|A Response to Mike Licona’s EPS Paper
By Norman L. Geisler
Unscholarly Statements at a Scholarly Society
Mike Licona asked the Evangelical Philosophical Society (EPS) for an opportunity to provide a defense of his views (expressed in The Resurrection of Jesus) in which he denied the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27. His presentation was given at the EPS on November 18, 2011 and was posted on his web site.
Licona objected to internet presentations of matters like this and insisted that these discussions should take place in a “scholarly” context. However, this premise is seriously flawed for several reasons. First of all, Licona posted his paper and other discussion on this topic on his web site. He also posted a YouTube video defending his views. Second, he has not restrained his family and friends from carrying on a defense of his view on the internet. Third, Licona preferred an academic context which he knew would contain more persons who shared his view. Fourth, public review is appropriate for any published view such as Licona’s, but he feared this would be more negative. Fifth, the scholarly context of the EPS was not very scholarly in its format since no opposing paper was permitted on this controversial issue. Sixth, giving a presentation by a scholar at a scholarly meeting in no way guarantees it will be done in a completely scholarly way.
Unfortunately, this is what happened when Licona presented his paper at EPS. For much of the presentation was anything but scholarly in its language and tone. He speaks of his critics saying “Bizzare” things, of “bullying” people around, of having “a cow” over his view, and of engaging in a “circus” on the internet.
Further, rather than taking the normal objective approach, Licona personalized the issue by claiming that scholarly critics of his views were “targeting” him and “taking actions against me [Licona].” He speaks about those who have made scholarly criticisms of his view as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” And he compares it to the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote: “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.” This is unfortunate language in a scholarly context and, as anyone can verify by looking at the scholarly critiques of Licona’s view posted on our web site (www.normangeisler.com). Licona’s charges are contrary to the facts. For example, we expressed our personal affection for him as a person in our “Second Open Letter,” saying, “I like Mike as a person and love him as a brother in Christ, and it would be a shame to see him fall permanently from the ranks of consistent biblical inerrantists.” However, one should not put fraternity over orthodoxy when it comes to matters like the historicity and inerrancy of the Gospels.
False Statements about Alleged Punitive Measures
Further, charging that critics against one’s views have taken punitive measures may elicit pity, but it does not exemplify scholarship. Licona said to the EPS group: “Many of you have witnessed some of the actions taken against me on the internet since August and some of you are aware of the behind the scenes efforts to have me ostracized from all future ministry. But punitive measures havn’t been limited to me. Gary Habermas and Paul Copan have both been uninvited from previously established speaking engagements.”
However, President Joseph Holden of Veritas Evangelical Seminary who was involved in this matter responded in a letter to Gary Habermas, saying, “It would be difficult for me to believe you are not aware of this uninformed statement about the ‘uninvite,’ and failure to correct Licona on this.” Rather, it was “…because of your own view of inerrancy that was contrary to the Veritas Seminary doctrinal statement on inerrancy. That is, your view accepts: the belief that inerrancy is consistent with the view that rejects Gospel narratives as completely historical (angels at the tomb, falling down of those seizing Jesus, and resurrection of saints)…. It is difficult for me to believe that you were not aware of Licona’s EPS paper, and did nothing to correct this falsehood that insinuates VES is punishing those who voice opinions…. I am disappointed that you would allow such an uninformed statement be left uncorrected, since it portrays VES as the one wielding unjustified ‘punitive measures.’ I would hope that you would clarify this fact with Licona who is clearly uniformed on the matter” (Letter, 11/21/11).
False Claims about the Alleged Dogmatism of His Critic’s Views
Contrary to the actual words of those who criticized Licona’s views, he claims they “become so committed to a particular interpretation of a text” that they “unconsciously canonize the interpretation, so that those who disagree with it are now disagreeing with Scripture.” In fact, his critics do no such thing, as an examination of the record will show. Further, Licona’s sword cuts both ways. One can be dogmatic about another’s dogmatism. Hence, with equal justification one could argue that he is doing the same thing. However, in fact and in fairness Licona and critics are doing no more or less than making truth claims and presenting evidence to support them. The reader will have to weigh the arguments pro and con and decide which view corresponds to the facts. But it is simply untrue and unfair to defame one’s critics by making an over statement that they unconsciously speak with canonical authority.
The False Allegation about Bullying Diminishing Good Scholarship
Licona claims that “There is also a cost to scholarship. For when evangelical scholars see this happening, some of them will go back to their office, save their recent research on a jump drive and, rather than publishing it, they will tuck it away in their home office for fear of becoming the next target. Thus, good scholarship is lost when theological bullying is unanswered.” However, this statement has some serious shortcomings. First, Licona implication that casting doubt on Gospel narratives is “good scholarship” is highly questionable. It certainly is not good evangelical scholarship.
Second, he offers no real evidence that he or anyone was actually bullied. As was shown above, the statements about Copan and Habermas are false. And no evidence has been given that anyone else was bullied.
Third, if Licona’s logic is carried through consistently, then it would be impossible to demonstrate that anyone is inconsistent with orthodoxy at any point. The truth is that if orthodoxy is to be preserved, then (a) there must be a standard, and (b) it must be possible to determine someone has fallen short of it, and (c) there must be consequences for falling short of it, and (d) these consequences should be feared (respected) by those desiring to be considered orthodox. To call this “bullying” is destroying the very basis for preserving orthodoxy. In brief, there are doctrinal limits for preserving orthodoxy. When one reaches those limits, he should put Lordship over “scholarship.” The desire for a seat at the table of contemporary scholarship has been the downfall of many sincere and aspiring young evangelical scholars. Let us pray that the body of Christ as a whole (not just scholar) has the courage to resist it, lest orthodoxy on this crucial doctrine of inerrancy be destroyed.
Downplaying the Extent and Seriousness of the Problem
Professor Licona minimizes the seriousness of his deviation from inerrancy by focusing on only one text (Matt 27:51-53). Even though his similar treatment that casts doubt on other Gospel narratives has been brought to his attention, he has not addressed them. In addition, Licona has not yet responded to the charge that his “methodological unorthodoxy” has also led him to cast doubt in principle on the historicity of many more sections of the Gospels. Consider the following texts:
First, Licona suggested that the appearance of angels at Jesus’ tomb after the resurrection is also legendary. He wrote: “It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes. We may also be reading poetic language or legend at certain points, such as Matthew’s report of the raising of some dead saints at Jesus death (Mt 27:51-54) and the angel(s) at the tomb (Mk 15:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13” (185-186, emphasis added). This extends the infiltration of legend beyond Matthew to all the other Gospels as well.
What is more, Licona offers no clear hermeneutical way to determine from the text of Scripture what is legend and what is not. Calling a short unembellished Gospel account with witnesses “weird,” as Licona does (ibid., 527), is certainly not a very clear test, especially when the passage is directly associated with the resurrection of Christ (as the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is). Many New Testament scholars think the bodily resurrection of Christ is weird too. Indeed, Rudolf Bultmann, the Dean of NT scholars, called it “incredible,” “senseless,” and even “impossible” to the modern mind (Kerygma and Myth, 2-4).
Second, although Licona claims to believe in the general reliability of the Gospel records, yet he adds, it is possible that “some embellishments are present.” Then he presents “A possible candidate for embellishment is John 18:4-6” (ibid., 306, emphasis added) where, when Jesus claimed “I am he” (cf. John 8:58), his pursuers “drew back and fell on the ground.” Again, there is no indication in this or other New Testament texts that this account is not historical. It is but another example of Licona’s unbiblical “dehistoricizing” of the New Testament which The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) explicitly condemned by name (see below).
Third, Licona’s basic problem is methodological. He adopts an unorthodox methodology and system that is used on the whole Gospel narration. One’s theology is not the only thing that can be unorthodox. There can be methodological unorthodoxy as well. As noted in our “Ten Points” article on our web site, the method of determining genre adopted by Licona and his supporters is clearly unorthodox. This was pronounced unorthodox by ICBI, as shown below. Licona said clearly, “there is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).” Then he goes on to say that “Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches,…and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (ibid., 34, emphasis added in these citations). Little wonder Licona has gotten himself into trouble. A bad methodology leads to a bad bibliology and to bad theology. Like Robert Gundry before him, who was asked to resign by The Evangelical Theology Society (in 1983), Licona’s view is a form of methodological unorthodoxy. There is no significant difference in kind between the two cases. Both denied the historicity of sections of the Gospel record based on the use of genre determination by extra-biblical data they deemed similar enough to deny the historicity of part of the biblical record. And in Licona’s case as well, it is not just a matter of a passage or event here or there that is the problem. Rather, it is a radical unbiblical method that undermines the divine authority of the entire Gospel record. Indeed, after the faculty at Southern Evangelical Seminary (where he once taught) examined Licona’s views, they considered them (to borrow the words of one faculty member) to be “unbelievable” since he claimed that even a method that denied the resurrection would not be considered contrary to the belief in inerrancy. Upon hearing this, they voted not to invite him back as a teacher and removed his position from the catalog.
So, Licona does more than cast doubt on the historicity of one small text—something he still refuses to recant. He claims that it is possible to hold to inerrancy and deny the historicity of many things in the Gospel narrative. As we have seen, he cast doubt on the story about the angels at the tomb (in all four Gospels) and doubts the historicity of the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim and adopts a general method which casts doubt on much more of the Gospel record.
Minimizing the Importance of Inerrancy
Unfortunately, in his attempt to minimize the seriousness of his deviant views, Licona claims this issue is not one of the “fundamentals of the faith.” He rightly points out that “we should ask ourselves whether the matter under dispute involves one of the fundamentals of the faith. Not whether the issue can somehow be tied to a fundamental, because one can quite easily make a tie between a cherished position and a fundamental. Does the matter concern a fundamental?” Unfortunately, his answer is “No.” As we have noted elsewhere (in our book,Conviction without Compromise), it is true that inerrancy is not one of the salvific (salvation) fundamentals, but it is nonetheless an epistemological (knowledge) fundamental. For every authoritative thing we know about of the salvation fundamentals comes from the inspired and inerrant Word of God. In this sense, inerrancy is the fundamental of the fundamentals. And if the fundamental of the fundamentals is not fundamental, then fundamentally nothing is. One can be saved without believing in inerrancy, but our authoritative knowledge of that salvation is not possible without the errorless Word of God. Thus, as Francis Schaeffer and others have correctly pointed out, the inerrancy of Scripture is a “watershed” issue. And denying the historic truth of the Gospel narrative at any point, as Licona does, is a denial of the inerrancy of that text.
It is Not Purely a Matter of Hermeneutics
Licona attempts to avoid the crucial nature of his denial of inerrancy by reducing the issue to a purely hermeneutical problem. He claims that “In its most basic form, biblical inerrancy states there are no errors in Scripture. It says something about the character of the literature. It doesn’t interpret the literature.” However, this bifurcation of inerrancy and hermeneutics fails for several reasons. First, it is built on a serious misunderstanding about what inerrancy means, especially that of the ICBI, which Licona claims to support. The ICBI statements insist that the Bible does make true statements that “correspond to reality” and that the Bible is completely true (corresponds to reality) in everything it teaches and “touches,” including all statements “about history and science.” So, inerrancy does not simply apply to contentless statements (which we can only know the meaning of by adopting a modern form of biblical criticism). Rather, inerrancy as a doctrine covers the truthfulness of all of Scripture. Such a false claim to inerrancy is vacuous since according to Licona the Gospel affirmations could be completely false—in that they did not correspond to any historic reality—and yet the Bible would still be considered completely true!
The ICBI statements are very clear on this matter. They emphatically declare that: “ holy scripture, being god’s own word, written by men prepared and superintended by his spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches (“A Short Statement, “no. 2) “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Article XIII). “We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write” (Article IX). “We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit. We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science” (Article XII). “We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture” (Article XIII). So, inerrancy is not an empty claim. It claims that every affirmation (or denial) in the Bible is completely true, whether it is about theological, scientific or historical matters (emphasis added in above quotations).
Further, this complete disjunction between hermeneutics and inerrancy is an example of “Methodological Unorthodoxy” which we first exposed in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) in 1983 and which article is now also on our web site. (1) If Licona’s total separation of inerrancy and hermeneutic is true, then one could completely allegorize the Bible (say, like Mary Baker Eddy did)—denying the literal Virgin Birth, physical resurrection of Christ, and everything else—and still claim that it was inerrant. (2) Such a bifurcation of hermeneutics from inerrancy is empty, vacuous, and meaningless. It amounts to saying that “Whatever the Bible may be teaching is true, but inerrancy as such does not claim that it is teaching that anything is actually true.” But neither the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), nor ICBI, whose view of inerrancy was adopted as guidelines of understanding inerrancy, would agree with this contention, as the next point demonstrates.
Support for this conclusion comes from retired Wheaton Professor and ICBI signer Henri Blocher who speaks against totally separating interpretation from the inerrancy issue because “The precise meaning of dogmatic terms and statements, being somewhat flexible, is partly defined by the actual treatment of Scripture that follows and accompanies them.” He adds, “It is thus possible to talk of Scripture’s supreme authority, perfect trustworthiness, infallibility and inerrancy and to empty such talk of the full and exact meaning it should retain by the way one handles the text.” He adds, “I reject the suggestion that Matthew 27:52f should be read nonliterally, and I consider that it puts in jeopardy the affirmation of biblical inerrancy which I resolutely uphold.” Blocher advocates a literal interpretation of the passage because the last words of verse 53 “sound as an emphatic claim of historical, factual, truthfulness with an intention akin to that of 1 Corinthians 15:6.” So, a nonliteral interpretation “seems rather to be motivated by the difficulty of believing the thing told and by an unconscious desire to conform to the critical views of non-evangelical scholarship.” He correctly notes that the pressure of non-evangelical scholarship weighs heavily on the work of evangelical scholars. Thus, the non-literal interpretation is not only an exegetical mistake, but “In effect, it modifies the way in which biblical inerrancy is affirmed. Contrary to the intention of those propounding it, it undermines the meaning of ‘inerrancy’ which we should, with utmost vigilance, preserve” (Baptist Press, Nov. 9, 2011).
The False Presumption against the Literalness of Biblical Narratives
Licona insists that he does not “deshistoricize” any biblical text because he contends that we must approach the Bible without any presumption as to whether a narrative is historical or not. But this itself is a radical presupposition. It is equivalent to saying we approach the Bible without the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. But this is impossible for we must have a correct way of interpreting the Bible before we can interpret it correctly. Likewise, it is absurd to say we can approach road signs (or any narrative) without the presumption that it is offering the literal truth of the matter, unless proven otherwise by the words or context. Contrary to this common and necessary presumption, Licona claims, we can only know whether something narrated in the Gospels is historicalafter we have made a genre determination based on comparisons with extra-biblical literature of the time. He wrote, “I hope that it has become clear in this paper that my intent was not to dehistoricize a text Matthew intended as historical. If I had, that would be to deny the inerrancy of the text. Instead, what I have done is to question whether Matthew intended for the raised saints to be understood historically” (emphasis added). But this presumption is contrary to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic and begs the question in favor of Licona’s “new historiographical approach.” For presuming a historical narrative is non-historical until proven historical is a radical presupposition that is contrary to life and the literal historical-grammatical interpretation.
According the historical-grammatical method which ICBI adopts—and which is the common presumption in life—a narrative such as the Gospels should be presumed historical, unless otherwise proven by the context or by other Scripture. But the evidence from the biblical text and context (which is the way the Bible should be interpreted) clearly indicates that Matthew meant for it to be taken literally (see below). But, instead, Licona takes extra-biblical data (Roman and Jewish legends) as hermeneutically determinative of what the text should mean. He says, “we observe that historical details are comingled with the poetic. And apparitions, phantoms, and spirits appear in several of these accounts. All of these reports weigh in favor of interpreting Matthew’s raised saints as an apocalyptic or poetic device.”
Further, the claim that a biblical narrative is historically neutral is clearly contrary to the ICBI view on inerrancy which Licona claims to hold. The “Chicago Statement” on inerrancy is clear on this issue for it affirms that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by a literal “grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.” This means that the presumption is in favor of taking a narrative historically, unless there are other indications in the text of context to the contrary. Further, ICBI affirmed, “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (Article XVIII).
ICBI also published an official commentary on its inerrancy statements titled Explaining Inerrancy. It declares that “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. When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to be evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual” (EH, 37, emphasis added in above citations).
What is more, inerrancy implies a correspondence view of truth which many non-inerrantists deny in favor of an intentionalist view (see our new book, Defending Inerrancy [Baker], chap. 13). The ICBI statements affirm clearly that “By biblical standards truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth. This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality” (Article XII). Article XVIII adds: “When the quest for sources produces a dehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship it has trespassed beyond its proper limits. By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth. This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.”
So, we can see that inerrancy is not an empty claim of the alleged “intention” of the author (as Licona seems to embrace). Rather, truth rests in what the author expressed (affirms or denies) about something. Pure intentions of an author cannot be understood apart from his affirmations. And these affirmations must be understood in their biblical context, not by applying extra-biblical texts to them. And if the author has expressed himself in a narrative (as Matthew 27 does), then it is a narrative about something that really happened.
What is more, ICBI produced an official statement and commentary on inerrancy and hermeneutics, titledExplaining Hermeneutics (hereafter, EH). EH Article VI states: “We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts.” The commentary adds, “The denial makes it evident that views which redefine error to mean what ‘misleads,’ rather than what is a mistake, must be rejected.” And speaking directly to the point of the Licona issue, EH Article XIII says: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual. Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person. Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.” EH Article XIV proclaims: “We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (emphasis is added in above citations). As a member of the ICBI framing committee, I can say with certainty that it was views like Licona’s that we had in mind when we wrote these statements.
The Misuse of J. I. Packer
Licona attempts to defend his view against the charge that it denies inerrancy by naming others who hold similar views and yet who are considered inerrantists. However, this is the logical fallacy of diverting the issue. At best, this would only prove that these other scholars (a) are subject to the same criticism as Licona’s view is or that (b) they hold positions that are inconsistent with their view on inerrancy. It would not prove that Licona’s view is true. Virtually every finite author makes inconsistent statement at one time or another, but this is not the point. It is one thing to hold that the biblical or Gospel narrative is historical and yet make some statements that are inconsistent with this. But it is quite another to deny the historicity of parts of the biblical narrative, as Licona does.
An important case in point is Licona’s use of J. I. Packer to support his view. He includes a small selection of a recording without identification (and without documentation) in which Licona claims that Packer says that “Genesis 1:1—2:4 is a ‘prose poem’ and a ‘quasi-liturgical celebration of the fact of creation . . . and certainly not a kind of naïve observational account of what we would have seen if we could have traveled back in time and hovered above the chaos.’ This scholar [Packer] goes on to assert that stories such as Eve’s being created from Adam’s side, of her encounter with the serpent, and of the tree of life are symbols.” However, the use of Packer is misleading for Packer did not, as Licona does, deny the historicity of the Genesis text and some Gospel narratives. There are several good reasons to reject Licona’s conclusion here.
First, these private citations from Packer are beside the point of whether Licona’s view is orthodox. At best, this would only prove that Packer was inconsistent with his view own inerrancy. Furthermore, it is not scholarly to use these statements without any citation or validation of them.
Second, the question is not whether the Bible uses symbols or to what degree; it is whether parts of the Gospel narrative are historical or not. The book of Revelation uses symbols, but it makes clear they refer to literal events (cf. Rev. 1;20). One may disagree with the degree the alleged statements about symbolic representations on Genesis (as I do), but Licona fails to note that Packer does not deny the historicity of the literal events which these figures of speech describe.
Third, as a member of ICBI framing committee, J. I. Packer clearly affirmed the historicity of Genesis 1-11. He also agreed with Article XXII (in Explaining Hermeneutics) clearly which “affirms that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book” (emphasis added). It adds, “Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person”(EH Article XIV). Packer was co-author of these statements.
Fourth, in a recent extended conversation with Packer (11/21/11) he assured me that: (a) he believes Genesis 1-11 is historical; (b) he holds to a literal Adam and Eve; (c) he is not a theistic evolutionists; (d) He believes that denying the literal, historical nature of Adam and Eve would seriously undermine several Christian doctrines the New Testament bases on a literal understanding; (e) Whatever statements he had made about figures of speech, symbols, or pictorial language in Genesis should not be taken to deny his firm belief in the facticity and historicity of Genesis 1-11in general and of Adam and Eve in particular. (f) Packer also affirmed that the ICBI statements are directly contrary to a denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and beliefs like Licona’s denial of the historicity of Matthew 27.
In brief, Licona’s use (misuse) of this tape is not only unsubstantiated but is misleading and false. Indeed, Packer wrote the Foreward for our new book, Defending Inerrancy (Baker), on this topic, saying,“In the following pages Norman Geisler, who contributed as much as anyone to ICBI original legacy, and William roach interact with evangelical hypotheses that have the effect of confusing that legacy. They are masterly gatekeepers [for inerrancy], and I count it an honor to commend this work to the Christian world.”
In view of this, Licona’s conclusion is unfounded when he claims that “Dr. Geisler says that the Chicago Statement requires interpreting Genesis 1 as “space-time events which actually happened. But it’s obvious Packer would disagree. So, Geisler’s being an ICBI framer does not guarantee he has a correct understanding of it.” First all, this is not my private statement on the matter; it is quotation from the stated ICBI view on the topic which is confirmed by the above citations from official ICBI literature. Further, Packer and I as co-framers of the ICBI statements have the same understanding of them. So, it is not a matter of my interpretation of the ICBI statements about “space-time” events since that is what the official ICBI statements actually says: “Though the Bible is indeedredemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world” (Sproul, EI, 37, emphasis added).
Further, it is presumptuous for anyone to assume that he knows more about an ICBI statement than the framers do. This same kind of reconstruction of a text is what a liberal (broad constructionists) interpretation of the US Constitution does. I suppose that if Washington and Madison were here, these reconstructionists would be bold enough to insist that they knew more about the Constitution means than the framers themselves did! Likewise, one needs a good bit of hubris to tell framers of the ICBI statement that he knows better about what they framed than they do!
Failing to Consider Crucial Evidence
In defending his current agnosticism about the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27, Licona admittedly leaves out many of the arguments in favor of its historicity. Indeed, he even admits about one of the arguments in favor of the historicity of the text, “But the bottom line is that at least 2 and possibly 3 of the 4 early Church fathers regarded Matthew’s raised saints as historical.” In fact, Licona even admits the strength of this argument that “I also find it noteworthy that none of the Church fathers interpreted Matthew’s raised saints as apocalyptic symbols or poetic devices.”
Why then reject its historicity, especially since there are nine other good reasons for accepting it as historical that Licona chooses not to address. Together they are in brief: (1) This passage is part of a historical narrative in a historical record—the Gospel of Matthew which in its immediate and larger setting demand the presumption of historicity. (2) This text manifests no literary signs of being poetic or legendary, such as those found in parables, poems, or symbolic presentations. (3) It gives no indication of being a legendary embellishment, but it is a short, simple, straight-forward account in the exact style one expects in a brief historical narrative. (4) This event occurs in the context of other important historical events which, by the repeated use of “and,” shows its integral connection to the other historical events surrounding the report. (5) The resurrection of these saints is presented as the result of the physical historical resurrection of Christ, and it makes no sense to claim that a legend emerged as the immediate result of Jesus’ physical resurrection. (6) Early Fathers of the Christian Church, who were closer to this event, took it as historical, sometimes even including it as an apologetic argument for the resurrection of Christ. (7) The record has the same pattern as the historical records of Jesus’ physical and historical resurrection: (a) there were dead bodies; (b) they were buried in a tomb; (c) they were raised to life again; (d) they came out of the tomb and left it empty; (e) they appeared to many witnesses. (8) An overwhelming consensus of the great orthodox teachers of the Church for nearly the past nearly two thousand years supports the view that this account should be read as a historical record. (9) Modern objections to a straight-forward acceptance of this passage as a historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic which violates sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra-biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical event is historical. (10) The faulty hermeneutic principles used in point 9 could be used, without any further justification, to deny other events in the gospels as historical. It is simply special pleading to neglect this overwhelming evidence in favor of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27.
The Questionable Use of Other Biblical Texts to Support His View
Licona cites the Mt. Olivet discourse (Matt. 24-25) of Jesus as containing apocalyptic elements that are not literal along with some that are. But this begs the question in favor of one particular interpretation of this text. It is possible that all the statements refer to literal events, including those about the sun and the moon being darkened. Likewise, Licona assumes that all of Joel’s predictions cited in Acts 2 were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost but the sun and moon were not literally darkened. But he passes over the view that these too are literal and refer to Christ’s Second Coming which are still part of the “last days” which began with Christ’s First coming (see Heb. 1:1 and 1 Tim. 4:1) and extend to his Second Coming and beyond (2 Pet. 3:3-10). In any event, unless Licona is going to deny the literal Second Coming of Christ, the use of symbolic language about a literal event does not negate the literalness of the event. I know of no sophisticated proponent of the literal historical-grammatical hermeneutic who denies that the Bible sometimes uses figures of speech and even symbolic language about literal events.
However, what Licona is doing in the Gospels is doubting or denying the very historicity of the events in question themselves. This is a far more serious matter. It is in fact the very kind of “dehistoricizing” of the Gospel narrative which ICBI inerrancy statements speak against by that very name.
The Old Earth view is sometimes used to argue that their view is also inconsistent with the ICBI view of inerrancy. So, why not exclude them too? However, this does not follow since many of the ICBI framers were Old Earthers. Further, it was never made a test for orthodoxy on inerrancy by ICBI and for good reason, namely, the age of the earth was never included in an Creed or Council of the Church. Good and godly evangelicals scholars hold both views. What is important is not the antiquity of Genesis but the historicity of Genesis. And the ICBI Old Earthers all affirmed the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and a literal Adam and Eve who were created by God. Licona, on the other hand denied the historicity and literalness of events recorded in the Gospels.
One defender (Paul Copan) bases an argument for Licona on a clear misreading of the passage, claiming that it says that the saints in Matthew 27 are said to be raised before Jesus was raised which would conflict with Jesus as the “firstfruits” (1 Cor. 15:20) of those raised from the dead. This is, however, clearly the opposite of what the text says, namely, “and many bodies of the saints were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his [Jesus’] resurrectionthey went into the holy city and appeared to many” (vs. 52-53, emphasis added). In fact, the whole point of the passage shows that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection and that these saints were resurrected as a result of Jesus’ resurrection. What happened before this (at Jesus’ death) was that “the tombs were opened” (v. 52), that is, the stone was rolled back. But the bodies in them were not raised from the dead until “after his [Jesus’] resurrection” (see J. W. Wenham, “When Where the Saints Raised? Also, see John Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 3, 211-212 and Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea [Commentary According to St. Matthew], vol. 1, 963-964).
The Use of an Invalid Historical Verification Principle
Licona’s new book operates with an admittedly “new historiographical approach” (the subtitle of his book) to the resurrection of Christ which misplaced the locus of authority from the inspired Word of God to a lower authority. The implicit historiographical verification principle used by Licona subverts the authority of the Word of God by, among other ways, placing it on par with external pagan authorities. J. I. Packer spoke about this very issue inFundamentalism and the Word of God where he wrote: “But in fact this approach is not right. Faith does not wait on historical criticism. Certainly, there is value in reviewing the quantity and strength of the evidence that there is (regarded simply as human testimony) for the great Christian facts. It is good to test the credentials of Christianity by the most searching scholarship, and to make faith give account of itself at the bar of history. . . . [However], faith is rooted in the realization that the gospel is God’s word; and faith recognizes in its divine origin a full and sufficient guarantee of its veracity. So with Scripture, ‘God’s Word written’: faith rests its confidence in the truth of the biblical narratives, not on the critical acumen of the historian, but on the unfailing trustworthiness of God” (166-167).
Packer adds in a footnote, “It should perhaps be emphasized that we do not mean by this that Scripture history is written according to the canons of modern scientific history. Biblical historians are not concerned to answer all the questions which modern historians ask, nor to tell their story with the detailed completeness to which the modern researcher aspires….The biblical writers had their own aims and interests guiding their selection of the evidence, and their own conventions for using it; and if we fail to take account of these things in interpreting what they wrote, we violate the canon of literal interpretation …. Our point in the text is simply that, when Scripture professes to narrate fact, faith receives the narrative as factual on God’s authority, and does not conclude it to be legendary, or mythical, or mystical, or mere human authority” (167, emphasis added).
This misdirected effort of Licona and other current New Testament scholars to embrace “a new historiographical approach” is discussed in detail in Chapter 11 of our new book Defending Inerrancy. The new historiography was conceived by liberal scholars and is suited to their end. It is unwise for evangelicals to baptize it and try to use it to defend an evangelical view of Scripture. As Licona’s efforts shows, it falls far short of their goal.
The Use of Other Scholars to Support His View
Licona and some of his supporters appeal to other scholars who hold similar views or who support the orthodoxy of his views. However, the value of this is dubious for several reasons. First of all, if one wants to count numbers, the weight of history leans heavily against Licona’s views. For it is difficult to find any orthodox scholars in the history of the Church up to modern times who denied the historicity of the Matthew 27 passage under dispute. The largest gathering of scholars on the topic of inerrancy in the 20th century, the ICBI (1978), condemned a similar view to that held by Licona (as shown in the above citations). Further, the largest group of evangelical scholars in modern time to speak to the issue voted overwhelmingly to ask Robert Gundry to leave the ETS (1983) because of the inconsistency of his view with inerrancy.
Second, one can always find scholars somewhere—even evangelical scholars—who agree with their deviant views. However, what is interesting about many of the names used in support of Licona’s view is that: (a) some do not even believe in inerrancy; (b) others do not agree with Licona’s denial of the historicity of Matthew 27; (c) other agree only with the use of apocalyptic language but do not deny the historicity of events narrated in the Gospels, and (d) most who agree with Licona have been influenced by negative biblical criticism that springs from methodological naturalistic presuppositions that are contrary to evangelical thought. All of this is treated more comprehensively in our new book, Defending Inerrancy (Baker).
Finally, at best the argument that other scholars hold similar views only demonstrates that their views are subject to the same criticism. It does not show that Licona’s view is true. Hopefully, the Licona issue will cause pause and self-examination among other evangelical scholars who have drifted into methodological unorthodoxy unwittingly.
Laying aside his emotive and ad hominem responses, Licona’s actual defense of his view is patently weak. First, he completely ignores the bulk of the evidence against his “deshistoricizing” of the resurrection of the saints in Gospel narrative of Matthew 27. Second, he offers only “possible” arguments in favor of his view. Third, he ignores treatment of the other Gospel events that he thinks may be legends too, such as, the angels at the tomb and the mob in John 18 falling backward in the face of Jesus’ claim. Fourth, contrary to his claim, his view is completely incompatible with the ICBI view on inerrancy as confirmed by living framers. Fifth, he employs a faulty hermeneutic in coming to his conclusion that the Gospels may contain a mixture of legends with the history by using extra-biblical legends to determine what is not historical in the records. Finally, even Licona admits that “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 34). Thus, as Dr. Al Mohler observed,“Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.”
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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  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.
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).