A Response to AOMin.org

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’m going to respond to what was recently stated at AOMin.org on the question of Licona’s inerrancy. As I’ve stated, I am the son-in-law of Licona, but I try to be as objective as I can. The fact that at this point I cannot say with certainty that I agree with Licona’s position should show that some. I do not however in anyway agree with the contention of Geisler and others that Licona is violating inerrancy.

To his credit, looking at the source that Jamin Hubner points to to indicate James White’s thought, White does not attribute the argument directly to Licona of “Well this is just in one gospel.” Indeed, if that was Licona’s only reason for thinking the text is not historical, we would be having some issues.

Also, the reason that Licona is taking the position he has is not because he doubts the power of God. This is especially evident in his debate with Stephen Patterson where he talks about how he had a friend who was miraculously healed and he definitely attributes that to God. (It’s a fascinating story to read or hear about. I highly recommend you do so.)

The sad reality is that most people will not read Licona’s book to know his arguments. Again, to his credit, White does not use these arguments directly on Licona, but Hubner seems to think that they apply. Now it could be that Licona is entirely wrong in his position, but it is certainly the case that Hubner is entirely wrong on why Licona takes the position that he takes.

Licona’s reasons for thinking this come from his reading of Greco-Roman biographies. Keep in mind that this is someone taking the time to read the biographies that are of the same genre as that of the gospels in an attempt to better understand the gospels. This is someone who really wants to know the writing of the time.

This is in no way a concession to liberalism. Were it so, Licona would be giving the arguments such as one gospel recording it or the problems of miracles. He is not. Instead, he is saying that he has read numerous such accounts in the deaths of great kings in the Greco-Roman world.

At that is a question for his accusers. Were you to read such an account, would you conclude that the historian was ignorant? This was not just in secular historians as well. Josephus records a number of strange signs and wonders. Does he intend all of them to be literal? Did all such Roman historians?

Well if the account is not historical, why state it?

You know, isn’t it about time someone asked that question?

From my understanding, what Licona is saying is that these events not only were written as apocalyptic descriptions of the death of a great king, but also to show in such imagery what the effects were of the death of Christ. The temple being torn would show that the barrier that allowed entrance into the Holy of Holies had been torn and now all could freely enter the presence of YHWH. The darkness and earthquake would both be seen as a symbol of judgment. What about the resurrection?

It’s noteworthy that the text says the people entered the city after Christ’s resurrection. The idea would be that since Christ was raised, saints would be raised as well.

There are some people who do see that but think that in addition to that, God could have really done a game of one-upmanship on the leaders in Jerusalem by making what was just imagery for the deaths of those great kings be an actual historical event in this case.

Now the question can be “You know, this is a fascinating idea! Is there any way we can determine if this is the case?”

Why yes there is.

It’s called research.

We don’t just dismiss the idea. We study it and see the writing techniques of the time and decide what the case is based on the evidence. We don’t decide what we are to believe based on force. When Licona is told to just get in line and believe what we believe, it is hardly a convincing argument. (If someone wanted to impugn him further, they could just say that if he changed his mind that he really didn’t do that. He was just doing that to maintain his reputation.)

I don’t know about you all, but I’m certainly interested in seeing this researched. Put the finest minds in evangelicalism out there we can find and study it. If they come back and say “Licona. We did the research. Here’s why it looks like your hypothesis while interesting is wrong” and they list the reasons and Licona accepts them, then fair enough. He will do so knowing it was researched.

The question is what would his critics say to such research? Would they just dismiss it or not?

Do we want to be committed to our ideal of what the text should say or what it is that the author intended to say?

I hope that in response to this White will himself engage with Licona’s arguments. I know White has a large following as well. While I have not been impressed in the past, perhaps I might be pleasantly surprised this time.

Inerrancy and the future

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’m going to continue our look at inerrancy based on something that someone just emailed me looking at the whole Licona/Geisler debate going on and wondering what this means for the future of apologetics.

Despite what some people think, I do have hope.

To begin with, I do believe the Bible is true and it will stand till the end. It has survived all the attacks of its critics and will continue to survive. In that regards, I think we should open up the Bible more to the critics. I think we should be gladly telling them to come and face the text and feel forward to bring their objections. Naturally, we will have to do our part in studying, but when we study, I do believe we will find answers to supposed contradictions.

What we need to avoid is what I see going on in the current climate with a pre-set idea of what areas are and aren’t acceptable to study. I fear that there are many avenues of study that could be missed out on because we are holding to a certain approach to the text that unfortunately we could be putting above the text itself.

The Bible was not written in our time, place, and age. It should be no surprise then that it is a difficult book to understand and when we say otherwise, we do great harm to ourselves and lower Scripture. How many an atheist has said that Jesus taught poor values since he said we are to hate our father and mother? Yet when you explain to them that in the culture of the time Jesus was using hyperbolic language and explaining that discipleship to him was so stringent that it meant that all other priorities, including those of family which were utmost, are to be put secondary, get the reply of “But I thought the Bible was supposed to be easy to understand.”

It has happened to me numerous times. A number of atheists think all they need to do is sit down, read the Bible, find something they don’t like, and well that settles it. There is no need to do further research. If the Bible says slavery, well it means what went on in the Civil War. If the Bible says bats are birds, well it means what we mean by modern taxonomical standards today.

Of course, keep in mind for many of these atheists, you must be read in science to speak on science. Of course, I am of the opinion that that is true. If you wish to argue on science, you should study science. Hence the reason I do not argue on science. I do not study it. I will gladly comment on the philosophy of science, but not science qua science.

As long as we keep up this kind of standard, we are giving atheists more fodder to use. Not only that, we are hurting our own people. Our people are getting the idea that they do not need to study the Bible except for just reading it privately. There is no need to read scholars on the topics. Such a Christian is just a sitting duck when the new atheists come along, who frankly do not have good arguments against the Bible.

Instead, we need to present the Bible as we are as Scripture of God, but much more. It is a rich and vast work of literature and to study this literature, we need to do far more study than we would to learn Shakespeare, Plato, Virgil, or any other work. The great treasure that is within will only come to the one who is willing to dig.

What this means is an openness to be willing to dig and accept that. We must be willing to accept avenues that might have seemed threatening. Of course, this does not mean a full denial of the faith. However, if someone presents a worthy objection, we must be prepared to look into it. Suppose someone comes up with a new persuasive argument that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Let us not run from it! Instead, let us say “Bring your idea and let us study it and we are sure the truth of the resurrection will win out!” If someone challenges the Trinity, we are to say, “Bring your challenge and let us study it!” We who hold to orthodoxy affirm these things and being sure of these things, we should be willing to look into challenges to them. We would want to know if we are wrong, although for those of us who have spent years studying, we are quite sure we are not.

That certainty is also just fine to have. The certainty we have is not based on blind hope. At least, it should not be. The certainty is based on the years of study we have done. When I read the Summa Theologica for instance, and I see the objections raised, I can picture Aquinas saying to his students “I want you to go out and study what we believe and see if you can come up with the toughest objections to it!” I can imagine the students gathering together testing each other to see if they could try to “Stump the master” and find out each time that their master knew the objections and was able to answer them.

It is because Aquinas had that certainty based on years of study that I believe he could have indeed made such a claim to his students and done so without fear and in fact done so knowing it would boost their confidence in the end. Why? Because if you see the toughest objections you can come up with to a view can be answered, it makes you far more prone to trust that view.

If someone presents a view that is wrong, that is only determined by research and study and not by a fiat decision. Someone might ask about Nicea. Nicea was also based on research and study and they did discuss the creed and find out how many were willing to agree to it beforehand. This was also on matters that if these truths were denied, then Christianity itself was denied. It was not on peripheral issues.

That also means we will really have to ask what battles are worth fighting over. I happen to have friends who take opposite sides on a number of secondary issues and I gladly fellowship with them. I do not hesitate to call them my brother or sister in Christ, even though I am sure they are wrong on those issues. On the other hand, I would be happy to be a friend with a Mormon or JW, but I would not think of them for a second as a brother or sister in Christ.

I think the future could be good for this. We do not need to deny inerrancy. We can easily affirm the truth of God and if we are sure the Bible is that truth (Or at least some that God has chosen to reveal. I believe all in Scripture is the truth but not all the truth is in Scripture) then let us say to its critics without “Bring your objections” and to doubters within “Let us allay your fears!”

That future depends on you and I however and on our educating the church more on these matters and not only have our members in the church simply filling pews but also engaging in the matters themselves and learning. They need to be confronted with hard issues regularly and introduced to what is going on in the world of academia. The church in America has more power to be a force for evangelicalism I believe than any other church and frankly, we are not. Is it not the fault of the material. It is not the fault of the message. It is the fault of the people and mostly, the fault of those of us who are leaders. Let us do better. We can be assured that the message will get out somehow without us. I don’t know about you, but while that is true, I want it to be that when I meet my God I can know I played a part in relaying his truth to the world. Don’t you?

Mike Licona Replies

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Recently, I’ve written my thoughts on the Licona/Geisler situation. Again, to state why some might want to dismiss this, I am Mike Licona’s son-in-law. Some have used that as an excuse to disregard what I say, which is a sad situation. Look at the arguments instead of possible reasons for arguments.

To begin with, an open letter has been issued to Norman Geisler:

An Open Response to Norman Geisler
Norman Geisler has taken issue with a portion of my recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, in which I proposed that the story of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 should probably be interpreted as apocalyptic imagery rather than literal history. In response, Dr. Geisler has offered strong criticisms in two Open Letters to me on the Internet. Until now I have been unable to comment because I have multiple writing deadlines, two September debates in South Africa for which to prepare, and, consequently, no time to be drawn into what would probably turn into an endless debate. I shared these first two reasons with Dr. Geisler in an email several weeks ago. Yet he insisted that I “give careful and immediate attention” to the matter. I simply could not do this and fulfill the pressing obligations of my ministry, which is my higher priority before the Lord.

Dr. Geisler questions whether I still hold to biblical inerrancy. I want to be clear that I continue to affirm this evangelical distinctive. My conclusion in reference to the raised saints in Matthew 27 was based upon my analysis of the genre of the text. This was not an attempt to wiggle out from under the burden of an inerrant text; it was an attempt to respect the text by seeking to learn what Matthew was trying to communicate. This is responsible hermeneutical practice. Any reasonable doctrine of biblical inerrancy must respect authorial intent rather than predetermine it.

When writing a sizable book, there will always be portions in which one could have articulated a matter more appropriately. And those portions, I suppose, will often be located outside the primary thesis of the book, such as the one on which Dr. Geisler has chosen to focus. When writing my book, I always regarded the entirety of Matthew 27 as historical narrative containing apocalyptic allusions. I selected the term “poetic” in order to allude to similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general and Virgil in particular. However, since Matthew is a Jew writing to Jews, “apocalyptic” may be the most appropriate technical term, while “special effects” communicates the gist on a popular level.

Further research over the last year in the Greco-Roman literature has led me to reexamine the position I took in my book. Although additional research certainly remains, at present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative of the raised saints in Matthew 27 as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol. It may also be a report of a real event described partially in apocalyptic terms. I will be pleased to revise the relevant section in a future edition of my book.

Michael R. Licona, Ph.D.
August 31, 2011

We the undersigned are aware of the above stated position by Dr. Michael Licona, including his present position pertaining to the report of the raised saints in Matthew 27: He proposes that the report may refer to a literal/historical event, a real event partially described in apocalyptic terms, or an apocalyptic symbol. Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary. We are encouraged to see the confluence of biblical scholars, historians, and philosophers in this question.

W. David Beck, Ph.D.
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
James Chancellor, Ph.D.
William Lane Craig, D.Theol., Ph.D.
Jeremy A. Evans, Ph.D.
Gary R. Habermas, Ph.D.
Craig S. Keener, Ph.D.
Douglas J. Moo, Ph.D.
J. P. Moreland, Ph.D.
Heath A. Thomas, Ph.D.
Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.
William Warren, Ph.D.
Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D.

Now my personal reply:

I have been quite disappointed throughout this whole ordeal. I am a firm believer in inerrancy. I and numerous other evangelicals read this book and did not bat an eye at that part. My thinking on it was that it was a neat suggestion and was worthy of further research, but I wasn’t ready to sign on the dotted line. Still I have kept it as a possible interpretation.

Unfortunately, all that changed when Geisler read the book, nearly a year after it had been published.

From that day on, we have been in a constant situation with how to deal with this. As said above, Licona did not respond immediately due to more pressing deadlines. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough.

It is now known that he no longer has his position at NAMB, but anyone who thinks that he was fired should avoid saying such. Licona left the company on good terms and with a severance package which does not happen when one is fired.

I never had seen any reason given also as to why Mike’s interpretation violated inerrancy. I saw reasons why some thought it was wrong, and that is entirely fine. Had Geisler simply written that, none of us would have had a problem. Instead it was charged that Licona was violating inerrancy.

But if Licona is taking the text the way he honestly believes based on research that the author intended it to be taken, how can that be a violation of inerrancy? He could be wrong on the intention of the author, but he cannot be wrong in thinking that that is what he believes at the time.

I have had discussions with friends that have been a source of concern to me. I do not mind disagreements with friends, but I do mind when it seems we are on opposing sides on an issue that some see as more important than it really is. I have seen a pastor who is no doubt to me an example of many who has not even read Licona’s book or seen his arguments AFAIK at the time of this writing (And I know he had not for he told me himself) but yet, because Geisler says that it’s unorthodox and violates inerrancy, well that settles it.

Even if I believed Geisler was entirely right in his charge, let us be aware that this is a dangerous position and one James wants us to be careful about as well as Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. We have at that point simply an argument from authority without knowing the reasons why and are letting someone else do our thinking for us. Geisler can be right or wrong about any issue and is not an infallible Pope. Do we really want to attack another Christian’s livelihood without first hearing what they have to say in their defense?

I have also seen that on Vital Signs that the blogger there had put up a post based on what Geisler said. The post asked if we can trust the Bible. The answer was that from an SBC professor, sometimes we cannot. Then it was stated that Licona is selecting what details of the text he denies in an arbitrary fashion.

Rather one agrees or disagrees with Licona, he is not taking his position arbitrarily but is really wrestling with the text trying to take it as Matthew wanted. It can be said that Licona is going against the “plain sense” but do we really want to always say that is the correct sense? From such a reading, would we be able to answer the skeptics who state that the Bible says bats are birds for instance? Does this mean that everyone who interprets Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation in a non-literal sense is denying inerrancy?

Once again, Geisler is being taken without reference to the other side, and people’s reputations are being called into question.

Licona wrote an excellent book on the resurrection of Jesus backed by Gary Habermas, who has for years been the authority on the resurrection, something I’m sure even Geisler would agree with. He does not see this as a violation of inerrancy and as his name is on the list of signers, we can tell despite the second open letter of Geisler what position he takes, along with Craig who said the exact same thing on this passage in a debate with Avalos.

However, because of a supposed attack on inerrancy, several in the church who might have read Licona’s book won’t take the time to read it. Several who could have listened to his audio files or any other information will say “Nope. He’s a heretic,” and move on, never knowing the truth.

What is concerning also is the way this looks to a watching world. The new atheists love it I’m sure when we start slinging mud at one another and going after each other. It keeps us from going after our common opponent. All this time could have been spent focusing not on the denial of the resurrection of the saints, which Licona says he’s now open to, but focusing on the denial of the resurrection of Christ.

What needs to be asked now is if Christians are willing to come together and be open to ideas that are new to their paradigm. If we believe the Bible is true, we need not panic over a false interpretation. We need to respond to it. If it seems that a Christian brother or sister is the one guilty, let us first give the benefit of the doubt. Does the person really deny inerrancy?

Suppose they say “I have always believed inerrancy, but I am having questions.” This is not, of course, the position of Licona but I state it for the sake of argument. What to do with such a person? We seek to find out what they are struggling with. If they have a view of the text that seems different, we study the text. We also study material relevant to it, such as the social world of the time of the writing and the language that it was written in.

In the end, we should all want to be on the side of the truth. Because we think an interpretation is wrong, that is not sufficient reason for thinking that the author is denying inerrancy. We need more than a wrong interpretation. We need a wrong interpretation knowing that the author intended otherwise. Every argument against Licona’s interpretation could have been correct and it would not have shown that he was denying inerrancy.

I urge all of us to put this issue behind us and realize who we are in Christ and that it would be better for us to go after the wolves outside the flock than the sheep within.

Inerrancy: Paraphrase

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we were diving into the ocean of truth. We’re looking at the topic of Inerrancy tonight. Were going to wrap up our look at ways of interpreting Scripture by looking at the topic of paraphrase.

There are some Christians out there who would despise a translation like the NLT which is a paraphrase. After all, we want to know what it was that Jesus said. The problem is that if that’s your attitude, you’re going to be sunk in many areas. Consider the case of Jesus asking the disciples the question of “Who do men say that I am?”

Three gospels record this question. Three gospels have Peter answering differently. I do not believe they all have the exact words Peter said. One of them could. However, I think they all did record what Peter said. They didn’t record it word for word. They recorded a paraphrase. What mattered was they got the content of the message if they did not get the exact wording.

In recording the speeches given at the time, this was entirely acceptable. One could give a summary of what was said or put in words the speaker did not exactly say but carry the content of his message. For instance, do we really think that for the former that when Peter preached his great sermon in Acts 2 that led to the conversion of 3,000 that it really lasted such a short time that we can read it in two minutes today? (Of course, if it did, we have great cause then to tell pastors to shorten their sermons.)

It is quite likely we do not have everything the prophets said in the OT. We have what God wanted us to have. These people spent many years in ministry and no doubt gave many sermons and such. Their most important messages are the ones that have been written for us.

Even if we compare the Ten Commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy, there are some differences in the wording. These are minor and do not affect the commandments, but they are different. This was how Moses was handling the very words of God and he didn’t have a problem with that.

The danger is that if we think we have to have the exact wording every time we’re going to get into a kind of fundamentalism that sees the first example used tonight as if it was a biblical contradiction. Instead, we as Christians should trust that God had written down for us what it was that we needed to know for the sake of our salvation.

What does this say about Bible Translations? Of course not all paraphrases are created equal and if one wanted to do serious study of a passage of Scripture, I would not recommend they use something like the NLT. If one is going outside doing evangelism however, I would generally not have a problem with that. The people on the street need to know the content but not necessarily the exact wording.

Paraphrase is not a dirty word. Don’t treat it like one.

Inerrancy: Allegory

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Having offered my two cents on a debate going on in the evangelical world at the moment, I am continuing a look at inerrancy and the art of interpretation, otherwise known as hermeneutics. Tonight, I’d like to look at allegory.

Yes. Many of us know about allegory. This is that time when the church fathers looked at the parables of Jesus and saw many many symbols that quite likely, Jesus never intended there to be. We can think of Origen especially. Didn’t this all get out of hand? The text could come to mean pretty much anything?

Certainly there is a great danger with over-allegorizing, but let us not throw out the baby with the bath water. After all, Paul in Galatians 4 draws an allegory out of Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael. If this can be done in inspired Scripture then perhaps we can learn something from it.

In fact, we’ve all done it to an extent. Who has not looked at the story of Abraham offering his son upon the altar and thought that there were images of Christ there? Look at how Isaac laid himself on the altar and how there just happened to be a ram, a male lamb, with its head caught in the thorns!

The great danger with the method of allegory is that one can lose sight of the original text and what it was intended to mean. I certainly think there’s something to the idea of Abraham and Isaac being a foreshadowing of the coming sacrifice of Christ, but let us make sure as we look at the text with our New Testament lenses that we also look at the text with our Old Testament lenses. This story did not have to wait 2,000 years for it to have meaning. It had meaning when it was written and as it was being passed down.

We can see Abraham as faithful to the promise knowing that God had specifically said that through Isaac and not Ishmael or some Isaac-2 in the future that Abraham’s offspring would be reckoned, and so even at this point Abraham had faith in a future resurrection or one that could happen presently. Keep in mind miracles had not been common in those days and there had certainly been no resurrections yet. We can see the willing and sacrificial spirit of Isaac. We can see the faithfulness of God in providing another sacrifice.

Yes. We can look forward and see the coming Christ, and indeed we should, but let us not miss what is right there at the moment.

The same can be said of the parables of Jesus in the New Testament. Sure. The two coins in the parable of the Good Samaritan could be the Old and New Testaments, but it’s not likely that Jesus’s audience would have grasped something like that. Instead, let’s look at the main point and see them as two coins.

Now we can say “We are in no danger here surely! We do not allegorize the parables that way!”

Perhaps we don’t, but do we take the time to see the parables as more than just lessons on how we ought to live? There is great theology going on. Look at the Good Samaritan. The lawyer asking the question to Jesus that sparks the parable skips past loving God. That one seems pretty cut and dry. Who is my neighbor?

Jesus instead gives a parable turning the question not to “Who is my neighbor?” but “Who is a neighbor?” The lawyer was looking at the people he ought to love. He was not looking at how he ought to love people. Jesus takes an incredibly despised person, a Samaritan, and makes him a hero, while making the local heroes, the priests and Levites, villains. Imagine telling a Jew that they ought not be like the priest and/or Levite but instead should be like the Samaritan.

In doing that, he’s not just doing ethics, he’s giving insight into his own self and into God. He is the ultimate Samaritan as he comes to those who are in the worst need and is more concerned with their well-being than ceremonial cleanliness. (Keep in mind Jesus would have been seen as defiling himself for entering Zacchaeus’s household for instance)

If that is the case, Jesus is making quite a statement about God as well in that God loves all people and cares about that far more than ritual cleanliness. The kind of ritual that kept people from loving their neighbor as themselves went against all that YHWH desired for His people.

Yes. A lot of allegorizers made a mistake, but we can make a mistake as well.

Still, allegory should be considered and when we read the Old Testament, we often use it. The main point we should get however is that an allegory can help us see the text in a new light, but let it never go against the way that the text was originally intended for the original audience.

We shall continue next time.

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.