On Licona Muddying the Waters (2014)

On Licona Muddying the Waters

Norman Geisler

June 5, 2014


Cool, Clear Waters

Before Mike Licona wrote his recent article (June 2, 2014) “On Chicago’s Muddy Waters,” the waters were clear.  That is, the “Chicago Statement” on biblical inerrancy was clear on the meaning of inerrancy.  It affirmed that “dehistoricizing” sections of the Gospels, such as Licona has done, was contrary to inerrancy.  It declared that:

“We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claim to authorship” (Articles XVIII, emphasis added in all these quotes).


Article XIII declares emphatically: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narrativeswhich present themselves as factual.”


ICBI Hermeneutics Article XIV adds, “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated.


Further, “We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (Hemeneutics Statement, Article XX).

The official ICBI commentary adds, “Though the Bible is indeed redemptivehistory, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Commentary on Article XII).



Cool, Clear Framers Agree

All living framers (R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, and N.L. Geisler) agree that ICBI excludes a view like Licona embraced in his book (The Resurrection of Jesus,185-187; 530, 548, 552,553).


R.C. Sproul declared clearly and emphatically: “As the former and only president of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI” (Letter, May 22, 2012).  He added, “You can use this comment by me however you wish” (emphasis added).


J.I. Packer added plainly: that “As a framer of the ICBI statement on biblical inerrancy who once studied Greco-Roman literature at advanced level, I judge Mike Licona’s view that, because the Gospels are semi-biographical, details of their narratives may be regarded as legendary and factually erroneous, to be both academically and theologically unsound”(Letter, May 8, 2014, emphasis added).


Norman L. Geisler: I have spoken repeatedly of the similarity of Licona’s views with those of Robert Gundry who was asked to resign (in 1983) from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) by an overwhelming 74% vote.  No attempt to minimize this vote can negate its legitimacy, clarity, or finality, no matter how much some may wish to do so. What could be clearer than the ICBI statements on this matter and the clear and emphatic words of the only living framers of the ICBI statements?


Casting Mud at Defenders of the ICBI Statement


If any waters have been muddied, it is from the mud cast at the defenders of the Chicago Statement on inerrancy.  They call the ICBI defenders “New Fundamentalist” eight times in Licona’s short article. They insist we are “rigid” and engage in “ferocious fratricide.”  They are designated inerrancy “police” or “police officers” who have a “most wanted” list.  They consider an inerrancy defender a “tar baby.”  They “politicize” this issue.  He even goes so far as to question our “motives,” rather than be content with evaluating our statements.


Licona and his supporters believe we engaged in a personal “crusade” against Licona.  In what seemed like a kind of doctrinal paranoia, Licona falsely claims Geisler is “criticizing me” or a “crusade against me” (twice, emphasis mine). He said, “I’ve been in the crosshairs of Norman Geisler,” as though he was a special target I wanted to kill.  The truth is we have never attacked him as a person, but only his views. I have said many times that I like Mike as a person and love him as a brother in Christ. However, we try never to put fraternity over orthodoxy or cloud our love for God’s truth by how nice a guy is or how good a friend the person is.  This cannot be said of Licona or his friends for their writings are toxic with personal attacks. One can look to Craig Blomberg’s recent book to illustrate the point.


Craig Blomberg, engaged without substantiation in a tirade in print against defenders of ICBI inerrancy (see his Can We Still Believe the Bible?)  He insists that we are “very conservative” (B, 7), “overly conservative” (B, 217), “ultra conservative” (B, 11, 214), “hyperconservative” (B, 13), “extremely conservative” (B, 7).  Of course, this tends to make his views look more moderate by comparison, when, as we shall see, they are in direct opposition to the mainstream evangelical view as reflected in the ICBI statements.  Blomberg even likens ICBI defenders of inerrancy to the extreme views Nazism and Communism (B, 8)!  He quotes with approval the statement, “the far left and the far right—avoid them both, like the plague” (B, 8). He claims that we “simplistically” distorted the evidence in order to oust Robert Gundry from the Evangelical Theological Society (B, 167).  He charges that we engaged in a “political campaign” against Gundry (B, 167).  Elsewhere, he alleges that we have utilized a “standard ploy throughout his [Geisler’s] career” when “trying to get someone removed from an organization” (B, 262 n. 111).  He adds the allegation that inerrancy is used as “a blunt tool to hammer into submission people whose interpretation of passages differs from ours…” (B, 125).  These charges of an alleged sinister and continuous career of unjustified activity on my part are both untrue, unjustified, and unethical.  Someone has rightly asked why it is that those who defend inerrancy are attacked and those who attack inerrancy are defended.


When mud-slinging occurs one can be reasonably sure that the attackers have run out of reasons and evidence to use in a rational argument and, thus, have resorted to attacking the person instead of the argument.


Muddying the Chicago Waters


Licona and his colleagues have insisted on muddying the Chicago ICBI waters by claiming the ICBI position is not clear.  They have charged that:

There are other interpretations of the ICBI Statements on Inerrancy.


Of course there are, no one disputes this.  However, that is not the question.  The question is: Are there better ones?  Do they correspond with the meaning expressed by the Framers of the ICBI statements?  The answer is an emphatic “No.” the Framers have spoken in commentaries and letters (see above).


Further, the “other” interpretations are not supported by the historical evidence (see Mark Hannah, The Church and Inerrancy).  Church history is virtually unanimous on the orthodox view of inerrancy.  It is unlimited inerrancy as expressed by the ICBI statements (see John Woodbridge, A Critique of The Roger/McKim Proposal).


What is more, I know of no other inerrancy statement ever made that was the work of some 300 interdenominational and international scholars that is more extensive and more complete and has been more widely accepted as that of the ICBI. Even the membership of the largest body of evangelical scholars who believe in inerrancy, the Evangelical theological Society (ETS), consisting of over 3000 members, adopted the ICBI statement as the definition of their brief inerrancy statement by an overwhelming 80% vote (in 2006).  If Mr. Licona and his New Testament critical friends think they can improve upon it, let them try.


The Chicago Statement is not a Creed.  Of course it isn’t, and it does not claim to be. That does not keep it from being a very good statement, or even the best one produced by a broad group of scholars to date. Nor does it hinder it from being right when it condemns “dehistoricizing” the Gospels as many critical scholars are doing today (see citations above).


The Chicago Statement is too “Conservative.”  It all depends where one is standing.  This is a relative term.  If one is already standing left of Scripture, then no doubt ICBI will seem too conservative.  However, when judged by the views of the Fathers of the Church from the earliest times down to and through the reformation to modern times (see John Hannah,Inerrancy and the Church, Moody, 1984),   the Chicago Statement is on target.  In fact, it is the Licona Neoevanglical view of Scripture that is too “Liberal.”

The Lausanne Covenant Statement on Inerrancy is more widely Accepted.  There is no comparison between Lausanne and Chicago statements on inerrancy.  Lausanne has only a brief statement on inerrancy as follows: “We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice” (1974). The Chicago statement is a more comprehensive statement containing numerous Affirmations and Denials. Indeed, there are two major statements with accompanying commentaries. The ICBI conference, unlike Lausanne, focused only on inerrancy and consisted of scholars trained on the topic.  So, for a detailed statement on inerrancy, the ICBI statement has been the most widely disseminated, embracing the 3000 members of the ETS and influencing numerous denominations, including the largest Protestant denomination in the world—the Southern Baptist Convention.


It is noteworthy that Billy Graham signed the Lausanne statement on inerrancy.  However, he also gave money to help start the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy which produced the Chicago Statements on inerrancy. And more recently, both Billy and his son Franklin Graham made statements in support of inerrancy on the www.DefendingInerrancy.com web site.  In fact, the world-wide circulation of Billy Graham’s magazine Decision(May, 2014) on “the dangers of compromise” featured an article defending ICBI inerrancy by the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society.


Many Books Defending ICBI Inerrancy were not published by Standard Publishers.

This is an irrelevant and misleading charge for several reasons.  First, numerous books defending ICBI inerrancy have been published through standard publishers.  To name only a few: The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism by B. K. Beale; Defending Inerrancy by myself and William Roach; A Critique of  The Roger/McKim Proposal by John Woodbridge;  Indeed, the ICBI itself produced many volumes defending inerrancy all of which were published by standard publishers (like Zondervan, Baker, and Moody).  These include: Inerrancy, Biblical Errancy: Its Philosophical Roots; The Church and Inerrancy; Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible.

Second, this charge is amazing since Licona was able to divine the reason for ICBI inerrantists using a non-standard publisher (like Xulon) was that we “could not find an interested publisher.”  As most writers know, there are other reason for using non-standard publishers as well, including time, money, control of the content, and owning the rights.  And there are also reasons to reject some “standard” publishers who would have published it.

Second, this objection assumes that truth is conveyed best, if not exclusively, by what they view as “standard” publishers. This supports a kind of professional elitism and academic snobbery. Truth is what corresponds to reality no matter who publishes it.

Third, this charge is amusing and ironic since the recent book attacking ICBI inerrancy which was blessed by Licona and many of his New Testament critic friends was self published by Licona’s son-in-law and his friend!


Many Muddy Statements by Licona


Licona and friends have made many statements that are clearly not traditional orthodox views on Scripture.  They include the following:

(1) Licona charges that we believe the Gospels speak with “legal precision” or “photographcic accuracy.”  The Chicago Statement spoke directly to this point, saying, “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by biblical phenomena such as lack of modern technical precision…and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material…or the use of free citations” (Article XIII).

(2) He believes there are or may be errors in the Gospels, for example: (a) on the report about when Jarius daughter died; (2) on whether the centurion made his request in person to Jesus; (c) whether the woman anointed Jesus two days before the Passover.

(3) Licona even goes so far as to affirm there is an error in the Gospels regarding on which day Jesus was crucified. He said “Jesus may have changed the day and time of Jesus’ crucifixion in order to make a theological point.”  Earlier in a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary (Spring, 2009) he said, “I think that John probably altered the day [of Jesus’ crucifixion] in order for a theological—to make a theological point there.”

But this is clearly contrary to the ICBI view of inerrancy which demands “the unity and internal consistency of Scripture” (Article XIV).  Also, “We deny that later revelations…ever contradict it” (Article 5).  We affirm the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture…. We deny that Scripture may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest that one passage corrects or militates against another” (Hermeneutics Article XVII).  WE affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere…” (Hermeneutics Article XX).

(4)  Licona affirmed that Joseph Holden, president of Veritas Evangelical Seminary dismissed Gary Habermas and Paul Copan as Adjunct faculty members because “they denied the inerrancy of the Bible on account of their failure to condemn the interpretation of Matthew’s raised saints” (Note 6).  President Holden affirmed in a letter (June 2, 2014) that this is false.  Holden wrote, “In the footnotes, it says I dismissed Habermas and Copan for their support of Licona and failure to condemn his interpretation of Matthew’s raised saints. When in fact, they were dismissed because of their own expressed view of inerrancy that became apparent in their defense of Licona.”

(5) Licona also wrongly affirmed that I was the founder of Veritas Evangelical Seminary.  I was not.  It was Joe Holden’s idea and he asked me to join with him and be a co-founder of the Seminary.

(6)  Licona affirmed that I refused to attend a particular panel discussion.  In any event, one cannot help but be impressed with the quasi-omniscient powers of critics who can read another’s mind.  This leads to arrogant charges like the following: Licona asserted that “In Geisler’s mind, there is no need for discussion in an academic forum because he apparently thinks he already knows the correct answers; all of them.”  I have participated in untold academic discussions and debates over the last fifty years, so I have learned to pick carefully the ones in which I participate.


(7) He alleged that we never offered a solution to the alleged contradictions he raised in the Gospels.  This too is false.  I have presented it many times in official presentations on alleged contradictions in the Bible.  Further, it is in one of the “20 articles” Licona said I wrote on the issue, titled “Mike Licona Admits Contradiction in the Gospels” (January 2013) which he apparently did not read.


(8) He claims that “Many of the original signers [of the ICBI Statement on Inerrancy] do not agree with how Geisler and others interpret it.”  In response, two brief comments are in order.  First, even according to Licona, the true meaning of a text is in the “intention” of the framers, not the signers.  Second, all living framers (see above) agree on its meaning, especially as it applies to Licona’s view.  So, it is not just my view on the matter.


(9) ICBI view of Inerrancy actually undermines Inerrancy.  By a strange twist of logic Licona argues that the ICBI view of inerrancy actually undermines the authority of the Bible because showing one error overthrows the Faith.


First, by this same logic people should not believe Christ rose from the dead since a sophisticated naturalist might convince them that miracles are not credible. Or, people should not believe God exists since a sharp atheism might convince them that He does not exist.

Further, this objection confuses reliability and inerrancy.   If a critic could prove (and none have) one real error in the Bible it would overthrow the ICBIview of inerrancy, but it would not overthrow the Faith.


Inerrancy is to be distinguished from the reliability of the Bible.  My CPA is a very accurate book keeper.  But if he made one mistake in math that would not overthrow his reliability. On the other hand, if he claimed divine authority and inerrancy, then one error would overthrow his claim to divine authoritybecause God cannot make even one mistake (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; John 17:17).


This is what B.B.Warfied meant, and Licona misunderstands.  For Warfield too believed that the Bible was divinely authoritative and inerrant and, as such, one error would destroy that divine authority/inerrancy. However, it would not overthrow the Faith since the Faith could be true apart from inerrancy.  Inerrancy is not a test of evangelical authenticity but of evangelical consistency.  Licona confuses Warfield’s apologetics and his theology.  Warfield used apologetics (based on the evidence to show thereliability of the Bible). But once he knew from good reason that the Bible was more than reliable; it was the inerrant Word of God, then Warfield believed that only an inspired and inerrant Word of God is an adequate basis for our belief in the divine authority of the doctrines of the Bible.


So, likewise, Licona misinterprets our statement about inerrancy being a “fundamental” of the Faith.  We said clearly that it is not a doctrinal or theological fundamental; it was an epistemological fundamental. For without an inerrant Bible we have no divinely authoritative basis for our Faith.


(10)  Licona also makes other statements that are seriously mistakes.  One is that (a) “the doctrines of the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Gospels are faith doctrines that cannot be proven.” (b) Another is that a historian should be “making no theological assumptions pertaining to whether they [the Gospels] are divinely inspired or inerrant.”  These are both based on Licona’s admission that he (c) “unashamedly confess[es] the historical critical method.”  Given that Licona sees Genre criticism as part of this endeavor, no wonder he can believe in contradictions in the Gospels (see above) and say “Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 34, emphasis added).


(11)  Licona contends that “biblical inerrancy is a secondary or tertiary doctrine.” Statements like this show a serious lack of understanding and appreciation for the doctrine of divine inspiration which entails inerrancy as a necessary concomitant.  For a divinely inspired error is nonsense. If the Bible is the Word of God, and that is what divine inspiration means, then it is inerrant.  For God cannot error. So, to attribute error to God’s Word is to attribute error to God Himself.  As John Calvin affirmed, “our faith in doctrine is not established until we have a perfect conviction that God is its author.  Hence, the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose word it is” (Institutes 1.7.4).


(12) Licona criticized me for twisting the arms of other seminary presidents. This reckless charge misrepresents the facts. At the same time, he has attempted unsuccessfully to convince some of the orthodoxy of his view.  He even made a yet unadmitted trip of some distance to try to convince one influential Christian leader of the orthodoxy of his unorthodox view—only to be unsuccessful. Another one even set up a forum for him to express his view, after which the Seminary president said he would not hire him on his faculty.  Liconna tried to convince a third seminary to accept his view, after which they dropped him from their Adjunct Faculty. One faculty member who attended the meeting said, “It was worse than I thought.” Yet I did not contact a single seminary and ask them to reject Licona from their faculty. Nor did I “turn” to seminary presidents “to come out publicly” against him when I could no longer get enough high-caliber scholars to speak against his view.


Furthermore, this accusation is an insult to the integrity and autonomy of these different seminary leaders.  As for asking others to support the inerrancy cause, of course we do, as do those who oppose it.  In fact, we have a web site dedicated to it defending inerrancy (www.defendingInerrancy.com). Licona’s son-in-law has a web site dedicated to attacking me regularly by name and even making an insulting video for YouTube with Licona’s blessing. Anyone who examines the two approaches can see the difference.


(13) He rejected (without giving any evidence) the strong case we made for all the main orthodox Fathers of the Church between the apostles and the Reformers of holding that the story of the resurrected saints in Matthew 27:51-53 as being history not poetry or legend (see “The Early Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27” athttp://normangeisler.net/articles/Bible/Inspiration-Inerrancy/Licona/Early%20Fathers%20on%20Matthew%2027.pdf).  Just to cite a couple examples:


Irenaeus (AD 120-200), who knew Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John,



…He [Christ] suffered who can lead those souls aloft that followed His ascension.  This event was also an indication of the fact that when the holy hour of Christ descended [to Hades], many souls ascended and were seen in their bodies (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus XXVIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, Alexander Roberts, ibid., 572-573).


Even Origen (AD 185-254), who had the Neoplatonic tendency to spiritualize literal events, believed Matthew 27 was literal history, declaring:

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


St. Augustine (A. D. 3546-430), the greatest biblical theologian of his time, wrote:


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


John Calvin (1509-1564) added,


“Yet we may doubt whether this opening of the tombs happened before the resurrection, for the resurrection of the saints which is shortly after added followed in my opinion the resurrection of Christ.  It is absurd for some interpreters to image that they spent three days alive and breathing, hidden in tombs.”  For “It seems likely to me that at Christ’s death the tombs at once opened; at His resurrection some of the godly men received breath and came out and were seen in the city.  Christ is called the Firstborn from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 3, pp. 211-212).


These kinds of statements are found to and through the Reformation to modern times.  So, those who deny the historicity of this Matthew 27 passage on the saint’s resurrection have virtually the whole of the history of the Christian Church against them.




Mike Licona wrote his recent article (June 2, 2014) on “Chicago’s Muddy Waters.”  But it was not the Chicago Statement or the interpretation of it by the living Framers that muddied the waters.  This represents the crystal clear evangelical view down through the centuries of full inerrancy and complete historicity of the Bible.  To be sure, the waters have been muddied, but they were muddied by New Evangelical scholars like Licona who have adopted the New Historical Critical method and have become New Evangelicals or Neoevangelical on their view of Scripture, creating a New “battle for the Bible.”


This leaves us with the conclusion that the ICBI statement represents the biblical view of inerrancy which we call the evangelical view.  Hence, since Licona and his supporters, whom he lists as  Darrel Bock, Dan Wallace, Craig Blomberg, Michael Bird, William Lane Craig, Jeremy Evans, Craig Keener, Lee McDonald, Kevin Vanhoozer, Robert Yarborough, and Gary Habermas) embrace a new kind of evangelicalism–a Neoevangelicalism–with regard to Scripture, which has been its label now for a generation.  It is definitely not the biblical or traditional view, hence, its view of Scripture has no rights to the use the unqualified term “Evangelical.”  It is more properly described as Neoevangelical.  While Licona and Bird would have us believe that they are fighting the barbarians at the gates of the city, in actuality they are escorting the Trojan horse of the barbarians through the gates and deep into the city.

One thought on “On Licona Muddying the Waters (2014)

  1. First, I must admit that I have the utmost respect for you, Dr. Geisler, as well as many of the aforementioned folks (e.g., Licona, Blomberg, Habermas, Craig, etc). While engaged as a student at Luther Rice, I have encountered many books, and teachings from so very many of the mentioned scholars; however, I can’t even begin to describe the utter sadness in my heart when reading (not to mention experiencing) about the divisiveness within the evangelical community on practically every level. From scholarly division to the critiquing of church music amongst church members, it seems quite clear to me that every faucet of this rampant divisiveness serves as a severe and crippling detriment to the evangelical community in striving to impact the world for Christ!

    I can only imagine what Christ’s view must be!

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