Embellishments and Legends

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. C. Michael Patton of Credo House at the Parchment and Pen blog has been writing lately on the Geisler-Licona debate and recently wrote on sound bites that are being used. Since then, Mike Licona has also been on Chris Date’s program, the Theopologetics podcast, to which I will be providing a link to at the end of this blog.

Some such sound bites are about the topics of legend and embellishment. Let’s look at them.

“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 of 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 angels at the tomb (Mk 16:5-7; Mt. 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-14) [pp. 185-186]

Look at those terms. Could possibly be mixed with legend? We may be reading poetic language? Such talk can certainly scare some Christians. What about this?

“A possible candidate for embellishment is Jn 18:4-6″ [p. 306, note 114)

A possible candidate for embellishment? Is this saying that the text contains embellishments?

Fortunately, on the podcast that I have referred to above, Mike has taken a stance on whether he thinks there are legends and embellishments and has answered “No.”

So what about the above quotes?

Oh they’re in the book for sure. Much has been said about them. In reviewing one of Geisler’s statements, he says the text gives no indication that this is not historical. However, Mike also has not said that what happens is not historical. Which then again raises the question, what is going on exactly?

Something I try to do when I evangelize to a skeptic and when I teach others to do so is to grant as much as I possibly can to my opponent. I want to take the worst-case scenario and still demonstrate Christianity from that. Now of course, if some item in the list definitively contradicts Christianity, I cannot grant that. I cannot say to an atheist “I’ll grant you that God doesn’t exist and demonstrate Christianity.” After all, Christianity essentially teaches that God exists. If there is no God, there is no Christianity. Could Jesus have risen from the dead however if the NT contained some errors, for instance?

I don’t see why not and you should have no problem with it either. After all, the resurrection has to pre-date the NT and when the early churches were formed, they did not have a NT to read from. Let’s suppose the NT had never been written. Would it still be true Jesus rose from the dead? Yes. We’d just have a great lack of evidence. Let’s suppose Paul slipped up in some letters. Would Jesus have still risen from the dead? Yes. Let’s suppose the gospels have contradictions Would Jesus have still risen from the dead? Yes.

In essence then, Mike is writing an academic work to people in Academia and he’s playing by the rules of the game and saying “Okay. Let’s approach the text your way. We’ll approach the text and we’ll be open to legends. We’ll be open to the possibility that we could be reading poetic language. We’ll be open to the possibility of embellishment. Now let’s see what you have.”

This is exactly what I have done when some people have spoken to me. “Well what if macroevolution is true? What then?” Exactly. What then?

Let’s suppose macroevolution is true. Does that mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Not at all.

Well what if the universe is eternal?

Yes. What if? Does that mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?

What if there’s a multi-verse?

Does that mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead?

Unfortunately, people are just looking at the statements and thinking Mike is making a categorical statement that X is an embellishment and that the Bible contains legends. There’s also an idea that an event described must be historical or it is a legend or a myth. That does not follow either.

And the sad reality is in doing what they’re doing, they’re not availing themselves of a great work defending the resurrection. In fact, it seems that once one of these sound bites is quoted then it’s picked up on every other blog that’s of the same mindset.

Sound bites can be very dangerous. Authors can have their views completely misrepresented by just looking at one quote and disregarding everything else. This is especially true if there is no surrounding context to the quotation. Of course, we do have to quote at times, but on many of these matters, it is highly recommended that someone check the original context.

Are we against being open to legend and embellishment? I hope not. After all, how can we tell the atheist he needs to be open to being wrong if we’re not willing to do the same? Let the case be brought forward and follow the evidence where it leads.

We shall continue next time.

The link to Chris Date’s podcast can be found here.

  • John
  • Would you mind telling me what you think Howe says that shows where Mike does believe in embellishments or shows that something I’ve said here is false?

  • John

    It doesn’t get anymore clear than his own words, which I’m sure you’ve read–

    Is legend and embellishment and changing the facts compatible with ICBI’s definition of inerrancy? Frankly it is breathtaking to me that some would argue that it is. As for embellishment, all I can say is that if you can’t see that embellishment is mutually exclusive with an inerrant text, then either I am missing something with the term (e.g., it is being used in an eccentric way) or you are. I take it (again, considering the context within which Mike says what he does in his book) that an embellishment of a story means that the teller of the story has taken liberties with the story itself and has added things that are not historically factual. Indeed, this is exactly what Mike says characterizes the type of literary genre of which he says the Gospels are a sub-set. He says” “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography … [which] offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches … and they often included legend. Because [it] was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.” (p. 34)

  • @John. Amazing. I write a piece on people using sound bites, and what do I get? Someone coming here using sound bites. Let’s look at what you’ve said.

    John: It doesn’t get anymore clear than his own words, which I’m sure you’ve read–

    Reply: Yes. I have read his words. I’ve also listened to his words where he says he does not believe the text contains embellishments. Did you hear those, or do you just choose to believe only the words you want to believe?

    John: Is legend and embellishment and changing the facts compatible with ICBI’s definition of inerrancy?

    Reply: Question Which statement has Mike said is definitely an embellishment or legend.

    Second question, in what order did the temptations of Christ occur?

    John: Frankly it is breathtaking to me that some would argue that it is. As for embellishment, all I can say is that if you can’t see that embellishment is mutually exclusive with an inerrant text, then either I am missing something with the term (e.g., it is being used in an eccentric way) or you are.

    Reply: What part in the podcast of Mike saying he doesn’t believe there are embellishments in the NT text do you not understand?

    John: I take it (again, considering the context within which Mike says what he does in his book) that an embellishment of a story means that the teller of the story has taken liberties with the story itself and has added things that are not historically factual. Indeed, this is exactly what Mike says characterizes the type of literary genre of which he says the Gospels are a sub-set.

    Reply: And again, Mike says that he does not believe the NT text contains embellishments. Did you listen to that?

    John: He says” “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography … [which] offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches … and they often included legend. Because [it] was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.” (p. 34)

    Reply: Correct, but it does not follow that because the gospels are of the same genre that they automatically contain legends. The gospels were much closer to the time of the people being written about. Again, this is the way Mike’s book is written. Amazing that I write a post and you come here to give a fine example of the mindset being argued against.

  • btw, did you also alert Richard Howe that you copied and pasted that entirely from his blog?

    I find it very shameful that you would take another man’s own words and research and use them as if they were your own.

  • John

    i did not claim to borrow mike’s word but took the first half of your “either or statement.” I showed you how Howe thought Mike’s view went too far by quoting Howe! Why don’t you get off of your defensive high-horse and actually read what people are saying!

    So, you need to be shameful of your own statements!

  • John

    If you actually read, the “his” of the statement below was Howe’s.

    —It doesn’t get anymore clear than his own words, which I’m sure you’ve read–

    You truly are a reactionary disgrace to apologetics and I see why numerous people on blogs desire to have nothing to do with either you or your ministry associate JP Holding.

  • John

    And here is your either or statement:

    Would you mind telling me what you think Howe says that shows where Mike does believe in embellishments OR shows that something I’ve said here is false?

    Either show me where you think Howe says that shows where Mike does not believe in embellishments or shows that something I’ve said here is false.

    I simple sought to show you the first. And don’t say I needed to deny a side of the disjunctive either. You weren’t making a true either-or. Like either we believe in gravity or we do not. Instead, you were wanting me to show the first or second part. I did that and you came out in true colors again by over-reactiving!

  • J. P. Holding

    Actually, Johnny, you’re a consummate disgrace in the main because you keep you head tucked so injudiciously in such a dark place, and because rather than read what people say carefully, you use swear words like “legend” and “embellishment” to describe an entirely different concept beyond your limited understanding.

    There’s a sale on big boy pants at Sears — get some.

  • Fair enough. I can acknowledge a misread. However John, you still have not addressed the problem. Mike Licona said in the podcast that he does not believe the NT contains embellishments. Had you read what I wrote, you would have known I had stated that Mike was writing for his audience a hypothetical. He is saying “For the sake of argument, we’ll freely admit that the NT could contain legend and embellishments.” He’s not writing this for a Christian audience. He’s writing it for a secular audience.

    Now I also asked you a question. In what order do you believe the temptations of Jesus took place? If you have a clear order, then please present your evidence for it. Rest assured, I have several more questions like this.

    I don’t need Howe’s words at this point. I have Mike’s own words that he does not believe in embellishments and the quotations cited do not say “X IS an embellishment” nor do they definitively say the NT contains legends.

    Furthermore, with what you say about my ministry partner, are you talking about the same one who Richard Howe wrote a foreword for in his book on trusting the NT and who Howe links to from his web page? Are you talking about that same one?

    So are you ready to answer the question? In what order did the temptations of Jesus take place?

  • Mike Licona is doing valuable work in amassing and organizing evidence for the resurrection of Christ. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more important area of truth for an academic to labor, for without the resurrection what do we have? It’s no wonder therefore that Mike would be the focus of spiritual attack (though, obviously, none of the attackers thinks they are the agents of spiritual forces – they just think they’re being zealous for the Lord). The only people who are taking issue with Mike are those who are myopically focused on, well, a sound bite. Anyone who steps back and looks at Mike’s ministry and message in totality appreciates the good he is doing.

    I hope Mike will keep this in mind and never become discouraged in his work for the Lord. If Mike will keep defending the Lord, the Lord will keep defending him.

  • John

    Holding and Peter’s are a disgrace to the field of apologetics. This recent video by them reveals they don’t understand inerrancy, nor Geisler’s critiques. Licona, Holding, and Peters (and their friends and families) should be ashamed of this ungodly and disrespectful video.

    MIKE LICONA– BY ALLOWING YOUR SON-IN-LAW TO POST THIS AND YOUR WIFE TO POST IT ALL OVER THE INTERNET IS UNGODLY BEHAVIOR. BE A MAN AND CONTROL YOUR FAMILY!

  • @John. Really? What isn’t understood. Feel free to clue us in. Apparently, here are some things you don’t have a problem with interestingly enough.

    You don’t have a problem with someone going after someone’s job because of this disagreement.

    You don’t mind that their reputation is being called into question because of this. (Did Geisler have anything to say when the reader of the Vital Signs blog made a post after reading what Geisler wrote on his Facebook? What did the blogger say? That according to Mike Licona, sometimes you can’t trust the Bible. When has Mike said that? Never)

    Do you have a problem when Tim Rogers who Geisler eventually met also posted against Mike even though Rogers had not yet even read the book?

    Do you have a problem with getting Mike disinvited to speak at conferences on defending the faith even though Mike has written the best book on defending the resurrection to date?

    Do you have a problem with cutting off someone’s livelihood thus making it harder for them to even support themselves?

    Do you have a problem with having a petition circulating behind the scenes about someone and not being upfront about it?

    Do you have a problem with this being made a public issue instead of being handled in the scholarly venues like it should have to begin with?

    Do you have a problem that Mike could not focus on preparing for debates where he would be defending the gospel in South Africa because Geisler did not want to wait?

    Do you have a problem with going after anyone supports Mike and having them be disinvited from conferences?

    Do you have a problem that there are other professors who are not wanting to speak out in this issue for fear of losing their own jobs?

    Do you have a problem that Geisler goes after Mike for this, but he does not seem to go after William Lane Craig even though Craig has the exact same belief? When is Geisler going to go after Reasonable Faith for denying Inerrancy?

    Do you have a problem that Geisler entirely disregarded that leading NT scholars on the issue agreed that Mike is not violating Inerrancy?

    All of this is apparently well and good.

    But when a cartoon is made, that’s a problem! I suggest you do some homework and find out who Thomas Nast was and what he did that made such a difference. I also recommend that you never ever laugh at any political cartoon ever again. If you’re a conservative, never laugh at a cartoon against Obama. Instead, be calling the newspaper telling them what wicked behavior they’re doing. If you’re a liberal, never laugh at one about Bush again.

    Satire has always been a part of argumentation and the benefit of the cartoon is that it also makes those points visually. Interestingly however, instead of arguing against the points, like you should be doing, you’re instead complaining that the argument is even out there.

    Which makes it amusing when you tell Mike to “control” his family. Would you mind telling me what exactly you mean by control?

    Furthermore, I believe I asked you a question. In what order did the temptations of Jesus take place? You have not answered, but yet, you seem to respect everyone else to pay attention to what you say.

    I find that very revealing.

    • Nick,

      I in no way agree with John’s attack on Mike Licona. I fully support Mike, as I wrote above, and I do not feel good about anyone who is standing against him in this controversy.

      However, I must say that I don’t think the cartoon reflects favorably on Mike. It comes across as a counterattack on Geisler and, as we know, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek – not slap back.

      It is true that Thomas Nast founded a legitimate form of expression. However, I don’t think it is serving Mike well in this situation, primarily because it labels Geisler as “Scrooge” and that comes across as petty and ad hominem. I am only saying this because I want Mike to prevail. He deserves to prevail because he is on the side of the truth.

      It is hard to be Mike Licona right now. And it must be hard to be someone who knows and loves him personally because the harm being inflicted on him is significant and varied and ongoing. But Christ will be His stay…if only we’ll work through it in His way.

  • J. P. Holding

    @John First of all, you don’t get yourself a lot of credibility when you fail basic grammar. There is no possessive in “Peters” requiring an apostrophe.

    Second, when you grow up past vague authoritarianism and can produce a substantive anaylsis that actually hits the spot, drop us a line.

  • J. P. Holding

    @Mike Turn the other cheek was a directive for responding to personal insults — not addressing matters of public exchange. And I might further add that since Geisler has never addressed me in any way — in fact continues to ignore me — I am a third party whose cheek hasn’t been slapped and am perfectly free to issue such comments on the matter as I am able. Further, a slap on the cheek was an insult intended to shame someone — it is Geisler’s own behavior, illustrated by the video, that has shamed him.

    I fail to see how an artistic representation of Geisler as Scrooge is “petty” or “ad hominem” since Geisler has acted very much the part in his crusade to have Mike disbarred from the apologetics profession.

    • J.P.,

      I applaud your desire to defend Mike. Given your commitment to pursuing this path of satirical cartoon, maybe you could help Mike further by making sure everyone understands that it is your work and not his. That is, make it clear that you are “a third party whose cheek hasn’t been slapped and [therefore] perfectly free to issue such comments on the matter as [you] are able.” The way John was writing about it made it sound like it was a work which Mike sponsored or approved.

  • J. P. Holding

    @Mike: Well, I’m not sure how much more clear I can make it…it’s on my YT channel, which is labeled TektonTV, and my name is all over that; and at the end, it says it is a production of Tekton Ministries, using my logo and my “little prof” character, which is pretty much the standard way to indicate who is responsible for a film: Give the name of the org, use your logo.

    Those who watch it via embedded link on some other site (as here) may not see it is on TektonTV, but the end credit will show here; so unless people want to just assume who made it and turn it off before the credits, they’ll know who made it.

    It’s also clearly in my distinctive style of art, though if Richard Carrier wasn’t aware I drew cartoons after all these years, maybe others aren’t either. Far as I know, though, Mike isn’t a cartoonist. 😀

    So the info is there…I suspect John is the sort who wouldn’t pay attention to that sort of thing anyway, though. 😛

  • John

    Everyone knows Allie is his daughter and Nick is his son-in-law. Regardless if he made it or not, he could pull it from those family connections…

  • John

    @ Nick: Do I have a problem with…… No

    • RTT

      So you think it is ok to MISREPRESENT what someone has said or written and bully them because of a disagreement on non essentials

      You think it is ok that someone uses bulling tactics to shut up someone who doesn’t quite believe the way they do on non essentials

      You think it is right to use the aforementioned bullying tactics so you don’t’ have to have a true debate to make sure what you believe is the truth about a Non Essential?

      You believe it is ok to falsely accuse someone of going against an essential truth when they are not so that you don’t have to have the aforementioned debate on whether what you think literal is or not?

      all to the point of trying to make them lose their job and livelihood?

      By saying it is ok to do the above you have put yourself squarely in the camp of those who are giving ammunition to those who oppose Christ and Christianity. and I hope you do an about change on going with the same UNLOVING ego driven attitude shown by those who would divide on a non essential. while trying to MISREPRESENT the other side as going against a TRUE essential when THEY ARE NOT.

      Has Mike Licona questioned or denied that Jesus lived, has he denied the death and resurrection of Jesus? That Jesus is the only way to a right relationship with God? has he denied that Jesus is the 2nd part of the trinity? Has he denied the inerrancy of the scriptures and that they are God breathed? NO. all he has said is that based on what he knows now that parts of the crucifixion and resurrection accounts that are, not essential to our salvation, in Matthew may have not have been written as history.

      If Dr. Giesler thinks Mike Licona is wrong, the proper and loving thing a fellow christian should do is to discuss the matter as scholars and with other scholars not publicly call into question the faith and character of the person you disagree with. I wish Dr. Giesler and you that follow him would take Christ’s pray in the Gospel of John to heart and remember how we will be known as Christians.

      RTT
      one who is saddened by the unloving unchristian way this controversy has been handled by someone I have admired a lot.

  • J. P. Holding

    @John: I take it you still live at home with your mommy? Nick and Allie are grown adults with their own household. This is not a patriocracy. Get with the program.

    If you have no problem with any of those things — congrats. You win the Moral Compass All Points South Award.

  • John

    Yep Holding you’re right. Thank you for pointing that out to me and the rest of the world. Until we all realize this I’m guess we’re all going to be just foolish idiots for the rest of our lives.

    • @John: You have said so. Well, at least you’ll probably be that way. There’s still hope for those who haven’t drunk the Geisler Kool-Aid, though.

  • John

    Holding you speak about theolgoical credentials a lot. May I ask, what creditals do you have? Also, Nick, what credentials do you have?

    • J. P. Holding

      http://www.tektonics.org/gk/jpholding.html

      Not that it matters, John. I use sources with credentials too; I don’t just speak of my own, but speak of them in those that lack them (Mohler, etc) in terms of who they confront.

      Try not to relieve yourself of an intellectual burden by turning it into a simple dichotomy of me vs them.

  • I haven’t seen this in awhile, but I would like to see John post his credentials since he’s also posting his arguments.

    Furthermore, I do wonder about someone who’s moral compass points as far south as his does with him not having a problem with any of Geisler’s actions.