerrant Bible.  However, with the Bible we don’t have a divinely authoritative basis for believing that these other doctrines are true. So, contrary to Licona’s claim, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is epistemologically foundational to the Christian Faith (see Geisler and Rhodes,Conviction without Compromise, chap. 16).
  1. Licona demeans most SBC inerrantists as “an ultraconservative wing that would like to pull the denomination back into fundamentalism where people are told, we know the answers. ‘Don’t question me. Just get back in line and follow me. I’m protecting the Church’.” However, I don’t think that’s where the majority of SBC church members or even SBC professors are.” Besides being false about both the number and nature of Southern Baptists, this is a demeaning way to characterize those who are sincerely and earnestly trying to preserve the orthodoxy and vitality of one of the largest Protestant denominations in the world! As a non SBC scholar, I have the greatest respect for the Sothern Baptist leaders who championed the inerrancy cause. It was historic.  It reversed the course of history on a major doctrinal declension. They all deserve bronze plaques in Nashville and some (like Paige Patterson) deserve a statue.  Ironically, some of the names whom Licona drops as SBC leaders whom he respects actually disagree with his view on inerrancy and one of them told me in a letter that he would never hire Licona at his school.
  2. Speaking of “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy [which] defines it most exhaustively,” Licona claims, “But even those who helped compose it aren’t in complete agreement about its meaning. I continue to be a biblical inerrantist and subscribe to both the Lausanne Covenant and the Chicago Statement.” However, this claim by Licona is flatly false. There are only three living framers of the ICBI statements (J. I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, and myself), and we all agree that Licona’s views are not compatible with the ICBI statements (see # 3).  What Licona does to the ICBI statements is typical of what many of his peers do with the New Testament, namely, they read their meaning into it (eisegesis) rather than reading the framer’s view out of it (exegesis).  Indeed, Licona is so bold as to affirm that those of us who are living ICBI framers do not properly understand the statements we framed!  No wonder they misinterpret the New Testament. If Washington, Madison, and Jefferson were here today, by this same logic they would no doubt say to them that they did not properly understand The Declaration of Independence!
  1. Licona also misunderstands and mischaracterizes the historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible as the belief that “everything in the Bible should be interpreted literally. For example, I don’t think that Jesus’ teaching on lust meant that guys should actually gouge out their eyes if they struggle with it (Matthew 5:28-29).” However, no sophisticated proponent of the historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible (which ICBI affirms) denies there are symbols and figures of speech in the Bible, and gouging out one’s eyes is certainly one. The ICBI statement affirms clearly that “Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices” (Article XVIII cf. Article XIII). But even symbols and figures of speech have literal referents, as indicated above (in #12).But allowing for figures of speech within a text (like “asleep” for dead in Matthew 27) does not mean it was not referring to a literal dead body that was subsequently literally raised from the dead as a result of Jesus’ literal death and resurrection.
  2. Licona still refuses to retract his aberrant view on the Matthew 27 saints and other passages (see #4). He said, “The controversy forced me to dig deeper and I have since modified my position to one of uncertainty pertaining to how Matthew intended the saints raised at Jesus’ death to be interpreted.” However, there are several problems with this response.  First, it falls short of a retraction.  Second, Licona has not rejected the theological method (the use of Greco-Roman biography which allows for legends in the NT text) which led him to his unorthodox conclusion on Matthew 27.  Finally, this was only one of many texts which Licona’s method led him to doubt the historicity of many Gospel events (see # 4).  He has not retracted his views on any of these issues to date.
  1. Licona contends that his view is just a matter of interpretation, not a matter of inerrancy. Thus, he believes that one can hold different interpretations of this Matthew 27 text (and others) 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 a total 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.

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, the existence of matter, evil, and hell, nevertheless, they could not be thereby be rightly charged with denying the inerrancy of the Bible!

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.

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 an 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 XVIII says “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 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 historical-grammatical 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.

Sixth, the ICBI inerrancy statement against “dehistoricizing” a biblical narrative presupposes its historicity. Contrary to Licona, biblical inerrantists do not approach a biblical narrative with a history-neutral presupposition (Article XVIII).  Indeed, neither do common persons reading road signs or newspapers approach them in a 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.

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 XVIII, 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” (Licona, RJ, 34).  But the Greco-Roman use of legend mixed with history is not a suitable model for interpreting a biblical narrative.

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 separate them. 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.

Some Important Concluding Comments

First, inerrancy remains a watershed issue among evangelicals.  It is foundational to all that we believe.  A Bible with an error in it of any kind cannot be a divinely authoritative book.  Hence, undermining the inerrancy of the Bible by allowing for legends in the Gospels (as Licona does) is a serious doctrinal deviation.

Second, the ICBI statement on inerrancy is still the most significant one in the last century for many reasons: (1)  It was produced by the largest number of scholars cutting across national and denominational lines; (2) It has been accepted by the largest group of evangelical scholars, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) as a guide in interpreting the meaning of inerrancy; (3) The ETS society, by an overwhelming vote of 70%, asked Robert Gundry to resign because he had (like Licona) rejected the historicity of parts of the Gospel record.

Third, as shown above, Licona’s views are contrary to those of the ICBI.  This means that they stand contrary to those adopted by the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world. Further, to approve of Licona’s denial of sections of the Gospel record would in effect reverse the Gundry decision and open the flood gates of evangelicals to more liberal New Testament scholars who do not really believe in unlimited inerrancy in the tradition of the great early fathers and teachers of the Christian church, B.  B. Warfield, the framers of the ETS, and the framers of ICBI, and of the Southern Baptist resurgence, all of which in turn stand in continuity with the orthodox view of Scripture down through the centuries.  In effect, approving of Licona’s deviant views on Scripture would reverse the course of evangelical history down through the centuries.  This we cannot allow.  Here we must stand.  We can do no other.

 

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1.pdf

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics:http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_2.pdf

For an official ICBI commentary by Dr. R. C. Sproul on CSBI and a commentary by Dr. N. L. Geisler on CSBH, see Explaining Biblical Inerrancy at http://bastionbooks.com.

 

 

A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter


A Response to Mike Licona’s Open Letter

Norman Geisler (Sept 8, 2011)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely disappointed,

Norman Geisler

Copyright © 2011 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

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


A Second Open Letter to Mike Licona

on the Resurrection of the Saints of Matthew 27

Professor Norman L Geisler, Ph.D.

August 21, 2011

 

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

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

 

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

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

            This text at issue is in Matthew 27 which affirms that when he died “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and  yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (vv. 50-53 ESV).  Now there are many reasons this text in this context should be taken as historical and not as a legend.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Consider the following ICBI statements (emphasis added):  “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Article XII).  And “By biblical standards of truth and error (in Article XIII) is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality” (Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy (EI), 43-44).  Thus, “… all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (Sproul, EI, 41).

 

ICBI added, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.”  Hence, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII).  The official ICBI commentary adds, “Though the Bible is indeedredemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37).  “When the quest for sources produces adehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed beyond its proper limits” (Sproul, EI, 55).  Also, an official commentary titledExplaining Hermeneutics (EH). It reads: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (EH, XIII).  Further, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (EH,  XIV).

 

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

 

Objections Sometimes Raised Against the ETS and ICBI View of Inerrancy

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Objection Six: Other Inerrantists Agree that This View is Orthodox

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

Concluding Comments

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

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

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Copyright © 2011 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

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


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

by Norman L. Geisler

2011

Dear Mike:

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

There is, however, one thing I found in it that raises some serious questions.  You speak of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53 after Jesus’ resurrection as a “strange little text” (548 cf. 556).  Indeed, you call it “poetic” or “legend” (185-186).  You appear to include the angels at the tomb (Mk. 16:5-7) in the same category (186).  You speak of it as similar to Roman legends that use “phenomenal language used in a symbolic manner” (552).  You add, “…it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ‘special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible” (552).   You say that by this legend “Matthew may simply be emphasizing that a great king has died” (552).   You add, “If he has one or more of the Jewish texts in mind [that contain similar legends], he may be proclaiming that the day of the Lord has come” (552).  You conclude that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (553).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Your brother in Christ,
Norm Geisler

 

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

 

Copyright © 2012 NormanGeisler.net – All rights reserved

 

Open Theists and Inerrancy Clark Pinnock on the Bible and God


Open Theists and Inerrancy:

Clark Pinnock on the Bible and God

by Norman L. Geisler

Pinnock on the Bible

The Bible is not Completely Inerrant

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

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

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

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

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

The Inerrancy of Intent, not Fact

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

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

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

 

The Bible is not the Word of God

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

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

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

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

The Bible is not Completely Infallible

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

He Rejects Warfield’s View of Inerrancy

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

He Rejects ICBI View of Inerrancy

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

He Holds a Dynamic View of Inspiration, not Plenary Inspiration

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

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

 

He Redefines Inerrancy and Rejects the Prophetic Model

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

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

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

He Holds that there are Minor Errors in the Bible

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

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

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

 

He Holds that The Bible Contains Myth and Legend

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

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

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

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

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

He Holds Robert Gundry’s View of Midrash in Matthew

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

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

Pinnock on God

The Bible Has False Prophecy

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

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

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

 

Even Jesus Made a False Prophecy

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

 

God is not Bound to His Own Word

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

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

God is Limited and Corporeal

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

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

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

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

 

God’s Foreknowledge is Limited

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

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

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

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

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

 

God Changes His Mind

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

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

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

 

God is Dependent on Creatures

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

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

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

God is not in Complete Control of the World

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

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

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

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

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

God Undergoes Change

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

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

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

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

 

He Admits Affinity with Process Theology

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

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

 


 

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

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

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


Did Clark Pinnock Recant His Errant Views?

By Norman L. Geisler

December 1, 2003

It Would Seem That He Did

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

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

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

On The Contrary

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

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

I Answer That

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

Pinnock’s Intentionalist View of Truth

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

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

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

Pinnock’s Statement About ICBI is Misleading

Both in his paper and verbal presentation at ETS (11/19/03) Pinnock said he affirmed the ICBI statement on inerrancy. Many took this as an indication of his recanting. However, this is not the case since Pinnock is on record as viewing statements on “truth” as being what the author intended. But this is clearly not what they meant. But Pinnock seems unaware that the ICBI framers explicitly ruled this intentionalist view of truth out in favor of a correspondence view of truth. They wrote, “By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.” It adds, “This part of the article [13] is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.” It goes on to claim, contrary to Pinnock [SP. 119], that “the New Testament assertions about Adam, Moses, David and other Old Testament persons” are “literally and historically true” (R.C. Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy: A Commentary, Oakland, CA: ICBI, p. 31). But Pinnock clearly denied this (see no. 14 below).

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

 

Methodological Unorthodoxy


Methodological Unorthodoxy

by Dr. Norman L. Geisler

2003

 

Is unorthodoxy limited to doctrine or does it also include methodology? Or, to focus the question: Is there ever a time that one should be disqualified from an organization committed to inerrancy (such as the Evangelical Theological Society) because his theological method is inconsistent with his conscientious claim to believe in inerrancy?

  1. Methodology Examined

We will limit our discussion to the doctrine of inerrancy, although the same reasoning could be applied to other doctrines.

  1. Is confession a sufficient test for orthodoxy? Let us consider the question: Is conscientious confession of the doctrine of inerrancy solely in terms of what the confessor takes it to mean a sufficient grounds for determining orthodoxy on this doctrine?[1] We suggest that the answer to this is negative for several reasons.

First, making conscientious confession of inerrancy the only test of orthodoxy is tantamount to saying that sincerity is a test for truth. But as is well known even the road to destruction is paved with good intentions (Prov. 14:12).

Second, a statement does not mean what the reader takes it to mean to him. It means what the author meant by it. If this is not so, then a statement can mean anything the reader wants it to mean, including the opposite of what the author meant by it. If this were the case then neo-orthodox theologians and liberals could also belong to ETS, since many of them believe that the Bible is inerrant in some sense (usually in its purpose).

Third, no theological organization has integrity without some objective, measurable standard by which its identity can be determined. In the case of ETS the standard is the stated doctrine of inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” But if anyone can take this statement to mean that the Bible is true in any sense he wishes—as long as he believes it sincerely—then our organization has no doctrinal integrity.

So we conclude that sincerity is an insufficient test for orthodoxy. In addition to sincerity there must also be conformity to some objective standard or norm for orthodoxy, for truth is conformity with reality.[2] And without such conformity one is not truly orthodox, regardless of his confession to the contrary. Our Lord made it clear that mere confession of him was not enough, for he denied those who confessed “Lord, Lord” but did not “do the will of the Father” (Matt 7:21). Likewise, saying “I believe, I believe” (in total inerrancy) is not sufficient. One’s beliefs must truly conform to the fact that all of Scripture is true before he is considered orthodox on this point. So it is not mere subjective confession but objective conformity that is the sufficient test for orthodoxy.

  1. Are there unorthodox methods? By doctrine we mean what one believes, and by method we mean how one arrives at this belief. The question, then, is this: Can one’s method be contrary to his doctrine? Can one deny de facto (in fact) what he affirms de jure (officially)? If so, then would not the methodology he utilizes undermine or negate the theology he confesses?

Let us take some examples. The first two cases will be taken from Church history, and then three examples from contemporary evangelicalism will be used.

(1) The Averronian double-truth method. Thirteenth-century followers of Averroes were condemned for holding a double-truth methodology whereby they could confess the truth of revelation at the same time they held truths of reason that contradicted it.[3] Should an Averronian belong to the ETS? That is, should one belong to ETS if he holds that the Bible is wholly true from the standpoint of faith, yet from the standpoint of reason he also holds many things to be true that contradict truths of Scripture? I should hope we would say “no,” simply because this methodology contradicts the theology (i.e., bibliology) he confesses. Despite the fact that they could confess revelation to be inerrant, Averronians held things to be true (by reason) that were contradictory to this revelation. Thus the alleged confession to inerrancy is actually negated by other beliefs, and the denial of inerrancy flows logically from their method.

(2) The allegorical method. How about Origen? He confessed the inspiration of the Bible. In fact he can be understood as believing the inerrancy of Scripture, for he said:

That this testimony may produce a sure and unhesitating belief, either with regard to what we have still to advance, or to what has been already stated, it seems necessary to show, in the first place, that the Scriptures themselves are divine, i.e., were inspired by the Spirit of God.[4]

On the other hand Origen claimed that to take the story of Adam and Eve as literal is absurd and contradictory.[5] He believed this because he adopted an allegorical methodology. Could an Origenian, then, belong to ETS? I should hope not, because his methodology is contrary to his theology—that is, while he confesses a belief in total inerrancy his actual beliefs (resulting from his allegorical method) do not conform to an adequate understanding of total inerrancy, for he denies the truth of some parts of Scripture. In short, his methodology undermines his bibliology. He claims to believe what the Bible presents as true, but as a matter of fact he does not believe everything in Scripture.

The same logic could be applied to a modern allegorist—for example, a Christian Scientist. There is no reason that Christian Scientists could not sincerely confess to believe the ETS statement of inerrancy. Yet by their allegorical method they deny the humanity of Christ, the historicity of the resurrection, and many other Biblical teachings. Let us ask again: Should we allow a Christian Scientist to join ETS? If not, is it not because his methodology is inconsistent with his confession? Does he not, in effect, take away with his left hand (hermeneutically) what he confesses with his right hand (bibliologically)?

Now let us discuss three contemporary examples: Jack Rogers, Paul Jewett and Robert Gundry. Let us ask whether their methodology is consistent with their theology (particularly their bibliology). All three of these men confess to a belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. At least two of them deny that there are any errors in the Bible (Rogers and Gundry), and one (Gundry) belongs to ETS.

(1) Jack Rogers believes that the Bible is wholly true. He even went so far as to say that he was “in agreement with the view of inerrancy set forth in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy [1978].”[6] However, Rogers really denies inerrancy and allows for the possibility of factual mistakes in the Bible.[7]Would we allow Rogers to join ETS? If not, why not? If so, then the ETS statement is vacuous, for it would be possible to believe that the Bible is without error and yet that is has errors in it. Again, is not the reason for excluding Rogers that he denies in practice what he confesses in theory? He has a theological procedure that allows him to believe that the Bible is true, even though not all statements in Scripture need to represent things as they really are—that is, some statements in Scripture may be mistaken.

Indeed, Rogers disavows the classic statement of inspiration: “What the Bible says, God says.”[8] This means that the Bible could affirm what God denies. So if there is significant content in the ETS statement, then someone like Jack Rogers should not be included in its membership.

(2) Paul Jewett is another case in point. Jewett claims to believe in the inspiration of the Bible. He also acknowledges that the apostle Paul affirmed that the husband is the head of the wife (1 Cor. 11:3). However, argues Jewett, Paul is wrong here—that is, God does not affirm what the apostle Paul affirms here. Indeed, God denies it, for according to Jewett the truth of God is that the husband is not the head of the wife as Paul affirmed him to be.[9]

What implications does Jewett’s view have for inerrancy? Simply this: He has denied in principle the classic statement of inerrancy: “What the Bible affirms, God affirms.” For he believes this is a case where Scripture affirms as true that which is not true. If Jewett is right, then in principle when the interpreter discovers what the Bible is saying he must still ask one more very significant question: “Hath God said?”

In view of this denial that “what the Bible says, God says,” surely we would not allow Paul Jewett to join ETS. But why not? Again the problem is methodology. Despite Jewett’s claim to orthodoxy he has a method that is inconsistent with his confession. What he gives with the right hand confessionally he takes away with the left hand hermeneutically. His unorthodox methodology belies his confession to orthodoxy (on the doctrine of Scripture). Indeed, we would say that he is methodologically unorthodox.

(3) The case of Robert Gundry is interesting and more crucial to ETS because he not only confesses to inerrancy but he also belongs to ETS. Yet like the other examples he holds a methodology that seems inconsistent with the ETS doctrine of inerrancy.

In many respects Gundry holds a limited form of the allegorical method. Like Origen, he confesses that the Bible is inspired. Yet like Origen, when there are parts of the Bible that if taken literally seem to him to contradict other parts of Scripture, Gundry rejects their literal truth and takes a kind of allegorical (i.e., midrashic) interpretation of them.[10] For example, Matthew reports that wise men followed a star, conversed with Herod and the scribes, went to Bethlehem, and presented gifts to Christ. Gundry, however, denies that these were literal events. He denies that Jesus literally went up on a mountain to give the sermon on the mount as Matthew reports it. He denies that the saints were literally resurrected after Jesus died as reported in Matthew 27, and so on. So while Gundry confesses to believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, he denies that these events reported by Matthew are literally and historically true.

But to deny that what the Bible reports in these passages actually occurred is to deny in effect that the Bible is wholly true. As the 1982 “Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics” declares, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Article XIV). This is precisely what Gundry does—namely, he claims that some events reported in Matthew did not actually occur but were invented by the gospel writer.

The question, then, naturally arises: Should Gundry be a member of ETS? Is not his actual methodology inconsistent with his confessed bibliology? Does it not also, like those previously discussed, take away hermeneutically what he confesses theologically? And if others with unorthodox methodologies would be excluded from membership in ETS, then the question arises: Why should Gundry be included?

Surely it is insufficient to say that Gundry should be included because he conscientiously confesses inerrancy whereas others do not. For, as previously noted, it is not mere confession of a doctrine that is the test for the truthfulness of a belief but actual conformity to what that doctrine means.

Neither will it suffice to point out that Rogers and Jewett officially deny the classic formula of inerrancy—”What the Bible says, God says”—but that Gundry does not officially deny it, for Origen and Christian Scientists could hold this formula too. Denial of the formula renders one unorthodox, but affirmation of the mere formula does not necessarily make one’s view orthodox.

As a formal principle, “What the Bible says, God says” is empty and content-less, for it leaves wide open the question of just what the Bible is saying. The mere formula means only that “if the Bible affirms something, then God affirms it too.” As a mere formula it does not imply that the Bible actually affirms anything in particular. But surely the ETS doctrinal statement is not a mere empty formula. The very name “Evangelical Theological Society” implies that we believe the Bible affirms an evangelical theology, which implies that certain basic content is included in our confession.

Nor is it sufficient to point out that while others deny inerrancy de jure,Gundry does not. Gundry’s is a de facto denial of inerrancy, for he denies that some events reported in Scripture did in fact occur. But our ETS statement insists that we believe the entire Bible is true.

We summarize the argument this way: (1) The ETS statement demands belief in the entire Bible; (2) Gundry denies part of the Bible; (3) therefore Gundry’s view does not really conform to the ETS statement.

Still, some may insist that the implied evangelical content as to what the Bible is affirming should not exclude those whose method does not entail the denial of any major doctrine of Scripture. But Gundry affirms all major evangelical doctrines, such as the deity of Christ, his atoning death, his bodily resurrection, etc. Surely, then, Gundry’s unorthodox methodology is not tantamount to unorthodoxy. Or is it? In response let us note several things.

First, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is a major doctrine, and Gundry’s method is a de facto denial of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. Even if his method never leads him actually to a denial of any other doctrine, it does deny one important doctrine, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, as far as ETS is concerned this is the only explicitly stated doctrine by which one is tested for membership. So Gundry’s denial of the occurrence of some events reported in the gospel of Matthew is a denial of the ETS doctrine that all Scripture is true.

Further, it can be argued that Gundry’s position does lead logically to a denial of other teachings of Scripture even if Gundry does not personally draw these conclusions. It should be remembered that Jewett’s methodology has yet to lead him actually to deny any major doctrine. The method itself, however, leads logically to a denial of a major doctrine—i.e., the doctrine of Scripture. For Jewett’s method denies the principle of inerrancy that “what the Bible says, God says.”

Just because Jewett did not apply his own implied principle (“What the Bible says, God does not necessarily say”) elsewhere does not mean it is not applicable. The fact remains that the principle is applicable, and if it is applied it will lead logically to denial of another major doctrine. For example, if Paul can be wrong (because of his rabbinical training) in affirming the headship of the husband over the wife, then logically what hinders one from concluding that Paul is (or could be) wrong in the same verse when he affirms the headship of Christ over the husband? Or if rabbinical background can influence an apostle to affirm error in Scripture, then how can we trust his affirmations about the resurrection in the same book (1 Corinthians 15)? After all, Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in the resurrection. If he had been a Sadducee perhaps his view on the resurrection would have been different. How then can we be sure that Paul is not also mistaken here on the major doctrine of the resurrection?

Now what applies to Jewett seems to apply also to Gundry. Although Gundry does not apply his allegorical (midrashic) interpretation to any major doctrine, the midrash methodology seems to be applicable nonetheless. For example, why should one consider the report of the bodily resurrection of the saints after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27) allegorical and yet insist that Jesus’ resurrection, which was the basis for it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23), was literal? By what logic can we insist that the same author in the same book reporting the same kind of event in the same language can mean spiritual resurrection in one case and literal bodily resurrection in another case? Does not Gundry’s method lead (by logical extension) to a denial of major doctrines of Scripture? And if it does, then there seems to be no more reason for including Gundry in ETS than to include Origen, Rogers or Jewett. They all do (or could) affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, and yet all have a method that actually negates or undermines inerrancy in some significant way.

Even if one could build safeguards into the midrash method whereby all major doctrines are preserved from allegorization, there is another lethal problem with Gundry’s view. The ETS statement on inerrancy entails the belief that everything reported in the gospels is true (“the Bible in its entirety”). But Gundry believes that some things reported in Matthew did not occur[11] (e.g., the story of the wise men [chap. 2], the report of the resurrection of the saints [chap. 27], etc.). It follows therefore that Gundry does not really believe everything reported in the gospels is true, despite his claim to the contrary. And this is a de facto denial of inerrancy.

It will not suffice to say that Matthew does not really report these events, for he reports them in the same sense that he reports other events that Gundry believes actually occurred. In fact some stories that seem more likely candidates for midrash (for example, the appearance of angels to the Jewish shepherds in Luke 2) Gundry takes as literal, whereas the earthly pilgrimage of astrologers following a sign in the sky he takes as purely imaginary (i.e., midrash). Regardless, the fact of the matter is that Gundry denies that certain events reported in Scripture (Matthew) actually occurred. This means in effect that he is denying the truth of these parts of Scripture. And if he denies in effect that the Bible is true “in its entirety,” then he has disqualified himself from ETS.

  1. An Objection Considered

Does not the above argument prove too much? Granted the finitude and fallibility of man, is it not a reasonable presumption that we are all inconsistent in our beliefs in some way or another? Therefore should we not all be excluded from ETS?

Several crucial differences between common inconsistency of belief and a conscious commitment to a methodology that undermines our beliefs should be noted, however. First, the common inconsistencies with which we are all plagued are unconscious inconsistencies. When they are brought to our attention we work to eliminate them. On the other hand a theological method such as Gundry’s midrash method is a conscious commitment on his part.

Further, and more importantly, common inconsistencies are not recommended as a formal method by which we are to interpret Scripture. Hence they have no official didactic force. They do not purport to teach us how to discover the truth of Scripture. Gundry’s method, however, entails a crucial truth claim. It claims that by using this method we will discover the truth that God is really affirming in Scripture. After all the mere formula, “What the Bible says, God says,” is empty in itself. Gundry’s method proposes to tell us what it is that the Bible is actually saying and thus what God is actually saying. This makes a conscious commitment to a theological method a very serious matter, for a hermeneutical method purports to be the means by which we discover the very truth of God.

Further, there is another possible difference between common inconsistencies and the serious inconsistency in which Gundry engages. The former do not necessarily lead logically to a denial of major doctrine, but the latter can. As was noted earlier, unorthodoxy in methodology leads logically to unorthodoxy in theology. This is true regardless of whether the proponent of the method makes this logical extension himself. For example, a double-truth method or an allegorical method leads logically to a denial of the literal truth of Scripture.

III. Conclusion

Assuming that there are some methods that are inconsistent with a belief in the ETS statement on inerrancy, where should we draw the line and why should we draw it there?

In the above discussion I have offered a criterion for drawing such a line—that is, for determining methodological unorthodoxy. Briefly it is this: Any hermeneutical or theological method the logically necessary consequences of which are contrary to or undermine confidence in the complete truthfulness of all of Scripture is unorthodox. The method can do this either de jure or de facto.

It seems to me that if we do not accept some such criterion we are admitting the emptiness of our ETS confession. For if the ETS statement of faith does not exclude any particular belief about Scripture, then it includes all beliefs about Scripture. And whatever says everything, really says nothing.

My plea, then, is this: In order to preserve our identity and integrity as an evangelical group that confesses an inerrant Word from God, we must define the limits of a legitimate methodology. If the one I have suggested is inadequate, then let us find a sufficient one.

One thing seems safe to predict: Granted the popularity of evangelicalism and the degree to which the borders of legitimate evangelical methodology are now being pushed, the Evangelical Theological Society will not long be “evangelical” nor long believe in inerrancy in the sense meant by the framers of that statement unless we act decisively on this matter.

In short we would argue that, since methodology determines one’s theology, unless we place some limits on evangelical methodology there will follow a continued broadening of the borders of “evangelical” theology so that the original word “Evangelical” (in “Evangelical Theological Society”) will have lost its meaning. After all, even Barth called his neo-orthodox view “evangelical.” Is this what the word “evangelical” meant to the founders of ETS? Or have we already conceded so much to the “new hermeneutic” that it does not really matter what the words “evangelical” or “inerrant” meant to the authors of the statements, but only what they mean to us? On the other hand, if we reject this kind of subjective hermeneutic (and we most certainly should), then it behooves us to draw a line that will preserve our identity and integrity as an “evangelical” theological society. Such a line, we suggest, need not entail a change in (or addition to) our doctrinal statement but simply the explicit acknowledgment (perhaps in the by-laws) that the denial of the total truth of Scripture, officially or factually, de jure or de facto, isgrounds for exclusion from ETS.[12]

 

[1] It is assumed, however, that a conscientious confession is a necessary condition for membership in ETS even though it is not a sufficient condition.

[2] That truth involves conformity to reality is argued in our article, “The Concept of Truth in the Inerrancy Debate,” Biblioteca Sacra (October-December 1980) 327–339, reprinted in The Living and Active Word of God (ed. M. Inch and R. Youngblood; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1983) 225-236. The 1982 “Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics” has a clear and succinct statement on this point: “WE AFFIRM that the Bible expresses God’s truth in propositional statements, and we declare that biblical truth is both objective and absolute. 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. WE DENY that, while Scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation, biblical truth should be defined in terms of this function. We further deny that error should be defined as that which willfully deceives” (Article VI).

[3] In 1277 Siger of Brabant and followers were condemned by the Church for teaching that “things are true according to philosophy but not according to the Catholic faith, as though there were two contradictory truths.” See “Averroism,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingston; Oxford: University Press, 1974) 116.

[4] Origen, De Principiis 4.1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4 (ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).

[5] Ibid., 4.1.16-17.

[6] Cited in Christianity Today (September 4, 1981) 18.

[7] Rogers is able to claim that the Bible is wholly true and yet it may contain some mistakes because he redefines “error” to mean what misleads rather than what is mistaken. See the article in n. 2 for a refutation of this position.

[8] J. B. Rogers and D. K. McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible (New York: Harper, 1979) 315.

[9] See P. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 134, 171.

[10] See R. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

[11] Since a “report” is “a statement of facts” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary,unabridged), Gundry has denied the fact stated in the report. It is futile to say that Matthew does not report these events, for he reports them in the same sense that he reports other events (sometimes in the same chapter) that are taken to be literally true by Gundry.

[12] vol. 26, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 26, 1 (Lynchburg, VA: The Evangelical Theological Society, 1983), 86-94.

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

A Response to Misstatements about J. I. Packer’s Supposed Support of Licona’s View


A Response to Misstatements about J. I. Packer’s

Supposed Support of Licona’s View on Inerrancy

By Norman L. Geisler  (5/16/2012)

 

A letter posted on the internet by a Mike Licona supporter reads:  “I noticed in his [Geisler’s] point 22 (see article here) that he disagrees with your statement that the framers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) don’t always agree on how to interpret ICBI.  Dr. Geisler says there were only 3 framers of ICBI, R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, and himself.  He then says “we all agree that Licona’s views are not compatible with the ICBI statements.”  I just wanted you to know that I emailed J. I. Packer last fall and asked him what he thought of your view of Matthew’s raised saints. I received this reply from him on 24 February forwarded from David Horn, the Academic Secretary at Regent College:

 

Dear Johan Erasmus,

I apologise for lateness in responding to your email.
What Dr. Licona offers is an interpretive hypothesis as to Matthew’s meaning. What biblical inerrancy means is that Scripture, rightly interpreted, is true and trustworthy. I don’t think Licona’s guess about Matthew’s meaning is plausible, but it is not an inerrancy question.

Sincerely in Christ,

J.I. Packer.

 

Unfortunately, the use of this post to support Licona’s view is unfounded since it is both false and misleading for the following reasons:  First, I did not claim that “there were only three framers of ICBI, R.C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, and himself.”  That is false. I have claimed only that there are three “living” framers of the ICBI statements.  So far as I know, the others are with the Lord.  However, having known their views well, I am sure that they too would support the interpretation of the other framers on this issue.

Second, the above web post fails to take note that I did not say Licona’s views disagree simply with the ICBI statement on inerrancy (viz., “the Chicago Statement”), but with the ICBI “statements” (plural) on inerrancy which include the statement on hermeneutics and the official ICBI commentaries on these statements.  It is these “statements” that make very clear (what is implicit in the “Chicago Statement”), namely, that Licona’s view is incompatible with the ICBI framer’s view on inerrancy.

Third, there is no disagreement among the framers as to the meaning of the ICBI statements with regard to the Licona issues.  I called J. I. Packer today about 12:00 noon EST (May 16, 2012), and he confirmed that it was a misinterpretation of his statement to construe it to mean that Licona had not denied inerrancy in fact.  He affirmed that his statement was only referring to inerrancy in a formal sense, not in a material sense.  He said both Robert Gundry and Mike Licona have denied inerrancy in a material (factual) sense. For while inerrancy and the historical-grammatical interpretation of the Gospels as actual history are formally distinct, yet they are actually inseparable on this matter.

Fourth, Packer and all the framers of the ICBI statements agree that it is contrary to inerrancy (in the material sense) to “dehistoricize” the Gospel record and not take it as literal space-time history.  Consider the following: (1) Even in its formal statement on inerrancy (“the Chicago Statement”) there is a reference to the “grammatico-historical” (i.e., literal) method of interpreting the Bible (Article XVIII) which demands that the Gospel narratives be taken in the literal historical manner.  (2) In the same article it condemns “dehistoricizing” the text of Scripture which is what Licona does in several New Testament passage, including the raising of the saints in Matthew 27, the angels at the tomb in all four Gospels, and the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim (in Jn. 18). (3) The ICBI framers affirmed a “correspondence” view of truth  which demands that the affirmations in the Gospel record must have a literal referent in the real world (i.e., must be historical).  As Sproul put it in the official ICBI commentary, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” Sproul, Explaining Inerrancy,  37 cf. the “Chicago Statement” Article XIII.

Fifth, to be sure, the ICBI framers did not literally have Licona’s view in mind since he had not yet written his book on the resurrection when the ICBI statements were formed.  However, as living framers, we are aware that we did have Robert Gundry in mind when we penned the statements.  So, by extension these statements also apply properly to Licona as well.  For both Gundry and Licona used extra-biblical genre determination to deny the historicity of sections of the Gospel record.  And we also know that Licona holds the same basic view as Gundy did.  The only real difference is that Gundry used extra-biblical Jewish Midrash and Licona used Greco-Roman biography to deny the historicity of parts of the Gospels.  Both are contrary to the doctrine of inerrancy understood and expressed by the ICBI framers in their statements.  This is the same understanding which the members of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) had in 1983 when by an overwheming 70 percent vote they ask Gundry to resign from the organization.  And subsequently ETS members, by an 80 percent vote, accepted the ICBI framers understanding of inerrancy as a guide to understanding the meaning of inerrancy for their society.

Sixth, Packer not only disagreed with Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27, calling it a “guess” that was not “plausible,” but he also affirmed (in the above stated phone call) that Licona’s claim that John contradicted the Synoptic Gospel on the question of which day Jesus was crucified (in a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Spring, 2009). But this is a clear denial of the inerrancy of Scripture (see articles on Licona on www.normangeisler.com). In view of all this, Packer clearly affirmed his belief that Licona’s views are in fact contrary to what the ICBI affirmed about inerrancy.

Finally, even if one of the ICBI framers were to disagree with this unanimous interpretation of the living framers—and there is no one—nonetheless, this would not thereby show that Licona’s view was orthodox. To conclude that it was orthodox would be to commit the same error that Licona does when he allows external sources and unexpressed intentions determine the meaning of a text.

So, the conclusions being drawn by Licona supporters about a division among the ICBI framers on this matter is both false and misleading.  Further, the action (of asking Gundry to resign from ETS) and affirmations of ETS (that ICBI is the proper guide to the meaning of inerrancy), the largest group of evangelical scholars in the world who affirm inerrancy, supports our conclusion that the ICBI statements on the matter exclude Licona’s view from being consistent with the standard (ICBI and ETS) view of inerrancy.  In brief, this internet post is false and should be removed.

 

Dr. R.C. Sproul’s Judgment: “Not even remotely compatible with ICBI”


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

R.C. Sproul

May 22nd, 2012

 

Dr. R.C. Sproul holds degrees from Westminster College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Free University of Amsterdam, and he has had a distinguished academic teaching career at various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and Jackson, Mississippi. He is the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul has produced more than 300 lecture series and has recorded more than 80 video series on subjects such as the history of philosophy, theology, Bible study, apologetics, and Christian living. He signed the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which affirms the traditional view of biblical inerrancy, and he wrote a commentary on that document titled Explaining Inerrancy.  You can read more about R.C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries here.

 

Brief Comments on the Licona Dialogue at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary


Brief Comments on the Licona Dialogue

at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

 Professor Norman L. Geisler

August 2, 2012

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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