Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Response To Geisler's Preserving Orthodoxy

Ah. Spring is here. The birds are out. The trees are growing their leaves, and Geisler is pushing the panic button on Inerrancy again and, what a shock, the longest chapter in the book is on Mike Licona. You have to love the springtime!

Geisler's book is a rush job as one can tell since it has got a number of typographical and grammatical errors in it. In fact, if Geisler had limited himself to saying everything one time, he could have probably cut this book in half. Many times you'll find the exact same statement repeated twice in the same chapter.

Also, it would be interesting to go through and count and see if ICBI is referred to more often than Scripture. It would be close at least. I am reminded of my earlier claims in past writings that Geisler has ICBI at the front of his Bible.

If you're wondering: No. Geisler has not responded to his critics here. The arguments are entirely one-sided. This is one of the great deficiencies. Many people will sadly never read Mike Licona's excellent material defending the resurrection and answering charges of Bible contradictions because Geisler has already got in their mind that he's a liberal who denies Inerrancy. 

Geisler also places great emphasis on the Grammatical-Historical method of exegesis. Unfortunately, he never tells us why this should be the case. Those on the outside will even be left wondering what it is. Geisler never tells us. Can he demonstrate that this is in fact what the early church did? A work like Mark Sheridan's makes quite a compelling case that they didn't. Is Geisler just scared of allegory or something of the sort?

This ultimately means that with Geisler, you have not just a method that has to be used, but also an interpretation that must come with so much so that if anything disagrees, Geisler immediately pushes the panic button and shouts "Denying Inerrancy! Denying Inerrancy!" The discussion is no longer about examining the viewpoint, but questioning one’s orthodoxy. A perfect illustration of the adage of "Better to debate a question and not settle it than to settle it and not debate it."

Geisler also argues that the literal approach was preferred by the Fathers since they held that Christ was literally conceived of a virgin (which I do affirm), died, and rose again. Still, this is hardly a convincing point. The Bible is a big book and just looking at a few of the main events does not point to how all matters were interpreted. For instance, preterists and dispensationalists could agree on those, and still disagree with the interpretative techniques of the other. The same for Calvinists and Arminians or young Earth creationists and old Earth creationistss. 

In showing the historical case for inerrancy, while Geisler is certainly right that Inerrancy is the historical position, not necessarily ICBI Inerrancy. Second, Geisler in fact goes to an example that does not help his case. This is to look at Martin Luther. The example was so dangerous to Geisler's cause that I wanted to make sure I had it right. In fact, Geisler has it at his web site and there, the case is even worse. We could say "It's worse than we thought." The original quotation is as follows:

There was mention of a certain new astronomer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked,] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Josh. 10:12] (Table Talk June 4, 1539).

Now I don't have any desire to speak ill of Luther here. I am a good Protestant. I also do think some Luther scholars question the accuracy of some of the Table Talk, but here Geisler accepts it as legitimate, so I will do the same.

How does this help Geisler's case? In fact, it has Luther saying that he knows Copernicus is wrong on heliocentrism and why? Because he interprets the Bible literally. This is what Geisler wants us to do and not use extra-biblical sources to change the meaning of the text. Still, the text does say that Joshua asked the sun to stand still. Does Geisler believe this? If so, is he questioning heliocentrism? If not, then is he using extra-Biblical information to interpret the text that was not present for the earliest listeners?

The next example doesn't help his case any more.

Because we are not sufficiently able to understand how these days occurred nor why God wished to observe such distinctions of times, we shall rather admit our ignorance than attempt to twist the words unnecessarily into an unnatural meaning. As far, therefore, as St. Augustine’s opinion is concerned, we hold that Moses spoke literally not allegorically or figuratively, that is, the world and all its creatures was created within the six days as the words declare. Because we are not able to comprehend we shall remain disciples and leave the instructorship to the Holy Ghost.

There are plenty of people who will say that Norman Geisler himself denies Inerrancy by denying this. For instance, consider Dr. Jason Lisle, who is an astrophysicist and holds to young-earth creationism. Now I disagree with Lisle on the age of the Earth, but notice what he says about Geisler.

Inerrancy means that the Bible, in its original autographs, is entirely without error. That necessarily includes the timescale of Genesis, as well as everything else the Bible teaches. That the Bible teaches that “God created in six days” is certainly not a relatively new position. And if indeed the Bible teaches that, then inerrancy demands that we accept it as true.

Norman Geisler would no doubt disagree with this, but is this not a problem? Mike Licona uses ancient biographical techniques to interpret the Bible. That's wrong and denying Inerrancy! Norman Geisler uses modern science to interpret Genesis. That's okay! Does Geisler think he has the right to not only say what Inerrancy should be for everyone but what it entails and doesn't? If so, then how is it that we do not have an Evangelical Pope?

And we're still not done! On his web site, Geisler continues the quotations of Luther to show the history of Inerrancy by these quotes:

Though this Epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and regard it as a good book, because it sets up no doctrine of men and lays great stress upon God’s law. But to state my own opinion about it, though without injury to anyone, I consider that it is not the writing of any apostle. My reasons are as follows:
First: Flatly in contradiction to St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture it ascribes righteousness to works and says that Abraham was justified by his works in that he offered his son Isaac, though St. Paul, on the contrary, teaches, in Romans 4, that Abraham was justified without works, by faith alone, before he offered his son and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15. . . .
Second: Its purpose is to teach Christians, and in all its teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the Resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ.

So it looks like for Geisler, you can question if James has apostolic authority and if it should be in the Bible, and that's okay because you're being consistent with Inerrancy. You can also say that James disagrees with Paul on salvation and you're okay! But if you dare to suggest that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 is not literal, then you've crossed the line, bub! What a strange world Geisler lives in. 

Geisler is also still pushing the rumor that 30% of ETS voted against Gundry and asked for him to be dismissed. This is yet another case of Geisler ignoring his critics. James Patrick Holding (JPH) and I have pointed out the truth behind this claim in this video.




Geisler also tells of how Michael Bird has challenged the Gundry decision regularly and suggested that Gundry should be reinstated. He also says that Blomberg has pointed out some problems saying that the NT miracles present themselves as historical, but so do many pagan accounts. Do we just beg the question by assuming that the NT accounts are true because they're in the Bible? 

Geisler doesn't respond to this question, which is a good and important one. Well, he doesn't respond unless you consider pushing the panic button a response. Unfortunately, this leaves us unprepared in the face of challenges to our worldview. Those of us who do believe in the reliability of Scripture have no problem accepting historical tests of the Bible. We're sure it will pass.

Geisler also says that for Gundry, saying "Jesus said" or "Jesus did" does not mean He said or did what follows. Unfortunately, this is unavoidably true to an extent, unless we want to suggest that Jesus was the rare rabbi who spoke Greek all the time except for when he raised Jairus's daughter. There is no doubt paraphrasing and some mild editing took place just like in any historical account, ancient or modern. 

This also gets us to a problem where Geisler will have unnamed sources. For instance, the president of one of our largest seminaries is reported to have said "If Gundry stays in ETS, then I'm leaving." Who? Inquiring minds want to know. The hesitancy to have him mentioned can't help but leave me wondering how close this person was to Geisler such that if Geisler revealed his identity, it would hurt his case.

Geisler also says that one could say they believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and yet still allegorize everything. This is panic button pushing, but sure. They would not be in ETS since one would need to hold to evangelical doctrines. I do not deny that Jehovah's Witnesses believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture despite them getting most every major Bible doctrine absolutely wrong. If you know the Bible is Inerrant, you do not know what it teaches. You only know that what it teaches is true. 

Geisler also briefly and amusingly goes after other targets, if only mentioning them by name, though referring to them in his earlier book. (This one is Defending Inerrancy if you're playing at home and you've lost track of all the books Geisler's written on this major issue of our day.) Included in this of all people is Darrell Bock. When someone like Bock is gone after, you have to wonder just how much Geisler might just be looking for targets to go after. 

Going after Pinnock of course isn't much of a shock and I disagree with his open theism of course, but the key point of this chapter is that at the end, he calls ETS the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society. He has said this in other writings, but it's good that it's here. Make a mental note of this. Now, it's time to move on to the arch-heretic, Mike Licona. 

No. Geisler still has not accepted arguments from prior posts even though he has been corrected frequently on them. For instance, he still says that Greco-Roman bioi contains legend. As he says

 There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco–Roman biography (bios). Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches . . . and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins. (RJ, 34, emphasis added in this and following citations).

 Geisler has been told repeatedly that Licona's book is his Ph.D. dissertation. It is not meant to be directed specifically towards an evangelical audience. He starts out stating the simple fact. These bioi could contain legends and sometimes it's hard to tell where history ends and legend begins. Note this. This does not mean that the Gospels then MUST contain legends. Because the genre allows for it does not mean it necessitates it. Licona is also just starting to argue his case and trying to cover as many of his bases as he can.

Geisler makes another mistake on similar grounds next saying that Licona says there are embellishments in the Gospels.

Embellishment is Present in the Gospels
 “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).
“A possible candidate for embellishment is Jn 18:4–6” (RJ, 306, n. 114).

 Sadly, Geisler doesn't pay attention to Licona's argument and what he says. For starters, when asked point blank by Chris Date if he thinks there are legends and embellishments in the Gospels, Licona said no. This was something I pointed out on my own blog some time ago. To be fair, it was only a little over five years ago so Geisler obviously did not have time to notice this claim. I also point out that this is Licona ultimately saying that maybe we could have an embellishment or a legend, and to play devil's advocate, he gives some suggestions. He nowhere says these are legends or embellishments. The same follows with this:

Angels at the Tomb may be Legend
“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. 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).

The above arguments apply just as much here. 

Now remember that statement about the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society I asked you to remember? It's important because in this chapter, the very next one, Geisler says the following:

First, Licona claims that his view is in accord with the doctrine of inerrancy. However, the Evangelical Theological Society, which is the largest group of scholars in the world based on inerrancy, pronounced the same kind of dehistoricizing of the Gospel record as incompatible with its view on inerrancy. (Loc. 1742)

So according to Geisler, when years earlier ETS kept Pinnock in, they became the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society. There's even an appendix in this book on why Geisler left them. Yet now, when Geisler wants to have a group to denounce Licona's view, he has no problem pointing to ETS even though they're not evangelical according to him. One can't help but wonder where ETS stands? Is it just this rule that if they agree with Geisler, they're evangelical, and if they don't, they're not? Does that mean if a vote took place and it came out that Licona was accepted, that Geisler would see this as proof that they weren't evangelical? If Licona was removed, does that mean Geisler would see this as proof they were reliable? Geisler will get the conclusion he wants to either way.

Of course, if Geisler wants to try this, it will be interesting to see if he wants to apply the same standard to William Lane Craig. Why has Geisler not gone after Craig? Could it be that there is something else going on? Is it that Geisler doesn't think he'll get grounds if he tries to go after a man often seen as the leading defender of Christianity today?

Geisler also argues against Licona's view saying that ICBI never allowed extra-Biblical data to determine what the text means. Yet if this is the case, it has to be asked. What about Joshua 10? What about Genesis 1-2? Lisle would say that Geisler does use extra-biblical data, and it's hard to deny that since he points to modern scientists for his interpretation. 

The irony gets better with this statement:

Seventh, Licona ignores virtually all the arguments presented for the historicity of the resurrection of these saints in Matthew 27 and then claims that we beg the question in favor of the historicity of the event in question. (Loc. 1796)

Please note that Geisler has never responded to JPH or myself on these matters. I, as Mike's son-in-law, am in a position to speak on his behalf. If Geisler is waiting for Licona to personally engage, it's not going to happen. He's too busy defending New Testament Christianity to engage in this battle. That is where JPH and myself come in. Geisler even banned someone from his Facebook page who put up a challenge to him from JPH. If anyone has ignored arguments on this issue, it has been Geisler. We welcome any attempt of his to answer our charges and to accept the debate challenge, but we are not holding our breath.

(11) Modern objections to a straight–forward acceptance of this passage as a historical narrative are based on a faulty hermeneutic which violates sound principles of interpretation. For example, they (a) make a presumptive identification of its genre, based on extra–biblical sources, rather than analyzing the text for its style, grammar, and content in its context; or, (b) they use events reported outside of the Bible to pass judgment on whether or not the biblical event is historical. (12) The faulty hermeneutic principles used in point 9 could be used, without any further justification, to deny other events in the gospels as historical. It is simply special pleading to neglect this overwhelming evidence in favor of the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew. (Loc. 1812)

Geisler unfortunately does not understand how Licona arrives at his conclusion. It is by studying the text and its style, grammar, and content. It is odd that Geisler wants to avoid other examples outside the Bible. Does he think that only the Bible has Wisdom literature or Proverbial stories or creation accounts? If Geisler thinks that the approach of Licona could be used to deny other events, he's welcome to try. It's not an all-or-nothing game for us. Each case is taken on a point by point basis.

Ninth, it is understandable that Licona would be “grateful to the Southeastern Theological Review for their invitation to participate in a round table discussion on the meaning of this text and the solution” that he proposed. However, we must be careful not to place too much weight on such a meeting, particularly because some of those involved already placed approval on his view in a recent Open Letter released by Licona. Hence, it in their case we have the fox guarding the hen house! (Loc. 1824)

Keep in mind Geisler was invited to this meeting. Why is it he did not want to go to a public meeting to discuss, including one where others who disagreed with Licona were there? I know that Licona would have no problem with a meeting if there were witnesses present. Why is it that Geisler has a problem with this? Does he just think he couldn't stand up to hard questions of his view?

Geisler also says that, “Licona’s vacuous methodological claim is self–defeating since they claim that their view corresponds to reality when they claim that truth is not what corresponds to reality.”

It is a wonder where Geisler gets this from. I know Licona personally. I have never seen him deny the correspondence theory of truth. It's just easier for Geisler to put things in this kind of language instead of, you know, dealing with the actual arguments.

Geisler then quotes J.I. Packer, who has recently issued an endorsement of Licona's latest book. Packer wrote an endorsement of Defending Inerrancy saying

“In the following pages Norman Geisler, who contributed as much as anyone to ICBI original legacy, and William Roach interact with evangelical hypotheses that have the effect of confusing that legacy. They are masterly gatekeepers [for inerrancy], and I count it an honor to commend this work to the Christian world.” (Loc. 1902)

Of course, there are a number of reasons to discount this. First off, it is well known by scholars that these blurbs, often say some positive things about a book without going into an extensive negative critique. Also, Packer has written dozens of blurbs over the years—even for books containing views with which he disagrees.

Wait. What's that? Those words sound familiar? Well, they should. That's what Geisler said about Packer writing a blurb in defense of Mike Licona's book. If it can work for Licona, why not for Geisler? Maybe Packer just wrote a positive blurb without a full negative critique. Maybe Geisler and Roach's book did contain views Packer disagrees with?

It's not a shock to see Geisler using David Farnell as his go to guy for this. I have already written a response to what Farnell has said. Farnell is not unaware of this. When he commented on my Amazon review of Licona's latest book, I followed it up with a response to what he said. He never answered. Until Farnell responds, then I consider my response still standing. 

“First, Genre criticism is based on belief in the primacy of Mark. However, the view that Mark was written first is far from universal. In fact, it was almost universally rejected in the early church in favour of Matthew being first. And there are many contemporary scholars who reject the primacy of Mark as well, including former Bultmanian Eta Linneman, conservative Harold Hoehner, liberal professor William Farmer, and conservative New Testament scholar David Farnell. The parallel passages in Mathew and Mark can just as well be Mark following Matthew as the reverse. Or, they can both be based on their own eyewitness accounts.” (Loc. 1991)

It would be amusing to try to see Geisler go after the Synoptic Problem. Just saying "These scholars disagree" is not sufficient. Okay. Why do they disagree? What are their reasons? Also, if we were all convinced that Matthew was written first, I see no reason to think that that would change our view of the Gospels as Greco-Roman bioi. 

Geisler continues:

Seventh, the Greeks did not believe in the physical resurrection of the body. In fact, for them salvation was from the body, not in the body, as it is for Christians. The Greeks mocked the Apostle Paul for proclaiming the resurrection (Acts 17:32). Yet it is the heart of the Christian message (1 Cor. 15:1–7, 12–19). For Paul declared: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But clearly the New Testament did not adopt Greek beliefs to understand the phenomenon of the resurrection. So, adopting Greek genre to understand the New Testament is contrary to the heart of the New Testament Christian Gospel message of the death and resurrection of Christ. (Loc. 2044)

It is a wonder that Geisler can write a paragraph like this and think it constitutes an argument. Do we dare mention to him that the vast majority of the New Testament is written in Greek? He seems to have this belief that if you use Greek styles of writing and argumentation, that you must accept all Greek beliefs. Does he think that Thomas Aquinas was required to accept the eternality of the universe and that a person ceases to exist after death just because he took so much from Aristotle? This is truly a bizarre argument on Geisler's part and that he uses such hideous argumentation smacks of desperation. 

When Geisler goes to the next chapter about how orthodoxy can be lost, we get another ironic statement.

The good ole boys network is strong, and it is often easy to tolerate doctrinal deviation for a good and likeable colleague. The truth is that faculty members find it very difficult to vote to exclude any of their colleagues. (Loc. 2450)

This is ironic since Geisler relies on such a network. He refers only to the people who agree with him, does not pay sufficient attention to critics, and then declares the case has been made. Pay attention to how many times he refers to someone as "noted" for instance, no matter how old their work might be. Their work might have been exceptional at the time, but has it stood the test of time?

Geisler goes on to play the victim saying:

The fear of being stigmatized is a strong motivation favoring the road to heresy. The temptation to unorthodox is a powerful force. No one wishes to be called undesirable names because of his defense of truth. I personally have been charged with “hermeneutical waterboarding,” called a bully, excluded from groups, have been the object of false accusations, and have had invitations canceled because of my stand on the inerrancy of Scripture. One publishing house even allowed an unprecedented negative article on me in an otherwise scholarly journal. This kind of personal attack is almost unheard of in a scholarly work. (Loc. 2497)

Geisler never seems to stop to see if some of these charges could be true. Could he be being a bully? Yes. Especially since Licona has lost two jobs and been excluded from groups and I myself have faced exclusion just because of my relation to him. Why? I have been excluded because Geisler has gone after Mike Licona. Geisler will say "Why am I attacked for defending Inerrancy." No one has a problem with defending Inerrancy, but we have a problem with how it has been done. Geisler can play the victim all he wants, but it's clear in history who fired the first shot. Geisler is like the kid on the schoolyard who goes around knocking down the other kids, until someone fights back and then he cries victim and says "I was only playing." No. When Licona lost employment because of Geisler's stance, that was not playing.

For the final chapter on building up an apologetic defense, one will find little disagreement. This is the Geisler I would like to see more often. It would be good to see him going after the real threats to the faith. Unfortunately, Geisler has done a good job destroying the legacy he spent decades building. Geisler has found a target most everywhere so often that no one really listens anymore. In reality, I would dare say that if anyone is undermining Inerrancy today, it's none other than Geisler.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Panic Button of David Farnell

           Many of us remember the movie Field of Dreams. In it, a man builds a baseball field with the adage that “If you build it, they will come.” In similar fashion, we could make a statement about Mike Licona’s books. If he writes it, Geisler and his allies will come after it. At this point, since they have gone after everything else said, we expect that if Mike Licona put up his grocery list on his web site, that Geisler would find some way of accusing him of denying inerrancy in doing that.
            This time, it’s David Farnell who is doing the writing. Unfortunately, it’s just as weak as many of his last critiques. Farnell looks to be someone who thinks there’s value in holding a position because it is traditional and he’s going to stand to the end with that position. This is especially so if the new information could dare bring into question the Gospel of Inerrancy.
           As we can expect, this starts off with a denial of the idea that the Gospels are Greco-Roman Bioi. Never mind that there is broad agreement across the board in New Testament scholarship  that the Gospels fit into this genre. Farnell knows better! Sure, there’s no real reply to Burridge at this point, but is one needed? Just bring out the same old arguments before that has been addressed.
            At this point it is worth pointing out that Geisler was explicitly challenged on the point of denying that the Gospels are Greco-Roman bioi. We can be sure that the same challenge would be happily given to Farnell. We could also see if Geisler would respond to the challenge the same way he did when it was posted on his Facebook page. That way of responding was the classical response of delete the post and ban the user. You know, the scholarly approach.
             The problem for Gesiler is that the post was seen by others, with whom I have since become friends. What we saw from that is Geisler does not like intellectual challenges to his authority in this area. He apparently does not want to play where he is obviously not in charge of what happens. Perhaps Farnell will take the field as it were on behalf of Geisler. He seems confident after all that the Gospels are not Greco-Roman bioi. We will see if that happens.
        Farnell’s critique would not be complete without talking about Licona’s first book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach where he says Licona dehistoricized a text. The question-begging nature of this claim has been addressed ad infinitum. A text can’t be dehistoricized if it was not meant to be historical to begin with. Geisler and his followers keep asserting that the text must be a literal historical event and therefore, anything different must be dehistoricizing. The rest of us, meanwhile, who actually care about investigating claims and being open (Just wait until later to see what Farnell has to say about us if that sounds too harsh) decided that the question is one worth investigating. It is better to debate a question and not settle it than to settle it without debating it. Farnell just has the classic panic button pushing that says “It has to be historical because, well, we have to save inerrancy!” Farnell quotes Licona saying:
        “Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches . . . and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.”
               A look at the footnote in Farnell’s article will show that Farnell took several different quotes from Licona throughout his book and compiled them together to form this one quote as if all were about the same thing. We do find it interesting that Farnell used this compositional device in a review complaining about Licona using compositional devices. “Do as we say and not as we do”, I suppose. It’s quite amusing to find a crowd complaining about the accusation that the Gospel writers are inaccurate in quoting don’t seem to mind being inaccurate themselves. Farnell goes on to quote Licona:
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. We may also be reading poetic language or legend at certain points, such as Matthew’s report of the raising of some dead saints at Jesus death (Mt 27:51-54) and the angel(s) at the tomb (Mark 15:5-7; Matt 28:2-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-13.”(bold his)
       Unfortunately, Farnell and others failed to notice that what Mike wrote is his dissertation. He did not write it to an evangelical audience alone. He wrote it for all audiences in a way that would pass peer-review. At the start, you remain open to where the investigation would lead. For Farnell and company, that openness is not allowed. Inerrancy must be protected at all costs! This never seems to register with the Geisler faction.
           Farnell then raises the cry of “How can you tell what is legend and what is not?” Unfortunately, this kind of silver bullet thinking will not help us with evangelism. As an apologist who actively debates with atheists today, I encounter this kind of magic bullet thinking regularly. One classic example is the Old Testament. How do you know which laws apply today and which do not? If you want some magic bullet with how you read the text to know, there isn’t one. You actually have to do the work of study. So it is when you approach the New Testament If you approach it as it is, there’s no magic way of reading a text that tells you that this event is absolutely 100% true. What does Farnell expect, really? Does he think that the words in Greek will glow if that’s the case?
             Farnell no doubt thinks he has a killer case in a syllogism he gives on this. I am sure that to many unaware readers, it looks convincing. Unfortunately, it just isn’t.

PREMISE ONE: Greco-Roman Bioi presents a mixture of history (facts) and legendary material that are hard to distinguish

PREMISE TWO: The Gospels are an example of Greco-Roman Bioi

CONCLUSION: The Gospels presents a mixture of history (facts) and legendary material that are hard to distinguish.

We see this with a syllogism Geisler uses.
Premise One: The Bible is written by men. (While we hold to divine authorship, there is no doubt there was a human component to the writing.)

Premise Two: That which is written by men has errors.

Conclusion: The Bible has errors.

          As Geisler would rightly point out, the error is in thinking that when men write,

 they necessarily errSo it is with Greco-Roman bioi. That biographers erred did not

 mean that they erred because they had to. It’s not as if Plutarch would write a life 

and then look back and say “Now I need to necessarily err so I better make sure I 

put one mistake in this.” The problems for this get worse for Farnell.

For instance, if we go to the Old Testament, it as well has several genres. Consider that many books are written in the genre of wisdom literature. In wisdom literature in pagan nations, there are many errors. Therefore, there must by this standard be errors in the Biblical wisdom literature. The pagan world had their own prophets that erred, therefore if prophets erred, then surely so did the Old Testament prophets. The Jewish world had its own apocalypses that had errs. Therefore, the book of Revelation must have errs. Farnell’s syllogism proves too much.
Farnell also says Licona stirred up much controversy with his book. Unfortunately, Farnell has missed the real problem. There was no real controversy until Geisler accused Licona of denying inerrancy, and sought to end his career. If Farnell wants to see who caused a controversy, he needs to look at Geisler instead. Had Geisler not engaged Licona’s arguments instead of attacking Licona, today, we might actually be talking about the resurrection of Jesus. Instead, we’re talking about inerrancy, and not to the benefit of Geisler. If anything, Geisler has simply destroyed any reputation he had in the eyes of several (Including myself) and caused us to say that if this is the kind of actions that ICBI entails, then so much for ICBI. Ironically, if anyone is undermining ICBI today, it is not Licona. It is Geisler and Farnell is helping him out very well with that.
Much that follows is about the Gospels as Greco-Roman bioi. We will suffice to leave the challenge presented open for Farnell as well and see if he takes it. If he does not want to, then we will not really take his challenges too seriously. Therefore, let us move on to other points.
This rejection of classical grammatico-historical harmonization is very evident in Licona's work and such rejection is also reinforced in the foreword when Craig Evans, Distinguished Professor of Christian Origins and Dean of the School of Christian Thought Houston Baptist University, and colleague of Licona, starts an immediate negative tone in the Foreword of the book, wards of criticism from "na├»ve conservatives who rely on simplistic harmonizations and pat answers that really do not do justice to the phenomena."[1]  Apparently, evangelical critical scholars like Evans brands anyone who raises concerns regarding Licona's analogy of the Gospels to the phenomena of Greco-Roman biography as somehow lacking in scholarship in daring disagree with Licona's approach, or for that matter, evangelical critical scholarship's growing assessment that the Gospels are patterned after the genre of Greco-Roman bioi.  Furthermore, he wants the readers of the book to have an "open and teachable mind"[2] even though Evans's mind is clearly closed on the issue. Such pathetic name calling is also done by Licona when he remarks that he was "scolded on the Internet by ultra-conservative Christians" who disagreed with his approach. 

Yes. The name-calling is apparently pathetic. Now going after Licona’s livelihood and having speaking engagements cancelled and such is all well and good, but please don’t make any statements that could be considered name-calling. The irony of this only increases when we see this phrase in the EXACT SAME PARAGRAPH.
“In response, the evidence shows that those who are confident in the Gospels trustworthiness will be vastly more troubled by Licona's approach to resolving alleged discrepancies  through the application of the genre of Greco-Roman bioi than any "apparent discrepancies" that one may find troubling.”
Yes. You dare not call into question someone’s scholarship after all, but it’s okay to say your brothers and sisters are not people who are confident in the Gospels’ trustworthiness. To use some phraseology of Farnell, ‘one wonders’ about someone who complains about scholarship being called into question, but has no problem calling someone’s attitude towards Scripture into question. Again “Do as we say and not as we do.” In speaking of acknowledgments in Licona’s book, Farnell says
Licona also mentions apologist ‘William Lane Craig . . . who encouraged me to push forward with this research . . . and to Craig Evans, Craig Keener . . . Dan Wallace, all of whom encouraged me to pursue truth no matter where it led when my observations made me uncomfortable. [3]

This is followed by Farnell saying “The latter word "uncomfortable" used by Wallace would imply that even Licona had reservations about his own approach contained in the book as to its impact on Gospel trustworthiness.” It never seems to occur to Farnell that the uncomfortableness could be due to being painted as a villain in the evangelical community and having someone like Geisler go after him. No. Farnell would rather play psychologist and claim that Licona has some secret inner angst about what he is writing. It would be nice if Farnell could show the rest of us this silver bullet method whereby he knows this authorial intent behind what Licona says. Seeing as for Licona, I am his son-in-law who communicates with him regularly, I think I’m in a better position to know what Licona means by this and yes, I do have the conversations with him to know what he’s uncomfortable about.
Farnell makes much of a tweet in which Licona says the Gospels give a portrait of Jesus that is true enough. Of course, true enough is enough to get Farnell pushing his panic button. The rest of us meanwhile who don’t get hysterical at a thought we find disagreeable instead look and say “Well yes, of course. The Gospels can’t tell us everything about Jesus. They say that such as in the end of John 21, but they do give us enough that we can know the truth about the historical Jesus. It is a shame that for all the talk about harmonization that Farnell brings, he has no room for a charitable interpretation.
Farnell goes on to wonder about Licona’s “arbitrary” decision to use Plutarch. There is nothing arbitrary about it and this makes us wonder if Farnell even read Licona’s book. As Licona says in his book on page 22:
Upon concluding my first read of Plutarch’s Lives, I noticed that nine of them feature characters who had lived at the same time and most of them had known each another. Sertorius, Lucullus, Cicero, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Younger Cato, Brutus, and Antony were all involved in events that ultimately led to the fall of the Roman Republic.

Nothing arbitrary about that. Licona chose a unique idea of Lives written around the same time about people who lived at the same time by the same author.
Of course, for Farnell, the idea that the methodology of historiography and investigation at the time would actually involve any human means seems anathema. What would the Gospel of Luke look like if Farnell had his way? Let’s consider this for the opening.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.With this in mind, I just listened to the Holy Spirit and wrote down everything that I was told, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke said that he carefully investigated. Now this seems anathema to Farnell since the writers had the Holy Spirit in them so surely there would be no need to go and investigate what was said. Unfortunately, Farnell’s referring to passages like John 14:26 proves too much. For one thing, I was completely unaware that Mark and Luke were in the upper room that evening. No doubt, this will be a shock to Biblical scholars everywhere to learn this, but it must be so. After all, they were told that everything would be brought to remembrance.
There’s still more. Jesus says in this passage that everything that He said would be brought to remembrance. It says nothing about what Jesus did. It says nothing about what others did or said. It says nothing about what the apostles themselves did or said. We could ask what is going on with Peter when he is called out by Paul in Galatians 2 and when he doesn’t rise to kill and eat in Acts 10. Did the Holy Spirit not call to remembrance what Jesus said? As we see, this is the problem of having a text that is being used in a way it was never meant to be used.
Farnell also thinks he’s made a powerful blow to the idea by saying that Plutarch was not always an accurate historian. What of it? Licona himself admits as much. That doesn’t change the compositional devices that were being used. Are we to suppose that compositional devices only matter if the writer is 100% telling the truth? This does indeed seem like an ‘arbitrary’ standard on Farnell’s part.
Farnell’s syllogism on this is subject to the same criticism as noted above. Farnell then claims
Willard Swartley, in his Israel's Scripture Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels, presents an excellent case for the Gospels as anchored to ‘common structures and themes rooted in the Israel's stories about itself.  Common to the synoptic stories are traditions about Israel's past that defined it throughout the centuries: Exodus and Sinai, Way/Conquest, Temple, and Kingship.’ “ It is interesting to see that Farnell somehow thinks this is a problem. I can agree entirely with Swartley and still see the Gospels as Greco-Roman Bioi. That Farnell thinks this is a strong case against it shows he doesn’t really understand what he is arguing against. Of course, this is common for people who are hitting a panic button.

From here, we return to the standard complaints about Greco-Roman bioi. Again, we point the reader to the above challenge. If Farnell wishes to make his case, then we simply ask him to make it by entering the ring of debate. We do not expect this to happen as the method seems to be to talk loud but don’t dare step up and if you are challenged. Play the victim. We will henceforth be ignoring all remarks about Greco-Roman Bioi.
As we go further, Farnell tells us that one reason Plutarch cannot be used is that Plutarch did not claim inspiration. To be fair, many of the Gospel writers did not claim inspiration either. That was a claim made about their writings. It’s a claim I accept, but it is not one that they themselves make. Still, we have to ask, “What difference does it make? Writing style changes with inspired literature? Did the Gospel writers go out and pick up a copy of God’s Guide To Writing Inspirational Literature.?” This reminds me of the many times I hear skeptics say “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” How do you recognize this extraordinary evidence? Does it glow in the dark?
Farnell goes on to say that “A ‘grocery list’ of Plutarch's characteristics as a writer also reveal Licona's low view of the canonical Gospels as he describes Plutarch's writings, especially as listed in the summary sections of the pericopes he analyzed in Plutarch.” Now of course, Farnell again has a problem with Evans making claims that could call his scholarship into question, but it’s okay to speak about Licona having a low view of the Gospels. No doubt as we speak, Licona is warming up a Christmas fire at his place with copies of the Gospels. Again with Farnell, do as he says, not as he does.
Farnell from here continues his idea that there must be a one-to-one correspondence between the Gospels and Plutarch in Mike’s view. Such does not follow. It does not follow any more than there is a one-to-one comparison between Wisdom literature in the Old Testament and Wisdom literature in the pagan world and the intertestamental period. We might as well say writings that were written in Greek erred, therefore since the Gospels were written in Greek, they had to err.
With great irony, we find that Farnell writes on how Licona wanted to find compositional devices in the Gospels and lo and behold, that’s what he found. We can just as easily say Farnell wants to find a low view of the Gospels and attacks on inerrancy in Licona and lo and behold, that’s what he found! All Licona found was differences in the Gospel accounts. This is nothing new. He also found weak attempts at harmonization. This again is not new. He wanted to find a better way to reconcile them. It’s quite amusing to hear that Licona is writing a book on how to harmonize Gospel differences and he’s still accused of denying inerrancy.
Farnell goes on to say that “The distinct impression given in his book is that Licona is so overzealous to prove his thesis of the similarities of the phenomena of the canonical Gospels to Greco-Roman bioi like that found in Plutarch's Lives that he frankly discounts any other possible explanation.” We can just as easily say that the distinct impression given in Farnell’s review is that he is so overzealous to prove his thesis that Mike Licona denies inerrancy that he frankly discounts any other possible explanation. Sadly, one would not be too far off the mark in saying that.
When it comes to a statement about John sacrificing precise accuracy in the interest of a higher view, we see that as expected Farnell cites ICBI, the 67th book of the Bible as we all know, to make his case. Unfortunately, Licona’s statement isn’t really that problematic. All he is saying is that John is presenting a higher view and he prefers to present that in a more monologue form instead of the parabolic and such teaching we find going on in the synoptics. Do I agree with this approach? I say why not study it and see? Why not go to the scholars of John across the board?
He goes on to take a quotation of Licona’s saying it could be suggested that the dialogue with Pilate is made up. This can neither be confirmed or disconfirmed. Of course, to say that it could be suggested naturally means that Licona definitely thinks that this is made up entirely. Somehow, Farnell has received access to the authorial intent of Licona. You know, that stuff we’re not supposed to bring into consideration. What Licona is saying is not controversial. Historically speaking, we can’t confirm or disconfirm conversations that took place in the past. That’s why many of us go with reliability.
Farnell also says that Licona makes up multiple sources. He does no such thing. He instead suggests them as a possibility. These would be Q, Special M, Special L, and perhaps others. I for one am skeptical of all of these. I happen to place a greater strength on oral tradition. Of course, it could be that someone like Matthew was following Jesus and taking shorthand notes on wax tablets. Such is within the realm of possibility. Quite frankly, we just don’t know, and I’m okay with saying that.
When it comes to Licona’s statements about miracles, Farnell still lives with the idea that Licona is writing strictly for evangelicals. Licona is also writing for other scholars in a scholarly fashion where you try to have openness to other views and make your case. Licona admits his views, but he’s fine with others challenging them from different viewpoints. In fact, he would welcome it. This is how scholarship works.
Farnell goes on to go through many of the different pericopes in the Gospels Licona brings up. Unfortunately for Farnell, he brings up just one aspect. In fact, if this was the only aspect, I would agree that no compositional device would be needed. Licona brings forward much more. I find it quite dishonest of Farnell to bring this up as if this is the only difference in the pericopes that Licona sees. No doubt, he is anticipating his readers will not read Licona’s book. (Why should they? They have Farnell to tell them the truth about it.) I happen to have my copy right here. Licona’s analysis goes from 120-125. There is much more that Farnell did not touch. Why is that?
When it comes to the demoniac, Matthew records two while Mark has one. Farnell says there is a simple solution. There were two of them. Then what are we to make of Mark’s report? Were you to read that, you would walk away thinking there was just one. Did Mark not tell the truth? Did he mislead his readers? Or could Mark actually be using “spotlighting” as Licona suggests. (Wait. That can’t be it. That was pagan, so I guess we’re stuck.)
With regard to the feeding of the 5,000, we have written about that elsewhere. It need not be done here. I can say that with all the suggestions made, I have been with Licona when he discussed this with Craig, Habermas, Qureshi, and myself. Licona is not closed off to explanations, but he wants the best one. Would that we all had that approach of not wanting an acceptable answer, but an excellent answer.
When we reach the conclusion (Hallelujah) we see more of what is just a temper tantrum on Farnell’s part. Frankly, I look at this and remember the old joke about the fundamentalist preacher writing out his sermon and at one point putting in the side “Weak point. Pound pulpit harder.” Licona begins by restating that the Gospels are Greco-Roman bioi.
“REPONSE—The pattern of the Gospels is NOT Greco-Roman bioi but the Old Testament.  The Old Testament pattern contained in its 36 books of promise and fulfillment fully explains the writings found in the Gospels.”
 It’s worth pointing out that there are in fact 39 books in the Old Testament. Could it be that Farnell does not see the other three as “books of promise and fulfillment.” Of course, by the standards that Farnell has given, since Farnell can be inaccurate on this point, we have reason to question everything else that he has said in this paper.
 For our next part, Licona’s premise is about compositional devices in the Gospels.
“RESPONSE—The canonical Gospels' usage of such devices has not been demonstrated by Licona.  These compositional devices are easily explained by simple harmonization without any need for postulating of any such Greco-Roman compositional devices.”
Sure, that is if you just ignore most of what Licona says and go with any answer and assume that that is acceptable. Some of us don’t want acceptable answers. We want great answers. Again, it’s just the temper tantrum response.
The third section is about the usage of Plutarch as a comparison model for the Gospels. Farnell says more of the same.
“RESPONSE: Plutarch's Lives are the WRONG paradigm for the Gospels, as is the whole of Greco-Roman bioi.  Merely because Plutarch did these things is non-sequitur in asserting that the canonical Gospels did the same or similar literary devices.  While Plutarch erred, the Gospels do not (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 John 4:4-6).”
Yes. It’s awfully cute at this point. Somehow pointing out the Gospels do not error indicates that they did not use any devices of their age. We’re surprised at this point that Farnell is not claiming a whole new language was made just for the Gospels to avoid the corruption of the age.
For the final one, we see Licona explaining how this method of harmonization works with the problems of the Gospels.
“RESPONSE: Licona has NOT proven his case whatsoever. He imposes his ideas upon the Gospels by merely refusing to perform simple harmonization, which harmonization provides ample evidence to dismiss any of his hypothetical "compositional devices."
Simple harmonization, which has also been unconvincing to a world at large and will be easily dealt with by internet skeptics who are free to use evilbible.com or the Skeptics Annotated Bible. Farnell can keep acting like we’re living in the past. We are not. I have seen the effects of this simple harmonization. It creates more apostates than it does believers.
Farnell then goes to Ehrman for his conclusion on Licona as Ehrman says that :

I would like to point out an interesting phenomenon, which I think is probably an empirical fact, that the only people who think the Gospels are absolutely accurate in every detail are Christian fundamentalists who are committed for theological reasons to thinking that the Bible cannot have any mistakes of any kind whatsoever because the authors were inspired to write exactly what happened in every detail. Mike is clearly not in that fundamentalist camp.” (emphasis his)

          Sadly, Farnell looks at this as a mark of shame on Licona’s part. He is not in the fundamentalist camp. Farnell says that Ehrman used to be and he recognizes an aberration when he sees it. Farnell is wrong on both counts. It is to Licona’s honor that he is not a fundamentalist. It is also the case that Ehrman is still a fundamentalist, which is why he hangs so much on inerrancy. If Farnell wants to see more people like Ehrman out there, then by all means make inerrancy the central issue.
            No, Licona is a scholar who is willing to follow the evidence where it leads and will not settle for pat answers. He wants the best answers when he goes to a debate. I have taken up the same practice trying to read the best information. The answers of the past may have worked then, but perhaps we have new information today and that needs to be taken into consideration. If Farnell wants to hold on to fundamentalism, let him. It has only led to a self-centeredness of our culture on Scripture where we think it was written to us in a way that we immediately understand. As I said, I have seen the effects of this most everyday in my debates. (Dare I say, I might see more of this than Licona since I interact more with the rank and file skeptics than with the leading scholars.)
          Farnell terms this scholarship as a fad, though it is more an expression of hope on his part and says there is no difference now between the ETS and the SBL. Can we get some clarification on this then? You see, Geisler has said ETS should now be the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society, but now he uses its judgments on Gundry as a standard for Licona and the fact that it accepts ICBI as a standard, so apparently we should go with ETS, even though he said we shouldn’t. Now Farnell says there’s no difference between it and SBL, so perhaps we shouldn’t go with ETS. I’m confused. Maybe there’s a compositional device that can help with this.
     In conclusion, Farnell can pat himself on the back thinking he is standing up for Scripture, but as we should have learned from the Reformation, standing up for tradition does not equal standing up for Scripture. I am proud of Licona’s work and I look forward to him making the advances in the world of scholarship while the old pattern retreats into the world of obscurity where it belongs. Let’s get to the hard work of understanding Scripture!



[1] Craig Evans, ""Forword," in Licona, Why are There Differences in the Gospels?, x.
[2] Evans, "Foreword," x.
[3] Ibid.