Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I am going to be continuing our look at this Geisler/Licona debate as now Al Mohler has chimed in. As I have stated prior, I am the son-in-law of Mike Licona. I say this to admit possible bias upfront. However, I ask the reader to consider my arguments. Seeing as I am not sure I agree with Licona’s interpretation yet, that should be sufficient to show I do not follow blindly. I am certain, however, that the views of Mohler and Geisler are not only inaccurate, but harmful to the church and to inerrancy.
What is inerrancy? Well that’s a good question and right now, the debate going on is starting to get some people to wonder. In the blogosphere, there is talk from some evangelicals that they do not want to be a member of the ETS if this is the kind of reception they can expect to have. To turn off the upcoming generation of future scholars from evangelicalism cannot be good for evangelicalism.
Unfortunately, Al Mohler has the same approach that will do just that in his review of the Geisler/Licona debate which I will put a link to at the end of this article. Mohler starts off praising Licona for the following:
The 700-page volume is nothing less than a masterful defense of the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Licona is a gifted scholar who has done what other evangelical scholars have not yet done — he has gone right into the arena of modern historiographical research to do comprehensive battle with those who reject the historical nature of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Bravo Licona! Bravo! Keep up the good work! In fact, we know about Licona’s expertise with the following quote:
In making his case, Licona demonstrates his knowledge of modern historiography, the philosophy of history, and the work of modern historians. He confronts head-on the arguments against the historicity of the resurrection put forth by scholars ranging from Bart Ehrman and Gerd Ludemann to John Dominic Crossan.
Yes Licona. You are certainly well read in historiography and the philosophy of history. You confront the arguments against the historicity of the resurrection by leading deniers of the resurrection today. Not just leading deniers but deniers who happen to be scholars! Ah the pictures looks so good, until we get to this line.
But, even as Licona dissects arguments against the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact, he then makes a shocking and disastrous argument of his own. Writing about Matthew 27:51-54, Licona suggests that he finds material that is not to be understood as historical fact.
Suddenly a dark cloud is on the horizon. Licona is “dehistoricizing” the text.
Or is he?
Once again, Mohler has made the same mistake that Geisler has. The idea is The text must ipso facto be accepted as historical. Licona does not take it as historical. Therefore, since the text is obviously historical, then we can be sure that Licona is not affirming inerrancy.
How did Geisler counter this? Well Geisler chose to counter it by giving the reasons why he believes it is historical. Since he has those reasons and those reasons are convincing and Licona disagrees, then obviously since the text must be historical, then Licona is denying inerrancy.
Let’s think about this a little bit. Do Geisler and Mohler really think that if a sound case was made to Licona that the event described is historical that he would say “Sorry guys. I just have to say it isn’t. I’m not trusting in the evidence.”? Does anyone really think this?
Then you have the opinion found at AOMin.org that Licona has made a concession to liberalism. Which concession would that be? Would it be the concession that miracles aren’t possible? That’s rather hard to believe considering he has a whole chapter in defense of miracles. Is it that resurrections can’t happen? That’s also hard to believe considering he’s written a whole book defending the resurrection. Could it be that the Bible is not reliable in matters of history? Also doubtful considering that he looks at the gospels and epistles to show how reliable they in fact are.
Let us consider how things might have begun if Geisler instead of choosing to attack Licona’s view as unorthodox had said the following:
To Mike Licona,
I have recently read your latest book and I do have a disagreement with you concerning your view on the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27. While it is certainly in the bounds of orthodoxy, I do not think it is accurate and I have a number of reasons for thinking it to be historical. I would like to get to discuss these reasons with you.
Instead, we got a message of threatening, which sadly Mohler is repeating. Let’s keep going through Mohler’s post. While Mohler is troubled by the word “legend”, I believe the Triablogue accurately interpreted what Licona means.
On 185-86 of his book, Licona uses the word “legend.” Needless to say, “Legend” is a hot-button word. But in context, I don’t think Licona was classifying the Matthean pericope as a legend. Rather, that’s part of his inference-to-the-best explanation methodology. He’s listing a range of logically possible options; then, by process of elimination, zeroing in on the most probable explanation. He mentions the “legendary” explanation to eliminate that alternative as a less likely explanation.
Note that this work is not a popular level work but a scholarly work, in fact based on Licona’s PH.D. In being a good scholar, you have to make room for all possible explanations and then show why the explanations of the opposition fail and yours does not. Licona is just being a good scholar in this. Could it be that Mohler and Geisler find scholarship troubling?
Mohler goes on to say:
Licona then refers to various classical parallels in ancient literature and to the Bible’s use of apocalyptic language and, after his historical survey, states: “it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ’special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible.”
Mohler does not like the term special effects, and I do think a better term could have been used, but Licona is simply saying that apocalyptic imagery was used at the time that was not to be seen as a literal description of events but as the way the event would have been seen from a “God’s-eye” perspective. It would have been a message of judgment through the earthquake, a message of shame through darkness, a message that the old way of the Law was done through the tearing of the temple curtain, and a message that resurrection can now be a reality, through the description of the resurrected saints.
Mohler has his great concern about what has happened, especially since the question can be raised “Well why can’t Jesus’s death be seen the same way?” Mohler says:
This is exactly the right question, and Licona’s proposed answers to his own question are disappointing in the extreme. In his treatment of this passage, Licona has handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon — the concession that some of the material reported by Matthew in the very chapter in which he reports the resurrection of Christ simply did not happen and should be understood as merely “poetic device” and “special effects.”
What are these answers? Well we’re not told. However, they are disappointing. Let it be noted something however that all of Licona’s critics are missing. One reason that we can be sure that Licona can show why Jesus’s death cannot be interpreted that way is that this debate over Matthew 27 takes place in nearly 650 pages of material telling us why the death and resurrection of Jesus is historical.
Seriously. Licona has built up the evidence and given a massive historical argument as even Mohler admits and yet based on his interpretation of this one passage, does Mohler really think that by saying that that everything Licona has said about the resurrection of Jesus is refuted?
Keep in mind Mohler has pointed to Licona’s knowledge of historiography. Is this the attitude that though Licona knows what he’s doing, he really needs to be called into question here? Perhaps his historiography isn’t as good as he thinks it is.
Now comes Mohler’s pointing to Geisler who says Licona is dehistoricizing the text. Note what that assumes.
First off, it assumes that the text is historical to begin with.
Second, it assumes that it can be demonstrated that Matthew meant that.
Third, it assumes that Licona knows this.
Fourth, it assumes that Licona is thus telling Matthew that he was wrong.
Those are some powerful assumptions. If anything, only the second one has had any arguments put forward in its favor. I have no problem with that. If someone believes that, they should put forward the argument. However, showing that the text is historical is not the same as showing that Licona is denying inerrancy. It must be shown that it is to be seen as historical to Licona’s satisfaction. If he still really believes that Matthew did not mean that, then he is not denying inerrancy.
After introducing Geisler, Mohler reminds us of Gundry seeing as Geisler’s viewpoint was “Affirm the historicity or follow the same path as Gundry.” This is the area where major concern begins. Could it be that back in that case, the ETS shot itself in the foot by such an action as dismissing Gundry?
What does inerrancy mean?
Does it mean literalism? Does it mean that we can never propose an alternate way of reading the text? If that is the case, many are wondering about whether they want to be involved. What do we do with Genesis 1 and 2? What do we do with Matthew 24? What about the book of Revelation? What about the long day in Joshua 10? What about statements in Exodus about God changing His mind?
If being an inerrantist means I have to interpret all of those passages X way, do I really want to consider myself one?
Don’t think that’s not happening? Surf the blogosphere yourself and see it happening, most vividly it is happening at NearEmmaus.com.
Note what Mohler goes on to tell us:
Scholars including D. A. Carson and Darrell Bock argued, in response, that Matthew was not writing midrash and that his first readers would never have assumed him to have done so. Scholars also noted that Gundry’s approach was doctrinally disastrous. Gundry had argued that Matthew “edited the story of Jesus’ baptism so as to emphasize the Trinity.” Thus, Matthew was not reporting truthfully what had happened in terms of historical fact, but what he wanted to report in order to serve his theological purpose. Gundry had suggested that Matthew changed Luke’s infancy narrative by changing shepherds into Magi and the manger into a house. As one evangelical scholar retorted: “For Gundry, then, the nonexistent house was where the nonpersons called Magi found Jesus on the occasion of their nonvisit to Bethlehem.”
Let’s look at some key words.
“Scholars or scholar” are said three times.
Bock and Carson are cited as scholars who disagreed. (Interestingly, Moo is left out.) Then we have a reference to one evangelical scholar. Thanks to a friend for tracking down as I wrote that it was Robert Thomas who said it. Let it be noted that this time, the danger was what the scholars were warning about. We need to listen to the scholars.
What about Licona? Well he had a list of scholars who had signed his statement. What came of that? Nothing. No attention was paid to them. At least, none by Geisler. The rest of the world paid attention. Note that Moo was one of those who signed the document and he was there at Gundry, knew the issues well, and says Licona is not a repeat of Gundry. Note that two of the others are signers of the ICBI statement, namely Moreland and Yamauchi.
But this time, well what the scholars say doesn’t matter.
In commenting on Licona’s response, minus the scholars, we have this incredible statement from Mohler:
That is not a retraction. Further, he says that his slight change of view on the issue came after research in the Greco-Roman literature. As the Chicago Statement would advise us to ask: What could one possibly find in the Greco-Roman literature that would either validate or invalidate the status of this report as historical fact?
The mind boggles that such a statement is made. What possible benefit can we get then from studying ancient creation narratives. Surely Moses would not write in a fashion creation narratives were written. What value could come from studying ancient Greco-Roman epistles? Surely Paul did not follow similar writing styles. Why? Well no reason is given, but it could be just because this is supposed to be the Bible that is readily accessible to everyone.
Which would again be an assertion.
Mohler seems to write-off without consideration the idea of studying ancient biographies to study the gospels, you know, those works that are ancient biographies. Does Mohler really think that studying the way the ancients wrote can tell us nothing about an ancient writing? Is this the position he really wants to advocate?
Mohler goes on to say:
In his book, he asked precisely the right question, but then he gave the wrong answer. We must all hope that he will ask himself that question again and answer in a way that affirms without reservation that all of Matthew’s report is historical. If not, Licona has not only violated the inerrancy of Scripture, but he has blown a massive hole into his own masterful defense of the resurrection.
No. Licona has not done that. However, I fear that in fact Geisler and Mohler have done that. Let us consider what can be said.
Christian witnessing to atheist friend: You should really read this great new book by Mike Licona defending the resurrection.
Atheist: Is that the book your own evangelical scholars have already said is unorthodox? If they don’t accept it, why should I?
Note in fact also the attitude that is being built up here. What is the message? Beware of scholarship. Geisler even said to not be an Athenian. Is this the message that we want to give? When Licona lists the scholars who side with him, we are told it doesn’t matter. Licona is violating the plain literal sense of Scripture.
Thus, the advice is to retreat from the academy and modern scholarship.
Let us consider how well this has helped us in other areas. When we make a retreat from evolution, does it really help us? Note that I am not saying I affirm macroevolution, but let us suppose we had this attitude instead.
“Well Darwin, you have an interesting theory here. We might have to change the way we interpret Genesis, but if the facts are with your theory, they’re with your theory.”
Would it not have been nice if we had been more open to the Galileo incident the same way?
Instead, we are going into a debate saying “The facts are this. Now we’ll look at your evidence otherwise.” Instead, we can say “We do believe the Bible to be fully true and if your scholarship is sound and the facts are there, it will not change the truth of Scripture.”
The retreat method instead gets us to the idea that we must avoid scholarship. The Bible has to be protected from these modern ideas and if you are espousing something contrary to what we believe Scripture says, well that will be unallowable. You’ll just have to forgo scholarship and sign on the dotted line. You’ll do that won’t you brother?
Thus, we have argument by force and guilt by association as Marc Cortez pointed out at Nearemmaus.com. What we do not have is argument by scholarship and this is an issue for the scholars.
While it might be Geisler’s belief that inerrancy is under attack and he can save inerrancy, what is really happening would lead more to the destruction of inerrancy in America. Already, the next generation of scholars is watching this and wondering if they really want to sign on the dotted line.
Do they really want to be evangelical scholars if this is the way debate is handled in the evangelical world?
Is the message to be sent out to be taken as “Don’t be a scholar. If you wish to be one, at least make sure you fall within the party lines.” Do we want the non-believing world to say “Well of course we know a Christian scholar will believe that. They have to affirm that. We know what happened to Licona. He wasn’t accepted in the evangelical world for his opinion and since you have to walk that line in the evangelical world, there’s obviously that bias so we disregard what is said.”
Or should we evangelicals have the opinion instead of “Bring us your ideas and your theories! Let us examine them! If they are with the truth, we will have no problem and will accept them. If our way of reading passage X has been wrong and can be shown to be wrong, we will accept it.”
Would that we had done this when Galileo came questioning interpretation, but at the time, the interpretation was seen to be inerrant. If one believes the Scriptures are inerrant, then they should surely be willing to test that and be open to a new way of reading the text. If scholarship comes out and shows that the way doesn’t work, oh well. If it shows that it does, then we are wise to be on the cutting edge accepting it.
What can we pray? Let us not pray for recanting and falling in line. That is not what is needed. Let us pray for real scholarly genuine debate rather than threats and guilt by association.
Mohler’s article can be found here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/09/14/the-devil-is-in-the-details-biblical-inerrancy-and-the-licona-controversy/
The website nearemmmaus with several updates on this can be found here: http://nearemmaus.com/