Book Plunge: Five Views on the Historical Jesus

What do I think of the five views? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Historical Jesus study is one of the most controversial fields today. Despite what many atheists today think, it’s not filled with conservative evangelical Christians. Oh sure, some are in there, but any one can be a historical Jesus scholar regardless of their worldview.

So what happens when you get five scholars from five different fields to come on? Everyone ends up critiquing everyone and that’s the great benefit of these counterpoint books. One gets to see multiple perspectives and how they interact.

The first view is Robert Price’s.

It’s hard to say that without snickering.

Why? Because Robert Price is one of few on the planet in the field who actually holds to the idea that Jesus never existed. His essay naturally fails to deliver as he does not interact with sources outside of the NT hardly, such as Tacitus, and he too quickly dismisses the passages in Josephus. Meanwhile, he wants to find a parallel for everything in the Gospels somewhere in the OT, and some of them particularly amusing. For instance, the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 who was lowered through the roof is based on King Ahaziah being afflicted by falling from his roof and then the result of him lying in bed.

If you think I’m making that up, it’s on page 69. I am not.

Now of course there are some Old Testament parallels, but it should not surprise us the NT would be written in the language of the OT since these were people familiar with the OT and would be making allusions to it seeing Jesus as a fulfillment. This would in fact give honor to the person of Jesus.

The responses are just as hilarious, particularly James Dunn’s response. Dunn is absolutely stunned that someone like Price even exists. Interestingly, another scathing critique of Price’s essay comes from John Dominic Crossan.

Crossan’s essay is in fact where we’ll go next.

Crossan presents a Jesus who interacts much with the politics of his day and talks about God bringing His Kingdom. So far, so good. Yet for Crossan, Jesus had followed John the Baptist in a more apocalyptic message, but then toned it down when He saw John beheaded and decided to say the Kingdom was here in the sense that God was making His presence known. It was already here. From that point on, Jesus is a teacher of the love and grace of God.

It sounds well and good, but keep in mind Crossan has also said the crucifixion of Christ is as sure a fact as any in ancient history. As I read Crossan’s essay I kept wondering “How on Earth would this Jesus be crucified?” This Jesus might be at worst an annoyance, but He would not strike anyone as a political revolutionary. He would not be teaching a message that would be radical to the people of the time.

This Jesus then is not the one that I think could be the Jesus of the Gospels. He would not be someone who is stirring up controversy whatsoever. Pilate would not have considered him a threat. No one would have considered that He was in anyway thinking He was a Messiah or a King.

The next essay is by Luke Timothy Johnson. Johnson has a unique approach and it’s rather difficult to figure out. He wants us to study history, but he wants us to realize that history has limits. From what I gather, Johnson is more interested in us getting to know the person of Jesus by reading the Gospels as literary works. No harm there. That should be done.

My concern with this is that it gives the impression that it’s praising history from one viewpoint and going against it from another. If Johnson’s view is that studying the Gospels will not tell us everything about the historical Jesus, well who would disagree with that?

At the same time, I do think Johnson deserves the rightful praise for reminding us that whatever genre the Gospels are, and I hold that they are Greco-Roman bioi, that we should definitely read them as works of literature.

The next essay is James Dunn. Personally, I found this one the most helpful essay of all. Dunn presents a brief look at what he has in Jesus Remembered, a massive work of his on the historical Jesus. He invites the reader to look into the question of the oral tradition and reminds us that our society is different from theirs.

He also asks us to look at why things happened. Why did Jesus have such an impact on the disciples and this even before the events of Easter? What was it about Jesus that made the difference? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked, especially when dealing with more fundamentalist types like Bart Ehrman.

Finally, we have an essay by Darrell Bock. Bock comes from the evangelical sphere so he’s also the only one to really talk about the resurrection. I found Bock’s essay interesting but in some places, lacking. Why when Pilate’s actions are mentioned is not the death of Sejanus mentioned that would highly affect Pilate’s response? Still, one will find a good presentation of a common evangelical view of Jesus in Bock’s essay.

Of course, a book like this cannot cover everything, but it will give the layman a good introduction to how historical Jesus study takes place. I highly recommend it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

And Then They Came For Blomberg

Should we dispense with Craig Blomberg? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked about Geisler’s crusade, but I believe the time has come again. Geisler went after my father-in-law, Mike Licona, claiming that he has denied Inerrancy. This despite the fact that Licona has regularly said that he believes in Inerrancy. Could it be that Geisler really knows the “authorial intent” of Licona in what he says so that he knows that in reality, Licona does deny Inerrancy?

Of course, we have seen ICBI brought into it, which has become a case of saying “ICBI has spoken. The case is closed.” This is why more are starting to question ICBI. A number of bloggers out there are suggesting that we avoid debates on Inerrancy, and it’s not because of Licona’s position but because of Geisler.

For my position, yes. I think we should. We are not going out there trying to win people to Inerrancy. We are trying to win them to Jesus. Now I do think it is important to realize how central the Bible is, but we do not need an Inerrant Bible to show Jesus rose from the dead. I have met Christians who are of the mindset that if there is one contradiction in the Bible, the whole thing is false.

Now I do in saying that believe the Bible is true in all it teaches, but if someone showed me something that they could demonstrate beyond all doubt was untrue, I would not throw out Christianity because of that. If you could demonstrate beyond all doubt that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then I would throw out Christianity.

The problem with Inerrancy debates is they become a “Stump the believer” game. Instead of discussing the real substance of the Bible, one just gets caught up in a discussion of who was high priest when David took the bread and how many angels were at the tomb on Easter Sunday instead of discussing real substance. An atheist thinks he has justification to disbelieve in the resurrection if he finds one contradiction in the Bible. I personally believe in granting the atheist as much as I can and still keep Christianity.

Geisler believes his crusade is essential and has gone after Licona. Now he has added Blomberg to his list. Blomberg is a highly decorated evangelical scholar. In fact, he is also quite charitable to those in need around him. Still, he supports Licona so he must go. Even worse, he has said Geisler and Mohler need to apologize. (SHOCK!) He is also right in that.

To start, let’s see how this was introduced on Geisler’s page.

“Licona supporters Craig Blomberg denies miracle story in the Gospel. With friend like this, who needs enemies? The truth is that many evangelical NT Scholars trained in Europe have less than an evangelical view of the inerrancy of Scripture. Criag Blomberg of Denver Seminary is a case in point. Read about it an article on our web site (”

Does Geisler watch what’s on his wall? No. That is not being changed any. That is a direct cut and piece job. Of course, now we’re being told to be skeptical of anyone who has education in Europe. Would that include William Lane Craig who has degrees from England and Germany? The same Craig who holds to a view just like Licona’s but has not been the target of the Inquisition? The same Craig who would not be allowed to speak at ISCA because of that stance?

That’s a good view for scholarship to have.

So now, let’s get to the work itself. Let’s start with this gem.

“So far, so good. However, contained in this very same treatise was a very troubling section regarding Matthew 27:51-53 of the resurrection of the saints at Jesus’ resurrection Licona applies dubious genre hermeneutics to Matthew’s gospel known as “apocalyptic” or “eschatological Jewish texts” whereby he arbitrarily dismisses the historicity of Matthew 27:51-53 (and its recording of the resurrection of saints) which results effectively in the complete evisceration and total negation of His strong defense of Jesus’ resurrection”

So many problems here. First off, this is not a very troubling section. Several NT scholars read it without trouble. Only Geisler was troubled by it and then sounded the alarms of the Inquisition. He considers it dubious to consider Matthew an eschatological text.

After all, the coming of the Messiah and the start of the fulfillment of the promises of God to Israel could not be eschatological at all. As for apocalyptic, the whole book is not apocalyptic, but some parts certainly are. Matthew 24 is definitely apocalyptic.

Also, there are no dubious genre hermeneutics. That Matthew is a Greco-Roman biography is largely agreed upon. Of course there is some dissent from that, but it would not be a position just cast aside in NT scholarship.

One major problem in here is that this is a decision that Licona has arbitrarily made. I suppose if you ignored that there were six pages in his book on this and he wrote a whole paper (One I have heard personally read) for EPS called “When The Saints Go Marching In” explaining why he has the stance that he has, then yeah. I guess you could say it’s arbitrary. You have to ignore all the data, but hey. So what? Why let data get in the way of a good argument?

It is indeed false to say that this totally eviscerates the case for the resurrection of Jesus. This assumes that the two miracles are on equal epistemic terms. Which do we have more evidence for? The raising of the son of the widow of Nain or the raising of Jesus? I have never heard a minimal facts approach for the first one. I have for the second. I have not heard the large sociological impact for the first. I have for the second. That does not mean there was never any evidence for the first nor was there no impact, but it was not at the level of the resurrection of Jesus. This assumes that if one resurrection did not literally happen, then no resurrection ever happened.

The reason Jesus’s resurrection is different is because of the epistemic foundation for it in the evidence and the sociological impact that it had which was much greater. It could even be that all the other resurrection stories in the gospels are false and Jesus’s resurrection is true. I do not believe that, but if it was the case we would not see the end of Christianity.

Geisler uses Dunn as an example. It would be interesting to find out if Geisler himself has ever read Dunn. Now I just recently read Dunn and I don’t remember him saying anything explicitly yea or nay on the resurrection, but I do remember this quote from him on page 101 of Jesus Remembered, the very source Geisler uses.

“A faith which regards all critical scrutiny of its historical roots as inimical to faith can never hold up its head or lift its voice in any public forum.” (Page 101)

Yes. That includes criticism from that bastion of evil that is Europe apparently. We Christians should look at what is going on and say “Bring it on.” If Christianity is true, we have no need to fear higher criticism or any other criticism. If it is shown that Christianity is not true, let us be grateful. Who wants to believe what isn’t true? If we are sure it is true, why fear the challenge? We win either way.

For Dunn’s idea, we need to examine it on its own merits. How conscious was Jesus of His own identity? What did He know about what it is He would do? How was his destiny and identity shaped by His growing up years and His personal study of the Tanakh?

Note that we do this because while we emphasize rightly the full deity of Christ, we can not eviscerate His humanity. We can make Jesus a superman instead who did not need to study and did not need to think through His worldview in coming to His identity. It is the question often asked in these times. What did He know and when did He know it?

How will we examine Dunn’s case? By the data. We won’t look and say “This disagrees with our conclusions, therefore it is false.” If our conclusions are true and Dunn disagrees with them, we can show that he is wrong by the data. The data cannot say one thing and the truth be another after all.

Does Geisler really think also that Jesus was totally aloof to the ideas of His time? Did the ideas of Jewish eschatology around Him play no role in the shaping of the culture He lived in? Could Jesus only function by believing in what was in the Tanakh?

Dunn is also just one person. Did Geisler consider any other NT scholars? Apparently not. Instead, you find one person whose position you think is problematic and from there get the idea that all of NT scholarship is problematic.

Next comes Licona’s treatment of Matthew 27. Geisler’s appeal here is to ICBI. It gives the impression that ICBI is just as infallible as the Scripture itself. Would it be possible that Geisler would like to update the canon and put the Chicago Statement in there as the last inspired book of the Bible?

What is absent? That’s right. A response to the opposition that Geisler has brought up. There is no response to arguments that NT scholarship would just not take seriously that Geisler brings up. JPH, myself, and Max Andrews have all addressed them as have others. That is ignored. Geisler hears no voice but his and those who agree with him.

In moving on to Blomberg, Geisler considers it startling that Blomberg called for apologies on the part of Geisler and Mohler and to all those who worked behind the scenes against Licona and his supporters.

Those of us who have been watching this and seeing the damage it is doing have not found this startling at all but a great act of bravery on the part of Blomberg. It seems impossible to Geisler to think that in his crusade he could be in the wrong and be doing more damage than he realizes. If Inerrancy dies in America, I believe it will be because of the way Geisler has treated it.

Blomberg is right. Geisler and Mohler do not know what they are speaking of in this issue in that they are treating all resurrections as equal. They are saying all passages are to be interpreted the same way. For instance, there has been much said about Geisler not interpreting the creation days as six literal 24-hour days.

Could not one say “Well Geisler has given us reason to doubt all of the Bible. After all, if you can change the days so that they are not literal days, then surely you can change the resurrection of Jesus so that it is not a literal resurrection.”

I do not think this is the case, but if it was brought up, would the charge fit?

If there is one part of the Bible that is not be interpreted literally, does that mean that none of it is to be taken that way? If one part of the Bible is apocalyptic, does that mean all of it is? If one part is not apocalyptic does that mean none of it is?

This all-or-nothing game is common in fundamentalist circles and a great threat to Christianity that causes one to dispense with the whole of the Bible if just one part is not interpreted the way one thinks.

We are told that Blomberg advocates a historical-critical/grammatical method of reading the Bible. What does this consist of? We’re not really told. I personally think we should let Blomberg make that case instead of just dismissing him for not agreeing with the beliefs of ICBI. If ICBI is correct, it will not be protected by simply dismissing all that disagrees with it. We condemn the Watchtower for not allowing any thinking contrary to the Watchtower to come in. Dare we do the same?

Geisler says that Blomberg ignored The Jesus Crisis, referring to the book by Farnell and Thomas. If he did, good for him. It should be ignored. The crisis described is one that would set the church back in America even more if it was heeded.

Now what are the great dangers of this approach? Let’s see. First is that the author of Matthew, not Jesus, created the Sermon on the Mount.

This depends on what is meant. If we are saying that Jesus spoke several messages and the main themes were compiled and put in one message, then what is the problem? If we mean Jesus never said anything like this and Matthew made it all up, that would be more problematic. Geisler doesn’t say which. For the Sermon on the Mount, if it was just that, many modern listeners would appreciate it. The Sermon on the Mount could be read in about fifteen minutes. If Jesus was a traveling teacher, he would have spoken much longer than that for a sermon. Consider how Paul in Acts spoke so long one of the listeners fell asleep. Historians often gave abbreviated accounts. (How many of us would love to give a message like Peter’s in Acts 2 that would last just two minutes and get 3,000 converts?)

Next is that the commissioning of the twelve is a compilation of messages. Why not? Let’s look at the evidence for the case. It would help explain such passages as the one saying you will not finish going through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. If this is the case and the ancients would have understood it, what’s the danger?

The same happens with the idea that Matthew 13 is a compilation of several different messages. Again, what’s the danger? Matthew likely arranged his message in a Mosaic format. He had action and then teaching in a fivefold format that would have been seen as fivefold like the Torah of Moses is. Jesus would be being presented to Matthew’s audience as one who was the new Moses and was in fact greater than Moses.

Jesus did not preach the Olivet Discourse in its entirety? This again depends. For instance, is it likely that Jesus in a talk to his apostles said “Let the reader understand.”? Would we lose out if Jesus had given a long talk and Matthew just gave a summation of it?

The scribes and Pharisees were good people who Matthew presented in a bad light.

By and large, it’s true, the scribes and Pharisees were good people. They were not evil masterminds plotting the destruction of Israel. They really believed they were doing something good. They were not actively seeking to undermine the worship of YHWH. The Pharisees were not condemned because they were Pharisees. Keep in mind that Paul was a Pharisee as well.

As for Matthew 2, J.P. Holding has dealt with that issue already.

Blomberg in the article states his problem with the Jesus Crisis. Geisler does not hear it. It is unbelievable to him that someone who loves God and embraces the Bible should go against The Jesus Crisis. Who needs the scholars? We have the Bible. If that’s the case, then we might as well say “Who needs PH.D.’s in philosophy to warn us about people who do not believe the Bible? We have the Bible. Who needs Geisler’s books on the Bible? We have the Bible itself. Who needs to attend some of Geisler’s Seminary courses? We have the Bible.”

We could go even further. If the Holy Spirit teaches us all things as Geisler has said, then we might as well say who needs Geisler’s philosophy courses even? Why if we are to know something, we will be taught it. We have the Holy Spirit! If the Holy Spirit thought it was important to study the laws of logic, he would have put the laws of logic in the Bible! If he thought we needed to know Plato or Aristotle, he would have put them in the Bible! He did not.

Blomberg’s criticism is correct. The church does not need to run from academia or seek to shut down academia. We need to be interacting with academia. Geisler says Blomberg is irenic and embracing with Mormons, but has great hostility to those who uphold the fundamentals of Scripture.

Well I for one did not read any great hostility in what Blomberg said, but rather the heart of someone concerned about the future of the church. Maybe Geisler thinks he knows the authorial intent of Blomberg. Oh wait. That can’t be known. As for what he said about Mormons, why not give people what they themselves give? I would have more respect for a well-informed Mormon than I would for an uninformed Christian.

Never mind it’s quite amusing to hear Geisler talking about someone having great hostility. I suppose it has been nothing but good-natured love that has caused someone to go after a scholar’s job and reputation, all the while conveniently ignoring the William Lane Craigs of the world that hold to the exact same position.

Geisler then talks about the dangers of people who hold to Blomberg’s hermeneutic starting with Griesbach and going all the way to Mike Licona. This assumes that these are dangerous positions. There would be no great danger to Christianity if Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source when they wrote their gospels. That does not mean that they did, but if they did, what is the great danger? If Geisler found out tomorrow that Mark was a source for Luke, and he could not deny it, would he be convinced Jesus did not rise from the dead? If so, then I have more concern for the faith of someone like Geisler than I think I ever could of Blomberg.

This is simply followed by more of the same. Instead of interacting with the points, we’re just told that the points are dangerous because of “liberalism.” It seems to be the reigning tactic that if you want to shut down the side of anyone in a biblical debate, you just accuse them of being liberal. Never mind whether the charge is true or not. It has a good way of sticking, even to those who hold to a conservative view of Scripture.

Of course, now we have Gundry brought up. Did 70% of ETS vote against Gundry? Well, not exactly. As Holding has said

“70% majority? Not quite. The vote was 116 to 41, with a far greater combined number abstaining. Geisler is not telling the whole truth here: It was only 70% of the voting group that he is referring to, not the whole membership of ETS.”

We are told that Blomberg denies the story of Peter catching a fish with a coin in his mouth. Well, no.

All he said was that it was not a miracle per se. It did not require divine intervention. Fish in that day regularly swallowed coins. It could be prophetic knowledge, but that itself is not a miracle. Also, Blomberg is right. We are not told that Peter went and did what Jesus said.

What about who wrote the epistles? Now I do believe that each epistle was written by its named author, but the way to respond to this is to show evidence for each case and not say “It disagrees with ICBI.” We are seeing more and more that for Geisler, ICBI is practically one of the early church councils!

And what about the idea of myths and legends being involved. I do not think there were, but what do we do again? It’s simple. We examine the claims on a case by case basis. It does not work to just retreat all the while stating that we are correct.

Blomberg is then gone after for demonizing his critics. (Oh the irony is so thick here!) Blomberg actually thinks the works of people like Lindsell and Thomas could be harmful to the faith. Well, yes. They could be. I happen to agree with him on Inerrancy and what he says. The way the case is made today makes it that if someone finds one contradiction in the Bible, then the whole thing is to be abandoned. Does Geisler really think there are no people out there like this?

I assure him that a basic internet search could find several people like this. Why is there such a quest by several to find contradictions in the Bible? How many people have given up Christianity because they’ve found a supposed contradiction in the Bible and figured from that that the whole thing was false? In fact, Bible contradictions are often a reason cited for why someone abandoned the Christian faith. Many people have a problem with literalism. This kind of thinking has done thorough damage to the church.

Geisler finds it scary that when Blomberg examines the gospels, he does not presuppose Inerrancy. I don’t. I find that good scholarship. If you are to approach the text seriously, you have to be willing to examine arguments against it seriously. Special Pleading will not help us in our battles against unbelief. If the gospels are true stories, then study will only reveal that. We do not need to presume Inerrancy in order to demonstrate the gospels are Inerrant.

In speaking about Bock also, Geisler says:

“In doing this, evangelicals of this approach, subject the Scripture to forms of historical criticism that will always place the Bible on the defensive in that it can never be shown to reflect historical trustworthiness.”

Is Geisler saying the Bible cannot be put on the defensive? If we examine the Bible critically, we can never determine that it is historically trustworthy?! What a crisis indeed the church is in if we think we have to run from historical examination of the Bible! I for one would be willing to say to the atheist “Bring your hard examination of our text. It will stand the test of time. You will find with an honest examination that Jesus rose from the dead! Go ahead and bring your toughest questions! We have answers!”

It is a shame that one who claims to defend the Bible like Geisler does not seem to believe the same about the Bible.

Geisler then tells us that Blomberg says we cannot demonstrate with certainty the truth of all of the Bible but we can demonstrate historical probability. He’s right. Historians do deal in probabilities. The idea of certainty is one that came from applying a view of history in that it should be treated like science. For science, you can do an experiment again and again. You cannot do that with history.

Blomberg also gives the hideous statement that if there were a few genuine contradictions, the rest of the text would not be jeopardized and the entire case for belief would not be called into question. This is one of those dangerous views of Scripture that says that if the Bible is not Inerrant, then Jesus did not rise. How far would it go? Would we say Jesus did not exist like some mythicists do if we find there are mistakes in the Bible? (Note there are some former Christians who have this position and their questioning of all the Bible started with a position like Geisler’s, you know, that view that doesn’t really damage the faith.)

Geisler also says probability is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps, but many times so is certainty. Geisler finds it certain that macroevolution is false. Some Christians disagree. How does one know? One examines the case. Some things are more likely than others. Not all events in the Bible can be backed the same way. Geisler’s all or nothing approach will indeed lead to more harm for the church.

Geisler cites Blomberg as saying:

“the Gospels must be subjected to the same type of historical scrutiny given to any other writings of antiquity but that they can stand up to such scrutiny admirably.”

Indeed they can, but Geisler says

“The naiveté of this latter position is breath-taking, since historical criticism has been shown to be replete with hostile philosophical underpinnings that apparently Blomberg is either unaware of or choosing to ignore.”

It’s a naive position to believe the Bible can stand up to scrutiny? Maybe Geisler and I are not talking about the same Bible. For his talk about it being the Word of God, he must think that Word is quite weak and cannot survive in the face of opposition. Geisler goes on to say that presuppositions always control the outcome. Why could this not be the same for Geisler? Could we say that he finds the Bible Inerrant because he presupposes that it is?

The ultimate question is can the text survive scrutiny? I contend that it can. Geisler seems to contend that it does not.

Unbelievers are seeing it. Even in the thread on his facebook page, there are unbelievers commenting and seeing that for Geisler, the Bible cannot stand the test of scrutiny. Now of course there is dishonest scrutiny, but can it face honest scrutiny with someone really seeking truth? I have no doubt.

It seems Geisler does.

Geisler ends with saying that we need to expose people like Blomberg. In his words,

“Further, the time has come to expose people like Blomberg who enjoy wide acceptance in certain evangelical circles but who denies the historic evangelical doctrine of inerrancy. This is not to say, Blomberg’s views on other essential doctrines could not be orthodox. They have not been examined here. It is simply to note that neither his defense of Licona, nor his own views on the origin and nature of Scripture meet the evangelical test of orthodoxy. ”

No. The time has come to expose a view of the Bible that should have never come forward. Not the view that it is Inerrant. That has been a part of our history. What should be exposed it the view of biblical literalism that goes against scholarship believing that one without any understanding of the context of Scripture can fully grasp its message. A faith that runs from academia cannot stand up and survive in academia. To quote Dunn again from Jesus Remembered,

“A faith which regards all critical scrutiny of its historical roots as inimical to faith can never hold up its head or lift its voice in any public forum.” (Page 101)

My faith can. Let’s see whose will stand the test of time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

(Unlike Geisler also, I do provide a link to critics. Geisler’s article can be found here)