Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Miracle Myth

What do I think of Lawrence Shapiro’s book published by Columbia University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been said before that when Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga gets a critique of the Christian worldview, he likes to take his opponent’s argument and reshape it, not to make it weaker, but to remove any problems he sees in it. He wants to make it as strong as he can. When that is done, he goes and then deals with the argument.

Shapiro seems to take the exact opposite approach of taking arguments of his opponents and making them as weak as possible in this book.

This is a book that does not deal accurately with any of the ideas that it wishes to critique. The author takes straw man after straw man and then announces with joy that the hideously weak case has been knocked down. Unfortunately, Shapiro has knocked down a sand castle while a powerful fortress stands there untouched.

In fact, a striking problem of Shapiro’s book is how little time he spends discussing actual miracle claims. There are many times he argues against the idea of miracles and in fact painting them as ridiculous as claims of alien abductions or Bigfoot. The only two claims of a miracle he takes on are the Book of Mormon and the resurrection of Jesus, and while I disagree with the former entirely, even then Shapiro does a horrible job dealing with this.

Fortunately, at the start Shapiro does make clear what he’s arguing against. He says “Miracles, I argue, should be understood as events that are the result of supernatural, typically divine, forces.” Now at this point, I still wonder what is meant by this term supernatural. I don’t see atheists and skeptics define it a lot and the supernatural/natural dichotomy makes no sense to me.

I can’t help but wonder how familiar Shapiro is with some miracle arguments when he says “Why do we think that it’s perfectly natural that a stone falls when dropped or that metal expands when heated or that days are shorter in the winter than in the summer? We do so because these events and others like them happen all the time.” Of course, Hume himself said that dropping a stone 1,000 times and watching it fall will not prove that it will fall the 1,001st time.

At the start of his story The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton wrote about a man who was amazed about all that did happen like that. It is amazing when a train reaches the correct stop or a letter reaches the correct address because there was a potentially infinite number of places it could have gone to. All of these are a way of establishing order in the universe.

Why bring this up? Because unknowingly to Shapiro I suspect, when he makes statements like this, he’s upholding the theism he would be arguing against. This is, in fact, part and parcel of the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas. The fact that there is expected order at all is something that needs to be explained and with more than “We see it happen every day.” You may see a man kiss his wife every day, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know of a reason behind it.

Right after this, Shapiro does bring up the natural/supernatural distinction which he thinks that nearly everyone accepts. Perhaps they do, but for what reason? I contend that it is not a good one as I have questioned Christians and atheists on this one and never received replies that make sense of the distinction. I prefer to speak of objects acting according to their nature unless other objects or forces or beings intervene.

I’m not surprised when I get to Location 571 in my Kindle reading and read “If science tells us anything, it’s that the dead tend to stay that way.” Normally, this kind of statement isn’t really spelled out which makes it all the more humorous. Perhaps Shapiro just isn’t aware that man in the past has always tended to bury or dispose of the dead in some way. We learned pretty quickly that they’re not coming back. If this is the discovery of modern science, then please tell me which scientist discovered this and when it took place. We know more scientifically about death, but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that dead people stay dead.

Shapiro then says something about the inference to the best explanation. It’s understandable that when you see something science can’t seem to explain, such as a statue crying, you can infer that the cause must be something outside the realm of science (Which is what he would call supernatural.). There’s nothing wrong with the reasoning per se. We do it all the time with what we can’t observe.

At this point, I wonder about the question of goodness. Do we observe goodness? Hume would have said we didn’t. You talk about how the action feels to you and you impress that onto the action. Myself being a Thomist, would prefer to say that the goodness is in the action itself and you recognize it as such. Science cannot explain this goodness. It’s a metaphysical quality. This is not to insult science. It’s just properly recognizing the limits of science.

At 841, Shapiro tells us that whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative. Really, they’re guesses. Somehow, Aristotle and Aquinas and other thinkers didn’t get that memo. They used reasoning about metaphysical matters to arrive at a conclusion about God they could argue for. Sadly, Shapiro never bothers to look at such arguments.

Shortly after, he starts to say something about the resurrection. He tells us that there is a better natural explanation, that for instance, the women went to the wrong tomb or the body was stolen by grave robbers. These would surely explain the data better.

Except they don’t. Kirsopp Lake tried the wrong tomb explanation long ago. It never got much ground. Anyone would have been happy to point out the right tomb. As for grave robbers, grave robbers would normally not steal the whole body but only the parts they needed. None of these would explain either the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James.

But hey, Shapiro just needs a just so story. Just throw it out and boom, you’ve shown what a better thinker you are. Obviously, this is something that has never crossed the mind of Christians ever.

It’s ironic he says this in response to Licona’s book on the resurrection where counter-theories would be dealt with. He also says Licona cannot say that this is a miracle. Unfortunately for Shapiro, Licona regularly speaks about what a miracle is. It’s described as an event that goes beyond the laws of nature and takes place in an atmosphere charged with religious significance.

A blind man sits at home one day and all of a sudden, BOOM!, his eyes are open and he can see. Is this a miracle? Maybe.Maybe not. On Licona’s terms, it wouldn’t look like it just yet. Meanwhile, a blind man is at a church service and people gather around him and pray in faith that in the name of Jesus the man’s eyes would be opened. The man can then see. This would be a miracle.

Shapiro also gives an account of Sally. Sally is a little girl who is amazingly accurate with all she says. Unfortunately, she’s also boring. She talks about mundane things regularly. Then one day you see Sally and she talks about how she’s been an alien hostage for twelve years and had gone through a wormhole and because of that, it will seem to us like she was never gone. After all of the description, he asks if we should believe her. His reply is we shouldn’t.

I have a different reply. I understand skepticism. By all means, be skeptical, but instead, ask “Okay. What is the evidence?” Could we take Sally to a doctor to check her for bruises? Could we see where the abduction took place to see some residue? Could Sally tell us facts about the universe and such she would not have known otherwise that we can verify?

Does that seem bizarre to you? Why should it? What is wrong with receiving a strange claim and just asking “What is the evidence?” I’m skeptical of alien abductions, but I am sure that if someone was abducted by aliens, they would want to talk about it. Should I discount the story immediately without seeing the evidence they have?

Shapiro also gives an account of a disease that can only be treated if caught early. The disease is a deadly one, but the treatment leaves one in a horrid state. The test for the disease is accurate when it says someone has it 999 out of 1,000 times. The test says you have it. Should you get the treatment?

Shapiro argues that there is in fact overall a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of getting the disease. Since I am not a specialist on probability, I spoke to my friend Tim McGrew on this, who is a specialist on this. According to him, this means that at the start, the probability you have the disease is .0000001. If the test makes it a thousand times more likely that you have it, your odds are still ,0001.

McGrew says that in that case, it might not be wise to get the treatment regardless of what the test says, but what if there are other tests? What if you can go to other doctors and find other means? Each of these will increase the odds. Should you not at least consider doing this?

McGrew also points out that events like miracles are not like catching a disease where one in a certain population will get it as a random event in the universe. A miracle is a deliberate action by an agent. It is not as if we bury people and one out of every 10,000,000 will rise from the dead.

Shapiro also says with other events, we have more independent sources and other evidence, such as if we take the account that a volcano destroyed Pompeii. I find this one quite amusing since for Pompeii, we only have one direct reference to it. We have allusions to it, but it’s only mentioned by Pliny to Tacitus telling about why his uncle died in an off-the-cuff remark. It’s not until Cassius Dio centuries later that we learn that Herculaneum was destroyed.

Amazingly, Shapiro does concede that if God exists and He is omnipotent, this raises the probability that the resurrection happened to one. You would think that someone would want to look at theistic arguments at that point, but it looks like Shapiro doesn’t. Shapiro in fact asks why not believe in aliens or other entities that raised Jesus. If Shapiro wants to make a case for any of those, he’s welcome to it. We will make our case for a theism consistent with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments and see which explanation makes the better case.

It’s sadly not much of a shock when Shapiro goes also to “the historian Richard Carrier.” (Cue Yakity Sax playing in your head right now.) I could repeat all that Carrier says here in comparing Jesus’s resurrection to the crossing of the Rubicon, but I have done that elsewhere. Keep in mind also that in historical statements about this event, Shapiro says “We have the written reports that historians produced a couple hundred years after the event.” Keep this in mind because this tells us right now that a couple of hundred years isn’t a problem.

Doug Geivett was also the one who made the claim originally that the evidence of Jesus rising from the dead is comparable to that of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Shapiro says Geivett would be disappointed to learn that Carrier thinks the Biblical miracles are made up. No, I quite contend that Geivett would not be at all disappointed, other than disappointment for the possible salvation of Carrier. Carrier’s positions are getting more and more to the extreme that it looks more and more that if Carrier says something is true, the opposite is far more likely to be true.

A story Shapiro goes on to deal with then is the account of the Book of Mormon. Now I have done some reading on Mormonism including all of their Scriptures, but it’s hardly a specialty area. Still, while Shapiro makes a good case, it’s just a decent one. Much more could have been said. What is interesting is that he makes a case with something he thinks many of us would readily agree on to show us that the case for the resurrection is just as bad.

Oh really?

In all of this, Shapiro has been wanting to compare Jesus to the story of a frog in India who heals pets who are brought to him, except for ferrets. For some reason, he does not like ferrets. The person telling you about this frog is convinced. Now it’s time to see how well this holds up.

The frog believer tells you at this point that not until decades later did someone think to write down anything about the accounts. Yes. Decades later. This is a man who just recently said a couple of hundred years wasn’t a problem for crossing the Rubicon. Now decades later is a problem for Jesus.

Shapiro also doesn’t ask why the accounts were never written down. He never pauses to think that he lives in a society where books are easily made, inexpensive generally, and everyone can read them. I got his book sent to me immediately on my Kindle and it didn’t cost a lot. Did the ancients have it the same way? Not at all.

In the ancient world, you had two choices. You could go with oral tradition for one. This was free, quite reliable, (Shapiro would have to say that as oral tradition would be necessary for those historians writing a couple hundred years later) and could reach everyone who could speak the language. You could also write. Writing was timely and expensive, not seen as reliable when compared to oral tradition, and could only reach those who could read unless someone read it to them.

This would have been a good thought for Shapiro to consider, but he never does. Instead, he just assumes that the culture was just like his and writing makes the most sense. To us, it does. To them, it didn’t.

Shapiro also says before researching this book, he was profoundly ignorant of the New Testament. I think Shapiro is in a worse position now. He is still profoundly ignorant of the New Testament, but now he thinks that he is informed on it. This isn’t a big shock since he tells us his sources are Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier. After all, when you want to learn about a view, there’s nothing like going to people who will already agree with the ideas that you hold.

At the start, he is skeptical about written records because the people who were Jesus’s disciples couldn’t write anything. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Some fishermen would need a basic literacy, especially being in charge of a business. Tax collectors would definitely need a basic literacy. Also, the people we attribute the Gospels to does not mean they themselves sat down and wrote the account. Most writings were done through scribes. The Gospel according to Matthew could mean that Matthew was the main source of the account, for instance. We know there were well-to-do people in the early church and they’d just need to give some funding for the writing of the Gospel and it would be made.

Speaking of authorship, Shapiro says that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not the original authors. Unfortunately, you will not see him interacting with any positive case. He thinks it sufficient to show that Irenaeus said there were four Gospels because there were four corners of the Earth and four principle winds. Never mind that this says nothing about authorship and even only makes sense if it is already accepted that there are four Gospels. Never mind there’s no interaction with someone like Dr. Charless Hill who wrote Who Chose The Gospels? Just make the assertion and that’s enough. Of course, any case will sound good if you only present the evidence for your side.

For enemy assent, he says you would think that if Jesus returned from the dead, some Roman or Jew would write about it to express their disappointment. Why? Why would you expect that? In fact, we did have one Jew who wrote about it. That was Paul. His opinion won’t count though because He became a Christian. We have no evidence that Jesus appeared to the Romans or the Jews en masse so why would they give a testament of it? They would want to shut this up immediately.

Shapiro does tell us that Josephus mentions Jesus twice, but we can’t be sure if the writings are authentic since Christians passed them down. This is news to Josephus scholars who are quite convinced that the Testimonium has an authentic core to it with information about Jesus and the second reference is really not questioned at all. It would have been nice for Shapiro to actually look at real scholars on these issues specifically, but he doesn’t.

For physical evidence, Shapiro thinks it’s interesting that square stones were used to seal tombs instead of round ones so they couldn’t be rolled. Shapiro thinks that since this basic fact is wrong, we can’t trust the accounts. Is this accurate? I spoke to Greg Monette about this who I have interviewed on this before. Monette has spent time in Israel and is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus.  This is what he told me about it.

Simple answer: even if it were a square stone what do you call it when you move it into place? You ROLL IT!!! It’s true that many tombs discovered have square stones but not all. Rachel Hachlili and L. Y. Rahmani provide numerous references to round doors. I’ve personally seen some in Jerusalem.

For reliable accounting, he tells us our information ultimately comes from two sources. It comes from Mark and from John. He makes no mention of Paul and he makes no mention of material unique to Matthew and Luke and no mention of Q.

Amusingly, in the middle of this, he says that we today “have a sophisticated medical science that explains what happens in death and why death is irreversible, except very rarely and certainly not after a period of three days.” It’s as if the ancients just didn’t know that dead people stay dead. Sorry, but this is hardly breaking news.

He goes on to say that New Testament scholars recognized long ago that the Gospels as they are today would be unrecognizable to the original authors? Really? What scholars are these? In talking about this, he refers to Bart Ehrman. That sounds like a good idea. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says about this.

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Shapiro also tells us that within a couple of centuries of the writing of the Gospels, hundreds of distinct Gospels had to exist. Okay. Show them? What’s the evidence for this? Go with the manuscripts we have and show me the vastly different manuscripts.

He also wants to bring out some discoveries that will be absolutely shocking! Now if you’ve read this blog any, none of this will shock you, other than Shapiro’s ignorance about it and the ideas he brings from it. As I said earlier, Shapiro moved from being profoundly ignorant to being profoundly ignorant and thinking he’s not.

His first major shock for you is that 1 John 5:7-8 is not in the original manuscripts. (Shapiro has John 5:7-8 and nothing about it being 1 John) So what do we draw from this? It’s that the author of John never accepted the Trinity.

Yes. I’m serious. That’s exactly what he says.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Tilling, Bauckham, Hurtado, and others. Never mind you can see the full deity of Jesus in the Gospel of John plain as day. Never mind the early church never had this verse and they still had no problem condemning Arius. Never mind that technically this verse doesn’t even go with the Trinity. Arians and modalists could still interpret it a different way. The ignorance of Shapiro is astounding.

Next major shock. The Gospel of Mark did not originally have the last twelve verses which means the first witness we have did not mention the resurrection. Well, no. The first witness we have is Paul who did talk about the resurrection. Second, it would be a mistake to think that Mark has no resurrection. Who would disagree with him on this? Bart Ehrman. Check footnote 280 on p. 226 of How Jesus Became God.

It is sometimes said that Mark does not have a resurrection narrative, since the final twelve verses (16:9–20) are lacking in our best and earliest manuscripts. It is true that Mark appears to have ended his Gospel with what is now 16:8, but that does not mean that he lacks an account of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus is indeed raised from the dead in Mark’s Gospel, as the women visiting the tomb learn. What Mark lacks is any account of Jesus appearing to his disciples afterward; in this it is quite different from the other three canonical Gospels.

And finally, the account of the woman caught in adultery is not in the original writings. Of course, no doctrine hangs on this one at all, but what is amazing is how amazed Shapiro is by these discoveries. He thinks he’s found something that blows apart the idea of the reliability of the Bible. Question for Shapiro. How do you know that these weren’t in the originals? Could it be you know that because we do in fact have great information on what is in the originals?

But nope, Shapiro thinks this destroys any idea that the Gospels are reliable. The only matter destroyed here is the idea that anyone should pay attention to anything Shapiro says. I can take him to the best conservative scholars who have no problem thinking the text is reliable and know these problems already. Perhaps my interview with Dan Wallace would suffice.

In good scholarly humility, Shapiro decides to interact with N.T. Wright and say “It seems that Wright’s case for the resurrection—consisting of more than seven hundred pages of learned and dense analysis of the historical context in which Jesus and the authors of the New Testament lived—can be easily disassembled with the philosophical tools that I have illustrated in the preceding pages.”
Never underestimate the ego of modern day atheists.

He goes on to say that to grant that Jesus’s tomb was found empty and that people claimed to see Him alive after his crucifixion is to beg the question. No, Shapiro. It is not. It is to go with the conclusion of Biblical scholars across the board who have studied this. While Ehrman is a rarity who discounts the burial, let’s look at what he says on the appearances.

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

Shapiro wants to argue also that all that is necessary is just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Unfortunately, belief will not explain what happened to the body or the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James. Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

To top things off, Shapiro thinks that if we are strong conservatives, his arguments should be found very troubling. The only troubling matter is Shapiro actually thinks they’re troubling. Shapiro actually makes me thankful that atheists are getting more and more uninformed and thinking they are informed.

He also has an appendix asking what the supernatural is. The oddity is that he never really answers the question the whole time through. I searched and searched and found nothing. It’s also worth pointing out that not once in this book is Craig Keener’s work interacted with.

In conclusion, Shapiro’s book leaves me tempted to be an environmentalist. It’s a shame so many innocent trees will die. I hope in the future we’ll see a better class of skeptics than this.

Book Plunge: Why Are There Differences In The Gospels?

What do I think of Mike Licona’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Go to any debate online about the New Testament and one idea you’ll see pop up regularly will be “It contradicts itself over and over.” Go listen to Bart Ehrman and hear him speak about these and what will he say? “Depends on which Gospel you read?” Gospel differences are something that is a cause of concern to many a skeptic and of course, many a Christian as well. Especially if you hold a high view of inerrancy, you want to know why there are so many differences in the Gospel accounts.

This question isn’t anything new. It goes back to the church fathers. This is in fact why there was even an attempt to turn the four Gospels into one Gospel, but the church didn’t really go for it. As it stands, we have four today and they do contain obvious differences, so do we just have sloppy historians or what? Should we call into question the reliability of the Gospels because of this?

Mike Licona has chosen to answer this question and has done so by doing something that many in our world could consider cheating, but hey, he did it. He actually went back and compared differences in accounts of the same event by an author close to the time of Jesus. His choice was Plutarch and he looked at some of his lives that described figures who lived at about the same time and were quite likely written close to each other chronologically.

Of course, everyone should be warned of possible bias on my part. As many know, Mike Licona is my father-in-law, but at the same time when we have our discussions, if I think he is wrong on something, I do not hesitate to tell him. He got a blunt son-in-law when I married Allie.

Mike’s approach is unique and something that had not been done before. If there is any difficulty I encounter when I am engaging with skeptics of the faith is that they assume the way we do things today is superior simply because that is the way we do them. If we do history this way, well that is the right way to do history. If we want this kind of precision in an account, well that has to be superior and that is what the ancients would want. The greatest error we often make is we impose our own time and culture and society on the ancient world and then misread them.

This is why I say Mike cheated, though in a loose sense of course. He actually went back and saw how they did history and what do you see? You see that the differences that you see in the Gospels that are so problematic are the same kinds of differences you see in Plutarch. Some will no doubt complain and say that surely the Gospel writers would not write Holy Scripture in a style that was known to the pagan world. (Yeah. The second person of the Trinity can condescend to become a human being and die on a cross, but using a certain literary style? God forbid!) Such an opinion is going against the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholarship and ignores how God has often met people where they were and if the writers wanted to write a biography of Jesus to tell about His life and teachings, there weren’t many other options.

Mike goes through the accounts and shows that Plutarch used many different techniques when writing and that the Gospel writers did the same. He has a number of pericopes in Plutarch and a number in the Gospels that give a cross comparison. If one wants to throw out the Gospels as unreliable then, one will have to do the same with Plutarch. This indeed raises the debate to a whole new level. Is the modern skeptic willing to throw out one of the most prolific writers in ancient history just to avoid the Gospels?

What does this say for we moderns as well? It tells us what I said at the beginning. We can too often assume our own standards of accuracy and throw those onto the text not bothering to ask if the ancients followed them. If they did not, then we are being anachronistic with the writers and in fact, being unfair with them. They were not moderns and we should not treat them like moderns.

This should also be taken into account when considering our modern idea of inerrancy. For instance, many of us might think inerrancy means we have to have the exact words of Jesus. What if the Gospel writers did not think that but wanted the exact voice instead? In other words, they wanted the gist of what Jesus said even if it wasn’t exact wordage? That’s okay. We just have to accept that. The ancient works were not modern works and if we impose on them what they aren’t, we will get the wrong message and also miss the true message of them.

Mike’s work has really raised the bar of debate and pushed it beyond just simple harmonization. It is harmonization based on how the ancients did it and not how we moderns do it. I fully hope that other scholars will come alongside and critique the work, both positively and negatively and that we can, in turn, come to a greater understanding of the Gospel texts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/15/2016: Mike Licona

What’s coming up Saturday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Gospels are some of the most well known works of literature in the world. Yet today, there is much debate about them. On the one hand, you have some people who are convinced that everything in them is literally true. On the other, you have people who are more of the mythicist mindset who think they’re all totally false. In the middle you have various positions, like my own which is a contextualizing inerrancy or that of many NT scholars today who think there is some truth but not everything is true.

Well what are we to think? Are the Gospels reliable? Can they stand up to the test of scrutiny? Are they good sources to learn about the historical Jesus from?

These are all good questions to ask. Of course, if you ask a good question, you need to make sure you go to a good source for the answer. For that, I decided to bring back a personal favorite guest of mine. This Saturday, I’m pleased to welcome one of the two people in the world I can rightly call “Dad” to the studio. It will be my father-in-law Mike Licona.

Who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about the questions surrounding the Gospels. Having recently debated this with Bart Ehrman and having written a book (Which we will be interviewing him on) about the topic of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies, Mike is prepared to tackle this question for us. We will also answer questions of if the Gospels really are Greco-Roman biographies, since apparently some people dispute this, and what that means.

Then we’ll ask how we should try to approach the Gospels and what we’re looking for. Do some people set the standard too high? Do some people set it too low? How do the Gospels compare to other works of literature of the time? What about claims of authorship?

I hope you’ll be joining us next time. We are working on getting past episodes up. We do have the one from the 24th of September and the 8th of this month. They will be up soon. Please consider also leaving a review of the show on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Fathers Know Best?

What do the church fathers say about Matthew 27? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Norman Geisler has come to picture obsession to the extreme. For years now, he’s been harping on Matthew 27 and really, not producing anything new. In all this time, he could have gone out and read Burridge on why the Gospels are Greco-Roman Bioi or gone to the best scholarly monographs he could find on the passage in Matthew 27, but instead, he just wants to repeat the same material.

So now he’s gone to the church fathers. Now I’m sure we’ll all agree that while the church fathers have authority, they are not the final authority. What matters most is what the Scripture says. Still, it would be foolish to just dismiss all the church fathers. Their views should be taken seriously.

But do they really agree with Geisler?

Let’s start with Geisler’s citation of Ignatius’s epistle to the Trallians.

What does the text supposedly say?

“For Says the Scripture, ‘Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap.Ix, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70).

Why do I say supposedly?

Because there are two versions of the epistle. There is the shorter version and the longer version. Most scholars consider the longer version to be spurious.

So let’s go to chapter 9 of the shorter version. What do we see?

9:1 Be ye deaf, therefore, when any one speaketh unto you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David, who was born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the sight of the things that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth;

9:2 and was truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him up; according to the similitude of which also his Father shall raise up us who believe in him in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not the true life.

Why was the spurious version cited? Why is this not pointed out?

Either A) Geisler does not know and this is an error of ignorance that calls the research ability high into question

or B) It is known and is ignored, in which case facts are being ignored to suit an agenda.

I think it’s best to be generous and go with A.

Let’s now look at the epistle to the Magnesians.

According to Geisler.

“…[T]herefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead”[Chap. IX] (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885). Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations).

While some connect this to Matthew 27, nothing in the context demands it. Further, what does it mean, “When he came?” Nothing is said about the death of Jesus or about opening of the tombs. It could be referring to Matthew 27, but the text does not demand it.

The next statements are from the lost fragments of Irenaeus. The problem is many scholars consider these lost fragments to be spurious. Once again, the problem is the same as in the first citing of the epistle of Ignatius.

Next is Clement of Alexandria. What do we have from Geisler?

“‘But those who had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’ Further, the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’—plainly as having been translated to a better state”(Alexander Roberts, ed. Stromata, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, chap. VI, 491).

But what do we find earlier?

But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept in ward and guard? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.

So a question.

Does Geisler think the apostles went and preached the Gospel to those in Hades? If not, why not? If so, on what grounds since this is a testimony centuries later?

Now of course, it could be that Clement really sees the resurrection of the saints as historical and that must be taken into consideration, but it is not the final authority.

Next comes Tertullian. What does Geisler quote?

“’And the sun grew dark at mid-day;’ (and when did it ‘shudder exceedingly’ except at the passion of Christ, when the earth trembled to her centre, and the veil of the temple was rent, and the tombs burst asunder?) ‘because these two evils hath My People done’” (Alexander Roberts, ed. An Answer to the Jews, Chap XIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, 170).

An obvious problem here is all it says is that the tombs burst open. That could easily happen in an earthquake. There is no mention of saints coming out. Now Geisler could say is that Tertullian did fully have in mind that scene, but that would be claiming to know authorial intent, which he says cannot be known.

Next he says this about Hippolytus

“And again he exclaims, ‘The dead shall start forth from the graves,’ that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead” (Alexander Roberts, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, The Refutation of All Heresy, BooK V, chap. 3, p. 54). The editor of the Ante-Nicene Fathers footnotes this as a reference to the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52, 53 (in Note 6, p. 54.), as indeed it is.

But is it indeed? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. Could it not refer to the future resurrection, especially since it is also in the future tense? Of course, it could refer to Matthew 27, but must it do so necessarily?

What about Origen?

Now to this question, although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than the Gospel narratives, which state that ‘there was an earth quake, and that the rock were split asunder, and the tombs were opened, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, an the darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light’”

Once again, the tombs are open, but there’s no mention of saints getting out and walking around. Again, Geisler cannot appeal to anything else here because he says we can’t know authorial intent.

Geisler also goes to chapter 36. What does the chapter say in that work?

Celsus next says: What is the nature of the ichor in the body of the crucified Jesus? Is it ‘such as flows in the bodies of the immortal gods?’ He puts this question in a spirit of mockery; but we shall show from the serious narratives of the Gospels, although Celsus may not like it, that it was no mythic and Homeric ichor which flowed from the body of Jesus, but that, after His death, one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and there came thereout blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knows that he says the truth. Now, in other dead bodies the blood congeals, and pure water does not flow forth; but the miraculous feature in the case of the dead body of Jesus was, that around the dead body blood and water flowed forth from the side. But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, This man was the Son of God.

Again, no mention here. Strange isn’t it?

For Cyril, I see no reason to doubt that this is referring to Matthew 27 and this must be taken seriously, but it is also about 300 years after the event.

Next is Gregory of Nazianzus.

“He [Christ] lays down His life, but He has the power to take it again; and the veil rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened;5 the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies but he gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again. He goes down to Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words are yours” (Schaff, ibid., vol. VII, Sect XX, p. 309).

This could indeed be a reference to Matthew 27, but it could also have in mind a passage like Ephesians 4. Mike Licona would want to know how this would work with Jesus being the firstfruits of the resurrection. If Jesus is the first to rise in a new and glorified body, how is it that these saints arise in such a body before Jesus? It is a question Geisler needs to take seriously.

We have no beef really with what is said later by the early fathers, but it’s worth noting that the earliest references possible to this do not mention it. In fact, this could be along the lines of what some scholars would say is legendary development. I’m not saying that it is, although we all do know legends did arise around Jesus. That does not mean that they are found in the Gospels of course. Gnostic Gospels and such contained stories about Jesus we would call legends. In fact, some of our Christmas tradition comes from the Proto-Evangelium of James. (Not really a Gnostic Gospel, but rather something that could have been seen as Christian fiction.) It is doubtful that Geisler thinks Jesus struck down bullies with death as a child or extended the length of planks of wood for his Dad or brought clay pigeons to life, but these are accounts found in other works and at times, even some Christians got confused.

We conclude that there is still much research to be done on this question but let it be known the difference. When a question like this is raised, it is better to debate the question without settling it, than it is to settle it without debating. We prefer the former. Geisler seems to prefer the latter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

No True Inerrantist!

Who exactly counts as an Inerrantist? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Over at his Facebook, Norman Geisler is making much about how he has a web site defending Inerrancy which is endorsed by Billy Graham and Ravi Zacharias and several prominent Seminary leaders. How many NT scholars endorse this is strangely absent. So any way, what do we find when we go to Geisler’s site?

We’ve lost a growing number of scholars over the issue of inerrancy. This is a problem because pastors follow scholars. And ordinary people follow pastors. So it’s only a matter of time before we could see the full erosion of the Bible within our generation… unless we take action to alert the Christian community. And please sign this petition to tell your friends that you stand up for the Bible.

Yep. So here’s the deal. Mike Licona writes a huge book defending the resurrection of Jesus from the attack of opponents. Geisler finds one part that he disagrees with that most people would most likely gloss over and say “Well that’s interesting” and move on. Immediately, Geisler shifts to an attack mode pulling out all the guns he can find and firing as much as he can. Why? Because Mike Licona is attacking Inerrancy!

Because, you know, the best way to do that is to seriously work at exegeting the text and look at many readings of it and come to a conclusion on it all in a work that is built around defending the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It’s a wonder Licona was able to do this while wielding his pitchfork at the same time and cackling about how much damage would be done to the church.

No. It’s not that Licona simply made a mistake or is in error for Geisler. Licona is instead attacking inerrancy and is seeking to redefine it. Of course, it’s only Licona who’s doing this despite Licona pointing out that J.I. Packer, one of the framers of the ICBI statement has his own interesting views. As Licona says

One of those who penned CSBI is J. I. Packer. Packer says Genesis 1 in its entirety is a “prose poem,” a “quasi-liturgical celebration of the fact of creation” and by no means describes what we would have seen had we been hovering above the chaos of creation. He goes on to say he does not know whether Eve actually spoke to a serpent or whether there actually was a Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. And he says it does not matter because poets of the period who wrote outside of the Bible used trees in a metaphorical sense in their literature.

Where does Packer say this? Licona says

See http://sydneyanglicans.net/media/audio/creation_evolution_problems/. Packer’s relevant comments begin at 20:00 and go through 49:00.

This apparently is okay to say and be in line with inerrancy. To say that Matthew 27 contains something figurative is not. Unfortunately, we have no direct statement from Packer himself. We only get everything second hand from Geisler. We would like to see some interaction from Packer himself. We don’t want it to come from Geisler. To the sources!

But of course, we know that if people like Licona are not stopped, we will lose the Bible in a generation!

Someone please wake up and smell the coffee! People are falling aside from the faith left and right and you know what, it’s not because they deny inerrancy. While one of Geisler’s students wrote a paper asking if Mike Licona is the next Bart Ehrman, it’s more likely that someone following Geisler will be the next Bart Ehrman.

Why is this? Because Ehrman gave inerrancy a huge position in his Christian worldview. When it fell, that’s when the floodgates opened. It’s a Damascus Road experience that shows up constantly in his books. In fact, inerrancy, along with young-earth creationism, are two major reasons youth are falling away.

Why? Because if you have to take the Bible “literally” (Who came up with that rule anyway?) then they’re convinced that the Bible teaches young-earth creationism. (Which ignores the fact that the account is not written to be a scientific account.) If the Earth is old, then that also means inerrancy has to go, and if the Bible is not inerrant, then it’s not the Word of God, and it’s not the Word of God, then it’s just another book and you can’t trust it.

Now Geisler of course holds to an old Earth. (A view that he holds thanks to modern science, because we all know it’s okay to use 20th century science to exegete a Biblical text but it’s not okay to use 1st century genres that the authors had access to to interpret a Biblical text.) Geisler doesn’t see that as denying inerrancy. People at AIG and other places however do see it that way, but Geisler is allowed to hold that position because, well, he’s the one in charge after all and if he says its within the bounds, then its within the bounds.

Now getting back to this web site, Geisler has a petition up on the site. What does it say?

“I affirm that the Bible alone, and in its entirety, is the infallible written Word of God in the original text and is, therefore, inerrant in all that it affirms or denies on whatever topic it addresses.”

That can be found here.

I did a search on the page. There is no mention of ICBI. If this is all that is meant by inerrancy, I have no problem with it. I hold to that. If the Bible affirms something, then that is true. If it denies something, then that is also true. The question is “What does the Bible affirm or deny?” An inerrancy statement doesn’t tell you what that is. It just tells you that whatever it is, that that statement is either true or false.

So as I said, I have no problem with the statement.

So you know what? I did what Craig Blomberg did. I signed it.

signedstatement

There. See? I signed it.

“Yeah! Well I don’t see your name there or Craig Blomberg’s!

That’s right. They were removed.

signatureremoved

It would be good to know on what grounds it can be said that I do not affirm inerrancy. Is it because I disagree with Geisler? Has this become the grounds now for holding to inerrancy? If you do not agree with Geisler’s view, then you do not agree with inerrancy period? This even though the statement that I signed has absolutely nothing to say about ICBI? Now Geisler might say “Well I know that when I wrote the statement, I meant the ICBI view.”

Well sorry, but that won’t work. All I have there is the text and I cannot read Geisler’s “authorial intent” after all and so just going by the words that are right there on the page, I fully agree and I have zero problem.

More likely, we have a No True Scotsman fallacy. No True Inerrantist disagrees with inerrancy the way Geisler presents it after all and if you say you do but you disagree with him, then you are not a true inerrantist! And all true inerrantists in history would have agreed entirely with ICBI!

It’s almost as if someone really wants to be a Pope.

And that someone can determine who truly believes in inerrancy and who doesn’t.

It’s as if he knows their minds, you know, the authorial intent and all.

We’ll just have to ask how much more division must take place in the body before Geisler finally realizes the harm that he’s doing in trying to defend his legacy. If anything, by his own actions, he’s already destroyed it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Here Comes Inerrancy Again

Has the focus on Inerrancy died out yet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am someone who does hold to Inerrancy, yet I do not think I can say I hold to ICBI Inerrancy. I think in light of new information in historical studies, we need to reconvene and have another meeting to determine what we mean by Inerrancy. This is not because of a lack of trust in the Scriptures, but because of the new information. If Inerrancy is true, it will survive any new information that comes our way. If it is not, it won’t. If it is not true, let us abandon it. If it is true, let us find a way to defend it.

Yet I do not really fight the Inerrancy battle any more. It’s not because I think it’s a losing battle. It’s not because I don’t think it can be defended. It’s not even because I do not think the doctrine is worthwhile. It is because it becomes a central point of the faith and that if it is seen as fallen, then it takes everything else with it.

An example of this is young-earth creationism. Now I know several people who are YECs. There are biblical scholars I respect who are YECs. My own wife is a YEC. My ministry partner is a YEC. I am not. I hold more to John Walton’s view on Genesis 1.

Yet here’s an important difference. The people who I respect who hold this view also do not make it an essential. Too many people who are YECs have it as a fundamental of the faith. If you deny YEC, you’re denying Christianity. You’re denying Inerrancy. You are an enemy of the faith trying to destroy it. You are liberal in your approach. You are making compromises with modern science.

What will happen when this is the focus? Young students will go off to school and get information for the first time that contradicts their YEC view. Do they simply dispense with that and go off and study the works of leading scholars and come to a different view? No. They decide that Christianity itself can’t be true.

What of Inerrancy? It’s the same way. Young people are often told that this is an essential of the faith. Then off they go to college unprepared. What happens? They get presented with 1,001 Bible contradictions and they have no idea what to do. In the end, they abandon their faith. It’s not just young people. I’ve had mature adults tell me that if there is one contradiction in the Bible, then it’s not true and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. I’ve heard atheists say that if this one part in a Gospel contradicts another, then can we trust anything historically in the Gospels?

What happens for the apologist is this becomes what I call a game of “Stump The Bible Scholar.” The critic thinks if they find one contradiction that you can’t answer, then they can just dismiss all of Christianity. How many such alleged contradictions are there? Hundreds of them. Is it fair to expect any of us to have to carry around an answer in our heads to every single contradiction? No.

Yet some in the field still have not got the memo. Case in point, though he has been quiet for a long time, Geisler has written a long piece again with Inerrancy coming under attack once more! Once again, my focus will be on his attack on my father-in-law, Mike Licona.

As Geisler writes “He redefines “error” to include genre that contains factual errors. He claims that “intentionally altering an account” is not an error but is allowed by the Greco-Roman genre into which he categorizes the Gospels, insisting that an CSBI view cannot account for all the data (MP3 recording of his ETS lecture 2013).”

Simple fact. Licona is right. Let’s consider one example. Can Geisler tell me what order the temptations of Jesus happened in? Is it the case that Jesus was tempted to jump from the temple pinnacle first, or was he tempted to worship the devil first? Luke says he was tempted to worship the devil first. Matthew says he was tempted to jump from the pinnacle of the temple first. (To be sure, all of them agree that the absolute first was the turning of stones to bread)

Does Geisler want to actually suggest that Jesus went into the wilderness twice and fasted 40 days and 40 nights twice and then the devil came and tempted him twice and used the exact same temptations but switched things around? Doubtful.

Does this affect Inerrancy? Hardly. The ancients were not as interested in chronology as we were. They could have a thematic account and that works fine. In fact, if it’s said someone wants to alter an account and therefore it’s not false, well everyone of us knows that this is false.

To use an example, suppose some Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. I have a good dialogue with them and they leave. Well my folks love me and they want to hear about my apologetic endeavors so I call and tell them the story. I don’t remember everything, but I tell them a basic account.

Then I call Licona to tell him how it went. Am I going to tell the story differently? You bet! Why? Because Licona knows the apologetics language so something that would make no sense to my parents makes perfect sense to Licona. That is altering. One account will have details the other did not have. This is also considering the fact that I am the author of both accounts.

Geisler’s greatest problem I think is his absolute inability to interact with genre criticism. He states

“Another aspect of non-inerrantist’s thinking is Genre Criticism.”

No. This is a genre of historical thinking in fact. To say the Gospels are in fact sui generis, that is, in their own category, yet this in fact practically becomes a category. The question we have to ask is can Geisler produce any NT scholarship that indicates that the Gospels are in fact sui generis or at least that they are not Greco-Roman biographies?

What Geisler is doing is in fact arguing they are not Greco-Roman biographies based not on reading Burridge and giving a sustained argument against his view, but by saying that it leads supposedly to a false conclusion, denying Inerrancy. (Which it doesn’t. You can affirm the Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies and believe the Bible is Inerrant.)

Let us suppose I held this argument.

If evolution is true, Genesis is false.
But Genesis cannot be false.
Therefore, evolution cannot be true.

Now to be entirely clear, I do not hold to such a position at all. My view of Genesis would not change whether or not evolution is true or false. If I wanted to show that evolution is false, what would I do? Well I’d go out and I’d study the sciences and I’d read all that I could on both sides and then when I had informed myself of the position, I’d make a logical argument based on the evidences.

My argument would not convince anyone who held to evolutionary theory as it is, and indeed, it shouldn’t. The case against evolution must be made on a scientific basis if it is to be made. The case against the Gospels being Greco-Roman biographies must be made on a historical and linguistic basis.

Geisler goes on

“Although he claims to be an inerrantist, Mike Licona clearly does not follow the ETS or ICBI view on the topic.”

Are we to believe that Inerrancy did not exist until ETS or ICBI came? Are we to believe that it is only in light of modern information from ETS or ICBI that one can truly hold to a position called Inerrancy? This is quite interesting. One must reject modern information that has come to light to understand the Gospels, but one must accept modern distinctions that have arisen to define what Inerrancy is and if you do not hold to ETS or ICBI, you do not hold to Inerrancy.

If Licona says he is an inerrantist, let’s do something interesting. Let’s believe him. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Does Geisler suspect Licona has some hidden ulterior motive that he wants to destroy the faith of some? If anyone thinks that, then the view is simply laughable. Yet the term “non-inerrantist” is a sort of code word that is thrown around in order to tell someone “Do not trust this person! This person is the villain!”

No. Let’s listen to their case instead. That works much better. Unfortunately for Geisler, the more he does this,the more he will drive people away from ICBI and from ETS. If anyone wants to know an excellent reason why I’m skeptical of ICBI and even joining ETS, it’s because I’ve seen Geisler’s usage of ICBI and the way he wants ETS to be ran. In fact, I know of other up and coming minds in the field who think the same way.

“Licona argues that “the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios)” and that “Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…, and the often include legend.” But, he adds “because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 34).”

Note also that Licona says this at the beginning of his book. He’s not writing this book for evangelicals. He’s writing this book for scholars who may or may not be evangelicals. He’s making a case from a historiographical standpoint. At the end, he does admit the honest truth about historical genres and bioi. This is entirely true. If one reads a bioi, it can be difficult to know.

What needs to be present is in fact historical argumentation against this claim instead of just presenting it as problematic in itself. The argument cannot be dismissed because it supposedly leads (And it doesn’t) to a conclusion that we don’t like. It must stand or fall on its own terms. Let’s consider again another example of this. Let’s consider an atheist.

If Jesus really rose from the dead, my father who died as an atheist is in Hell.
I do not like the thought of my father being in Hell.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Now let’s consider an opposite perspective that a Christian could make.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then I am without hope in this world.
I do not want to be without hope.
Therefore, Jesus did rise from the dead.

Now either Jesus rose or he didn’t. Neither of these arguments however are persuasive.

Geisler goes on to say

“This led him to deny the historicity of the story of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-53 (ibid.,527-528; 548; 552-553), and to call the story of the crowd falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am he” (John 14:5-6) “a possible candidate for embellishment” (ibid., 306) and the presence of angels at the tomb in all four Gospels may be “poetic language or legend” (ibid., 185-186).”

For the first one, this is an assumption. Geisler is presupposing the account is historical, when that is in fact the very fact that is under the topic of debate. It will not work to say that if you cannot take this literally (A concept Geisler does not understand), then nothing in the Bible can be taken that way. (A mistake Al Mohler also makes.) If Geisler wants to show the case wrong, he needs to make a historical and literary argument. He does not need to wave around Inerrancy. Frankly, the whole concept of Inerrancy should never have been brought up. As for the charge of embellishment, Licona is presenting an argument for possibility in a scholarly situation, which is what he’s supposed to do. He himself does not hold to any embellishments in the text. This has been pointed out repeatedly and one can hear it for themselves on Chris Date’s podcast here. The same can be said for the angels at the tomb. Licona is not denying that there were angels. He’s presenting an argument in a scholarly venue and to show he is not begging the question at the start, he cannot just assume there are no legends or embellishments in the text.

Of course, we also have the changed date in John, but again, I wish to ask Geisler, who changed the order of the temptations? If this is being done for thematic purposes, the audience knows this. Now I do not agree with Licona on this one, but Geisler needs a stronger case. Licona also informs me that Geisler in “When Critics Ask” does not even mention this problem. Does Geisler have a solution?

Geisler goes on to say quote Licona saying

So um this didn’t really bother me in terms of if there were contradictions in the Gospels. I mean I believe in biblical inerrancy but I also realized that biblical inerrancy is not one fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is. So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren’t. So um it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed” (emphasis Geisler’s)

It is interesting to see that the resurrection being a fundamental is not worth highlighting, but saying that Inerrancy isn’t a fundamental is. Does Geisler think one can be a Christian and not believe in Inerrancy? Does he think one can be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection? I would hope he would answer yes for the former and no for the latter. Yet here, Geisler is putting a secondary doctrine before a primary doctrine. This is exactly the problem with his critique of Licona in the first place.

And for the record, it wouldn’t bother me if there were contradictions. I’d have to change my views on inspiration and Scripture, but my Christianity would not fall apart if the Bible had contradictions in it.

Geisler goes on to say

“This popular Greco-Roman genre theory adopted by Licona and others is directly contrary to the CSBI view of inerrancy as clearly spelled out in many articles. First, Article 18 speaks to it directly: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (emphasis added). But Lincona rejects the strict “grammatico-historical exegesis” where “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” for an extra-biblical system where Greco-Roman genre is used to interpret Scripture. Of course, “Taking account” of different genres within Scripture, like poetry, history, parables, and even allegory (Gal 4:24), is legitimate, but this is not what the use of extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre does. Rather, it uses extra-biblical stories to determine what the Bible means, even if using this extra-biblical literature means denying the historicity of the biblical text.” (Emphasis Geisler’s)

Note again that there is no argument to a position like Burridge’s. As for Scripture interpreting Scripture, how? The Bible cannot interpret something. One can explain something by looking at another passage, but interpretation is done by minds. Geisler also says that there are genres within Scripture, but has this strange idea that there can be no genre of a whole book within Scripture? Does he think a prophecy book, like Nahum, is the same genre as a historical book, like Joshua?

Geisler also says it the problem is that it uses extra-biblical stories to determine what the Bible means.

Geisler, I suspect some Christians who are strong YECs want to talk to you about this. After all, you use extra-biblical science, something the ancients had ZERO access to, to interpret Genesis 1 and argue that it cannot be talking about a young Earth in that text. Why is it you can use extra-biblical sources that the ancients could not access to interpret an ancient document, but Licona cannot use extra-biblical sources that were contemporary with the literature to interpret the text?

Please note also these YECs would say that you are denying the historicity of Genesis 1 by using extra-biblical science and compromising with unbelief. They would also say that you are denying Inerrancy by having an interpretation that denies the literal reading of Genesis 1. Now I think that they are wrong, but they are accusing you of something similar to what you are accusing Licona of, except Licona actually uses information that is relevant to the time.

It won’t work to say you don’t do this. After all, in this very entry you say

“Of course, as shown above, general revelation can help modify our understanding of a biblical text, for the scientific evidence based on general revelation demonstrates that the earth is round and can be used to modify one’s understanding of the biblical phrase “for corners of the earth.” However, no Hebrew or Greco-Roman literature genre should be used to determine what a biblical text means since it is not part of any general revelation from God, and it has no hermeneutical authority.”

So once again, Licona uses information that is contemporary and the people of the time would have recognized to interpret a passage? BAD! Geisler uses modern science that the ancients did not have in order to interpret a passage? GOOD!

There’s more also on dehistoricizing but as said, that’s the very question under debate. I was not aware that Geisler had become a presuppositionalist….

Geisler continues,

“Furthermore, similarity to any extra-biblical types of literature does not demonstrate identity with the biblical text, nor should it be used to determine what the biblical text means. For example, the fact that an extra-biblical piece of literature combines history and legend does not mean that the Bible also does this.”

Yes, which is also why Licona has not said that the Bible does in fact do this.

In new material, Geisler tries to defend himself.

“Some have objected to carrying on a scholarly discussion on the Internet, as opposed to using scholarly journals. My articles on Mike Licona’s denial of inerrancy (see www.normgeisler.com/articles) were subject to this kind of charge. However, given the electronic age in which we live, this is an archaic charge. Dialogue is facilitated by the Internet, and responses can be made much more quickly and by more people. Further, much of the same basic material posted on the Internet was later published in printed scholarly journals.”

Note also that Geisler did not meet with Licona willingly for a round table dialogue. All Licona asked for were witnesses to be present. Why would this be denied? Would not Geisler want to make sure the meeting was held in the most honorable method? Yet Geisler refused.

One can say this is an archaic charge, but in reality, it was entirely unprofessional. Scholarly disputes are to be handled in the scholarly community. Geisler immediately posted in attack mode putting Licona on the defensive and as I will say later on, did in fact go after his job. For someone wanting dialogue, Geisler has not interacted seriously with his critics, as we will see. My responses go unanswered. J.P. Holding’s responses go unanswered. Max Andrews’s responses go unanswered.

Geisler goes on to say

“In a November 18, 2012 paper for The Evangelical Philosophical Society, Mike Licona speaks of his critics saying “bizarre” things like “bullying” people around, of having “a cow” over his view, and of engaging in a “circus” on the Internet. Further, he claims that scholarly critics of his views were “targeting” him and “taking actions against” him. He speaks about those who have made scholarly criticisms of his view as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” And he compares it to the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote, “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.” Licona complained about critics of his view, saying, “I’ve been very disappointed to see the ungodly behavior of a few of my detractors. The theological bullying, the termination and internal intimidation put on a few professors in SBC…all this revealed the underbelly of fundamentalism.” He charged that I made contacts with seminary leaders in an attempt to get him kicked out of his positions on their staff. The truth is that I made no such contacts for no such purposes. To put it briefly, it is strange that we attack those who defend inerrancy and defend those who attack inerrancy.”

The reality is people looking at this on the internet saw what Geisler is pushing hard to deny. He was being a bully and to this day still is. Licona himself has told me about the presidents of Seminaries who got the calls Geisler never says happened, or the professors at those Seminaries who heard it from those presidents. These do not wish to give their names due to not wanting to be targeted. Why did Licona lose his job at NAMB but because of this Inerrancy debate? (Licona loved what he did at NAMB, but decided to resign because Geisler’s attack on him could make him a centerpiece of debate and he did not want NAMB dragged into that.)

Geisler’s behavior has been a major turn-off to people who once supported him, including myself, and now we want nothing to do with him any more. His legacy has been seriously damaged and there is no one he can blame besides himself. Geisler asks why we defend those who attack Inerrancy and attack those who deny Inerrancy.

Answer is, we don’t. We do not see Geisler defending Inerrancy. We see him attacking Licona for having a different interpretation and turning it into an Inerrancy debate. Licona has given a historical case. If Licona can be shown to be wrong in the case, then he will change it. If not, then he won’t. Licona is making a decision based on the evidence. Would Geisler prefer he not do that?

Geisler goes on to say

“While it is not unethical to use the Internet for scholarly articles, it wrong to make the kind of unethical response that was given to the scholarly articles such as that in the above citations. Such name-calling has no place in a scholarly dialogue. Calling the defense of inerrancy an act of “bullying” diminishes their critic, not them. Indeed, calling one’s critic a “tar baby” and labeling their actions as “ungodly behavior” is a classic example of how not to defend one’s view against its critics. ”

No. It’s not wrong. It’s accurate. This is what was going on. Yes. Geisler has been called a tar baby and perhaps what Geisler should do is take a good long look at himself and ask why that happened. Could it be the problem is really with him? Geisler is instead playing the victim here. He’s the one who went and pushed Licona down on the playground and doesn’t like it when other students come up and say he can’t do that and take a stand themselves. Geisler’s own actions are a classic example of how not to defend one’s self against one’s critics.

Finally we hear

“What is more, while Licona condemned the use of the Internet to present scholarly critiques of his view as a “circus,” he refused to condemn an offensive YouTube cartoon produced by his son-in-law and his friend that offensively caricatured my critique of his view as that of a theological “Scrooge.” Even Southern Evangelical Seminary (where Licona was once a faculty member before this issue arose) condemned this approach in a letter from “the office of the president,” saying, “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste” (Letter, 12/9/2011). One influential alumnus wrote the school, saying, “It was immature, inappropriate and distasteful” and recommended that “whoever made this video needs to pull it down and apologize for doing it” (Letter, 12/21/2011). The former president of the SES student body declared: “I’ll be honest that video was outright slander and worthy of punishment. I was quite angry after watching it” (Letter, 12/17/2011). This kind of unapologetic use of the Internet by those who deny the CSBI view of inerrancy of the Bible is uncalled for and unethical. It does the perpetrators and their cause against inerrancy no good.”

Licona is right. The internet is not where scholars go to dispute their claims. Scholarly conclaves are the place for that. My ministry partner and I are not scholars however. Yet even with this video, Geisler STILL has it wrong. I DID NOT PRODUCE THE VIDEO! I do not know how many times I have to say this before it will sink in. Some people have noted that the date on this blog often comes out as 2007. I do not know how to fix it. That’s how technically inept I am. When art work is done for my podcast, it is done by my wife because I do not know how to do it well on my own. I cannot produce a picture like that easily and Geisler thinks I produced a video? Watch the video at the time and see how at the end, it says it’s a production of Tektonics ministries.

Geisler wants his critics to listen to him, but it seems he does not want to listen to his critics.

Now let’s look at other charges about the video.

First, Geisler says it was offensive to list him as Scrooge.

Okay. I think it was offensive to go after Licona and have him lose his job at NAMB and pass around a petition behind his back. In fact, I suppose my ministry partner will agree to something. It would be just fine for the video to be taken down as soon as Geisler publicly apologizes to Licona for how he did that and does something to make restitution. Until then, the video stays.

Geisler lists several people who complained about the video. Unfortunately, these are also not named so we cannot say anything about them. Yet why should I take them seriously? I know several people who thought the video was in excellent taste and wonderfully represented what is going on in the situation. Why should I choose Geisler’s sources over mine?

The time has simply come to rethink Inerrancy, and Geisler’s behavior has been a large catalyst in this. This is largely also in light of recent scholarly works that have come out such as Sandy and Walton’s “The Lost World of Scripture.” My review of that can be found here and my interview with Sandy on this excellent book can be found here. As Sandy and Walton say on page 303 “The alternative
is to recognize that inerrancy needs to be redefined in light of the literary
culture of the Bible. Hopefully this book is a step in the right direction.” (I recommend the whole of the 20th and 21st chapter)

More critiques of Geisler can be found here at Deeper Waters and a search feature can find several titles. (Hopefully I can get them all linked together once I figure that out. Again, I’m the one who was supposed to have made a video…)

I interviewed Mike Licona on my own podcast with the first 20 minute segment talking about this discussion. That can be found here.

A link to all of Holding’s material can be found here.

Max Andrews’s can be found here.

For those wanting to make sure I represented Geisler honestly, his piece can be found here.

We might respond to more of this piece later on. We might move back to Carrier instead. Time will tell.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Minimal Facts Still Stand

Do I have anything to say in reply to Ferguson? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, I was sent Ferguson’s argument against the minimal facts to see what I would have to say about it. My response can be found here. I posted my link on Ferguson’s blog in the comments section. While Ferguson initially said there was nothing to respond to there, it seems he decided to write a response anyway. (One that I heard about from others. For some reason, Ferguson did not want to come to my blog to post it.)

So let’s look at what Ferguson says. After much complaining about the nature of my reply, which is quite amusing when he says after much time:

To begin with, Peters wastes a lot of time at the beginning of his critique nitpicking some of the statements I have in my introduction to the issue. This is tedious, since I was merely contextualizing the issue for my readers, and his objections are largely just complaints about a few introductory remarks.

Do as I say, not as I do, but at any rate, what does he say?

First, Peters complains about how I point out that the minimal facts apologetic is not really about proving “only one” miracle, but is an evangelism tool to get people to convert to Christianity. Peters claims, “All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead.” But I would really be surprised if Peters thinks that the only other issues here are the fine points of Christian doctrine. Clearly, clearly apologists are using the minimal facts argument to get people’s foot in the door about believing in Christianity. No non-apologist goes around saying, “Hey, I have this case that Jesus rose from the dead, but none of it matters, I was just letting you know.” Obviously, the apologist wants the resurrection to be a starting point for getting people to “accept Christ” and convert. So it’s really silly to pretend that we are only discussing one issue here, when the minimal facts is a conversion tool. I don’t dismiss it on those grounds alone, but I was merely contextualizing for my readers what we are dealing with.

Actually, if we take a look at what I did say, I was stating exactly what I think Habermas would say based on my being present for several of his talks. Here is my response to that in full.

That’s fine. Go ahead. Habermas has even said in public talks that at the start, he’s not saying God raised Jesus from the dead. He’s saying that Jesus rose. You come up with your explanation. You want to say it was sorcery. Fine. Say it was sorcery. Just give a reason why you think it was and why you think my explanation that it was God who raised Him is lacking. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

For instance, Pinchas Lapide is a Jewish scholar who thinks God raised Jesus from the dead. We differ on the meaning and interpretation of that event and if we had a dialogue, that is what I would want to talk about. In my response, I said it’s fine for you to have a different reason why you think it happened. Just be able to argue a case for it. All the minimal facts is out to prove is the event of the resurrection. It cannot say anything about the meaning of the resurrection or even the source of the resurrection.

Of course, it would be my hope that someone would come to the conclusion that Jesus is who He said He was and that God raised Him from the dead, but I have to go beyond just the minimal facts for that. The minimal facts are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Yet then as I said, this becomes another dialogue. Note of course that when I encourage someone to believe something, I will provide a reason, as would Ferguson. What problem could be had with this?

Another problem is Ferguson doesn’t tell you all of what he said. He said that

What apologists don’t tell you is that in the fine print of the “minimal facts” apologetic there is a clause stating that by accepting the free trial of the resurrection miracle, you are signing yourself up for a lifetime subscription to a fundamentalist, conservative Christian worldview.

My reply was as follows:

No you’re not. There. An assertion made without an argument can be dismissed just the same way. All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead. There are some Christian scholars who hold to the bodily resurrection and don’t think the Bible is inerrant. Want to believe in theistic evolution? Sure. Go ahead. There are some like that as well. There are Christians of all stripes who believe Jesus rose from the dead and do not hold to a “conservative and fundamentalist approach.”

If Ferguson wanted to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead but also wanted to believe the Bible had errors or that God used evolution in bringing about life on Earth, by all means go ahead. Ferguson is saying a lot more than just “They want you to become Christians.” He’s talking about the kind of Christian they want you to believe, and it simply doesn’t fit the facts. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have railed numerous times against marrying Christianity with Inerrancy or views on creation.

Ferguson goes on:

Next, Peters doesn’t understand the principle of methodological naturalism, which in the introduction I explain is how history, as a method, normally operates. Peters states, “I do not see a good reason to accept methodological naturalism. When I look at history, I want to know what really happened and I cannot do that if I rule out explanations that I disagree with right at the start.” Peters here clearly does not understand what I said in the article. I very specifically stated, “Simply because history is methodologically naturalist does not entail ontological naturalism.” The point of this introductory statement was to explain the scholarly practice of bracketing, where certain questions are acknowledged to be beyond the scope of a particular methodology.

Most of us know that this is just lip service really. “Oh we’re open to miracles, but we’re just going to act as if they can’t happen.” Of course methodological naturalism does not mean ontological naturalism is true, but it does mean the person doing the history is going to act like ontological naturalism is true. In fact, as Ferguson says later on:

If I can find another hypothesis with a higher prior probability, even if it requires a few ad hoc assumptions and does not have as good expected evidence, it can still be a more probable explanation of the data than a miracle.

Which is a way of saying that any explanation will work better than a miraculous explanation. One wonders what is the great danger of a miraculous explanation, unless it is a fear that someone’s worldview will be in jeopardy. But alas, if that is the case, then the worldview is shaping the evidence instead of the evidence shaping the worldview.

As we move on Ferguson says:

What Peters doesn’t seem to understand is that history is not the same thing as the past, but rather a method used in the present to investigate the past. Historians acknowledge that history cannot tell us everything that has occurred in the past, and so certain questions are normally recognized to extend beyond the scope of the historical method. Such questions often include religious questions, which have underlying theological assumptions that separate them from ordinary questions about the past. Historians normally bracket these questions, as ones that need to be answered by a different epistemology, which often include one’s religious convictions.

Actually, I do understand that. The means is not the same as the end. The reality is Ferguson however also has underlying theological assumptions that affect his view of history. His underlying theological assumption is that there can be no acts of God in history. That is his prerogative. I will gladly upfront admit my bias that on independent grounds I have strong reason to believe in the existence of a theistic God and therefore am highly open to miracles.

At the same time, I will also add in that one can be an atheist and seriously study miracles. All you have to do is have a non-dogmatic approach. It is the same kind of approach I take to UFO stories. Personally, I’m skeptical of there being life on other planets. Yet at the same time, if people come forward with evidence, I want to hear the evidence. If I’m wrong, I want to know it. Also, if I myself happen to see something some day and I cannot explain it any other way, I will certainly be more prone to say “Maybe I’m wrong about this.”

I have no problem with Ferguson being skeptical of miracles. Skepticism can be a good thing! I have a problem with an unreasonable skepticism that stacks the deck way too high. As we go through, we will see that Ferguson does just that.

Reading on we see Ferguson say

This does not entail that all supernatural events are automatically ruled out from happening in the past, but it does mean that someone will need more than just ordinary historical methodology when dealing with them. Here is an excellent article from biblical scholar Hector Avalos explaining this practice, where he discusses how a question such as, “Did Alexander the Great fight elephants in India?,” is categorically different from a supernatural question, such as, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Normally, historians bracket the second form of question as one that clearly involves many more philosophical and theological issues than the former. But bracketing the question does not ipso facto entail denying the event.

To which Avalos’s contention comes down to that we have no experience supposedly of the supernatural. Of course, I do not hold to the so-called natural/supernatural distinction. Yet I wonder who it is Avalos is speaking of. There are people the world over who will claim to have experiences that are suprahuman in nature. Ferguson disputes Keener’s claim that miracles are happening today, but what cannot be disputed is numerous miracles are being claimed today. If Avalos and Ferguson both discount these a priori, then is it any shock they reach the conclusion they do? It is saying “Those of us who deny the suprahuman are not having experience of the suprahuman.” Well of course not! If they were having it, it would be quite likely they would not be denying that it exists.

Note also that the event is what is in question and the minimal facts are meant to establish the event. Could it be Ferguson denies the event because it entails a conclusion that he does not like, that he sees no other explanation for it than something outside of nature operating on nature? If so, then he is no longer really doing history. After all, let’s make the assumption for the sake of argument that it is true that Jesus rose from the dead. If Ferguson’s approach rules that out a priori, then it would follow that he can never know history. How can one have a valid methodology if it rules out that which actually happened?

It could be said “We know it didn’t happen because miracles don’t happen.” That is not an argument you know from history however. After all, there are numerous miracle claims in history. That is an argument built on a metaphysical approach. It gets even more problematic if you say miracles don’t happen today, despite miracle claims all over the world, also because of that prior metaphysical position. For such people, it would seem they themselves have to personally witness a miracle, and even then it is not sure if they would believe it or not.

If I examine the arguments against the possibility of miracles and find them lacking, as even an agnostic like Earman has, and I have independent reasons for believing in God, then I can be open to miracles. This does not mean that I ALWAYS go with a miraculous explanation.

For instance, I hold to miracles happening as well in a religious context. Suppose, as is claimed often in Keener, that there is someone with a serious illness and this person is approached by a Christian who prays in the name of Jesus, and then the sick person immediately recovers. Question. Is one justified in thinking a miracle has taken place? Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that it was really a non-miraculous event that just happened to happen then that is unknown to the healed person and the praying Christian. Does that mean that the belief it was a miracle is without justification?

Furthermore, I think a great danger is the often misunderstanding of what is meant by empirical. An online dictionary gives three definitions.

1.derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2.depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
3.provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Note #2. Without using scientific method.

An article at Plato.stanford.edu defines empiricism this way:

The Empiricism Thesis: We have no source of knowledge in S or for the concepts we use in S other than sense experience.

Source here.

If empiricism is made synonymous with science, then we have some problems. It would be fair to say that most scientists are empiricists, but it does not follow that most empiricists are scientists. Aristotle was an empiricist, but he was not a scientist. Aquinas (And I am a Thomist after all) was an empiricist, but he was not a scientist. It’s worth pointing out that Bishop Berkeley was also an empiricist, and his empiricism led him to believe that matter does not really exist. Of course, I disagree with Berkeley, but the point is that one can be an empiricist and hold to suprahuman realities. For instance, one could suppose that all of Aquinas’s arguments fail, but all of them do start with sense experience. It’s important to note that for an empiricist, all knowledge begins with sense experience, but it does not mean that all we can have knowledge of will be detectable by the senses.

Finally, Avalos’s criticisms are in response to David Marshall. One can read Marshall’s writings on Avalos here.

Let’s move on.

Next, Peters states that he is open to miracles happening today and also exploring the miracles of other religions [1]. I am as well, so long as we can first investigate these miracles in the hard sciences. If we could confirm the existence of miracles under scientific observation, then that would change our background knowledge about the possibility of miracles occurring in the past, and thus would increase the prior probability for a miracle occurring in a past event

Is Ferguson really open? His own words say he will go with something that is more ad hoc with less supporting evidence if it avoids a miraculous explanation. Also, how exactly should the hard sciences investigate this kind of claim?

This is something my friend Cornell started responding to Ferguson about. After a short time, Ferguson decided to not let Cornell’s comments stand. That includes the start of this comment that can be shown Cornellposthere.

Strangely enough, when Cornell called Ferguson out on it, that got to stay up.

It is also interesting that Ferguson complains about what Cornell said about him, but in Ferguson’s own blog post to me, he criticizes me about reading comprehension six separate times.

I’m remembering something being said once about people in glass houses…

If anyone wants to see what Cornell was saying, they are free to go to my blog and read it in the comments section. That can be found here.

The problem is that if history is the study of the past and the past is not repeatable, then how is one to redo a miracle under scientific observation? If God acts to do a miracle, one cannot force Him to act again. It is true that science of course studies unrepeatable events all the time, but this is the study of what happened naturally. Science cannot answer yea or nay on the question of miracles or God. Science is great at telling you about the material world. There is nothing better at doing that. It is limited in that it can only tell you about the material world. What inferences you make from the scientific data is more philosophy.

Reading on with what Ferguson has we see that he says:

I explain this in my article History, Probability, and Miracles. The problem is that history relies on indirect observation and is a highly speculative method that must rely on probability. Science, in contrast, is a highly precise and rigorous method that can make conclusions with a much higher degree of certainty. Apologists point out that you can’t observe the past scientifically, which I agree with, but this does not divorce science from history and give history free reign to draw conclusions that would contradict our scientific knowledge. Instead, history operates as a secondary epistemology, where science provides for much of our background knowledge and prior probabilities when we investigate historical claims. When a historical claim contradicts what we know scientifically or what has not been confirmed scientifically, we can automatically be more skeptical of it.

Which gets us to the conclusion that if we do not use science, then anything goes. This is not only an appeal to consequences, but an empirically disprovable argument. How so? Just look around and see if any evangelical is saying “Any explanation goes.” Heck. Look and see if anyone is saying that.

Also, Ferguson says that an event cannot go against our scientific knowledge. I always find an argument like this amusing. I wish to ask some questions. Let’s suppose we are taking miracle claims in the NT as an example. How about this.

The NT claims that Mary gave birth as a virgin not having had sexual intercourse prior. Do we know better now with modern scientific knowledge? When was it demonstrated by science that virgins don’t give birth? Who did this experiment?

The NT claims that Jesus took a few loaves and fed 5,000 men not counting women and children. When was it demonstrated that bread doesn’t just naturally multiply at this rate on its own? Who did the test?

The NT claims that Jesus walked on water. When was it demonstrated by modern science that people don’t walk on water?

The NT claims that Jesus rose from the dead. When did science demonstrate that dead people naturally stay dead?

One final question we could ask is depending on when these experiments were done, why were our tax dollars wasted in this way?

No one would deny that we possess far more scientific knowledge than the ancients did, but while we may attribute scientific error to them, let us not attribute stupidity to them. They knew virgins don’t naturally give birth. They knew people don’t naturally walk on water. They knew bread doesn’t naturally multiply instantaneously. They knew dead people stay dead.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know these things. This is just rudimentary knowledge. In fact, the only way the ancients could speak about what was a miracle was that they had some idea of what happens when there is no outside interference. Does Ferguson really think the reason for skepticism today is we know more about science?

Ferguson also wishes to compare miracles to astrology. This comparison does not work. It does not follow that because one belief system is false that another one is. Astrology must be dealt with on its own criteria. So too must the claim of miracles. Miracles often have other knowledge involved, such as the existence of God, something that is not provable or disprovable by science and pointing to scientific testimony in this area is irrelevant. Being a good scientist does not make you a good philosopher any more than being a good philosopher would make you a good scientist. It is also why I’ve told those in ministry who have no scientific studies under their belt to stay out of science debates, and that includes myself. I will gladly discuss the philosophy and history of science, but I will not discuss science qua science.

Everyone applies probability when they assess claims that they cannot directly observe. I am pretty sure that if I told Mr. Peters “I had cereal for breakfast this morning” and then claimed “Later, a cartoon anvil apparated above my head, crushed me into a pancake, and then I popped back,” Mr. Peters would be skeptical of the latter claim and demand more evidence. I could merely complain (as Mr. Peters does about my skepticism) that his “worldview” is getting in the way, but I think we can all tell that Mr. Peters would have good reasons for being skeptical.

Indeed I would be, and as I have said I have no problem with skepticism! Yet if there could be provided good evidence for such a claim, then I would be willing to accept it. Again, I do not condemn skepticism. I condemn unreasonable skepticism. What reason has Ferguson given for his skepticism. Science? The ancients had just enough scientific knowledge as would anyone claiming a miracle today. Has Ferguson dealt with all theistic arguments that leads one to believe there is an agent that is capable of doing miracles?

Ferguson is fair where he states that I do know people who have been involved in occult practice and have no reason to discount their claims. He replies that:

Personally, I do not think that any instance of witchcraft, sorcery, fortune telling, magic, miracles, divine intervention, or wizardry has ever been reliably documented to occur. Accordingly, these events have a very, very low prior probability in my background knowledge.

Which is fine, but the question is why? Why must it be that ipso facto anyone making such a claim is either lying or mistaken? Perhaps Ferguson should talk to such people and hear their own accounts and seek to find natural explanations for all of them if he thinks it possible. I would instead think it more profitable to have a worldview where one is open to evidence and does not have to think everyone who says something contrary is either lying or delusional in some way, especially if some such people are quite rational persons in other areas of life and do not show any signs of being habitual liars or habitually delusional.

Quite fascinating is what Ferguson then says about Keener’s book “Miracles.”

Do we find scientifically documented cases of people walking on water in the book? Flying in the air and ascending to heaven? The Red Sea parting? A man feeding a whole crowd of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish? A man who is crucified, stabbed, and then brain-dead for three days rising from the dead? If Keener had demonstrated such things, then he would have no doubt been awarded with the Noble Prize in Medicine by now. These are what I will term “biblical-scale” miracles.

Instead we have a lot of cases of people healing under unlikely circumstances, dubious claims in regions of the world where there are high amounts of superstition and career miracle workers, and fortuitous events where people have good luck. I’m highly skeptical about whether Keener’s book even proves non-”biblical-scale” miracles, but we don’t need to go there. The point is that Keener does not provide reliably documented instances of “biblical-scale” miracles, and accordingly, his book does not change our background knowledge for such extraordinary events occurring.

This simply means that Ferguson does not accept the miracles provided because they’re not the miracles he wants. “Sure! You might have some resurrections from the dead (Which Keener does) in there, but there’s no parting of the Red Sea!” Note also that Ferguson also makes the same claim that Hume does. The accounts are to be discounted based on where the people come from. This is simply saying “I do not accept testimony from people who do not think like me.”

So what is the reasoning? Perhaps it is all coincidence when these happen, but how many times does coincidence have to happen to no longer be coincidental? What about medical documentation? As Keener says in his book, the catch-22 is that when it happens in a medical facility, it is often then assumed it must have been some medical practice we don’t know about.

Also, why assume these people are just superstitious? (And what does it mean to be that? Does it mean to hold to animism or just hold to a belief in God? Does belief in miracles mean one is superstitious?) Keener’s own wife and brother hold French PH.D.’s. (Should I mention one of those is in science?)

What Ferguson is doing is judging all the people in an area by the worst beliefs he can find in that area.

What do we often say about stereotyping a group of people like that today? Think about it.

Therefore, Ferguson is just all too quick to dismiss Keener. In fact, Ferguson in this does not deal with the claims themselves of Keener, but simply why he is skeptical of them. (Note in fact Keener has a whole chapter on dealing with Hume’s argument using sources from established philosophers) Again, is the evidence shaping Ferguson’s worldview, or is his worldview shaping his view of the evidence?

Also worth noting is that it’s the “Nobel” prize.

Ferguson goes on:

So now, after moving past Peters’ complaints about my introductory remarks, we can discuss the minimal facts apologetic. Peters starts off with a straw man. At the beginning of the article, I provide a word-for-word list of William Craig’s version of the minimal “facts.” Peters complains, “Right here, I can tell the study has not been done on this. Craig’s approach is not the minimal facts approach of Habermas.” I can tell from this that accurate reading comprehension has not been done. I explicitly state in the article, “This apologetic takes a variety of forms.” I was specifically refuting Craig’s version of the apologetic, because I consider it to be a stronger version of the apologetic than Habermas and Licona’s. Peters is complaining because I mention Habermas earlier in a parenthetical remark as an example of an apologist who makes this argument. But the article is specifically addressed towards Craig’s argument. Peters proceeds to critique my article as if it were an article about Habermas’ use of the argument, which causes him to miss key points in many places. Nevertheless, I have added a footnote refuting Habermas and Licona’s version of the apologetic as well, most of which already overlaps with the issues I address in the article.

Perhaps if Ferguson wanted to just critique Craig, he should have just critiqued Craig. Note that Habermas’s name is in fact listed first, which to the reader who does not know better, they will think it is being addressed. I also said I am not interested in defending Craig’s approach, so why should I be criticized for not defending an argument that I don’t hold to. Still, let’s look at what Ferguson says in the footnote:

First, the fact that Jesus was crucified:

“Fact” one is largely trivial. Jesus lived, so it makes sense that he had to die some way. Crucifixion wasn’t an uncommon form of execution, so there is nothing too improbable about the stories of his crucifixion. But nothing about this “fact” really proves anything about a magical resurrection.

Note the nice well poisoning by referring to the resurrection as magical. However, I find this extremely important to the argument since the death that Jesus went through entails one of great shame. Jesus was seen in his death as a traitor to Rome, a blasphemer to YHWH, or both! The shamefulness of his death speaks volumes if we realize it was an essential part of the early Christian apologetic and would have liked to have been avoided. Crucifixion may have been common, but was it common for street preachers in Israel to be crucified prior to the Jerusalem War?

Note the second fact of Habermas and Licona is: “2) his disciples believed he arose and appeared to them,”

Ferguson’s response?

This “fact” has largely been addressed in the third and fourth sections of this article. One thing to add is that Habermas and Licona frequently embellish the “persecution” that the disciples endured as an argument ad martyrdom for the resurrection. I have already discussed in this previous article how the stories about the disciples’ martyrdoms are primarily later legends full of historical improbabilities and clear fictional inventions. Candida Moss discusses this further in
The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom.

Note that fact 2 is just that the disciples claimed this. It is not that they were persecuted for this. Note what Ludemann says about the claim of appearances.

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81

Of course, we can even look at what Ferguson himself said in the original writing.

I don’t think any skeptic denies that the early Christians claimed to have experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.

Of course, Ferguson and Ludemann give different interpretations, but note that they do not disagree with the fact.

As for Candida Moss, I point people to the review of my ministry partner here.

Fact three is the conversion of Paul. Here is what Ferguson says:

The conversion of unlikely persons is a new argument, not covered by the “facts” above, but it brings very little to the table. I agree that it is unlikely that an early church persecutor like Paul would convert, but guess what, not many did. If Jesus had appeared to Pontius Pilate, Tiberius Caesar, and Caiaphas, and gotten all of them to convert, that may be a stronger case for a miracle. But if the later resurrection stories were purely a superstition, I would expect one or so former persecutors might later sympathize with the group and convert. This is the evidence that we do have. Furthermore, Paul’s conversion is really not that extraordinary. As discussed in the post, Paul shows signs of suffering from hallucinations (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). If Paul were facing cognitive dissonance about persecuting a group that he gradually started to feel sympathy for, and then had a hallucination of their leader chastising him, it is not that hard to see how he might later have a conversion experience.

Note the fact is not denied! Instead, we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps. I suggest that Ferguson should leave psychology to psychologists. It is hard enough to diagnose a patient that is sitting right across from someone. It is even more difficult to do so to someone from 2,000 years ago who we can’t talk to.

Ferguson states that Paul shows signs of suffering from hallucinations, but is this really the case? It is only if Ferguson’s argument that these things cannot happen is accurate, but then this is just begging the question. Also, the idea about feeling sympathy for the Christians is a modernistic approach that would not match with a work such as Malina and Neyrey’s “Portraits of Paul.”

Note also we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps showing up here. Cognitive dissonance is an argument that is used to try to explain away any event like this. I have followed my own advice. Instead of looking to my own knowledge of cognitive dissonance, I went to an actual psychologist.

The idea of CD is that if a person performs a behavior that is not in keeping with their attitudes or values, a tension is felt. Naturally, one cannot undo the past, but one can change one’s attitude in order to relieve the tension. In the study done by Leon Festinger on this, there were three ways to reduce the tension.

#1 Change an aspect of the situation, namely an attitude.

#2 Add a new element to the mix. (“Well even though I lied, I probably wasn’t believed.”)

#3-Denying responsibility by saying one has no choice. (“I had to do it. It was my job.”)

Another suggestion given was that the person to reduce tension would lie to themselves and have it be a lie they believed. Problem with this one. Over 80 studies have been done on reducing CD. Not once has this been a response.

Thus, for CD to be at work, someone like Paul, and the rest of the disciples, would have to have convinced themselves of something they thought was untrue, that Jesus physically rose from the dead. The disciples in doing this would have to convince themselves Jesus rose from the dead, something that could have easily been shown to be false.

The study can be found here:

Leon Festinger and J. M. Carlsmith, “Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-211.

How about James’s conversion? Here’s what Ferguson says:

The conversion of Jesus’ brother James, the alleged “skeptic,” is even more problematic. The Gospels are not even consistent on whether the family of Jesus were sympathetic to his ministry. John 7:5 and Mark 3:21 have Jesus’ family not agree with his ministry. Luke 8:19-21, in contrast, rejects Mark’s earlier tradition and has the family be supportive of the ministry. Furthermore, unlike Paul, we do not have any writings of James (the epistle attributed to him was either written by another James or a forgery), so it is not even clear what James’ feelings were about Jesus prior to his death. Only the later Gospel hagiographies, written by unknown authors who did not witness the events, tell the story in conflicting ways. Even if James had originally been a skeptic, do we really need a miracle to explain a family member later becoming sympathetic with a new religious movement that had sprung up about his brother? This is very feeble evidence to try to prove something as improbable as a magical resurrection.

Again, note the language of magical resurrection. Ferguson apparently has catch phrases he likes to use, like reading comprehension. Mark has his family saying he was out of his mind. This is not likely something that would be made up. It would fit in as an embarrassing feature to be disbelieved by one’s own family. Luke is said to have the family be supportive of Jesus. What does Luke say?

19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

There is nothing here about support. There is nothing here about condemnation. If we want to know what is more likely, we must look elsewhere. In fact, Ferguson points to what happened in Mark. What does Mark say?

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Does anything in Luke contradict this? Could not his family in Luke be wanting to get Jesus because they thought he was out of his mind and being an embarrassment to them?

I see then no reason to accept Ferguson’s claim as the skepticism of James would not be something that the early church would invent.

And as for the claim about the tomb being empty:

The empty tomb is already addressed in sections one and two of this article. One thing to reiterate that is already discussed in my linked paper is that even if Paul believed in a “one body” view of the resurrection, which is highly disputable (see footnote 5 below), where Jesus’ burial place was technically empty, that does not mean that he claimed an empty tomb was discovered or was the basis for belief in the resurrection. If the discovery of an empty tomb were part of the basis of belief in the resurrection, it is unfathomable that Paul would not mention this in 1 Corinthians 15. Instead, Paul only discusses “appearances” of Jesus, which demonstrates that such appearances were the basis of early faith in the resurrection, not the discovery of an empty tomb. Accordingly, Paul does not provide pre-Markan corroboration of an opened tomb.

Licona’s word study on the nature of physical vs. spiritual has not been interacted with. It is interesting that Ferguson wants everything Carrier wrote to be responded to, but does not want to respond to leading evangelical scholars the same way. If we are to respond to Carrier, will he respond to Licona’s study the same way?

Furthermore, if Licona is right, and that has not been seriously contested, that the understanding would be physical, then we have physical appearances being claimed in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, N.T. Wright on page 382 of The Resurrection of the Son of God commenting on 1 Cor. 9:1 says

The word heoraka, ‘I have seen’, is a normal word for ordinary sight. It does not imply that this was a subjective ‘vision’ or a private revelation; part of the point of it, as Newman stresses, is that it was a real seeing, not a ‘vision’ such as anyone in the church might have. The same is emphatically true of the other text from 1 Corinthians.

So let’s get back to Ferguson.

I point out in the article that Craig’s minimal facts require accepting a lot of the biblical stories at face value. Peters replies, “This is not the minimal facts argument. In fact, the minimal facts argument is done to AVOID such a statement. One can take a quite liberal approach to the Bible and still accept the minimal facts.” No, many liberal scholars reject Craig’s claim about Joseph of Arimathea and women discovering his empty tomb. What Peters has done in his straw man is conflate my statements with Habermas’ approach. Habermas’ approach is based on what more liberal scholars often accept, but even much of this information is dependent on the New Testament, as opposed to outside, disinterested secular sources. So the statement still largely applies. This does not mean that I dismiss the evidence right off the bat (I provide a whole article refuting it), but once more I am just contextualizing the issue for my readers.

No. What has been done is that Habermas’s approach has been straw manned. Habermas’s approach does not depend on the biblical stories at all. They are rooted in Paul of course, but why should we discount Paul? Ferguson says he wants to use secular disinterested sources. Why would a disinterested source write anything about something they were disinterested in? Does Ferguson expect people who don’t care about an event to write much about that event? He might as well expect me to write something about my interest in the Super Bowl. (To which he will only find me talking about watching commercials and when the game was on, reading my book.)

Note also you do not have to accept the NT as the Word of God or anything like that. All you have to do is accept that Paul was not lying in what he said and passing on honest tradition. You can say that tradition is entirely wrong, but you need some grounds upon which to say that.

Ferguson says:

I refute Craig’s first claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb being found empty. Peters asserts that this is irrelevant, since it is allegedly not part of Habermas’ approach. But one of Habermas’ claims is about the empty tomb.

Peters states:

“Ferguson thinks that dispatching with the claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus deals with the empty tomb. No. It would just mean one account of the burial was wrong. It would not mean that there was no burial and thus no empty tomb.”

Which would simply mean as I said that one can be free of Joseph of Arimathea and have an empty tomb still. My point stands still.

Ferguson has also said:

So “fact 1″ is not a fact at all. This does not mean that Jesus’ body had to stay up on the cross, but as Crossan (pg. 152) observes, “It is most probable that Jesus was buried by the same inimical forces that had crucified him and that on Easter Sunday morning those who knew the site did not care and those who cared did not know the site.” Thus, the discovery of an empty tomb is a literary myth that requires no circumstantial explanation from the historian.

So which is it? If they did not know the site, then it seems odd they would claim the tomb was empty. Surely the apostles who were great followers of Jesus would have familiarized themselves with where he was buried. Note also Ferguson says the discovery of an empty tomb was a literary myth. If he thinks the empty tomb is a myth, and this is because he dispenses with Joseph of Arimathea, in what way am I inaccurate? Or could it be that it’s Ferguson’s phrasing that is the problem. (Note, a number of critics of his article said he did not get Habermas’s approach correct.)

Going on we read:

First, Peters does not address Carrier’s hundred-plus page article, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave (pgs. 105-232) disputing whether Paul and the Jews of his days had universal, carbon copy beliefs about a physical “one body” view of the resurrection. Peters’ assumption that Paul would corroborate an “empty” tomb is simply based on a disputable interpretation of Paul’s theology about the resurrection. Paul never spells out that there was an “empty” tomb.

If we are to play this game, then I can say that nowhere in the article do we see a dealing with N.T. Wright’s book or Mike Licona’s book and on and on. Do we really want to play this game? Note that Ferguson makes a case about my using a disputable interpretation, as if all of Ferguson’s interpretations and all of Carrier’s interpretations for that matter are indisputable! No scholar has after all disputed Ferguson’s understanding of Galatians 1:15-16.

I could also ask if Ferguson has interacted with Dale Martin’s “The Corinthian Body.” On page 128 Martin says

Some commentators attempt to explain Paul’s concept of the resurrection by speaking of a nonmaterial or nonphysical pdoy, leading to the impossibly difficult concept of a “noncorporeal body.” The impossibility of the concept is clear when one tries to translate such language back into Greek and imagine how Paul could have conceived, in Greek, of a “nonbody body.”

Ferguson goes on to say:

Accordingly, Paul does not corroborate that an empty burial place was discovered and that this was a basis for belief in the resurrection. Instead, Paul records that later “appearances” were the basis for the resurrection. This, in my opinion, is much weaker evidence for a resurrection than the discovery of an empty tomb. If Jesus’ body were discovered not to be in its grave, the body could not be found, and later people had appearances of Jesus, this would be a stronger case for a bodily resurrection. This is why I specifically targeted Craig’s case in sections one and two of the article, in order to demonstrate that the stories about the “discovery” of an empty burial place are later legends.

Paul doesn’t because an empty tomb alone would not be enough. One has to know not only that the tomb was empty, but that there is reason to believe the occupant is up and on the move. That is where the appearances come in. Of course, the appearances by themselves help with this as the movement would not have been started if the body could be produced. Also, there is no reason the movement would be started if the disciples were still convinced Jesus’s body was still there. One would think that before making a public claim that would have them not only facing public shame but also being guilty of blasphemy before YHWH, they’d want to check all the facts they could.

Paul, even if Peters’ speculative interpretation were correct that he theologically believed that Jesus’ body was no longer physically in its burial place (wherever that happened to be), would not corroborate that anyone confirmed this by finding an empty burial place. Accordingly, by refuting Craig’s first and second “facts” the historian does not need to circumstantially explain how Jesus’ burial place was found empty or how a body was discovered to have gone missing. One need only to explain why Jesus’ followers later claimed to have experiences with him, who may have been unable to or not sought to confirm whether there was actually an empty burial place, regardless of whether they believed it was empty or not for theological reasons, which again is highly disputable.

It would be interesting to know how else such an event would be confirmed. If Ferguson could tell us, it would be much appreciated. Again, why would the disciples not want to check and make sure of their claims, especially due to the nature of the death that their Messiah died? Why would they go about the most unbelievable claim that they could, that a crucified Messiah was the basis for salvation for all and was King of the Universe, without checking that claim?

Let’s move on to hallucinations:

Peters next moves on to complain about my analysis of the post-mortem sightings of Jesus. He does not dispute that such post-mortem sightings are still common rumors today and even states, “I could grant some of them.” As someone who maintains that the post-mortem sightings of Elvis and Michael Jackson are nothing but rumors, I will just have to disagree on this. The reason I made this point is to show that the prior probability of rumors about post-mortem sightings is higher than the prior probability of an actual post-mortem interaction with someone. Accordingly, when assessing the post-mortem sightings of Jesus, there is a higher prior probability that these are just rumors, so it will take some pretty solid expected evidence to make actual post-mortem sightings more probable.

For one who claims problems with reading comprehension, I do not see why it would be hard to claim that some really do have appearances of Michael Jackson or Elvis. I do not dispute them because I am entirely open to individual hallucinations. I do not rule them out. We have to look at the state of mind that such people are in and see if there is any contradictory evidence.

To say that these are just rumors would be problematic. Paul’s own claim with mentioning the 500 is to say that they are open for interrogation, and if Meeks’s claim is true that Christianity had a sizable number coming from well-to-do people, then these would be the very people with the resources to check this claim, people with a high honor position in society who would not jeopardize it by buying into a shameful group like Christianity immediately.

Moving on Ferguson says:

Hence the problem is that we do not have the writings of a single eyewitness who knew Jesus during his or her lifetime (unlike many eyewitness accounts of post-mortem sighting today). The Gospels are later legendary accounts packed full of authorial inventions. Accordingly, we have very weak expected evidence that cannot overcome the low prior.

Which is irrelevant for Habermas’s and Licona’s minimal facts. As I have said, I am only interested in that of Habermas and Licona. Their claim can be established without the gospels. In fact, we do have a claim of an eyewitness who saw Jesus. Granted, not someone who knew him during his lifetime likely, but a claimant. Paul himself! This is confirmed by Wright’s statements in TRSOG. Ferguson does say that Paul is our best source, but as I showed earlier chooses to dismiss him as someone who has hallucinations.

Ferguson goes on to say about his comparison with Bro Cope Peters.

We can’t go back in time and see what Paul was like. Accordingly, I provide a modern example to illustrate the type of people who make claims about being raptured to heaven and having dead people appear to them. Paul claims (2 Cor. 12:2-4) to have been raptured to “third” heaven, just as Clarence claims to have been raptured to heaven twice. Clarence likewise claims that Jesus has physically appeared and that he has touched Jesus, which is much more clear than Paul’s vague descriptions about Jesus appearing to him. Do I trust Clarence? Of course not! The guy shows clear signs of mental illness. Furthermore, I did not claim that Paul or Clarence were schizophrenic, but said that they “appear” to be such or to experience some sort of other mental disorder. This needs to be taken into account when evaluating what they relate in their experiences.

The claim of their appearing to be schizophrenic rests on Ferguson’s worldview. These things can’t happen, therefore anyone who says otherwise must have some mental issue in some way. Of course, if they do not have one, but only appear to have one, then we could ask if perhaps an experience like Paul’s could be true. We do not see Cope as having any signs of serious education and we see him showing up in an individualistic society where such is more acceptable. Paul is just the opposite. Paul is no doubt a highly educated scholar of his time. He is in an agonistic society where he would face shame for his behavior, and he is putting his religious beliefs on the line for his claim.

As said, the problem is that the idea is just too ad hoc, Paul has to have a kind of CD that is not in line with the understanding of CD and there have to be hallucinations and not only that, collective hallucinations, which are even more outside of our background experience than miracles are.

Note also that Ferguson says that this could be explained as a heatstroke on the way to Damascus. If that is the case and Ferguson wants to accept that part of Acts, what does he do with the testimony in Acts 9:7 that those with Paul heard the voice but did not see anyone, or 22:9 where they saw the light but did not understand the voice, or in 26:14 where they all fall to the ground. Ferguson’s explanation must explain all of that as well, unless he just wants to beg the question by only accepting the data that is agreeable with his explanation. Yet doing such is just bad history.

As we go on:

Peters writes:

“Note that in 1 Cor. 15, this is not described as a vision but put alongside appearances to Peter, James, the twelve, and five hundred.”

Yes, that is precisely what I am noting. Paul uses the same visionary language to describe his experiences of Jesus as he uses to describe Jesus’ other followers’ experiences. The later accounts of them physically interacting with Jesus are only in the anonymous Gospels, which I demonstrate show a clear trail of legendary development getting them to that point.

Yet as Wright points out, this is not visionary language. This is language used of every day seeing and that it also applies here as well. For Ferguson’s hypothesis to work, everyone must be having hallucinations and the same type of hallucinations and then a large group of people must have had a collective hallucination, something not known to psychology.

Moving on:

For starters, I did explain the question of the body, if he had actually read the article. Second, I have written another article about how interpreting group hallucinations from 1 Corinthians 15 is an unlikely reading of the text, which even then can still be explained in natural terms. More importantly, Peters straw mans how I think the visionary experiences developed. I very clearly explain how the early visionary experiences could have been the result of cognitive dissonance. The death of Jesus could have caused his followers to seek new explanations for how he could still be the messiah. Some of them may expect his imminent return and start having a prior expectation that they would see Jesus. A few could have visions or hallucinations, relate the incident to others, and then give them a prior expectation for having similar experiences of Jesus. Soon, the idea could emerge that Jesus has been raised. This belief blossoms into a religion, legends develop over the course of half a century, and finally the anonymous author of Mark could make up a story about an empty tomb being discovered, the later author of Luke could write about how Jesus could teleport and how his disciples could not originally recognize what his resurrected form looked like, and, finally, the later author of John could claim that some of them physically touched Jesus. This is all far more probable than a supernatural miracle, and we have the type of evidence of legendary development that we would expect if it had occurred this way.

This is all very interesting, but what evidence do we have other than the belief that this is likely how it happened. Instead, we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps. The disciples would all have to have a kind of unusual CD and to have hallucinations so powerful they convinced themselves of a lie and convinced others of it, including those who were well-to-do and had the means to examine the claim.

Furthermore, we have evidence that the church had already reached Rome by the time of Nero’s burning in Tacitus, which would before the writing of Mark for Ferguson. Apparently, the belief that Jesus was risen did not really need Mark’s gospel to be popular. Furthermore, what evidence have we that Mark was written to argue that Jesus was risen? These would be written for Christians who already accepted the basic testimony to inform them of the life of Jesus. Ferguson might think his account is more probable, but only if you accept his claim prior that any miracle could not be the answer.

Let’s move on to the word study aspect.

Peters does dispute my interpretation of the verb ὤφθη (“to be seen” or “to appear”) in the passage:

“Licona says about ὤφθη in its Pauline usage in “The Resurrection of Jesus” that there are 29 usages of it by Paul in the NT. 16 refer to physical sight, 12 have the meaning of behold, understand, etc. Only one refers to a vision. However, this is still a problem in that the creed is not Pauline language really but language Paul got from elsewhere.”

To begin with, I highly doubt that I would agree with Licona’s categorization of the verbs. But furthermore, this is the wrong way to approach the data. Consider the following sentence: “I met Jesus during my darkest hour in prison.” Now, in English the verb “meet” can take on a literal, physical connotation or can take on a figurative, symbolic connotation. Now, most of the time we use the verb we will use it in the literal sense. Does that mean that I should interpret it in a literal sense, simply because that is the more common usage, even when the context of the statement above suggests otherwise? Obviously not.

Ferguson highly doubts that he would accept Licona’s categorization. What is there to accept? Either the data is there or it isn’t and just saying “I’m skeptical” is not an argument. Ferguson wants to dismiss it by pointing to an English comparison. How about dealing with it instead based on the Pauline usage of it, the evidence that we do have?

In the case of ὁράω (“to see”) the verb very often has visionary connotations when used to describe people having experiences with celestial beings. Here is PDF documenting such visions of the god Aesculapius where the verb is used frequently. This is the context in which we have similar “appearances” and visions of a resurrected Jesus. Sure, ὁράω can more often mean other things in other circumstances, but the context is what is important. Peters even acknowledges that, if the creed is pre-Pauline, then it wouldn’t depend on Paul’s usage. Where does he go for context? Into the later Gospel of Luke, which is splicing the later legendary material with the earlier material, the very type of practice he claims to be avoiding in taking Habermas’ approach to the minimal facts.

The point is Luke understands revivification of a corpse. If Wright is right and this does not refer to a vision and if Martin is right and 1 Cor. 15 is about a physical body and not a spiritual one, then we have Paul describing the physical appearances of a physical body. One could say these people were all hallucinating, but what cannot be disputed is they were convinced of a physical body.

Furthermore, I also explain in the article, which Peters does not address, that even if the earliest Christians around Paul’s time believed in a physical resurrection, this new enhanced body is still able to appear in visions. This is made clear if, contrary to Habermas’ approach, we do splice the accounts of the later the Gospel authors, who clearly believed in a physical resurrection, but still describe the appearances in some of the following ways:

“Luke (24:31) has Jesus at first be unrecognizable to his followers and then teleport, John (20:19) has Jesus able to walk through walls, and Acts (10:9-13) has Jesus appear in visions from the sky. The point being is that even if the early Christians believed in a physical resurrection (which is debatable), Jesus’ enhanced resurrected body was still able to appear through visions, phantoms, and revelation. Accordingly, all of the early post-mortem sightings of Jesus can be explained in terms of hallucinations and visions. No eye-witness account survives of someone claiming to see or touch a physical Jesus. These stories come from later legendary narratives, such as the anonymous Gospels.”

Once again, this is all assuming that these are visions because this falls outside of our ordinary experience. The assumption is that if Jesus resurrected in a new and glorified body, He would not be able to do these things. It would be interesting to know how Ferguson establishes such. More interesting is his claim of Acts 10:9-13 as Jesus appearing in the sky. Acts 10 says nothing about that. It simply has Peter responding to a voice. Whether that voice has a physical accompaniment or not is not stated in the text. Furthermore, if Paul’s testimony in 1 Cor. 15 is accurate, we do in fact have such eyewitness testimony. Also, if Ferguson wanted to interact with the gospels, perhaps he should also deal with Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”

Peters next claim is riddled with problems:

“These could have been hallucinations? Okay. I need to see evidence of that. Why would the apostles have come up with this? It would have been the most easily disprovable theory and ended up costing them everything, especially in the society of the time where they would have received ostracism and of course, be going against the covenant of YHWH which means they would face His judgment. Paul himself would be in no position to have such an experience. He was a persecutor of the church and the conversion accounts in Acts include objective phenomena which means that this was not something that just took place in Paul’s mind.”

The evidence is that hallucinations are far more probable than an actual resurrection and Paul is even using visionary vocabulary. Again, Peters is being sloppy in splicing Paul’s own account with Acts. The apostles came up with this because they were facing cognitive dissonance about how Jesus could still be the messiah. Peters’ notion that people would seek to “disprove” this fringe religious movement is ridiculous. The early Christians were a small, insignificant cult in an ancient world rife with other religions and superstitions. There were no investigative reporters going around trying to refute this stuff. In very rare instances, someone like Lucian of Samosata would write a polemic against a new religion, but this was very rare and we have no reason to expect that someone would do it for Christianity.

I find it quite amusing that Wikipedia is the source for Lucian of Samosata. (One of the rare times Wiki has ever been linked to on this blog.) The counter-evidence is Wright’s study of the Greek usage in 1 Cor. 9:1 and the fact that Ferguson is still saying hallucinations are more likely. Ferguson has already stated he will go with another explanation with less evidence in order to avoid a miraculous one. Keep in mind at the same time, he wants to avoid “bias.”

Note also I said that this would be the most disprovable hypothesis. Whether or not someone would try to dispute it, one would not want to start a religion on a claim that most anyone could have disproven by going to the tomb and especially in the very city where the Messiah was put to death. Also, why go with a bodily resurrection, especially if this movement was going to Gentiles who would care nothing about a bodily resurrection? Again, the disciples, if they wanted to convince everyone their Lord was the Messiah, chose the most impossible way to go about doing it and really, had nothing to gain from it.

As for the notion of ostracism and persecution, I demonstrate how the martyrdoms of the disciples are largely legendary in a previous article (the article includes discussion of how James’ death may not be corroborated by Josephus, since his reference could be to Jesus and James, the sons of Damneus). Furthermore, I encourage people to read Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom in order to see how the supposed persecution of the disciples is largely exaggerated. Likewise, just because there might have been ostracism of the early Christians does not overcome the low probability of a resurrection happening.

We’ve already got a reply up to Moss, but does Ferguson really want us to think that the Jesus in the Josephus passage is one of the sons of Damneus? As I have said elsewhere:

“First off, this case involves identification by the brother instead of by the father, which means James must have had a very well-known brother. Second, this Jesus is said to be the so-called Christ, not something that would be interpolated by a Christian. Third, there is no reference to the other Jesus being called Christ anywhere that I know of or having a brother named James that was executed by Herod.”

Note also that Ferguson is looking at ostracism and tying that in with martyrdom. My claim is about ostracism. Christianity would be a belief that brought about shame in society and the only reason to accept it was one was convinced that it was true. Of course there were some persecutions later on that did involve martyrdom. This was not a continuous event, but one that happened from time to time. Yet for most people, death was not what they feared the most. It was shame.

Regarding the fourth section, Peters writes:

“Ferguson is writing against the idea that Christians would have a crucified messiah as their savior. To be sure, there were new beliefs floating around. How having a more radical belief is more probable than a resurrection has not been shown. The term magical is just a bit of well poisoning on Ferguson’s part. Magic in the ancient world does not correspond to what we have in the resurrection.”

Obviously I meant magic as a synonym for “supernatural.” Peters is just nit picking at this point. Also, yes, a new religion springing up is far more probable than the laws of physics being violated and a three day brain-dead human rising from the dead.

Magic is not a synonym for supernatural. Ferguson can call it nitpicking. I call it well-poisoning. Note also that he speaks about the laws of physics being violated (As if ancients didn’t know that dead people stay dead. We don’t need modern physics to tell us that.) Yet why say they are a violation of the laws of nature. As Cornell says, someone Ferguson refused to interact with:

Ferguson says “I provide a definition of what I would consider to be a miracle in another blog, just search “miracle”:
http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/defining-theism-atheism-supernaturalism-and-naturalism/
One main criterion is that miracles involve agency or intention, which nature does not exhibit. So they would not just be categorized under nature. “

Me: Your link defines miracle as “Miracles are events caused by supernatural agencies that supersede the capabilities of non-teleological natural forces and agents derived from non-teleological natural forces.”

It looks like we are in the same ballpark, I only asked this because IMO finding the right definition is where philosophers come into conflict, and I believe this right here can make or break a debate, only because of the potential strawmen that come about afterwards. The Latin miraculum, which is derived from mirari, is defined as “to wonder” thus the most general characterization of a miracle is as an event that provokes wonder.

Augustine (City of God XXI.8.2) defined miracles as: “that a miracle is not contrary to nature, but only to our knowledge of nature; miracles are made possible by hidden potentialities in nature that are placed there by God.

Thomas Aquinas ( Summa Contra Gentiles III:101) defined miracles as: “a miracle must go beyond the order usually observed in nature, though he insisted that a miracle is not contrary to nature in any absolute sense, since it is in the nature of all created things to be responsive to God’s will.

Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, miracle section:

David Hume stated miracles as: ““A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”

David Hume – ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ L. A. Selby Bigge, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 114

My definition of ‘miracle’ comes from the Cambridge Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (2008):

“An event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone. Conceived of this way, miracles don’t violate the laws of nature but rather involve the occurrence of events which cannot be explained by the powers of nature alone. When dead bodies come back to life it is a miracle because the molecules that make up the corpse lack the powers necessary to generate life.”

^This definition is very similar to the one used by Thomas Aquinas and G.W Leibniz.

Ferguson in his earlier post said:

“But belief in the resurrection need not even be unlikely. Kris Komarnitksy has written an excellent article about how “Cognitive Dissonance Theory” can explain the early Christian belief in the resurrection. This theory observes that among religious groups and cults, when something occurs that violates the adherents’ previous expectations and beliefs, rather than abandon their cherished religious beliefs, they instead invent new and radical ad hoc assumptions to rationalize the alarming information. Just look at liberal Christians today who are “evolution-friendly” and think that Christianity is compatible with Darwin’s theory, after thousands of years of Christianity teaching Six Day Creation and a century and a half of Christians battling evolutionary science. Rather than drop their warm and comforting beliefs about their religion, they merely invent new stories to explain away how utterly discredited it has been.”

And in this post looking at what I said says:

Peters next makes a trivial objection to an off-handed remark I made about cognitive dissonance, where I discuss how certain Christians who are forced to accept evolution from evidence, rather than abandon their belief in the Bible, which has a very different story in Genesis, will simply make ad hoc assumptions to avoid having to abandon their faith. This was just an example of how cognitive dissonance reduction works. Peters writes:

“Why should I be held accountable for what Christians did for a century and a half. I am not a theistic evolutionist, but I have no problem with evolution. I just leave it to the sciences. I could not argue for it. I could not argue against it.”

Obviously he is not even grasping the point of the example, and instead just saw the word “evolution” and started chasing an off-handed remark. This is the sort of tangential and scattered thinking that mires Peters’ analysis.

Yes. Scattered thinking. People who live in glass houses again…

My point is entirely valid. Ferguson gives the appearance that if a Christian today is doing this, it is a kind of CD. (Again, the CD of the gaps!) My reply is that there were Christians back then who were arguing against evolution. There were also Christians who weren’t. One can consider Charles Kingsley or Asa Gray for instance. It seems that Ferguson has an idea of all-or-nothing interpretation depending on a wooden literalism.

Again, Ferguson is free to argue CD all he wants to and if he wants to present counter-claims for my source in psychology, I will happily pass them on.

Cognitive dissonance would be more likely to be the case here than a supernatural resurrection and the circumstances of rationalizing how Jesus could still be the Messiah explain this. Peters did not even read or address the example I provided of Sabbatai Zevi, where the messianic figure did much worse then die, but even converted to Islam! This would be much more damaging for a Jewish religious movement and yet the movement persisted through cognitive dissonance reduction. It is not clear that the early Christians believed in a physical resurrection, which Peters continues to speculate. I explain Paul’s and James’ conversions above. Again, everything has a more probable natural explanation.

I am already familiar with Zevi. (Apologies again for the Wikipedia link being necessary apparently.) The problem with Zevi is that after his conversion to Islam, the movement died out. For Christianity, it was just the opposite! It was after the event that should have killed Christianity that Christianity shot off! Some followers of Zevi tried to hold on after the aversive event, but nowhere near what was before. In Christianity, it was after the event that the movement started which does not follow with CD. CD would result in fewer people believing in the long run rather than more.

But hey, CD of the gaps. What can you say?

That about sums up Peters’ complaints. The last bit is Peters parroting the typical apologetic slogan that skeptics only don’t believe in the resurrection because of their “worldview.” He ends his article with “In Christ.” Does Peter not realize that his worldview is playing a role as well? I’m open to the possibility of miracles, but the minimal facts evidence does not measure up. Every one of the alleged circumstances can be explained in more probable natural terms. Accordingly, Christianity looks no different to me than any other religion on the planet, all of which I think are nothing more than naturally explicable superstitions.

Yeah. I do. That’s why I openly admit in my article that I have a bias. Ferguson says he is open to the possibility of miracles, but we see no real evidence of that. He has already said he will go with another explanation that is more ad hoc and with less evidence. Is this also an implicit admission that there is some evidence that could justifiably lead someone to conclude that a miracle had occurred? If that is the case and that is based on historical data, then have we not done what Ferguson has said? If not, then why say he is wiling to go with a belief with less evidence? How can there be less evidence than no evidence?

I conclude in the end that Ferguson has built his work on scholarship that is not acceptable in most circles, such as Carrier and MacDonald, and will go with any evidence rather than a miracle. I also conclude that he is not open to being disproven due to his inability to interact with a comment on his own blog. Once again, I leave my offer for Ferguson to come to TheologyWeb to the Deeper Waters section if he wishes to debate this back and forth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Literal Is Best

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Tonight, I’d like to continue our discussion on how we read the Bible. For a lot of people, we hear about the importance of the literal hermeneutic over and over. Now to be sure, there are several parts of the Bible that are straight-forward, but does that mean a literal hermeneutic is best? I think an interesting example of the problems with saying that should be applied consistently can be found in the gospel of John.

First off, in chapter 1, is John the Baptist Elijah? He answered no, but Jesus says in the synoptics that John was the Elijah to come. Is there a contradiction. No. John the Baptist was not a reincarnation of Elijah as if he was literally Elijah appearing somehow again, but he was a prophet likened to Elijah enough to be considered his forerunner.

In John 2, Jesus tells the temple authorities that if they destroy this temple, he will raise it up again in three days. They immediately say that the temple took 46 years to build and he was going to raise it up again in three days? Jesus was not speaking of that temple however, but the temple of his body.

In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again. Nicodemus replies thinking that Jesus literally means being born again and asks how a man can be born if he is old. Can he literally climb into his mother’s womb a second time in order to be born?

In John 4, the Samaritan woman comes to Jesus and Jesus tells her that he has living water for her so she’ll never thirst again. The woman is immediately thinking about the water of the well and asks him how she can get this water so she will never have to come to the well again.

In John 6, Jesus tells the crowds that unless they eat his body and drink his blood, they have no life. It is at this point that many people walk away thinking that he is giving them a hard saying and he even asks the twelve if they will go too. Of course, Peter speaks on their behalf saying that Jesus has the words of eternal life.

In John 11, Jesus tells his disciples that they need to go and wake Lazarus up because he has fallen asleep. The disciples think that Jesus is talking about actual sleep and tell him that if he has fallen asleep, he can wake up, not understanding that Jesus is talking about death.

Throughout the book of John, Jesus regularly uses metaphoric language and John regularly uses words in his gospel that can have a double-meaning. When Jesus speaks of the Spirit in John 3, there is an ambiguity as the same word can be used to refer to the wind, for instance. Good Johannine scholarship can show several such examples.

When we get to John 16 in fact, the disciples finally tell Jesus that at last he is speaking plainly, the word that is used in John 11 when he tells his disciples plainly that Lazarus is dead. It seems if anything then, Jesus did not often speak in literal language and throughout the book, the people who misunderstand him are the ones who take him literally.

Now in all of this, this is not to disparage the idea of reading a text literally often. The idea however is that if we are ones to say “The literal reading is the best reading” then would we not be the ones in the book of John that get the message of Jesus wrong regularly?

Just something to think about.

The Future of Inerrancy

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve gone through the ICBI statement and having done that now, I think it’s time that we really talked about the future of Inerrancy. Where do we see the doctrine going?

My commenter, Bryan, from last night says that there are further commentaries on the statement and more and more evangelicals explaining what is meant. There can be no denial of this and definitely, an exhaustive look at this point would be highly difficult. It would be like studying the Nicene Creed. Since it’s been written, there have been several works on it and on orthodox Christology. Creeds are meant to be simple statements that can be remembered, but they don’t really give arguments. That’s not their point.

ICBI is not really a creed however. It is a statement. Of course, we don’t expect it to be exhaustive. However, as I said at the start, this was put together in a 3-day period and should not be the final statement, just like Nicea was not the final statement on orthodox Christology. If anything, the Geisler/Licona debate has shown us that we need more.

I do have a concern that some people are going to avoid Inerrancy altogether. Some of them are not going to join societies now since they fear that they will be the next targets in a hunt. If you check the blogosphere, you can see that this is already going on.

Thus, while I have no doubt Geisler thinks he is saving Inerrancy for the next generation, I believe he is in fact killing it. It is not just Inerrancy that is being killed, but evangelicalism.

Now don’t misunderstand me on this. If the Bible is Inerrant, and I believe that it is, that will last regardless of what anyone does. If the Bible is Inerrant, it is inerrant whether we believe it or not. Thus, what Geisler is doing cannot make the Bible to be errant.

However, if it comes down to Inerrancy being the same as literalism, then you will find several people ready to say “No. I’m not an Inerrantist.” Say it enough over time and soon enough it will be commonplace so much so that people will just take it to mean that the Bible has errors.

How will this kill Evangelicalism? Just take a look at what’s going on in the blogosphere again. Evangelicalism is already taking hits as most atheists are seeing that Mike Licona is a real NT scholar, even though they disagree with his claims, and they do not see Geisler as one, which is true. Geisler’s degrees are in philosophy. They are not in New Testament studies. That’s nothing to disregard Geisler in that sense. However, is Geisler’s name really taken seriously in the world of NT scholarship as a sound authority? The answer is no. Mike Licona’s name is however.

So what does the unbelieving world see? A non-expert telling an expert that he needs to get in line with the party. It’s not about if Licona’s explanation is right or wrong. It’s about getting in line. Now yes, Geisler has given reasons for thinking Licona is wrong, but these reasons are not proving persuasive to NT scholars. Note that the people who have been siding with Geisler are not NT scholars. The people who have been siding with Licona quite often are.

The unbelieving world sees this and says “See? You can’t be objective in evangelicalism. You have to come in line with what the higher institutions say. Why should we trust the claim that the Bible is Inerrant when we know that people have to say that apparently in order to keep their jobs?”

To an extent, they’re right too.

So now Licona could come out and say “I believe the text is literal” and yet an atheist could say “We’ve seen the debate! We know why you are saying that! You’re saying it because you have to! If you deny that it is literal, then you’re going to be cast out by your crowd!” Fortunately, Licona has stuck by his position. He won’t say something unless he believes that it is true. IF he is convinced, he’ll change his mind. Charges of him denying Inerrancy and dehistoricizing the text do not work. You cannot dehistoricize a text that was not meant to be seen as literal and if it was not meant to be seen as literal, it is not a denial of Inerrancy to say that it is not literal. I’m not saying it is apocalyptic. I’m just saying that if Licona’s right, he’s not doing anything that is a denial of Inerrancy. Even if his view is wrong, he’s not denying Inerrancy as long as he’s convinced his view could very well be right.

In fact, if this is the way that Inerrancy is being guarded, then it makes Inerrancy look weak. Take for instance the creation-evolution debate. Those on the creationist side often point to how evolutionists can say they don’t want both theories taught in schools as cowardice on their part and that the ones who is open to seeing both sides is the one who is really sure of his view.

I think there’s some truth to that.

But this is what is going on here. It is saying that we will not allow this other view to be considered. It goes against the traditional view and we’re going to stick with the traditional view. It won’t matter about further studies in the New Testament or the social context. The evidence cannot say otherwise.

But if it does say otherwise, it’s not just Geisler with egg on his face. It’s evangelicalism and then, Christianity.

A better approach for Geisler would have been to tell Licona that he’s allowed to put forward his hypothesis, but if he wants to argue that claim, well there are some strong questions that he has to answer. That’s the way it should be for anyone challenging something that has generally always been understood a certain way. When you bring forward a new idea, it’s up to you to answer the claims and show why your answer is superior.

That only makes it more fun.

What would be the result? Licona would have to dig in his heels and work really hard in order to show his idea was probable and worthy of further research. Geisler sits back and asks the questions. If Licona’s view is true, then we are fortunate that we have a new way of looking at the NT and we can see what else we can study. If Geisler’s is true, well we know something that didn’t work and we have more information on the passage overall. Of course, it could always be the case that years down the road someone will resurrect the discussion again (Pardon the terrible pun) and look for more evidence that has been uncovered since the first debate.

This position holds that if one believes their side is true, they will not have any fear researching it. If all one cares about is truth, they also will not have any fear researching it. Why? Because truth is all that matters and truth is not decided a priori but a posteriori. If all you care about is truth and you research and find your view is wrong, that’s fine to you. You’ve done your homework and you’re better off than when you started.

The constant claims to recant only make this look like an Inquisition when it should be an inquiry. Also note some charges such as the idea that if one text is apocalyptic, then all will be, including 1 Corinthians 15 and the resurrection of Jesus.

It would have been nice if those making such a claim had noted that Licona wrote over 600 pages showing why the resurrection of Jesus is not apocalyptic. Thus, for him, not all resurrections are apocalyptic. He says the way to differentiate is by doing research.

As for 1 Cor. 15, that’s a resurrection at the final judgment and not in history. It’s not part of a narrative account of the NT then and would not be read as apocalyptic but rather as doctrine. Of course, there are apocalyptic themes with the final judgment, but that is not saying that there is no real final judgment. There are no doubt apocalyptic ideas connected with the resurrection, but that does not mean there is no resurrection.

It has been claimed that the enemies of Christ have been handed a powerful weapon. Indeed they have! That powerful weapon however is not from Licona. That powerful weapon is from the side that is telling Licona to recant. The powerful weapon is evidence that supposedly evangelicalism is against the investigation of evidence, free inquiry, and the pursuit of truth without begging the question.

This has also happened to one who is really still putting forward his foot in the scholarly world. He is new compared to others, and now the message is sent to others that they could be the next targets if they put forward a contrary idea. The message the unbelievers get then is “Evangelicals are not allowed to put forward contrary ideas, thus you cannot really say that their arguments are the ones they believe because of hard research. They believe them because they have to.”

What new scholar would want to be the target of a hunt by Geisler? Or Mohler? Or anyone else for that matter?

Of course, several of them would salivate over the chance of being challenged. Imagine putting forward a new resurrection hypothesis and being challenged by Gary Habermas. Imagine putting forward a new look at the Kalam argument and being challenged by William Lane Craig. Anyone in that position would be awfully nervous of course about facing such an expert, but would also be able to say “I’m doing enough to be taken seriously by this guy and if my argument can stand up to this, it is going somewhere!” It will be a welcome challenge.

The future of Inerrancy and evangelicalism should be based on a pursuit of truth and not living out of fear.

So what happens here? Our great hope can be that Geisler will finally offer an olive branch to Licona. Licona has already said that he would be ready to embrace him, forgive him, and be as if nothing happened. He should be willing to support a bright scholar making a powerful foray into the field of NT apologetics.

This must be an action that is done instead of something buried under the rug. There are still people noticing that the Ergun Caner debate may have ended, but they have not seen anything from Geisler on it even though he still has some questions to answer about his involvement in the issue. In the age of the internet, this becomes tougher and tougher. Some stories may be forgotten, but on the internet, once something is public, it is public. Once Geisler wrote an open letter, the genie was out of the bottle and was not going back in.

To not give an olive branch would only be seen as pride. Already, one can see on Geisler’s facebook page and on the blogosphere that Geisler’s stock is dropping and people are losing respect fast. The way to gain that respect is to be able to bite the proverbial bullet. It needs to be realized that this debate has caused great harm to Licona, his family, to evangelicalism, and in the long term to Christianity.

We also need to take a look at ICBI again and see what we can do to refine it, and this time we need more than just pastors by and large. We need people who are actually skilled in criticism of the New Testament. We need everyone who is signing that document to be a verified scholar in the field. We need long debate over the issue.

One of the great fears is that this will be something that will eventually lead to belief in an old-earth or a young-earth being essential to Inerrancy, or belief in Preterism or Dispensationalism being essential to Inerrancy. Naturally, not everyone will be pleased, but these could be the people we don’t need to please as they’ve already equated their interpretation with Inerrancy.

I still think the simplest statement would be that the Bible is without error in all that it teaches. So what does it teach? Well Inerrancy can’t tell you that. That is for you to find out based on doing your study. Inerrancy just tells you that when you find out that that is what the Bible teaches, it is true. It is so true you can stake your eternal salvation on it.

And indeed you do.

So where do we go? That’s not for me to decide. That’s for others to decide who are witnessing this debate taking place and for those who are participating in it. Right now, both sides need to be moving towards reconciliation and both sides need to be reaching for that. This can be a chance for evangelicals to show that they are interested in truth. They are against witch hunts and arguing by force. Let us seek the truth and may not one side win out, but may truth simply win out, and rather than asking if the truth is on our side, let us see if we are on the side of truth.

We shall continue next time.