The Erosion of Inerrancy Among New Testament Scholars: Craig Blomberg (2012)

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Dr. Craig Blomberg

 

 

THE EROSION OF INERRANCY AMONG NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLARS:

A PRIMARY CASE IN POINT—CRAIG BLOMBERG

 Copyright © 2012 Norman L. Geisler – All rights reserved

Copyright © 2012 F. David Farnell – All rights reserved

 

Background

In a recent “Round Table” discussion at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,[1] a dialogue regarding Michael L. Licona’s work, The Resurrection of Jesus a New Historical Approach occurred wherein five scholars evaluated the “hornet’s nest” surrounding it.[2]  In this latter work, Licona commendably defends the physical, literal resurrection of Jesus.  So far, so good.  However, contained in this very same treatise was a very troubling section regarding Matthew 27:51-53 of the resurrection of the saints at Jesus’ resurrection Licona applies dubious genre hermeneutics to Matthew’s gospel known as “apocalyptic” or “eschatological Jewish texts” whereby he arbitrarily dismisses the historicity of Matthew 27:51-53 (and its recording of the resurrection of saints) which results effectively in the complete evisceration and total negation of His strong defense of Jesus’ resurrection.[3]  Despite Licona’s protest, these same apocalyptic arguments could be applied to Jesus Resurrection.

For example, James D. G. Dunn applies a similar logic to the resurrection of Jesus (cp. Acts 1:3), comparing the Passion accounts in the Gospels to that of Second Temple Judaism’s literature, relating that Jesus’ hope for resurrection reflected more of the ideas of Second Temple Judaism’s concept of vindication hope of a general and final resurrection: “The probability remains, however, that any hope of resurrection entertained by Jesus himself was hope to share in the final resurrection.”[4]  For Dunn, Jesus had in mind that “His death would introduce the final climactic period, to be followed shortly (‘after three days’?) by the general resurrection, the implementation of the new covenant, and the coming of the kingdom.”[5]  Here Dunn’s imposition of Jewish eschatology genre effectively eviscerates any idea of Jesus’ physical, literal resurrection on the Sunday after His crucifixion and places it entirely into distant future of Jewish expectations of a final resurrection at the Last Judgment.

Regarding Matthew 27:51-53, Licona labels this passage a “strange little text,”[6] and terms it “special effects” that have no historical basis.[7]  His apparent concern also rests with only the Gospel of Matthew as mentioning the event.  He concludes that “Jewish eschatological texts and thought in mind” as “most plausible” in explaining it.[8]  He concludes that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel.”[9]  This is contrary to the statements of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) which was adopted the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) as a guide in understanding inerrancy. The ICBI Chicago Statement Article XVIII directly opposes such a conclusion, “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.”

 

Licona Supported by Craig Blomberg

As a result of Licona’s genre arguments, he was asked to attend this Roundtable meeting at Southeastern whereby NT scholars could discuss with him the whirlwind of controversy surrounding his genre assertions.  Four scholars met with Licona to vet the issue: Danny Akin, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, Michael Kruger and Charles Quarles.  Akin, Kruger and Quarles respectfully disagreed with Licona’s approach, while Copan and Blomberg vigorously defended Licona.  The title of this might have been called: “With Friends Like This Who Needs Enemies?”

The focus of this article will be on the interesting response of one of Licona’s staunch defenders, Craig Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, who, instead of viewing the dehistoricizing of Matthew 27:51-53 as an alarming hermeneutical trend among evangelicals, aggressively attacked scholars (i.e. Mohler, Geisler) who defended the historicity of the Gospels, especially this passage.  Both Mohler[10] and Geisler recognized that Licona’s tragic hermeneutical misstep at this point could devastate the Gospels as the only historical records of Jesus’ life by opening up a proverbial avenue for major portions of the Gospels to be labeled as non-historical in genre.  The recognized the far-reaching interpretive implications of Licona’s approach.  Startlingly, Blomberg called upon men who defended the Gospels’ historicity to apologize to someone who had dehistoriced them:  “First, Drs. Geisler and Mohler need to apologize in the same public forums in which they censured Dr. Licona, for having been inappropriately harsh and unnecessarily simplistic in their analyses. Second, all the Christian leaders who worked behind the scenes to get Dr. Licona removed from various positions, including already extended speaking invitations, likewise need to publicly seek Dr. Licona’s forgiveness. Then, if he wishes to remain within the SBC, a courageous SBC institution of at least comparable prestige to those that let him go needs to hire him.”[11]

 

Blomberg’s Shift in Hermeneutics

Such a response by Blomberg serves as an illustration of the startling erosion of inerrancy among NT scholars, especially those who have been schooled in the European continent.  Blomberg serves as a salient example in many ways of such an erosion.  Many of these European-trained scholars ignore the lessons of history that evangelicals have undergone at the turn of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first that was highlighted in the Chicago Statements of 1978 and 1982.  Significantly, Blomberg exemplifies a significant, substantive shift in hermeneutics that these evangelicals are now engaging in.  The Chicago Statement on Inerrancy in 1978 expressly commended the grammatico-historical approach in Article XVIII:

We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. 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.

 

Why did they commend the grammatico-historical approach?  Because these men who expressed these two watershed statements had experienced the history of interpretive degeneration among mainstream churches and seminaries (“As go the theological seminaries, so goes the church”)[12] in terms of dismissing the gospels as historical records due to historical-critical ideologies.  Blomberg, instead, now advocates “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View”[13] of hermeneutics for evangelicals that constitutes an alarming, and especially unstable, blend of historical-critical ideologies with the grammatico-historical hermeneutic.  Blomberg argues for a “both-and-and-and-and” position of combining grammatico-historical method with that of historical-critical ideologies.[14]

Blomberg apparently chose to ignore The Jesus Crisis (1998) and has already catalogued the evangelical disaster that such a blend of grammatico-historical and historical-critical elements precipitates in interpretive approaches.[15]  Stemming from this blending of these two elements are the following sampling of hermeneutical dehistoricizing among evangelicals:  The author of Matthew, not Jesus, created the sermon on the mount; the commissioning of the Twelve in Matthew 10 is a compilation of instructions collected and gathered but not spoken on a single occasion; Matthew 13 and Mark 4 are collections or anthologies not spoken by Jesus on a single occasion; Jesus did not preach the Olivet Discourse in its entirety as presented in the Gospels; the scribes and Pharisees were good people whom Matthew portrayed in a bad light; the magi of Matthew 2 are fictional characters; Jesus did not speak all of the parables in Matthew 5:3-12.[16]  In response to the alarm sounded by The Jesus Crisis, Blomberg angrily, aggressively responded by attacking its authors, a well-known Seminary, a highly respected pastor, as well as Bible-believing evangelicals in general who had sounded the alarm:

That such a narrow, sectarian spirit has not disappeared from the American scene is demonstrated by the 1998 publication of a book entitled The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship. It is edited and partially authored by Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, two professors from the seminary started by megachurch pastor John MacArthur as a fundamentalist protest against the mainstream evangelical, inerrantist perspective of the Talbot School of Theology in greater Los Angeles, from which many of the founding professors came.

Thomas in particular argues that virtually all evangelical Gospel scholars have capitulated  to liberalism and are, in essence, no different from the Jesus Seminar, because  they accept theories of literary dependence among the synoptic Gospels or embrace, even cautiously, various aspects of form, tradition or redaction criticism. Only an additive harmonization that sees all of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels excerpted from a larger whole that contained massive reduplication of what now appears parcelled out among the four narratives is consistent, in his mind, with inerrancy.   I can scarcely imagine such a book ever being published by a major Christian press in the UK, much less it’s being publicly praised by the president of an evangelical academic society, as Norman Geisler did in last year’s presidential address to the ETS! [italics/boldness added] Or, at a more grass-roots level, television and radio preachers can through one nationally syndicated programme do more damage to the career of an evangelical academic or institution than years of patient, nuanced scholarship on his or her part do to advance it. The Christian counselling movement in the US is a frequent target for such overstated and devastating attacks. The counter-cult industry wields similar power; self-appointed, theologically untrained watchdogs can keep books out of Christian bookstores and set constituencies against their scholars through campaigns of misinformation. I experienced how this felt firsthand after I co-authored a book with Brigham Young University New Testament Professor Stephen E. Robinson, entitled How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation, in which we dared to list everything we agreed on as well as including long lists of disagreements. We also tried to model an uncharacteristically irenic spirit for Mormon-evangelical interchanges.  Fellow academics uniformly praised the book; it won an award from Christianity Today as one of the top fifteen Christian books of 1997. Several leading counter-cult ministries, however, severely criticized it, and one of the most influential ones has gone out of its way to condemn it over the airwaves (and in print) on a regular basis.   If for no other reason than that national Christian radio and television do not exist in the UK, I again cannot imagine a parallel phenomenon occurring in Britain.[17]

This section also tellingly reveals Blomberg’s “both/and” approach of combining grammatico-historical with historical-critical, a telling admission of the strong impact of British academic training on evangelical hermeneutics, as well as his willingness to create a bridge between Christian orthodoxy and Mormonism.  While Blomberg is irenic and embracing with Mormons, he has great hostility toward those who uphold the “fundamentals” of Scripture.

In his article on “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical” hermeneutic, he asserts that historical-criticism can be “shorn” of its “antisupernatural presuppositions that the framers of that method originally employed” and eagerly embraces “source, form, tradition and redaction criticism” as “all essential [italic and bold added—not in the original] tools for understanding the contents of the original document, its formation and origin, its literary genre and subgenres, the authenticity of the historical material it includes, and its theological or ideological emphases and distinctives.”[18] He labels the “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical” approach “the necessary foundation on which all other approaches must build.”[19]  However, history is replete with negative examples of those who attempted this unstable blend, from the Neologions in Griesbach’s day to that of Michael Licona’s book under discussion currently.[20]  Another example of failure is George Ladd, who while attempting to blend such elements, was criticized on both sides for either going-to far (conservatives) or for not going far enough (theologically critical scholars).  For example, Norman Perrin regarded Ladd’s passion for approval among liberals as a motivation led to Ladd’s miscontruing some of the more liberal scholars’ positions in order to make them support his own views.[21]  Perrin bluntly argued,

We have already noted Ladd’s anxiety to find support for his views on the authenticity of a saying or pericope, and this is but one aspect of what seems to be a ruling passion with him: the search for critical support for his views altogether.  To this end he is quite capable of misunderstanding the scholars concerned . . . .

Ladd’s passion for finding support for his views among critical scholars has as its counterpart an equal passion for dismissing contemptuously aspects of their work which do not support him.  These dismissals are of a most peremptory nature.[22]

 

Perrin labeled Ladd’s support for the credibility of the gospels as accurate historical sources for the life of Jesus as “an uncritical view” and that Ladd was guilty of eisegesis of liberals’ views to demonstrate any congruity of their assertions with his brand of conservative evangelical. Marsden continues:

[Ladd] saw Perrin’s review as crucial in denying him prestige in the larger academic arena. . . . The problem was the old one of the neo-evangelical efforts to reestablish world-class evangelical scholarship.  Fundamentalists and conservatives did not trust them . . . and the mainline academic community refused to take them seriously.

Perhaps Perrin had correctly perceived a trait of the new evangelical movement when he described Ladd as torn between his presuppositional critique of modern scholarship and his eagerness to find modern critical scholars on his side . . . No one quite succeeded philosophically in mapping the way this was to be done, though.  The result was confusion, as became apparent with subsequent efforts to relate evangelical theology to the social sciences at the new schools.  For . . . Ladd, who had the highest hopes for managing to be in both camps with the full respect of each, the difficulties in maintaining the balance contributed to deep personal anxiety.[23]

 

Edgar Krentz, in his The Historical-Critical Method, also described Ladd’s attempt at changing certain rationalistic presuppositions as “the uneasy truce of conservativism” with the historical-critical method.[24]  For Krentz, “The alternative to using historical criticism is an unthinking acceptance of tradition”; that “the only fruitful approach is to seek to combine theological convictions and historical methods”; and that “Ladd . . . demonstrate[s] that a new evaluation of history is abroad in conservativism.”[25]

Blomberg himself, however, constitutes a clear example that affirms the validity of warnings issuing from those whom he so readily attacks and suggests his attempts at blending historical criticism with grammatico-historical hermeneutics is ill-founded.  Several salient examples demonstrate this point.

Blomberg’s Defense of Robert Gundry

Some 26 years before Michael Licona in 2010 used genre as a means of dehistoricizing Matthew 27: 51-53, Craig Blomberg, in 1984, right after the ICBI statements (1978 and 1982), defended such genre issues regarding biblical interpretation in the Gospels.  Blomberg defended Robert Gundry’s midrashic approach to the Gospels in the following terms:

Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretatoin of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same. The problem will not disappear simply because one author [Gundry] is dealt with ad hominem . . . how should evangelicals react? Dismissing the sociological view on the grounds that the NT miracles present themselves as historical gets us nowhere. So do almost all the other miracle stories of antiquity. Are we to believe them all?” [26]

 

It is well to remember what happened in the Gundry case. After two years of discussion on the issue, the largest society of evangelical scholars in the world (ETS) voted overwhelmingly (by 70%) to ask Robert Gundry to resign from ETS because they believed that his views on a Jewish midrash interpretation of Matthew denied the historicity of certain sections of Matthews, including the story of the Magi visiting Jesus after his birth (Mt. 2).  This was a significant decision which drew a line in the sand for ETS.

There are many implications that flow from the decision.  First, ETS affirmed that one cannot totally separate hermeneutics from inerrancy.  Second, it set an important precedent for other scholars as to how ETS understand what is meant by inerrancy.  Third, it made a clear statement that one cannot deny the historicity of any part of the Gospels without denying inerrancy.  Finally, ETS took a strong stand on the historical-grammatical hermeneutic in opposition to contemporary dilutions or denials of it.

In spite of all of this Blomberg proudly boasts that he opposed the ETS stand on inerrancy.  In view of what Blomberg believes about the Gospels (see below), we can understand why he defends his position against ETS and, as well will see, against ICBI as well.  It is also apparent why Blomberg defends Licona’s view for “birds of a feather flock together.”

 

Blomberg denied the historicity of the fish with the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27)

Accordingly, Blomberg denied the historicity of the account of Jesus and the coin in the fish’s mouth.  Blomberg noted, “It is often not noticed that the so-called miracle of the fish with the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27) is not even a narrative; it is merely a command from Jesus to go to the lake and catch such a fish.  We don’t even know if Peter obeyed the command.  Here is a good reminder to pay careful attention to the literary form.”[27]  Blomberg’s solution is directly at odds with the ICBI statement on Hermeneutics when it states in Article XIII: “generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.”

Blomberg rehabilitates (!) Bart Ehrman’s Forged assertions

by his own advocation of False Writing

by False Authors of Canonical Books in the New Testament

 

Blomberg offers another solution toward solving problems surrounding pseudonymity in relation to some New Testament books whereby the “critical consensus approach could . . . be consistent with inerrancy, “benign pseudonymity.”[28]  Blomberg also uses the term “ghost-writer” to describe this activity.[29]  Another name for this would be pseudepigraphy (e.g. Ephesians, Colossians, Pastorals).  Blomberg contends:

A methodology consistent with evangelical convictions might argue that there was an accepted literary convention that allowed a follower, say, of Paul, in the generation after his martyrdom, to write a letter in Paul’s name to one of the churches that had come under his sphere of influence.  The church would have recognized that it could not have come from an apostle they knew had died two or three decades earlier, and they would have realized that the true author was writing  thoughts indebted to the earlier teaching of Paul.  In a world without footnotes or bibliographies, this was one way of giving credit where credit was due.  Modesty prevented the real author from using his own name, so he wrote in ways he could easily have envisioned Paul writing were the apostle still alive today.  Whether or not this is what actually happened, such a hypothesis is thoroughly consistent with a high view of Scripture and an inerrant Bible.  We simply have to recognize what is and is not being claimed by the use of name ‘Paul’ in that given letter.[30]

 

This issue was explicitly addressed by the ICBI framers when they wrote of Scripture: “We deny the legitimacy of…rejecting its claims to authorship.”(Chicago Statement, Article XVII).  In short, what claims to be written by the apostle Paul was written by the apostle Paul or else the Bible is not inerrant.

For Blomberg, the key to pseudonymity would also lie in motive behind the writing.  Blomberg argues that “One’s acceptance or rejection of the overall theory of authorship should then depend on the answers to these kinds of questions, not on some a priori determination that pseudonymity is in every instance compatible or incompatible with evangelicalism.”[31]  He argues, “[i]t is not the conclusion one comes to on the issue [pseudonymity] that determines whether one can still fairly claim to be evangelical, or even inerrantist, how one arrives at that conclusion.”[32]  Yet, how could one ever known the motive of such ghost writers?  Would not such a false writer go against all moral standards of Christianity?  Under Blomberg’s logic, Bart Ehrman’s Forged (2011) only differs in one respect: Blomberg attributes good motives to forgers, while Ehrman is honest enough to admit that these “benign” writings are really what they would be in such circumstances FORGED WRITING IN THE NAME OF GOD—WHY THE BIBLE’S AUTHORS ARE NOT WHO WE THINK THEY ARE[33]  Are apparently both of these scholars able to read the proverbial “tea leaves” and divine the motives behind such perpetrations.  Not likely!

 

 

Blomberg Even Cast Doubt of Historical Reliability of the New Testament

He also carries this logic to the idea of “historical reliability more broadly.”  He relates, “Might some passages in the Gospels and Acts traditionally thought of as historical actually be mythical or legendary?  I see no way to exclude the answer a priori. The question would be whether any given proposal to that effect demonstrated the existence of an accepted literary form likely known to the Evangelists’ audiences, establishes as a legitimate device for communicating theological truth through historical fiction.  In each case it is not the proposal itself that should be off limits for the evangelical.  The important question is whether any given proposal has actually made its case.”[34]

Blomberg Demonizes Critics of His Critical Views

Blomberg, seemingly anticipating objections to his ideas, issues a stern warning to those who would oppose such proposals that he has discussed:

[L]et those on the ‘far right’ neither anathematize those who do explore and defend new options nor immediately seek to ban them from organizations or institutions to which they belong.”  If new proposals . . . cannot withstand scholarly rigor, then let their refutations proceed at that level, with convincing scholarship, rather than with the kind of censorship that makes one wonder whether those who object have no persuasive reply and so have to resort simply to demonizing and/or silencing the voices with which they disagree.  If evangelical scholarship proceeded in this more measured fashion, neither inherently favoring nor inherently resisting ‘critical’ conclusions, whether or not they form a consensus, then it might fairly be said to be both traditional andconstructive.[35]

 

Interestingly, recently, Craig Blomberg blames books like Harold Lindsell’sBattle For the Bible (1976) and such a book as The Jesus Crisis for people leaving the faith because of their strong stance on inerrancy as a presupposition.  In a web interview in 2008 conducted by Justin Taylor, Blomberg responded this way to books that hold to a firm view on inerrancy.  The interviewer asked, “Are there certain mistaken hermeneutical presuppositions made by conservative evangelicals that play into the hands of liberal critics?”  Blomberg replied,

Absolutely. And one of them follows directly from the last part of my answer to your last question. The approach, famously supported back in 1976 by Harold Lindsell in his Battle for the Bible (Zondervan), that it is an all-or-nothing approach to Scripture that we must hold, is both profoundly mistaken and deeply dangerous. No historian worth his or her salt functions that way. I personally believe that if inerrancy means “without error according to what most people in a given culture would have called an error” then the biblical books are inerrant in view of the standards of the cultures in which they were written. But, despite inerrancy being the touchstone of the largely American organization called the Evangelical Theological Society, there are countless evangelicals in the States and especially in other parts of the world who hold that the Scriptures are inspired and authoritative, even if not inerrant, and they are not sliding down any slippery slope of any kind. I can’t help but wonder if inerrantist evangelicals making inerrancy the watershed for so much has not, unintentionally, contributed to pilgrimages like Ehrman’s. Once someone finds one apparent mistake or contradiction that they cannot resolve, then they believe the Lindsells of the world and figure they have to chuck it all. What a tragedy![36]

To Blomberg, apparently anyone who advocates inerrancy as traditionally advocated by Lindsell (which, incidentally, was expressed in the ICBI statements and adopted as a guide by ETS) is responsible for people leaving the faith.  This would include the ICBI and the ETS for adopting the ICBI statements as a guidline on inerrancy.  This makes it very clear that Blomberg places himself outside of mainstream inerrantists.  This makes hollow the claim to inerrancy by Blomberg or Licona whom he seeks to defend.

Indeed, Blomberg distances himself from the claims to inerrancy when approaching the Gospels.  He claims that belief that the Gospels should be examined part from any considerations of inerrancy.  Indeed, inerrancy is sharply divorced from their research as something foreign to their task.  Blomberg argues regarding his The Historical Reliability of the Gospels that “Indeed, the goals of this volume remain modest.  I neither suppose nor argue for the complete inerrancy, infallibility of Scripture, even just within the Gospels.  These are the logical and/or theological corollaries of other prior commitments.  I believe that there are good reasons for holding them but a defense of that conviction would require a very different kind of book.”[37]

Indeed, they seem to distance themselves strongly from any such concepts in their analysis of Scripture.  For instance, in a self-review of his own work Key Events that involves “searching” for the concept of the “historical Jesus,” evangelical Bock argues,

As a co-editor of this volume, I should explain what this book is and is not. It is a book on historical Jesus discussion. It is not a book that uses theological arguments or categories (as legitimate as those can be) to make its case. This means we chose as a group to play by the rules of that discussion, engage it on those terms, and show even by those limiting standards that certain key events in the life of Jesus have historical credibility. So in this discussion one does not appeal to inspiration and one is asked to corroborate the claims in the sources before one can use the material. This is what we did, with a careful look at the historical context of 12 central events. To be accurate, the article by Webb accepts the resurrection as a real event, but argues for a limitation on what history (at least as normally practiced today) can say about such events. The problem here is with what history can show, not with the resurrection as an event. Many working in historical Jesus study take this approach to the resurrection. I prefer to argue that the best explanation for the resurrection is that it was a historical event since other explanations cannot adequately explain the presence of such a belief among the disciples. Webb explains these two options of how to take this in terms of the historical discussion and noted that participants in our group fell into each of these camps. Some people will appreciate the effort to play by these limiting rules and yet make important positive affirmations about Jesus. Others will complain by asking the book to do something it was not seeking to do.[38]

In doing this, evangelicals of this approach, subject the Scripture to forms of historical criticism that will always place the Bible on the defensive in that it can never be shown to reflect historical trustworthiness.  Indeed, logically, probability for one person may not be probability for another.  What is accomplished is that the Gospels are placed on shifting sands that never have any foundational certainty for “certainty” cannot be entertained by their methods.  Thus, their method is not objective but is really an ideology that is imposed upon the text.

Blomberg has a similar approach in his work to Bock and Dunn (see quotes from Dunn in this article), when he notes regarding his Historcal Reliability that “Christians may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Gospels are historically accurate, but they must attempt to show that there is a strong likelihood of their historicity.  Thus the approach of this book is always to argue in terms of probability rather than certainty, since this is the nature of historical hypotheses, including those that are accepted without question.”[39]  Again, Blomberg argues, “[A] good case can be made for accepting the details as well as the main contours of the Gospels as reliable. But . . . even if a few minor contradictions genuinely existed, this would not necessarily jeapordize the reliability of the rest or call into question the entire basis for belief.”[40]

Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, his “Summary of Findings” regarding John’s reliability is placed in these terms: “a surprisingly powerful case for overall historicity and the general trustworthiness of the document [i.e. John’s gospel] can be mounted.”[41]  While this summary of John’s reliability is a good start perhaps, one is still left wondering where in John’s Gospel the reader is not able to rely upon the text or where any historical problems might exist.  Moreover, Blomberg, on the cleansing of the temple in John 2:12-25 is decidedly agnostic as to John’s accurate usage of historical reportage: “The clearing of the temple (2:12-25) is a notorious crux; it is almost impossible to choose between taking this account as a reworked and relocated version of the synoptic parallels or as a similar but separate incident.  In either case, the crucial core of the passage coheres with synoptic material widely accepted as authentic.”[42]   Contrary to Blomberg’s tepid assertions of John’s historicity, if John indeed has so reworked one cleansing (at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in John) into two in comparing the Synoptics (at the end of Jesus’ ministry), then any concept of “overall historicity” or “general reliability” of John is severely contradicted and called into question.

The fact, however, is that “probability” logically rests in the “eye of the beholder” and what is probable to one may be improbable to another. For instance, what Blomberg finds “probable” may not be to critics of the Gospels who do not accept his logic.  This also places Scripture on an acutely subjective level which logical impact of these approach is to reduce the Gospels to a shifting-sand of “one-up-manship” in scholarly debate as to who accepts whose arguments for what reasons or not.  Blomberg argues that “an evenhanded treatment of the data [from analysis of the Gospel material] does not lead to a distrust of the accuracy of the Gospels.”[43]  But, this is actually exceedingly naïve, for who is to dictate to whom what is “evenhanded”?  Many liberals would think these Blomberg has imposed his own evangelical presuppositions and is VERY FAR from being “evenhanded.”  He convinces only himself with this assertion.  Blomberg admits “critical scholarship is often too skeptical.”[44]  Yet, since he has chosen to play with the rules of the critical scholars’ game in approach to the Gospels (however much he modifies their approach—they invented it), they may equally reply on a valid level that Blomberg is too accepting.  This is especially demonstrated when Blomberg accepts “criteria of authenticity” that are used to determine whether portions of the Gospels are historically reliable or not.  He argues, “Using either the older or the new criteria, even the person who is suspicious of the Gospel tradition may come to accept a large percentage of it as historically accurate.”[45] One would immediately ask Blomberg to cite an example, any example, of someone who, previously skeptical, has come to a less skeptical position, but he does not.  Criteria of authenticity are merely a priori tools that prove what one has already concluded.[46]  If one is skeptical regarding tradition, one can select criteria that enforce the already conceived position.  If one is less skeptical, then one can apply criteria that will enforce the already accepted conclusion.  Each side will not accept the data of the other.  What does suffer, however, is the Gospel record as it is torn be philosophical speculation through these criteria.  For Blomberg, one may speak only of the “general reliability” of the Gospels since he has deliberately confined himself to these philosophically-motivated criteria.

Very telling with Blomberg is that he sees two “extreme positions” on historical reliability:  The first being those who “simply . . . believe their doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture requires them to do” and the “other end of the confession spectrum” is “many radical critics” who “would answer the question [regarding reliability] negatively, thinking that proper historical method requires them to disbelieve any narrative so thoroughly permeated by supernatural events, theological interpretation and minor variation among parallels as are in the four Gospels.”  Blomberg instead asserts his position as in-between: “the Gospels must be subjected to the same type of historical scrutiny given to any other writings of antiquity but that they can stand up to such scrutiny admirably.”[47]  The naiveté of this latter position is breath-taking, since historical criticism has been shown to be replete with hostile philosophical underpinnings that apparently Blomberg is either unaware of or choosing to ignore.[48]  These presuppositions always control the outcome.  Moreover, would those who use such radical ideologies in approaching Scripture be convinced of Blomberg’s moderation of them?  Most likely, they would interpret his usage as biased.  What does suffer, however, is the Gospels historical credibility in the process.

Blomberg argues that “it is unfair to begin historical inquiry by superimposing a theological interpretation over it, it is equally unfair to ignore the theological implications that rise from it.”[49]  A much more pertinent question, however, for Blomberg to answer is” Is it fair, however, for the Gospel record to be in turn subjected to historical critical ideologies whose purpose was to negate and marginalize the Gospel record?  Blomberg is so willing and ready to remove the former but very welcoming in allowing the latter in his own subjective approach to the Gospels.

Conclusions

More examples from Blomberg’s writings could be cited.  The point is simply this: Blomberg is not in a good position to defend Licona’s position, for many of Blomberg’s positions are even worse than Licona’s.  With friends like Blomberg, Licona does not need any enemies.  Blomberg himself as well as his assertions constitutes evidence against his very own positions while affirming the warnings and concerns of Licona’s critics concerning Licona’s approach.

Further, the time has come to expose people like Blomberg who enjoy wide acceptance in certain evangelical circles but who denies the historic evangelical doctrine of inerrancy.  This is not to say, Blomberg’s views on other essential doctrines could not be orthodox.  They have not been examined here.  It is simply to note that neither his defense of Licona, nor his own views on the origin and nature of Scripture meet the evangelical test of orthodoxy.  They are not in accord with the historic position of the Christian Church (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church).  Nor are they in accord with the historic Princeton view of B. B. Warfield (Limited Inspiration) and Charles Hodge.  Nor are they consistent with the heirs of the historic view in the framers of the ICBI.  Nor do they correspond to the view of the framers of ETS, nor its officially adopted ICBI approach.  Indeed, Blomberg admits that he voted contrary to these positions in the Gundry case.  There are other groups to which he can belong that do not believe in the historic view of inerrancy.  But neither he nor Licona have the right to use revisionist thought on the framers of ETS and ICBI.  If they wish to hold another view, so be it.  Let them join other groups or start their own.  But they have no right to redefine what the ETS and ICBI framers meant to suit their own liberal ideas.

These evangelicals treat inerrancy as if “doctrine” is not to be placed into the academic field of scholarship, as if “inerrancy” is an “unscholarly” shield and that the NT documents need to be “objectified” by playing the game of the scholars. But in fact, they treat the NT documents with ideologies that are far from objective. The playing field is not fair. They seem to be saying, “unless you buy our biased presuppositions, you are not a scholar and we will not recognize your work.” To this we may respond with the noted evangelical philosopher Alvin Plantinga who said, “There is no compelling or even reasonably decent argument for supposing that the procedures and assumptions of [historical Biblical criticism] are to be preferred to those of traditional biblical commentary.”[50]  He goes on to say that using historical Biblical criticism to interpret the Bible is like “trying to mow your lawn a nail scissors or paint you house with a toothbrush; it might be an interesting experiment if you have time on your hands (p. 417).”[51] But it is basically a waste of time and effort.

[1] “A Roundtable Discussion with Michael Licona on TheResurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” Southeastern Theological Review 12/1 (Summer 2012): 71-98. (http://tinyurl.com/8uhvqur.)

[2] Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

[3] Licona also casts doubt on several other NT events, claiming that “Bioi offered the ancient biographer 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.”  Further, he presents “A possible candidate for embellishment is John 18:4-6” [bold emphasis added] where, when Jesus claimed “I am he” (cf. John 8:58), his pursuers “drew back and fell on the ground.”[3] See Licona, The Resurrection, 306 fn. 114.

[4] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 821-824 (quote p. 824).

[5] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 824.

[6] Licona, Resurrection, 548.

[7] Licona, Resurrection, 552.

[8] Licona, Resurrection, 552.

[9] Licona, Resurrection, 553.

[10] See for instance, Dr. Mohler’s blog, The Devil is in the Details: Biblical Inerrancy and the Licona Controversy. http://tinyurl.com/92jew5o

[11]“A Roundtable Discussion,” 92.

[12] J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1936) 65.

[13] Craig L. Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” in Biblical Hermeneutics Five Views (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012): 27-47.

[14] Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” 28.

[15] See Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell, The Jesus Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), noting especially the “Introduction The Jesus Crisis: What is it?,” 13-34.

[16] See Robert L. Thomas, “The Jesus Crisis What is It,?” in The Jesus Crisis, 15.

[17] Craig L. Blomberg, “The past, present and future of American Evangelical Theological Scholarship,” in Solid Ground 25 Years of Evangelical Theology.  Eds. Carl R. Trueman and Tony J. Gray (Leicester: Apollos, 2000) 314-315.

[18] Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” 46-47.

[19] Blomberg, “The Historical-Critical/Grammatical View,” 47.

[20] For Griesbach and his association with Neologians as well as its impact on his synoptic “solution,” see F. David Farnell, “How Views of Inspiration Have Impacted Synoptic Problem Discussion,” TMSJ 13/1 (Spring 2002) 33-64.

[21] Perrin commented, “One aspect of Ladd’s treatment of sayings and pericopes which the review [Perrin] found annoying is his deliberately one-sided approach to the question of authenticity.”  See Norman Perrin, “Against the Current, A Review of Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism,” by George Eldon Ladd Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1964 inInterpretation 19 (April 1965): 228-231 (quote, p. 229) cf. George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 250.

[22] Perrin, “A Review,” 230.

[23] Marsden, Reforming, 250.

[24] See Edgar Krentz, The Historical-Critical Method (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 76 cf. also Gerhard Hasel, New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 19 fn. 33.

[25] Krentz, 76-77.

[26] Craig L. Blomberg, “New Testament miracles and Higher Criticism: Climbing Up the Slippery Slope,” JETS 27/4 (December 1984) 436.

[27] Blomberg, A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” in Do Historical Matters Matter to the Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012) 354 fn. 32.

[28] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 353, 360.

[29] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 354, 360.

[30] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 351.

[31] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 353.

[32] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 352.

[33] See Bart Ehrman, Forged (New York: One, 2011).

[34] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 354.

[35] Blomberg, “A Constructive Traditional Response to New Testament Criticism,” 364.

[36] See the interview with Craig Blomberg by the Gospel Coalition here: http://tinyurl.com/29z53rf

[37] Craig L. Blomberg, “Introduction,” in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.  2nd Edition (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 23.

[38] Amazon review at http://tinyurl.com/9p7r99j

[39] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 36.

[40] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 36.

[41] Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001) 283.

[42] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 286.

[43] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 297.

[44] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 311.

[45] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 312.

[46]For this see, F. David Farnell, “Form Criticism and Tradition Criticism,” in The Jesus Crisis, 185-232.

[47] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 323.

[48] See F. David Farnell, “The Philosophical and Theological Bent of Historical Criticism, in The Jesus Crisis, 85-131.

[49] Blomberg, “Historical Reliability,” 325.

[50] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford Press, 2000) 412.

[51] Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, 417.

 

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