Misquoting Licona

Should we represent opponents honestly? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many of my readers may very well be familiar with Bart Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus.” In this book, Bart discusses his belief that the words of Jesus are not accurately reproduced in the New Testament. Of course, Ehrman is well-known for his quarrel with the idea of an inerrant Bible; his downhill slide away from Christianity beginning with his rejection of the doctrine. Though Ehrman insists his ultimate reason for abandoning Christianity was the problem of evil, I believe he may not have come to this point had the issue of inerrancy not also been an issue. It clearly made an impact on him when one considers the number of times Ehrman has told the story about the genesis of his doubt in the doctrine of inerrancy.

Of course, I am open to being wrong.

One would think then that the one who is making the most out of a reputation of defending Inerrancy, namely Norman Geisler, would want to make sure he does not make the same mistake as the book title of Ehrman and be sure that he is quoting his opponent, Mike Licona, in this case, accurately. I find it ironic that one who is making the most out of a reputation of defending inerrancy, namely Norman Geisler, would be guilty of doing the very thing Ehrman asserts regarding the words of Jesus in the New Testament.

As it stands, he is not. Case in point is his recent article taking to task Dr. Robert Sloan, President of Houston Baptist University and Dr. Mike Licona.

“(9)Licona believes that the Gospel of Matthew does not come from the apostle Matthew or from another apostolic source, but it has been redacted by a later writer. For he affirmed that “This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances. However, “the magnificent harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction” (RJ, 530).”

In order to give full disclosure, I need to acknowledge that Mike Licona is my father-in-law. This also has the added advantage of being able to ask him point blank any question that comes up that would be of concern. I found this particular assertion regarding the authorship of Matthew particularly amusing because Mike and I had recently talked about Bart Ehrman and his disregard for the arguments on the authorship of the gospels from conservative scholars. After reading Geisler’s most recent attack, I called Mike and told him I was surprised to hear that he does not believe Matthew wrote Matthew. He responded that he, too, was surprised to hear that!

I then emailed Mike, referencing point nine of Geisler’s article, in particular. Mike urged me to check the reference in his book, something that I should have done from the start. However, hindsight is always 20/20. If you have a copy of Mike’s book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” I urge you to turn to page 530.

At the start of the first paragraph indentation, you will read “Crossan thinks that a trace of the harrowing of hell appears in Matthew 27:52-53, which may have been an attempt to solve this fourth problem.” In other words, we are dealing with Crossan’s view, not Licona’s view.

Following are the verses in Greek as well as an English translation. The next paragraph goes as follows, and keep in mind this is still Crossan’s view being stated:

“This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances. However, ‘the magnificient harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction.(257)’ A later attempt has the apostles and teachers leading the harrowing of hell after their deaths.(258) For Crossan the marginalization of the harrowing of hell is ‘one of the most serious losses from earliest Christian theology.(259)”

(Parentheses indicate the number of a footnote.)

All of this is the view of Crossan which is summarized in part here. (Pages 519-532 explain in depth Crossan’s hypothesis on the resurrection).

Now let’s look again at the manner in which Geisler portrays Licona’s view.

According to Geisler, “Licona believes that the Gospel of Matthew does not come from the apostle Matthew or from another apostolic source, but it has been redacted by a later writer.”

The first part is Geisler’s portrayal of Licona’s belief that the gospel of Mathew does not come from Matthew but from another source and was, in fact, redacted.

“For he (supposedly Licona) affirmed that “This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances.”

According to Geisler, this is the belief that Licona affirms.

And here is the last part with a quote from the book to seal the deal:

“However, “the magnificent harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction’ ” (Again, Geisler asserting that these are the words of Licona and a belief that he affirms).

The problem is right after the word “redaction” there is is, as shown earlier, a number indicating a footnote. Going to the bottom of the page, we find the corresponding footnote and read “Crossan in Stewart,ed. (2006), 181.”

If we go to page 689, we see that the footnote refers to a work by Dr. Robert Stewart, “The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue,” Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.

Thus, Geisler has attributed to Licona a view that he does not actually hold. In his book, Licona was merely quoting Crossan, not his own view, in a chapter entitled “Weighing Hypotheses” with the look at Crossan beginning on page 519. This portion ends on page 532 and Licona then begins to outline his personal view and critiques Crossan’s view.

Logically, this means that one of two things has happened. Either Geisler has used sloppy scholarship and has misrepresented his opponent. Or, even worse, he is just outright being dishonest. We cannot know, but let us hope that it is the former.

One may object, “But maybe Geisler did not write that. Maybe someone under him wrote it and he just gave his stamp of approval.”

However, even if this were the case problems remain. Even if it is true, It defies reason that someone reading the book would not know this is a footnote. Second, even if Geisler didn’t actually write the article, he did give it his stamp of approval not bothering to check it for accuracy. He proceeded to put it up on his website and Facebook page so this is where the buck ultimately stops.

Either way, his name is on the article which means he is claiming authorship. If that’s ethical, he can have no complaint with those who hold to the pseudonymous authorship of a work. How could this be since he holds that to deny Matthew wrote Matthew is to deny inerrancy? Since the gospel of Matthew nowhere makes the claim that it is written by Matthew, how does he know? Is he relying on the early Church Fathers? Is this any more than an Evangelical Pope at work?

Licona holds that the traditional authorship is probable. Can this be demonstrated with 100% satisfaction? No. Few, if any, conservative scholars would argue otherwise. But the evidence is largely in favor of this view while the evidence to the contrary is quite weak.

Moving on, in the first open letter, Geisler regularly refers to events on pages 546-553 of Licona’s book. That letter can be found here. Why is it important to mention those pages?
Because those are the very pages where Licona responds to the harrowing of hell. Geisler should be especially familiar with them since those are the pages that contain the theory of of the rising of the dead saints in Matthew 27 that first got Geisler started. This being the case, one would think Geisler would be well aware that the view outlined in those pages does not reflect Licona’s personal view.

Geisler has the freedom to think Licona is wrong. That’s fine. He does not have the freedom to misrepresent Licona. This kind of misrepresentation should not be accepted in the evangelical community. If we are quoting our friends or our foes, we need to do our best to make sure we get their views right. Mistakes can happen, but it is difficult to see how it could have been made in this case. Let me repeat it. There is a footnote IMMEDIATELY AFTER the quote.

This is also why it is so important for people to check references. The sad reality is most people are not going to bother to read Licona’s book but only read what Geisler says about it and go accept that as the gospel truth. They will not hesitate to tell others that Licona does not believe that Matthew wrote Matthew, which is false, and attribute to Licona a view actually held not by him, but by Crossan, a member of the Jesus Seminar. Thus, the greatest work we have today defending the resurrection will be disregarded by those not doing their homework, because of a misrepresentation.

Since the misrepresentation was public, it only follows that the apology be public as well. It cannot be covered over like it never happened. This is… Just a removal will not work. It cannot be covered over like this never happened. This is a serious offense.

It has been asserted that the enemies of Christ have been handed a powerful weapon by Licona’s book. Personally, I have not once seen it used as such and am on the internet engaging skeptics enough to know if it were indeed the case. The fact that there is such disagreement in the evangelical community. If you want to know who has handed the enemies of Christ a powerful weapon, it is Geisler with his personal vendetta.

Though we hope there will be public repentance in this case, we are not holding our breath. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call to the evangelical community to stand against such behavior. We must first deal with troubles such as this within our own household. We also hope this will be a wake-up call to Geisler. The time he has spent attacking Licona could be much better spent refuting real enemies of the faith.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Stone At Sloan

Is the attack aimed at Robert Sloan hitting the mark? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I’d like to begin this post by asking everyone to open their Bibles and please turn to the book of ICBI.

“There is no such book as ICBI.”

Now I find this surprising because lately, I’m finding it quoted so much by “true defenders of Inerrancy” that I would think it’s right up there with Scripture. The club of ICBI has lately found a new target and that’s in Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University (HBU) that hired Dr. Mike Licona as a professor there. HBU has been putting together a crack apologetics team and I suspect will soon be an apologetics hub in the world.

Yet for some people, it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t play their song and dance.

So what is being said in the latest rant?

“Despite the fact that Mike Licona lost his positions at the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board, at Southern Evangelical Seminary, and at Liberty University subsequent to the public criticism of his views on inerrancy by Southern Baptist leaders like Al Mohler and Page Patterson and others, Houston Baptist hired Licona and placed its blessing on his views.”

By the way, right at the start, that’s “Paige Patterson.” One might think I’m nitpicking, but it isn’t the first time that this mistake is made in this writing. Unfortunately, none of these people are NT scholars and there’s no reason why I should give Mohler or Patterson that level of confidence. One would hope Geisler would be above fallacious appeals to authority, but alas, he is not. If the goal is to ruin Licona, then all is justified, including bad logic.

The article goes on with Sloan’s words.

“Dr. Michael Licona is a very fine Christian. We trust completely his commitment to Scripture. There are those who disagree with his comments on what is a very difficult passage (Matthew 27:45-53, especially verses 52-53), but Mike Licona’s devotion to the Lord Jesus, his magisterial defense of the resurrection, his publicly and solemnly declared affirmation of the complete trustworthiness of Scripture and his worldwide efforts to win others to Christ give us full confidence in his work as a teacher, colleague and faculty member of Houston Baptist University (reported in the Baptist Press [BP] 2/6/2013).”

To which, we salute Sloan for this and the evangelical world ought to. One hopes that Sloan is not the type to respond to bullying from people like Geisler and Mohler. It will not be a surprise to see HBU moving fowards while Geisler’s own VES gets nothing. By the way, I also suspect that within a few years, provided Geisler is still around, there will be a controversy at VES and Geisler will be at the heart of it doing the same thing to someone else.

We continue:

“Besides the fact that Sloan notably makes no claim that Licona believes in inerrancy, there are several serious problems with this approval of Licona’s aberrant views on Scripture:…”

Yes. Sloan said that Licona believes in the completely trustworthiness of Scripture, yet somehow that’s supposed to mean he thinks the Bible has errors. If Sloan had said “Licona affirms Inerrancy” would it have even mattered? Licona put together the list of scholars who said his views did not go against Inerrancy. Licona himself has said he believes in Inerrancy. Still, it is not enough. Instead, we are given the impression that this is lip service. So, if Sloan does not say it, it’s suspect. If he did say it, we would be told why it’s wrong. You can’t win if the opponent keeps changing the evidence to fit their claims.

“First, Licona has not repudiated his claim that there is a contradiction in the Gospels about which day Jesus was crucified on. In a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary (Spring, 2009) Licona declared, “I think that John probably altered the day [of Jesus’ crucifixion] in order for a theological—to make a theological point there. But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified” (emphasis added). In short, John contradicts the other Gospels on which day Jesus was crucified. This is a flat denial of inerrancy for at least one of them has to be an error. But if the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then how can it err on this matter?”

Okay. I don’t really agree with Licona’s thinking on this, but here’s the question I have in return.

Which temptation came first? Was it the temptation to worship the devil or the temptation to jump from the temple mount? Matthew has one order. Luke has another. Which is it?

Or do we go with something like “The Jesus Crisis” and maybe say the devil tempted Jesus six times and just used the same temptation twice? If not, then either Matthew changed the order or Luke did. If so, then wouldn’t this be by Geisler’s standard a denial of Inerrancy since one of them would have to be in error?

Or could it be it is an error by a modern post-enlightenment standard, but not by an ancient Jewish standard. To say the Bible must be read according to our standard is to get us into reader-response criticism, part of postmodernism. I’m sure Geisler doesn’t want to do that, but if the meaning of error-free in the text is determined by the culture of the reader, it looks like that’s where we’re going.


“Second, believing there are contradictions in the Bible is emphatically rejected by the Statements of International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI). Licona has claimed to agree with the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) which accepted the ICBI statements as a guide to understanding its view on inerrancy (in 2003). But the ICBI Statements contradict his claim, saying: ‘We affirm the unity and internal consistency of scripture” (Article XIV). And “We deny that later revelations…ever correct or contradict” other revelations (Article V). As for the alleged compatibility of Licona’s view with the ICBI statements, the co-founder of ICBI and the original framer of its inerrancy Statements, R. C. Sproul said flatly, “As the former and only president of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Mr. Michael Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the united Statements of ICBI’ (Letter May 22, 2012).”

Ah yes. ICBI has spoken. The case is closed. All hail the papacy of evangelicalism. Here’s the reality. Licona does not believe there are contradictions in Scripture. When Licona says that clearly, it is disregarded. Who cares what he says? And this from the same group that says we can’t know authorial intent. R.C. Sproul might have said this, but what jurisdiction does he have to comment on Licona’s work since he is not a NT scholar?

By the way, what is happening is really not good for Geisler because when a new authority comes up like Sproul the response is “Wow. I guess I can’t respect Sproul any more.”

“President Al Mohler of Southern Seminary adds correctly, ‘The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy clearly and rightly affirms ‘the unity and internal consistency of Scripture’ and denies that any argument for contradictions within the Bible is compatible with inerrancy.’ An actual contradiction is an error’ (BP article 2/6/2013, emphasis added).”

Yep. So does Licona. Still, it is not what he says that matters. It is what is perceived by his opponents. It is certainly for them to try to stand up on Sinai and pass down a new tradition and put it on par with what has been revealed.

As I say this, I am thinking about a comic strip from Peanuts I put on my Facebook recently with Charlie Brown telling Snoopy he hears he’s writing a book on theology and hopes he has a good title. Snoopy says he has the perfect title and as we see him typing, we see the title is “Has It Ever Occurred To You That You Might Be Wrong?”

If we get a copy of that, can we please pass it on to Geisler and Mohler?

“Third, Licona still embraces the view that it is compatible with inerrancy to accept the Greco-Roman view that there are legends in the Gospels. Licona claims this Greco-Roman view is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus, 34). Indeed, he adds, “Bios offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…and they often included legends” (ibid., emphasis added).”

Did Licona say there are legends in the Bible? Nope. He was first determining what the genre was of the gospels. The best work to read on this would be Burridge’s book “What Are The Gospels?” Licona is writing a scholarly book for other scholars and stating at the start what the genre is and the rules of it. He is not stating that since many contain legends, therefore the gospels do. Geisler is taking out of context a saying of Licona’s and making it mean something it doesn’t.

Be careful. In some places, that’s called “false witness.” I would think if someone wants to take the text seriously, they should consider what the text says about that.

“In a YouTube video (11/23/2012) taken at the 2012 Evangelical Theological Society meeting (http://youtu.be/TJ8rZukh_Bc), Licona affirmed the following: “So um this didn’t really bother me in terms of if there were contradictions in the Gospels…. So um it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed. But it did bother a lot of Christians.” However, Licona consoles himself, saying, “I mean there are only maybe a handful of things between Gospels that are potential contradictions and only one or two that I found that are really stubborn for me at this point and they are all in the peripherals again.” However, this is no consolation for an inerrantist since even one error in the Bible would mean it is not the Word of God because God cannot error in even one thing that He affirms. After all, how many mistakes can an omniscient Being make? Zip , zero, zilch! None!”

Reply: Here’s why this doesn’t bother Licona? The case can be made that Jesus rose from the dead still. Is Geisler really going to tell us that if the Bible is not Inerrant, then we cannot make the case that Jesus rose from the dead? Has it come to that? Is it the case for Geisler that if the Bible is not Inerrant, then that means that Christianity is false? If so, then I really feel sorry for his faith position.

One would be hard-pressed to memorize every detail to deal with what look like contradictions in the Bible. Even for those who affirm Inerrancy, they can still understand that some places in the Bible do look like they contradict. If not, why would a whole book be written like “When Critics Ask”? If your whole faith depended on giving a defense for everyone of those consistently, what a burden it would be!

Geisler may not think Licona’s view is a great consolation for an Inerrantist. Who is it a great consolation for though? A Christian. Why? Because a Christian can know that you can take a Bible that could be less than perfect and still get the truth that Jesus rose from the dead and thus Christianity is still true.

Besides, how far will Geisler’s idea of an omniscient being making no mistakes go? Now I agree that God does not make mistakes, but does Geisler not know about internet atheists? Does he not know about people who will say that an omniscient and omnipotent God could do a better job of preserving His Word? Would Geisler maybe like to side with the KJV onlyists who say that He did, but only in the KJV? Could one not ask Geisler “If God can write a perfect book, why can He not preserve one?”

Many of us think God did preserve His Word. We just realize it requires work on our part. It is not a fax from Heaven or something like golden tablets. The writing and copying was still a very much human process. Errors in copying, which no one should deny exist, do not equal errors on God’s part. They equal errors on our part. A view like Geisler’s will instead set up Christians to have their faith shattered by having to have everything perfect.

“Fourth, Licona believes the Greco-Roman Genre used by the Gospels allows for errors. He claims this is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (The Resurrection of Jesus [RJ], 34). So, “as I started to note some of these liberties that he took I immediately started to recognize that these are the same liberties that I noticed the Evangelists did, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” (ibid., emphasis added). So, “these most commonly cited differences in the Gospels that skeptics like Ehrman like to refer to as contractions aren’t contradictions after all. They are just the standard biographical liberties that ancient biographers of that day took.”

Yes. The quote on page 34 just in case you missed the fact that it was quoted not too long ago.

Oh, by the way, that part about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? That’s not on page 34 of the book. It comes from the Baptist Press article. Geisler doesn’t even tell you who the “he” is in the passage. It’s Plutarch and this was a project begun after the book was released. In fact, note what Licona has done. He’s done this to show that what Ehrman says are contradictions aren’t. You can argue that Licona is wrong, but the reason he’s doing this is to show there aren’t contradictions. These are just liberties, and having liberty in writing does not mean that one will necessarily have contradictions.

You’d think someone who cares about Inerrancy so much would welcome this.

“However, the ICBI statements clearly reject this conclusion, insisting that: “WE DENY that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it” (ICBI Hermeneutics Article XX). The Bible does use different genres of literature (history, poetry, parable, etc.). But these are known from inside the Bible by use of the traditional “grammatico-historical exegesis” which the ICBI framers embraced (Inerrancy Article XVIII). Indeed, the framers said emphatically, “WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual. WE AFFIRM that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact. WE DENY that any such event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Hermeneutics Article XIII).”

Alas. It does not matter. ICBI has spoken. The case is closed. I wonder at this point if I opened up Geisler’s Bible if I’d find ICBI in the back of it. Geisler is still getting it wrong in that you can’t dehistoricize an account that is not historical to begin with. Note also that Licona does not say Matthew is “inventing” an event.

“Unlike Licona, the genre categories into which the Bible is said to fit are not determined by data outside the Bible. The Gospels, for example, may be their own unique genre, as many biblical scholars believe. As the ICBI statement puts it, “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (Chicago Statement, Article XVIII). Indeed, the ICBI Commentary on Hermeneutics Article XVIII declares: “The second principle of the affirmation is that we are to take account of the literary forms and devices that are found within the Scriptures themselves” (emphasis added). The Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible, not Greek legends.”

Really? Which biblical scholars are these? The article doesn’t tell us. We also need to know why they think this. Even if that is given, the other side needs to be shown to be wrong. Without that, it just becomes “We have people who take our side, therefore we are right” and truth can come to just a head count.

Also, if Geisler is so scared of extra-biblical information, then what is he doing with Genesis 1, which he thinks ought to be seen as teaching an old Earth in light of modern science. Note that that modern science is NOT something the ancients had access to. They did have access to the kind of material Licona uses. Could not someone come to Geisler and say “You deny Inerrancy for you use extrabiblical material to make the Bible say the Earth is old when the text itself says it isn’t, and the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible.”

Geisler could come up with a defense, but his opponents can just say “Oh sure. You affirm Inerrancy, but you’re changing the meaning of the text with extra-biblical material.” The sword cuts both ways.

If Geisler wants to dispute the gospels are Greco-Roman biographies, no scholars will have a problem with it, provided he makes an actual argument. He can read Burridge’s book. An actual response will deal with Burridge’s data and show why it’s wrong. An actual response will not be “ICBI says otherwise!”

As for the “Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible” this is just a cliche saying. The Bible cannot interpret itself. It does not have a mind like that. It is the great holy book of our faith, but it is still a book. I’d like to use an example of why this is problematic. I read 2 Timothy last night. Can Geisler tell me who Jannes and Jambres were?

Remember. No extra-biblical literature is allowed.

You see, these two are mentioned in 2 Timothy 3. It does not tell who they are? Tradition says they were the magicians who opposed Moses, but all we know from the text is that they opposed Moses. The magicians certainly did, but many times so did the Israelites.

Can Geisler give me a definitive word on who these two are without referring to extra-biblical material? Answer. Nope.

If you want to know the layout of the land of Israel to know where Jesus walked, or the layout of the Roman Empire to know where Paul went on his journeys, you must use extra-biblical material. Does Geisler want to rip the maps out of the back of his Bible since they’re extra-biblical? (It could give him more room to include the ICBI statements in there after all.) Geisler makes the mistake of treating the Bible as if it was written in a vacuum. It wasn’t. It is in a high-context society that assumes you’re familiar with the background material. We’re not since we’re not part of that society. Hence, we need the scholarly work. Even knowing the society is knowing something “extra-biblical.”

Let’s deal with the next parts together.

“Fifth, in direct contradiction to the ICBI statements on inerrancy, Licona dehistoricizes part of the Gospels. Licona and even some reviewers tend to focus on only one issue in Licona’s writings, namely, the non-historical status of the resurrected saints in Matthew 27. But the ICBI statements on inerrancy condemn “dihistoricizing” the Gospel record. Article XVIII of the Chicago Statement on inerrancy reads: “We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship” (emphasis added). The ICBI commentary on this reads: “To turn narrative history into poetry, or poetry into narrative history would be to violate the intended meaning of the text” (Commentary on Inerrancy Article XVIII). Again, “WE AFFIRM that the biblical record of events, discourses and sayings, though presented in a variety of appropriate literary forms, corresponds to historical fact. WE DENY that any such event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated” (Hermeneutics Article XIV). The official commentary adds, “While acknowledging the legitimacy of literary forms, this article insists that any record of events presented in Scripture must correspond to historical fact. That is, no reported event, discourse, or saying should be considered imaginary.”

“Licona’s claim that he is not “dehistoricizing” is bogus since it is based on the false assumption that the Gospels are not making a claim to be historical (cf. Lk. 1:1-4). But the ICBI fathers clearly reject this, insisting that: “WE DENY that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (Hermeneutics Article VIII).”

Looking at the first part, note that it says that to turn narrative into poetry or anything of the like would deny the intended meaning of the text.

I thought we couldn’t know the intended meaning….

Next we have the same canard that Licona’s view is bogus since it assumes the gospels are not making a claim to be historical. This is just more question-begging on Geisler’s part. It is amusing that he refers to the ICBI fathers. Do we have a magisterium going on here?

“This is particularly true of the Matthew 27 text about the resurrection of the saints which presents itself as historical in many ways, including the following: (1) It occurs in a book that present itself as historical (cf. Mt. 1:1,18); (2) Numerous events in this book have been confirmed as historical (e.g., the birth, life, deeds, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ); (3) It is presented in the immediate context of other historical events, namely, the death and resurrection of Christ; (4) The resurrection of these saints is also presented as an event occurring as a result of the literal death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Mt. 27:52-53); (5) Its lineage with the preceding historical events is indicated by a series of conjunctions (and…and…and, etc.); (6) It is introduced by the attention getting “Behold” (v. 51) which focuses on its reality;[1] (7) It has all the same essential earmarks of the literal resurrection of Christ, including: (a) empty tombs, (b) dead bodies coming to life, and (c) these resurrected bodies appearing to many witnesses; (8) It lacks any literary embellishment common to myths, being a short, simple, and straightforward account; (9) It contains elements that are confirmed as historical by other Gospels, such as (a) the veil of the temple being split (Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45), and (b) the reaction of the Centurion (Mk. 15:39; Lk. 23:47). If these events are historical, then there is no reason to reject the other events, such as, the earthquake and the resurrection of the saints.”

Hate to tell you this Geisler, but apocalyptic and even fictional accounts have those too. In fact, by this argument, how can Geisler deny the copycat thesis to be false since it has the exact same characteristics often. Is Geisler going to say they are false because they are not biblical? If so, then again, he is begging the question. If he can say they can have these types of things in them and still not be historical, then he has refuted his own argument. He can’t have it both ways. Note also there has not been a response to Licona’s own arguments, such as what he said in “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

“Further, Both Licona and even some reviewers make the mistake of assuming that Matthew 27 is the only problem that Licona has on the inerrancy issue. In fact, there are numerous places where Licona deviates from the traditional ICBI view on inerrancy which even ETS adopted as a guide for understanding inerrancy. Consider the following:”

Just a side note. Geisler never deals with “these reviewers” which include myself, J.P. Holding, Max Andrews, and others. Those challenges are still floating out there. Holding has challenged Geisler to debate that the gospels are not Greco-Roman biographies. That challenge was deleted from Geisler’s Facebook page and the person who put it up banned. If Geisler is so sure of his view, then how about dealing with these reviewers and accepting the challenge, or is it Geisler knows he can’t win that debate and would prefer to rant and rave from where he is?

“(1) Licona denied the historicity of the resurrected saints in Matthew 27. He wrote in his book on The Resurrection of Jesus (RJ) that the resurrection of the saints narrative was “a weird residual fragment” (RJ, 527) and a “strange report” (RJ, 530, 548, 556, emphasis added in these citations).[2] He called it “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary “special effects” (see RJ, 306, 548, 552, 553, emphasis added in all these citations). He adds, “It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes (see RJ, 185-186, emphasis added in all these citations). While Licona later moderated his certainty of this denial, he never retracted it, nor has he retracted his belief that it is compatible with inerrancy, even the ICBI view, to hold that this section is a legend.”

Let’s see. Who else holds this view? William Lane Craig does. Do we hear about Geisler going after Craig? Nope. Someone else is Craig Evans who says in “The Textual Reliability of the New Testament” on pages 166-167 (I am unsure exactly as I read it on the Kindle) that the story of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is chronologically clumsy and does not reflect the literary skill of the Matthean evangelist and “Should we someday recover a second century Greek manuscript that preserves the latter part of Matthew 27, I shall not be surprised if vv. 52-53 are not present.”

Let loose the hounds of heresy!

Note also the way Licona says about the data with Jesus that “it could be mixed with legend.” Licona is writing to scholars and when you do that, you don’t assume Inerrancy, you state what could be at the start, but the rest of the work is to show that it is not. This is again fearmongering.

“(2) Licona also affirmed that one of the Gospels claims that Jesus was crucified on the wrong day. This he said in a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Spring, 2009 (which is cited above). This is a serious breach of inerrancy.

(3, 4, 5, 6) Licona also casts doubt on the existence of the angels at the tomb after the resurrection in all four Gospels). He declared: “We may also be reading poetic language of legend at certain points, such as …the angels at the tomb (Mk 16:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13)” (RJ, 185-186).”

We had to have the changed date mentioned again. It’s kind of like the way it was the day Michael Jackson died. You have to have it repeated umpteen times just in case anyone missed it by now. As for the part about angels, this is just the same thing. Licona is trying to do a historical investigation without assuming Inerrancy. That’s how it’s done. You have to be open to being wrong.

Something Geisler is not.

“(7) He also suggested that the mob falling backward at Jesus claim in John 18:4-6 may not be historical but could be a legendary embellishment. He called it: “A possible candidate for embellishment is Jn 18:4-6” (RJ, 306, n. 114).”

Despite the fact that on the Theopologetics podcast, Licona said he does not believe there are embellishements. Why is he saying what is said above then? Again, this is the way scholars write. One piece some think is an embellishment is the one cited.

“Licona affirms that the Gospels sometimes embellished Jesus’ words. He wrote, “For this reason, we get a sense that the canonical Gospels are reading authentic reports of Jesus’ arrest and death…even if some embellishments are present” (RJ, 306). This is contrary to Luke 1:1-4 which affirms that the Gospels are based on the accounts of “eyewitness.”

No. There is no affirmation of that. It is saying even if there were embellishments, the accounts would still be accurate. Also, if there were, how does that contradict the account being based on eyewitness testimony. Is Geisler saying an eyewitness could never embellish anything at all? I’m sure some police officers and journalists would be fascinated to hear that one!

“(9) Licona believes that the Gospel of Matthew does not come from the apostle Matthew or from another apostolic source, but it has been redacted by a later writer. For he affirmed that “This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances. However, “the magnificent harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction” (RJ, 530). ”

Does anyone in there see any argument saying Matthew did not write Matthew? I don’t. By the way, I’ve talked to Licona personally about this, seeing as he is my father-in-law, concerning how Ehrman is too quick to dismiss church father testimony on who wrote the gospels. I think I know his view well enough. Geisler has it wrong. Also, perhaps we should address redaction criticism. Mark Goodacre at his blog on the topic defines it this way:

“Redaction Criticism is the study of the way in which the evangelists (= “redactors”) moulded their source material, with a view to discovering their literary and theological agendas”

What does this say about who wrote it? Zip. It just says what they did. To say the writer redacted his material is not to say that Matthew did not write it. I recently took my wife to see a dentist and met a Jehovah’s Witness there. When I told different family members and friends about it, I would regularly take the material I had from my own memory and change it some, not by adding, but by summarizing or leaving parts out or what have you. Within a few minutes of the event, I was redacting it, but that does not mean that I was giving errors in what I was saying.

Edited to add: The case gets worse. If you go to Licona’s book, and I urge anyone skeptical to do so, you will find the quote from Geisler is actually Licona quoting John Dominic Crossan. It has a footnote right after it. I would very much like to hear Geisler explain how it is he thinks that this is Licona’s view since it has a footnote right after it. Is this the kind of methodology that Geisler will employ or allow to go after Licona?

“(10, 11, 12, etc.) Licona also admits that there are an unnumbered “handful” of possible errors in the Gospels. He wrote: “I mean there are only maybe a handful of things between Gospels that are potential contradictions and only one or two that I found that are really stubborn for me at this point and they are all in the peripherals again.” However, he takes comfort that they are all in “peripheral” areas. But here again, how many errors can an omniscient Mind make in so-called peripheral areas? None! Further, some of the errors are not so “peripheral,” such as the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 after Jesus’ resurrection. After all, their resurrection was seen as a result of Jesus resurrection and was even taken to be a proof of it by the context and by many early Fathers of the Church (see “The Early Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints in Matthew 27,” http://tinyurl.com/bdu23gg), including an apostolic Father (Ignatius) who was a contemporary of the apostle John and Irenaeus who knew Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John.”

Licona is being an honest scholar here. He is looking at the material and dealing with it, something Geisler needs to do, especially with the material of his opponents. Licona is also not calling Matthew 27 an error. As for the article on the church fathers (By the way, the church fathers are extra-biblical. Why are we allowed to use them to interpret the text? I thought the Bible was its own interpreter), there is a reply in the works. Unlike Geisler, I’m seeking an expert in the church fathers to make sure I get my claims correct. I can say Geisler does not deal with Licona’s objections in “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

” Conclusion

Even Licona admits that “… You may lose some form of biblical inerrancy if there are contradictions in the Gospels, but you still have the truth of Christianity that Jesus rose from the dead, and I think that’s the most important point we can make” (BP, Feb 6, 2013, emphasis added). Indeed, one would lose some form of inerrancy, if Licona is right—the form that has been held by Christians down though the centuries (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, 1984) including Southern Baptist (see Russ Bush and Tom Nettles, Baptist and the Bible, 1980), was confessed by the framers of the ETS, and was codified by the ICBI framers. In view of this, it is incredible to hear Licona say, as he did (BP Feb. 5, 2012), that “he has not claimed there are contradictions in the Gospels.” He clearly did say there was a contradiction in the Gospels in his debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary (cited above). He also admitted in his YouTube interview (cited above) there were or could be contradictions in the Bible. In fact, if words still have meaning, one wonders what form of inerrancy can there be that admits the Bible is errant? As President Al Mohler said, “It would be nonsense to affirm real contradictions in the Bible and then to affirm inerrancy” (BP 2/6/2013). ”

Little problem. Licona never affirmed contradictions. This is just putting words in his mouth as part of fearmongering. Note that Geisler does not even say anything about the idea that Jesus rose from the dead is the most important point we can make. Geisler has often spoke about the fundamental of fundamentals. It is not the Bible or Inerrancy. It is what Licona defends instead, the resurrection.

I have a book here in my library that on page 63 in talking about the Bible says the following in discussing the significance of the internal harmony of Scripture:

“This is especially so in view of the fact that the books of the Bible were recorded by some 40 men as diverse as king, prophet, herdsman, tax collector, and physician. They did the writing over a period of 1,610 years; so there was no opportunity for collusion. Yet their writings agree, even in the smallest detail. To appreciate the extent to which the various portions of the Bible are harmoniously intertwined, you must read and study it personally.”

I do not doubt many people would agree with this. Do you want to know where it is?

It’s in a book called “Reasoning from the Scriptures.”

If you do not know, that is one of the main books of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Witnesses affirm Inerrancy, and they’re right! You know what they get wrong? What the Inerrant teaching is. That includes the resurrection. They do not see it as a physical resurrction.

You see, someone can be right about the Bible being Inerrant, and still not be a Christian. Yet could someone have the right view that Jesus rose from the dead and still think the Bible has errors (Which Licona and I don’t.)? Answer. Absolutely! I would rather someone come to the right Jesus and have the wrong view of the Bible, than come to the right view of the Bible and with the wrong Jesus.

Geisler goes on.

” Licona’s good friend Gary Habermas of Liberty University offers a lame excuse for his former pupil’s aberrant views when he claimed that people should remember that Licona’s approach is an apologetic strategy. “Thus, it is not a prescription for how a given text should be approached in the original languages and translated, or how a systematic theology is developed…. So it should never be concluded that the use of such methods in an apologetic context indicate a lack of trust in Scripture as a whole, or, say, the Gospels in particular” (cited in BP 2/13/2013). If this is taken to mean that Licona does not agree with his own words in his own book (RJ) and lectures when he denies the inerrancy of the Gospels, then it is ludicrous. For, as any reasonably intelligent reader can tell, Licona is making and defending the statements of his book as his own and not simply as an “apologetic strategy.” Nowhere in the 718 pages of his book (RJ) does he claim that it is merely an “apologetic strategy.” The only apologetic strategy is the one employed by Habermas to defend his wayward student.”

Note this. A “lame” excuse. Wasn’t this from the side telling us we need a respectful dialogue? Apparently, this is like the people who cry out for tolerance but don’t think they need to show it. Sorry Geisler, but Habermas is right on this. It is an apologetic strategy. All he is wanting to affirm is that the minimal facts approach is not a sidestep of Scripture. It is not about Licona. Geisler is reading something into the text. For Geisler, it has to be spelled out specifically, except for when it disagrees with him. Licona specifically says he does not believe in embellishments in the Bible, but that is not enough. The rules keep changing.

Also, Licona does not deny Inerrancy. Do we really have to keep repeating this?

“Licona told the Baptist Press, “I suppose that if one were to claim that it’s unorthodox to read the Gospels and attempt to understand them according to the genre in which they were written rather than impose Dr. Geisler’s modern idea of precision upon them, then I’m guilty as charged” (emphasis added). However, this begs the whole question for it assumes, contrary to fact, that they are written in a Greco-Roman genre which Licona claims is a “flexible genre,” and “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins. He added, “Bios offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…and they often included legends” (RJ, 34, emphasis added). The truth of the matter is that ICBI framers are not imposing a “modern idea” of precision on the Bible, certainly not in claiming Gospel record of the resurrection of the saints is historical. This is purely a “straw man” fallacy. The ICBI frames clearly said, “We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as lack of modern technical precision, … the use of hyperbole and round numbers” (Article XII, emphasis added). What is more, it is not inerrantists but Licona who is imposing a foreign, extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre on the Bible which leads to “dehistoricizing” the Scripture and undermining the doctrine of inerrancy.”

No. Licona does not “assume” that the gospels are Greco-Roman bios. He argues for it. Geisler says this is contrary to fact. Can he say so? Is he willing to step into the debate ring with Holding on this one? Until he does so, I say there is no reason to listen to him on this. If he thinks his case is correct, he can demonstrate it in a debate. If not, then it’s time to get off of Mount Sinai.

Finally, Geisler ends with this:

“Furthermore, it is not a question of “precision” that inerrantists insist upon when they disallow Licona’s allegations of contradictions in the Bible. As Dr. Page Patterson, President of Southwest Baptist theological Seminary, aptly put it: “Let’s be clear. A story, an affirmation, is either true or false, but not both true and false in the same way at the same time. That is a long accepted law of logic, and no amount of fudging can make it change. While I have no reason to question the sincerity of the author and while only God can judge his heart, Southern Baptists paid far too great a price to insist on the truthfulness of God’s Word to now be lured by a fresh emergence of the priesthood of the philosopher, especially when a philosopher raises a question about the truthfulness of Scripture” (1/9/2012).”

Note that Patterson’s name is spelled wrong again. Yet does Patterson really think Licona is denying the Law of non-contradiction? What is this of the priesthood of the philosopher as well? Licona is not a philosopher! If we want to talk about the priesthood of the philosopher, let’s do some checking.

Patterson – “After graduating from Hardin-Simmons University, Patterson completed the Master of Theology (Th.M.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.”


Al Mohler – “A native of Lakeland, Fla., Dr. Mohler was a Faculty Scholar at Florida Atlantic University before receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He holds a master of divinity degree and the doctor of philosophy (in systematic and historical theology) from Southern Seminary. He has pursued additional study at the St. Meinrad School of Theology and has done research at University of Oxford (England).”


Norman Geisler – ”

William Tyndale College, 1950-55 (diploma)
University of Detroit, 1956-57
Wheaton College, 1958 (B.A. in philosophy)
Wheaton Graduate School, 1960 (M.A. in theology)
William Tyndale College, 1964 (Th.B.)
Wayne State University Graduate School, 1964 (work in philosophy)
University of Detroit Graduate School, 1965-66 (work on M.A. in philosophy)
Northwestern University, Evanston, 1968 (work in philosophy)
Loyola University, Chicago, 1967-70 (Ph.D. in philosophy) ”


Mark Hanna, Geisler supporter – “Mark M. Hanna is a full time writer and was for many years the Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and World Religions at Talbot School of Theology and California State University. He also taught at the University of Southern California, where he earned M.A. degrees in philosophy and world religions and a Ph.D. in philosophy.”


Christopher Cone, Geisler supporter – “Ph.D. / Philosophy, University of North Texas, 2011

Dissertation: Redacted Dominionism: An Evangelical and Environmentally Sympathetic Reading of the Early Genesis Narrative

Ph.D. / Theology, Trinity School of Theology, Kerala, India 2008

Dissertation: Prolegomena: A Survey and Introduction to Method in Theology, Beginning with Presuppositional Epistemology and Resulting in Normative Dispensational Theology

M.Ed. / Leadership & Administration, Regent University, 2005

Th.D. / Theology, Scofield Graduate School, 2005

Dissertation: The Promises of God: A Synthetic Bible Survey

M.B.S / Biblical Studies, Scofield Graduate School, 1997

B.B.S. / Biblical Studies, Tyndale Biblical Institute, 1996

Undergraduate Studies, Moody Bible Institute, 1992-94”

J.I. Packer – “Born in Gloucester, England, Packer won a scholarship to Oxford University. He was educated at Corpus Christi College, obtaining the degrees of Bachelor of Arts (1948), Master of Arts (1952), and Doctor of Philosophy (1955). ”


R.C. Sproul – ”



If we want to end the priesthood of the philosopher, then let us be consistent. Anyone with a Ph.D. in philosophy will no longer determine the path of the studies.

But alas, the rules will be different.

The sad reality is Geisler is not helping Inerrancy. If you read the blogosphere, and I do, people are being driven from it. Geisler is destroying the legacy, nay, has destroyed, the legacy he spent a lifetime building. If anyone is responsible for the decline in affirming Inerrancy today, it is not Licona. It is Geisler himself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Geisler’s article can be found here: http://normangeisler.net/articles/Bible/Inspiration-Inerrancy/Licona/HoustonBaptistDefenseOfLicona.htm (Because we do believe in responding to critics and making sure we get their views correct.)

Mark Goodacare on Redaction Criticism can be found here: http://ntweblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/what-is-redaction-mps-and-nt.html

The Future of Biblical Scholarship

What is in store for the future of biblical scholarship? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I do a lot of debating and the idea amongst atheists is that Christians don’t do real research. They want to defend their pet doctrines. They presuppose everything beforehand and never really examine the case. All that matters is “God said it” and then we’re done.

The controversy involving what happened with Mike Licona back in 2011 was a great example of this and a huge embarrassment to the Christian church and evangelicalism. Instead of going out and dealing with the interpretation of Licona, if it was found to be false, the bullets started firing immediately crying “Heretic!” with an Inquisition squad ready to come out.

So let’s get this straight. We have what has been the most in-depth defense of the resurrection of Jesus meant to silence skeptics and we’re going to go against it because it went against a secondary doctrine of Inerrancy supposedly? We are going to implicitly say that Inerrancy is more important than the resurrection? Are our priorities out of whack?

In fact, the book didn’t even call Inerrancy into question. By that standard, any time Licona said an event is “Highly probable” or something of that sort, we should have raised the alarm. After all, how could an event be “probable.”? It’s part of the “Word of God.”

What Licona did was he met the skeptics on their own turf and he fired a massive attack into their camp. What was the evangelical response? Ditch him. Leave him there. Of course, this isn’t true of all evangelicals. There were a number of scholars in the field who sided with Licona.

Friends. Let’s suppose a work came out like this that explicitly denied Inerrancy. I still say we should celebrate it. Why? Because this was a case of trying to prove the most important point of Christianity. As Michael Patton said, there should have been twenty letters of commendation before there was one of condemnation.

Historically, Gary Habermas has been the #1 name in the field of resurrection stories. Licona has been his main student. What are we to do now with him? Because he has not interpreted everything the way some people want it to be interpreted, do away with him. Licona does believe in Inerrancy, but keep in mind we are not trying to convert people to Inerrancy. We are trying to make them disciples of Jesus. I’m fine with someone coming to say “Jesus is risen!” if they’re not quite willing to sign the line on Inerrancy. If you’re not, you’ve got a serious problem.

Licona talks about teaching a seminary class in the article (Link below) and having a student with tears in her eyes crying about contradictions she thought existed. Let’s start with a simple question.

Let us suppose that beyond the shadow of a doubt a contradiction was proven in Scripture. This is purely hypothetical. I don’t think it has, but let’s suppose it was.

What would that do to your Christianity?

If you’re one of those Christians who says “My faith would be shattered immediately and Jesus would not have risen from the dead” you have a problem.

Many of us would say “Well I’d have to adjust my view of Scripture and of inspiration, but I’d still have the resurrection.”

You know why? Because we think the resurrection can be established historically if you treat the Bible just like any other ancient document. If you have to treat it with kid gloves, then you’re not really playing fair. You’re doing special pleading.

If you don’t think the resurrection can be shown to be a fact that way, then might I suggest that you could have a more fideistic approach?

It’s a shame this was happening in a Seminary class also.

Licona goes on in the article to describe how he went to the gospels and compared what he saw to Plutarch since the gospels are considered by NT scholars to be ancient biographies.

A lot of stink has been raised over this. For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that it’s wrong that the gospels are Greco-Roman biographies. I think they are, but let’s suppose it’s wrong.

Here’s the reply. So what?

So what? What are you talking about?

What I mean is, you can take what your opponents will likely accept from critical scholarship, say Bart Ehrman for instance, and have it be that you can assume they are Greco-Roman biographies and then still say “Here’s how Greco-Roman biographies work. The gospels do the exact same thing. Why is that a problem?”

This is exactly what I do as a non-scientist. I am not qualified to discuss evolution, so I will grant it for the sake of argument. Why? My opponents do accept it by and large. Therefore, I can meet them on their own grounds and ask “How does this show that Jesus did not rise from the dead?”

Why do I do this? I do it because I want to convince my opponents of one thing. I want to convince them Jesus rose from the dead. They might disagree with me on Inerrancy. That’s fine. They might have different views on creation. That’s fine. They might have different hermeneutics than I do. That’s fine.

Getting them to know Jesus is risen is central.

Instead, we’ve had this whole tirade against the gospels being Greco-Roman biographies.

Consider what someone like Al Mohler said according to the article.

“First, we cannot reduce the Gospels to the status of nothing more than ancient biographies. The Bible claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit right down to the inspired words,”

When did Licona say the gospels were just ancient biographies? Nowhere that I know of. He said they were biographies. That’d be like saying we can’t say the Epistles of Paul are epistles because they cannot be “just epistles.” To say they are Greco-Roman biographies is not to say necessarily that they are just that.

Second, down to the inspired words?

In Matthew 3:17, we read these words at the baptism of Jesus.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:11 says this:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 3:22 also says this:

“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke and Mark disagree, but Matthew is different. Matthew has the voice speaking for the crowd. Mark and Luke have the voice speaking to Jesus? Which is it? Let’s suppose it was even the crazy idea of a work like the Jesus Crisis which has such ideas as the sermon on the mount being said twice with different tenses. Let’s suppose the voice said the first to the crowd and then the second to Jesus. (Because apparently, one voice was not enough for everyone to grasp.) You still have the problem of why would someone just leave out some of the words of God speaking?

If there is paraphrasing going on, then are we saying the very words of God were paraphrased? They might not have been quoted word for word?

Let’s consider another example. How about Peter’s confession of faith?

Matthew 16:16

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Mark 8:29

“You are the Messiah.”

Luke 9:20

“God’s Messiah.”

Again, there are differences. Mark and Luke are closer. Matthew agrees with the Messianic motif, but adds in that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. Isn’t that something important to include?

One more example. At the Transfiguration, what did God say?

Matthew 17:5

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Mark 9:7

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Luke 9:35

“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

Each of these are different, and these are the words of God!

Now someone might say “Nick. Look. Each of these is pretty similar to each other. The wording may not be the same, but the thrust of the message is the same.”


Mohler is putting on the text a modern category of exact wordage. The ancients would not have cared about that. For a modern look, I had a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness today. I called some family members saying “I said X, she said Y, I replied with Z, etc.” Chances are, when I told that story, I did not get the exact wording right. That’s okay. I did not tell it the same way every time. That’s okay. I don’t know anyone who would say I was lying about the story or misrepresenting it. Even today, we know that the gist is what matters.

This would also be true for the Sermon on the Mount. Why assume Jesus gave a great sermon like that only once? If you’re a speaker, like I am, you know that you give the same talk many times in different places. You can also vary it some depending on your audience. In fact, it’s quite likely a lot was left out of this sermon. Why? The whole thing can be read in about fifteen minutes! Most speakers in the past spoke a lot longer than that! Heck. If that’s all it takes, Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 that leads to 3,000 conversions can be read in about a minute or two. How many of you would like to speak for that long and get that response?

The Bible is only interested in the main gist of the message getting out. We today can do this. We can summarize a talk by talking about the main points without saying every word the speaker said.

Thus, Mohler in doing this is expecting the Bible to read like a modern document. It’s not going to. The Bible needs to be treated by the standards of its own time and not the standards of our time. This even includes the idea about interpreting it according to “plain” language. Plain to who? Why plain to a 21st century American? Maybe it’s different for a 16th century Chines man, or a 14th century Japanese man, or a 12th century Frenchman, or a 9th century Englishman, or a 1st century Jew.

Some might think it’s cultural prejudice to give the 1st century Jewish standard the main role in interpretation.

No. It’s not. It’s just smart thinking. It’s a 1st century Jewish document. Shouldn’t we expect it to read like one?

Mohler is not done. He goes on to say:

“The second problem is isolating the resurrection of Christ from all of the other truth claims revealed in the Bible. The resurrection is central, essential and non-negotiable, but the Christian faith rests on a comprehensive set of truth claims and doctrines,” Mohler said. “All of these are revealed in the Bible, and without the Bible we have no access to them.”

If the resurrection is central, essential, and non-negotiable, haven’t we already isolated it? It is in a category all itself. The reality is the resurrection is different from the other claims. Let’s demonstrate this.

We can have Mohler make a historical case for the turning of water into wine without just “The Bible says so.”

Then we can have him make one for Jesus rising from the dead the same way.

Which one will have more evidence. Which one will have more impact? Which one will change Christianity the most if it was found to be false?

It looks like Mohler is really afraid to put the Bible to historical investigation, but why should we think this? If someone is convinced Scripture is from God Himself, then one should say “Go ahead. Hit it with your best shot.” If we are not willing to do that, then we are not really treating it like a trustworthy text. It’s easy to say the Bible cannot be attacked if you remove it from all threats.

On top of this, Licona is doing his work to deal with supposed contradictions in the Bible and see if he can find some answers. How is it undermining the Bible if you seek to explain why the Bible is the way it is? If you’re going out to defend the idea that the Bible is without error, how can you be attacking it?

Next we have words from Jim Richards of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

“Although the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention has enjoyed a ministry relationship with Houston Baptist University for nearly 10 years, that relationship is not one whereby the convention participates in the governance of the university. Our relationship with HBU is based on a mutual affirmation of a high view of Scripture,” Richards said.

“The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention was formed on a commitment to biblical inerrancy, that the Bible is true in all that it asserts. Certainly, our churches, board and convention messengers expect our ministry relationships to be compatible with this core value. We will be in conversation with President Sloan regarding HBU’s response to Mike Licona’s comments bearing on the reliability of Scriptures,” Richards said.”

Once again, Licona has a high view of Scripture. He only differs on an interpretation. Note that Licona has never once said “I think the Bible contains errors” or “I think the Bible is wrong” or anything like that. He has repeatedly denied it, but for his opponents, it is not enough. What matters is what they want to see. For them, if he is not interpreting it the same way, then cast him to the lions!

May God richly bless Robert Sloan, president of HBU, for the following:

“Dr. Michael Licona is a very fine Christian. We trust completely his commitment to Scripture. There are those who disagree with his comments on what is a very difficult passage (Matthew 27:45-53, especially verses 52-53), but Mike Licona’s devotion to the Lord Jesus, his magisterial defense of the resurrection, his publicly and solemnly declared affirmation of the complete trustworthiness of Scripture and his worldwide efforts to win others to Christ give us full confidence in his work as a teacher, colleague and faculty member of Houston Baptist University,” Sloan said.”

Sloan has it right. He is being a fine academic and looking at the character of Licona and the quality of his work. Would that other people would take the same approach!

What does this have to do with the future of scholarship?

It appears an impasse is here. What are we to do? I have a strange idea with this.

Let’s be people that say “We will follow the evidence where it leads!” When we meet a contrary idea to our own, let’s examine the evidence. By all means, we have our presuppositions. Let’s be aware of those. Let’s do our best to put them to aside and study. We want atheists who are studying the text to do the same. If our presuppositions were right, great! If they were not, great! Why is that great? It’s because we’ve learned something that we would not have known. We have gained truth, and that is always to be preferred.

If people like Al Mohler have the day, we can expect scholarship will decrease. Already, I have seen some people who will be our future scholars say they want no part of groups like ETS to avoid being criticized for their work. They want academic freedom. Already, I have seen people saying that they do not want to defend Inerrancy because it has become too much of a sacred cow. Already, this controversy has been used by atheists, Muslims, and others to demonstrate Christians cannot get along with themselves.

With Inerrancy, I have seen people have their faith fall apart when all is based on this doctrine. I’m not saying it’s unimportant. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying we don’t hang our hats on it. By all means, defend it. By all means, address contradictions. This is fine and good. Just remember the main point is Jesus is risen. There are times even I tell people that I don’t care if the gospels have some minor disagreements. Let’s deal with the central claim. We don’t get rid of other ancient sources because of minor disagreements. Why do so with Scripture?

It’s up to us to determine where we’ll go with scholarship in the future, but I hope we’ll hold to following the evidence where it leads realizing that if our beliefs are true, the evidence should show that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Baptist Press article can be found here