Who’s the next target for Geisler and company to go after? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
First it was Michael Licona that was in the sights of Geisler in a crusade that he still hasn’t stopped to this day. Next, it was Craig Blomberg. It is not too surprising that next on the list is Michael Bird, which could have something to do with the review that Bird had of Blomberg’s chapter on inerrancy.
Forget the Spanish Inquisition. We now have the ICBI Inquisition going on and who dares to stand in its path?!
It seems unheard of to the ICBI supporters that someone could believe in inerrancy and not think ICBI itself is inerrant. There are other ways to look at inerrancy that do not put the Bible on any lesser level. If anything, the stance on ICBI is practically getting to be an idolatry of a certain view of interpreting the Bible, a view that is indeed highly modernistic and that divorces it from the social context it was written in.
This time, the writing is done by Joseph Holden of Veritas Evangelical Seminary. I will be including a link at the end.
“The current trend among evangelical New Testament scholars to utilize or approve of genre criticism (e.g., Craig Blomberg, Michael Licona, Darrell Bock, Michael Bird, Carlos Bovell, Kevin Vanhoozer, et al) to de-historicize the biblical text appears to stem from an aversion to the correspondence view of truth. To achieve their criticism, correspondence is replaced with the preferred intentionalist view of truth that seeks after unexpressed intentions and purposes of the biblical author as they correspond with extra-biblical literature of similar genre to determine meaning. For Bird, the Gospels give us a reliable “big picture” about Jesus, but the details do not matter. ”
Keep in mind, these are the same people who say that you cannot know authorial intent. Supposedly, this is so, but these people are mind-readers enough that they know that all of these scholars that they’re talking about have an aversion to the correspondence theory of truth. Why yes. This must be so. The past few days before writing this I have been with Michael Licona at his house and I know that whenever I say “Correspondence theory of truth” he reacted the way Clark Kent reacts to kryptonite. Yep. Obviously, whenever any of these scholars speak up, we just need to say “Correspondence theory of truth.” It will work better than garlic does on Dracula.
Maybe, and yea, I realize this is a stretch, but maybe, just maybe, these people use genre criticism because they actually believe the Biblical writings are writings of a specific genre and they’re seeking to understand the text.
But no, surely it can’t be that! Surely it must be the case that NT scholarship is all about finding a way to destroy the Bible! They all have their eyes set on ICBI as well! This must not be allowed to happen! We simply must preserve ICBI at all costs no matter what and if that means cutting ourselves away from the academy and having a Bible that bears no relation to the culture that birthed it, then so be it!
Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that arguments that show that the Gospels are of the genre of Greco-Roman bioi are wrong. Let’s suppose that Burridge and Talbert and others who most argue such are incorrect. If that is the case, how does one show this? Hint. It is not by standing up and shouting “ICBI Inerrancy!” It is done by actually reading their works, going through them, and demonstrating with scholarship and not ICBI presuppositionalism that the claims are wrong. If in fact, this can be done, the world of NT scholarship will be grateful. Scholars of all persuasions don’t want to believe claims that are false.
So for Geisler and his followers, there is no shortcut here. You do not get to presuppose your position and then say all other contrary are wrong. You simply must do the work.
““My own approach is what I would term “believing criticism.” This approach treats Scripture as the inspired and veracious Word of God, but contends that we do Scripture the greatest service when we commit ourselves to studying it in light of the context and processes through which God gave it to us. Scripture is trustworthy because of God’s faithfulness to his own Word and Scripture is authoritative because the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it. Nonetheless, God has seen fit to use human language, human authors, and even human processes as the means by which he has given his inscripturated revelation to humanity. To understand the substance of Scripture means wrestling with its humanity, the human face of God’s speech to us in his Word.” (Bold parts Holden’s)
So here Bird makes a statement upholding Scripture and celebrating it as the Word of God, but because it is not an ICBI statement and because of how it suggests we study the text, this is a statement we should be wary of. Looking at the first part that is bolded, why on Earth is this controversial? Was the Bible really written in a vacuum? This is more of a fax from Heaven approach to the Bible than it is a scholarly approach.
Is it strange to think that the biblical writers would think that the audience they were writing to would know a basic background? Consider Revelation. If you read this book, it is full of allusions to the OT. The writer of the book assumes that the reader has a fluent understanding of the OT. Paul did the same with his epistles where he quotes the Old Testament regularly and does so assuming that even his Gentile readers will know what passages he’s talking about. Most noteworthy now is the interest in intertextuality. Robert Gagnon brings out for instance Romans 1 where Paul talks about the creator, male and female, etc. all of which alludes to Genesis 1. This assumes a background knowledge of the text.
For the second part, yes, the Bible is also a human book. It is written by humans for humans, although these humans who wrote it were guided by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah, for instance, is supposed to be magnificent in his use of Hebrew. If you’re reading Greek, you are told to start with works like the writing of John because they are easier to read rather than go with Luke who is quite difficult to read. Writers had their own interest, style, mannerisms, etc.
The idea of the bolded parts however is not to respond to them. It is to be seen as code words that the readers should be warned about. Because Bird refers to Scripture as a “human” book, he is to be seen as lowering it.
It makes one wonder if saying Jesus is fully human would also be seen as lowering Him. In reality, denying He’s fully human would not just be wrong, it would be deemed heretical.
“After due allowances are made for the artistic license, theological embellishment, and inherent biases of the tradents of the tradition, our witnesses to Jesus remain steadfast in their conviction that the Jesus whom they narrate is historically authentic as much as he is personally confronting.” (Emphasis added.)”
It is quite likely that Holden is not familiar with NT scholarship and does not realize what is being said. Would it be denied at all that writers who write something have a bias? It would be ridiculous to think that they don’t. I have no problem saying the Gospel writers were biased. Every writer is. The atheist who would show up here and say “Because of that, we can’t trust them!” also has a bias. Bias is too often an excuse to avoid dealing with real arguments.
As for artistic license and theological embellishment, these are things we need to look out for and interact with. Could someone describe something in terms that would not be meant to be taken literally but rather to illustrate something about the subject? Sure. How do you know that? You know it by doing historical study. You do not affirm or deny it by simply standing up and saying “ICBI Inerrancy!”
If you want to do that, go ahead. Just don’t expect NT scholarship to take you seriously. You wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than a Muslim would take you seriously who had a similar view about the Koran and responded to all criticisms of it just by saying “The Koran is inerrant!”
“This means that we are actually liberated to read the Gospels as they were intended to be read: as historically referential theological testimonies to Jesus as the exalted Lord. It does not matter then whether there was one demoniac (Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27) or two demoniacs (Matt 8:28) that Jesus healed on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.”
And Bird is right. This is an important question to discuss, but it is not an essential one. The fate of Christianity does not hinge on how many demoniacs there were and there are numerous approaches one can take in genre criticism that would reconcile any supposed contradiction. The idea that Holden presents is one that says that if we are open to any idea that some one aspect is not as essential as another then we can throw it all out.
The reality is that if this is seen as a contradiction, then every Christian has to give some response. ICBI supporters have to give a response. Those who hold to inerrancy or infallibility in some other manner have to give a response. Some Christians might hold to neither of those and just say “It’s a contradiction, but there’s a strong historical case for the resurrection anyway.” Still, everyone has to give a response. What is the problem with looking at the scholarship and giving the best response one can? Can one really defend the Bible from charges of contradiction by avoiding the best scholarship and historical evidence? Should we not seek to follow the evidence wherever it leads, including the evidence of scholarship?
“Jesus healed a demon possessed man in the vicinity and Matthew just likes couplets, making everything two’s where he can! Similarly, trying to prove that mustard seeds really are the smallest plants of the earth (Mark 4:31) or that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock first crowed and then three times again afterwards (Matt 26:69-74; Luke 22:56-60; John 18:16-27; Mark 14:66-68) is like trying to understand the Magna Carta by arguing about whether the commas are in the right position. John Calvin himself said: ‘We know that the Evangelists were not very exact as to the order of dates, or even in detailing minutely everything that Christ did or said.’[Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 216]. The Evangelists give us the big picture about Jesus, the gist of his words, the major outlines of his career,”
Bird has given an argument based on Matthew. It is either true or it isn’t. That’s what the correspnodence view of truth is about after all. He’s saying “The reality is that Matthew likes couplets so let’s not be surprised that Matthew has pairs in his Gospel.” He even goes back and shows that Calvin had the same approach. Who disagrees? The moderns who think the Bible must meet their standards. (And this will make people perfect prey for modern atheists who ask why a cure for cancer is not found hidden in Scripture.) The view of Bird is indeed that the Gospels give us the big picture, but they surely don’t tell everything. John even agreed in the end of his Gospel! What Holden should do is actually respond instead of just inspire fear.
“they position him in relation to the prophetic promises, and they declare the all important significance as to who he was and why he died. The details should not be treated with indifferences, but they are not the focus of the stories we call “Gospels.” While I think the overall historical reliability of the Gospels is vitally important less we treat Gospels as religiously laden fiction, we should not import anachronistic and modernist criteria of historical reality into our treatment of the Gospels and make it a condition for theological validity:” (Emphasis Added.)”
Bird is absolutely right here as well. The Bible was not written to a 21st century American culture. It was written to and in a 1st century Mediterranean culture. (I mean the NT of course, though the OT was written to a similar culture.) The writers were soaked in a culture of Second Temple Judaism and wrote from that position. It is just bizarre to think that somehow these writers when writing were totally unaffected by their culture and wrote works that bore no relation to their surrounding culture.
If Holden and others want to say that modern criteria must be used that are foreign to the biblical text, then if anyone has a problem with correspondence, it would be Holden and others.
“So then, how do we as a believing and confessing community approach the critical questions that the texts of the Gospels present to us?…. It entails we go through the Gospels unit by unit and ask what exactly did Jesus intend and how would his hearers have understood him. It equally entails asking why the Evangelists have told the story this way and why do they have the peculiarities that they do. Third, we have to explore the impact that the Gospels intended to make upon their implied readers and how the Four Gospels as a whole intend to shape the believing communities who read them now.” (Emphasis added)
How utterly horrible! We should ask why the authors wrote what they wrote! Fortunately, while we are not allowed to do that with the Gospels, we are allowed to be told by Geisler why it is that he wrote ICBI and what the founders intended. We are also not allowed to use 1st century culture, which 1st century people had access to, to interpret the Gospels and epistles, but we are allowed to use 20th and 21st century science, which the ancient Israelites did not have access to, to interpret Genesis 1.
Holden will go on to write about how Bird and others are in denial of the ICBI view of Inerrancy. At this point, it is practically as if ICBI is a known truth that all Biblical scholars are to submit to and those who use historical scholarship are just people who are in denial.
There is a reason more and more people are moving away from ICBI. If this is the kind of thing that ICBI leads to, why should we want any part of it? Who is responsible for this destruction of the validity of ICBI? No one less than Geisler himself.
Holden’s article can be found here.