The Geisler/Licona Debate

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’d like to take a look at a reason for writing on inerrancy, and that is the Geisler/Licona exchange going on right now. Let me state a reason at the start people might think I have a possible bias. I do happen to be Licona’s son-in-law as I am blessed to have his daughter as my wife. However, I do try to be objective in all that I do, even in this case. Licona does know the areas of interpretation where I do disagree with him on. (Keep that in mind fellow apologists. You are allowed to disagree with those you do not doubt know far more than you in the field. No one is infallible in their interpretations) I ask people to look at the reasons for my belief rather than a possible motive.

To begin with, the charge is that Licona is denying the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27. What are we to make of this?

To begin with, before we ask if it is denying inerrancy, we must ask a question. Did Matthew intend for the writing to be taken as historical? Did he intend for us to think that a mass resurrection had literally taken place or did he intend for us to see this as an apocalyptic image of what the effects of Jesus dying on the cross were?

In fact, that seems to be the question that no one is really asking. Now someone might say that we can never get to authorial intent. Perhaps we cannot do so perfectly, but at the same time, we know it influences a message. I can say something sarcastic to a friend and rather than their being insulted, they will smile and laugh often because they know that that is my personality type and I do not really mean to say something negative about them to tear them down.

With my own wife, I can say an area to her that I think she lacks in. Knowing me, she realizes that what I say I say out of love. I do not mean to imply that because she needs to improve in this area, she is a failure or less of a person, although someone else saying the exact same thing could be meaning just that. Intent certainly does matter.

Now let’s consider what is going on in this debate and how Licona is interpreting the text. Let’s put the view up this way.

Matthew intended the event in Matthew 27 to be seen as apocalyptic and not a historical description.
Licona sees the event as apocalyptic and not a historical description.
Licona takes the text as the author intended.

Question. Can you take the text as the author intended really and be denying inerrancy? It would seem odd to say that a text is not meant to be taken as historical but the only way to affirm inerrancy is to take it as historical.

But let us change the message above.

Matthew intended the event in Matthew 27 to be seen as historical and not an apocalyptic description.
Licona sees the event as apocalyptic and not a historical description.
Licona does not take the text as the author intended.

Is Licona denying inerrancy on this one? Not necessarily. Let’s consider a text like Matthew 24.

Let’s suppose Preterists are right and Jesus intended the events he spoke about to be seen as apocalyptic descriptions and not literal descriptions. Does that mean that if someone is a Dispensationalist, then they are denying Inerrancy? No. It means that they are misinterpreting the text.

Let’s suppose Dispensationalists are right and Jesus intended the events he spoke about to be seen as literal descriptions and not apocalyptic ones. Does that mean that Preterists are denying Inerrancy? Again, no. It just means that the text is being misinterpreted. If simply not taking the text as the author intended meant denying Inerrancy, all of us would be denying Inerrancy since none of us have perfect interpretations. Inerrancy refers to the context of the text and not our interpretations.

Now let’s change the scenario of Licona above to see how it could deny inerrancy.

Matthew intended for the event in Matthew 27 to be seen as historical.
Licona realizes this, but believes that it is not historical.
Licona is knowingly denying the intent of the author.

In that case, then Licona would certainly be going against Inerrancy and I would be siding with Geisler on this case. However, Licona has examined the evidence and honestly believes what he believes right now.

But we cannot know the intent of the author!

Okay. Suppose we can’t. What’s the best method to do? Be as charitable as we can. To charge someone with believing something unorthodox is quite a serious charge. Before we do such, let’s make sure we have examined every possible option exhaustively. If we cannot know for sure, then let us say “Well that might be his intent and if that was his intent, then we will accept it until further data shows otherwise.”

Meanwhile, consider what an avenue we have open for NT research. We could study this kind of writing and see if it shows up elsewhere in the gospels and if that could illuminate our understanding of the text. In no way does this mean we deny the actual death, burial, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus. As an evangelical, I think we should study the text and try to see where our modern views could be going against the way people in the past wrote.

If we are people of truth, then we should be seeking it. This means examining all options. It also means we can look at scholarship without fear. If we believe in the Bible, we can say to its critics “Bring your charges and accusations. We will face them all!” If we believe Jesus rose from the dead, we believe that will hold out in the face of the strongest opposition.

Let’s remember that is what we agree on. Jesus did rise. That is the message that needs to be given to the world. Let us unite together rather than tearing one another apart. I have no doubt that despite what one might think about how Licona has handled this text, he has done a valuable work for the church by publishing his book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” If you think he’s absolutely right, or even if you think he’s unorthodox, you owe it to yourself if you’re interested in resurrection studies to interact with what he says still and that should not be overlooked.

If someone can show that Licona is denying Inerrancy, then we will have a problem, but thus far, I have not seen it shown.

Inerrancy: Pesher

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve been looking lately at the doctrine of Inerrancy. I’ve been looking at the way that the Jews would have interpreted Scripture in the time of Christ to help with our understanding. Tonight, I’m going to look at Pesher.

Pesher essentially means “This for that.” Consider how last time I wrote, I wrote about how Matthew used Hosea’s prophecy of “Out of Egypt, I called my Son.” Immediately, the atheist objector stands up and shouts “Foul! Hosea was talking about Israel! He wasn’t talking about Jesus! Matthew is misusing Scripture!”

Of course, we know the atheist wants to make sure Scripture is being used properly…

But in any event, we still have to answer the objection as the NT use of the OT is quite puzzling to many Christians. Did Jesus really not fulfill the prophecies of Messiah if the testament to them is so flimsy?

Matthew did Pesher. It was a common practice for his time. In the Qumran community, they often used this to speak of themselves or of their Teacher of Righteousness. The community saw a parallel between what was going on in the life of the writer of the OT and what was going on in their own times. Usually, this would be connected with an eschatological fulfillment, as it was in Christ’s time.

Jesus used this when he spoke of the Pharisees and how Isaiah was right when he prophesied about them saying that they honored God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. Jesus was not saying that Isaiah was directly speaking of the Pharisees, but he had in mind people like the Pharisees. The Pharisees would have seen this as a serious charge as they were being compared to apostate Israel, the very Israel that was judged by YHWH Himself.

Events in the life of Israel were often seen in a similar sort of way. In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about passing through the waters and compares it to Israel going through the Red Sea and how that was a sort of baptism. Considering the constant contrast between the church and Israel in the Bible, we should be looking at such events. Can we learn anything about how we are to behave? Remember, Paul told us that the events were written not just for the benefit of Israel, but also for our benefit.

I personally find pesher to be a very enjoyable style to look for and it’s one we should keep in mind. Let us not be hesitant to check the OT texts and see if there are parallels that are being missed. If pesher is being used, then why is it being used? How is the situation in the lifetime of Christ or in the case of the Qumran community, their own life, an example of what was going on back then? What is the connection with the past? Remember for the Jews, YHWH was Lord over all of history and it was tied together. The pronouncements of God were still very much active and in a time of great eschatological fulfillment, as was the time of Christ, much of pesher would have been going on.

It will be awhile before next time. I will be out of town for a few days. I hope what has been written is sufficient to keep you reading until then.

Inerrancy: Midrash

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Lately, Inerrancy has been our topic of study. In looking at that, I have chosen to look at some of the ways the text of Scripture has been interpreted and today, we are going to take a look at midrash.

Midrash is a very difficult term to define. It is a kind of commentary on a text where it seeks to look beyond just the face value of a text and tries to find a deeper meaning that is in the text. Does this take place in the New Testament? Without a doubt, it most certainly does.

If there was one place in the New Testament where this takes place, it would be in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews has the author regularly pulling out an old testament reference and then expounding on it far more than it is likely that the original writer thought could.

Hence, there is much repetition in the book. The writer wants to drive the point home about what he is getting at by taking a text that his readers would know about, particularly readers who were quite familiar with the beliefs and practices of Judaism, and showing how these texts actually pointed to something beyond just themselves.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. This refrain repeats throughout the early part of the book and the writer asks us what does it mean to harden our hearts? What does it mean to hear his voice? What does it mean when the time is referred to as today? Was God saying something for just the people back then, or saying something for us today?

There are other such references in Hebrews. We are told of the story of Melchizedek and how Melchizedek points to someone beyond himself. We are also told about how “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand.” (Which is the most quoted OT verse in the NT so it could possibly be one we should take seriously.)

Some whole writings could have midrashic underpinnings. For instance, I take the first five chapters of Matthew to be recording historical events, but I also think that Matthew is using a midrashic telling of the stories to show that Jesus is the new Israel.

Matthew has early on the miraculous birth followed by the escape from death into Egypt, just as Israel escaped death. (And Israel was of miraculous descent through Isaac) Next, Israel was called out of Egypt just as Jesus was. (Matthew’s quoting of Hosea 11:1 helps show that) Then, Jesus passes through the waters of baptism (The waters of the Red Sea for Israel. Paul calls this a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10.) Then, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, just as Israel was. Finally, Jesus goes on top of the mountain and gives the new law, just as Moses went up to get the law. We have the text saying that Jesus opened his mouth at the top of the mountain. The idea is that if Jesus is the one giving the law, well let’s go back to the OT and think “Who was it who gave the law from the mountain?” Well it was God. Do we see Matthew having a high view of Jesus?

None of that denies historicity. In fact, it can take historicity and give us a deeper view of the life of Christ.

Question: If it was found out somehow that the event was not historical and Matthew was writing midrash, would that damage inerrancy?

Answer: No.

If Matthew is writing this as an account to not be taken literally but to picture Jesus as the new Israel, then there is no error for it assumes that if Matthew wrote X, Matthew meant it to be literal. However, if Matthew wrote midrash, it does not follow necessarily that it’s to be taken literally and thus, there is no error. Now for the record, I don’t think Matthew was writing that. I think he was writing history. I think there are good arguments for that. However, this isn’t an all-or-nothing game. It isn’t “The whole thing is literal or none of it is,” or “The whole thing is midrash or none of it is.” It can be both-and.

What the case is will be left for the ones who are more biblical historians and scholars, but what we have is a style of interpretation the Jews used. Let us not dispense of it entirely.

We shall continue next time.

Inerrancy: Literal

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve lately started a series on inerrancy. In going with this look, I would like to suggest some ways in which we can interpret a text. To begin with, I am going to start with the most obvious one for most of us, and the one we probably use the most, the literal approach.

Have you ever wondered what it would mean if we took the Bible literally as much as possible? Many of us say we would. Well there was someone named Finis Jennings Dake who did just that. In fact, if you get his Study Bible, you will find that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each have a body, a soul, and a spirit. (Ever wonder where Hinn got it from?)

Something’s wrong there.

Often times, we will see a poll being said about how many Americans believe the Bible should be interpreted literally. If I got that question asked to me by a pollster, I would have to say “Depends.” Why? There are definitely times where you should take it literally, and there are definitely times you should not. For example, on the latter, if we all took Jesus’s commands about lust literally, we would all be blind right now.

Literal readings can work well with events like narratives, but even narratives themselves can be filled with other parts that should not be taken literally, such as hyperbole happening or the writer using metaphors to describe something or even possibly apocalyptic language. How do you know which is which? Well there is no ardent rule that we have set down that can determine the truth each and every time, so the best method overall is to try to study the culture and language.

If that is not the easiest route, it is good to also consult with those who do, though keep in mind with all authorities you contact, even myself, that we are not the Holy Spirit and we are all fallible people who can error in our interpretations of the text. As one who believes in inerrancy, I do believe the Scripture cannot error, but our interpretations of Scripture certainly can.

When reading the text literally, do always be on the look out for figures of speech and events of that sort. I believe the events of Joshua and Judges for instance, particularly since I just finished Joshua and I’m going through Judges now in my own reading, are by and large literal truth, but I do believe that there is rich symbolism in some parts. I would say the majority however is literal.

Also, because an event is literal, that does not mean it does not have a deeper meaning. Consider in the gospels when Jesus curses the fig tree. I believe that that literally happened. I believe that that is also an apocalyptic warning where Jesus is comparing the fig tree to Israel and how Israel had all the appearance of having fruit, but had no fruit, and judgment was to come. Remember, it is not always an either/or game.

The bottom line again at this point is to study and study more. Always be learning and always be open to the fact that you could be wrong. That rule goes for myself also.

We shall continue next time.

How Do We Interpret?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. It seems there’s a lot of interest in inerrancy and thus, I invite readers to also go to our Facebook page where you can follow along and see what happens on the blog as it happens. I would hope that it also becomes a good place for discussion and debate.

Regularly, from the non-Christian community, we can be asked how it is we are to interpret texts. It seems like the Bible is all literal or all figurative. This certainly isn’t the case. My reply to such a question is the same each time. “How are we to interpret Plato? Aristotle? Chaucer? Shakespeare?” Think of any great writer. How do we interpret them?

Well you have to do the study. If a term seems hard to understand, you look it up or you consider if the culture has changed and you need to study the culture. Yet somehow, so many people think the Bible is exempt from this. It seems we often have a view of the Bible that somehow, no study is required to understand it.

This is not a good view to have. The Bible is divine in origin, but it is also through human hands. I am told that Mark does not have good Greek, but Luke certainly does. All the writers wrote on their own level. We know some texts are Pauline because of the style with which he wrote.

In the Old Testament, I am also told that Isaiah has simply elegant Hebrew. I am sure there are writers whose Hebrew was hardly stellar. However, each were inspired by God to write, although I do not believe each was dictated what they were to write.

While some may prefer to take the literal right off the bat every time, this is not necessarily the right way. Can we compare with other ancient writings and see how they were written? Why should we expect that Moses wrote in a style amenable to 21st century man? Moses would have written in a way understandable by his contemporaries.

Believe it or not, the Bible was not written just for our day, age, and place. One wonders what it could mean if people alive 500 years from now could wonder why God didn’t speak directly the way that they speak. We could say that that’s ridiculous, but modern man, especially in America at least, seems to do that.

So unfortunately for most of us who want the answers handed to us and wonder why God didn’t just spell everything out, we have to study the text. Not just the text, but we also have to study the culture and the time that the text was written in. If we do not learn the languages, we need to rely on those who do, although hopefully, more of us will learn the languages. We must remember that God is looking for disciples and not just converts.

And maybe once we do that, so many “contradictions” in the text will just disappear.

A starter on Inerrancy

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’m going to start a new look at the doctrine of inerrancy. To begin with, I will state that I do hold to the doctrine of inerrancy. There are some ways I believe inerrancy is not understood however.

In our modern western culture, it’s easy to think that the Bible was written for people in our place and time. We have found a way to center the world around us. We seek to do that which will promote us and further our good. There is hardly any interest in doing something for the sake of another.

It is odd that we take this approach with the Bible that we do not with Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Augustine, Aquinas, Shakespeare, or many other works. One can read the works of Flannery O’Connor and think she was racist when really, she was just writing using the terminology of her time. We often accuse atheists of chronological snobbery with their assumption that modern times are automatically the best times and our moral beliefs are the standard, when we are often guilty of literary snobbery, thinking that our style of studying literature should be the way all literature was written.

Much of our writing today is not as colorful as it could be, and I do not mean profanity by that. It is slow prose with no vivid imagery to it. This is because we are not familiar with other works of literature in part and because we live in an image-saturated culture where we tend to pre-think in images due to TV and other related media.

Thus, we live in a world where metaphors and such are highly absent. The only way we often understand things is in a straight-forward manner. The beauty of such great language is lost. Does this affect the way that we read our Bibles? The sad reality is that it does.

When I affirm inerrancy then, I am at the start affirming that the Bible does not contain errors and contradictions. However, there is no doubt that our interpretations of Scripture can involve errors and contradictions. We must always be open to the possibility that our interpretations can be wrong.

A problem with not realizing metaphor can be taking a text such as Numbers 23:19.

God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?

But what about Exodus 32:14?

Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

So at this point the atheist jumps up and down with glee realizing that a contradiction has occurred.

Or has it?

Could it be that one of these is a metaphor and one is not?

Now if we take both without considering the idea of metaphor, I think we would have a contradiction, but the Bible is a much richer text than that full of several literary techniques and flourishes. It is not a simple piece of literature despite what some may think and to study it, we need to be cognizant of the time and culture it was written in instead of assuming that people were just like us.

Why do I think Exodus 32 is the metaphor? The reason is that Numbers 23 is making a direct statement about the nature of God. He is saying “This is the way God is.” We see however in narrative often that there are literary devices used, such as God saying He will extend His arm or God walking through the Garden of Eden.

Not only that, I have several philosophical problems with God changing His mind. Am I to believe that God is ignorant? Is He no longer the God of all-truth? Yes. I know several open theists could complain at this one and if they want to, I’m more than happy to engage them on those issues. It will not be enough to say to me “Greek philosophy!” I need to be shown why my thinking and the thinking of the church throughout history has been wrong.

If it’s a metaphor, does that mean there is no truth to it? Not at all. The point of the narrative is in this case to show that Moses was being a mediator for Israel as Christ would be in the future. Our prayers don’t change God. God knows what we are to pray, although I would say He would not do what we would do had our prayers not been known. God knows in advance what we will pray and has in advance acted accordingly. Yes. I suspect there are many headaches coming about right now.

The literal truth then is that a mediator before God does hold back His wrath so that those of us on the other side of the mediator may be saved. Did God literally change His mind? No. Did God hold back his wrath after hearing from Moses? Yes. (All the while knowing Moses would do that however)

The same is true of passages that say God covers us with His wings or in talking about the might of God’s arm or the smoke coming from His nostrils. These are literary devices that contain great truth. What we need is a richer appreciation of literature and a deeper look at the text.

We shall continue next time.

Interpretation of Scripture

I plan to write on Memorial Day tomorrow, so tonight, I’m going to do a side-topic based on a comment left by someone who read an old blog of mine. It is going to be on the way of handling Scripture and this has been on my mind a lot after being in discussions with friends on Genesis 1-3.

I’m going to state clearly that I affirm inerrancy. I don’t believe the Bible contradicts itself. However, I do believe some interpretations are wrong. I had also listened to a program on the John Ankerberg show debating the age of the Earth and I had liked how Walter Kaiser said the Bible tells us. It says “In the beginning God.” When asked how old the Earth is, he said we go to the book of nature then and find out.

I liked that, and I realize I have many friends who are YEC. If you can read Genesis that way and interpret it that way and interpret nature accordingly, go for it. Right now, I also agree with the poster that the Bible is not meant to be ┬áscientific textbook. I believe it’s true in all propositions it supports, but I don’t think it’s to be read as a modern 21st century American would.

As I thought about this, I considered that one of the great problems we have is that we forget the Bible is a piece of literature. My roommate is a good reminder of this. He studied English in college and he knows how writers write. I know when he reads literature, he sees some things that I don’t because of his training with that. He talks about the style. I’m more interested in the content. I don’t wish to imply he has no interest in content. He does. He just sees some things that I don’t.

When we read the first three chapters of Genesis, I think we’re forgetting that the Israelites probably weren’t wondering how long it took God. They were more interested in that God did it and Moses expresed that the way he did for a reason. Now it could be he meant the days to be 24 hours. I don’t think so, but it could be. It could be he meant the days to be long periods of time. It could be that it’s meant to be chronological, but it could be that it’s written more in the style of the framework hypothesis where poetry is going on.

I’m open to many views. My stance is that I believe based on the testimony of Christ that the text is reliable and true and I should seek the best way to interpret it. Am I reading it with a mindset that is scientific or with one that is more like the Israelite would? Truth be told, I have a hard time appreciating literature. When I read something, it is difficult to focus on what I am reading and really pay attention as my mind is bouncing in a thousand different places.

Now some might think I’m talking about allegorizing everything. No. I’m talking about reading the text in accordance with its genre. I tend to be very conservative in how I interpret the text. I wish to do it as much justice as possible and my concern with the first few chapters is we spend so much time debating how long it took when I really don’t think that was God’s intention in giving us the text. Make sure this is the first thing you get out of creation. “GOD DID IT!”

Maybe to end much of the conflict, what we need to do is return to an appreciation of literature. It’ll be difficult, and I need to also, but I think it’ll help us greatly.