IT FINALLY HAPPENED—NORMAN GEISLER DENIES ETS AND ICBI INERRANCY!
THE SHOCKING EXPOSÉ
In a stunning new development yesterday, April 25, 2014, Dr. Norman Geisler, for years the world’s leading proponent of the full, final, complete, absolute, and unqualified inerrancy of the Bible according to the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s Chicago Statement created such a narrow definition of inerrancy that he denied it himself!
It was perhaps inevitable. For years Geisler had been making the noose tighter and tighter. Once an active member of the Evangelical Theological Society, he spearheaded a movement to get Robert Gundry ousted for his redaction-critical commentary on Matthew. This happened despite no less a conservative than D. A. Carson having written that the ETS’s short one-clause doctrinal statement on inerrancy was inadequate for the task. Only by seeking to stack the deck with all kinds of members coming to the business meeting at which Gundry’s membership was voted on who had not been present for or participated in the society’s discussions of Gundry’s positions was the 2/3 majority attained to ask Gundry to resign.
Next Geisler went after Murray Harris, long-time staunch supporter of the resurrection of Jesus. What was Harris’s crime? He strongly affirmed the bodily resurrection of our Lord. He just happened to believe that the resurrection appearances between Jesus’ death and exaltation were appearances from heaven. In other words, Jesus wasn’t hiding somewhere on earth in between his appearances during those 40-days, he was actually already in heaven. The case can be debated but Geisler spent several years trying in vain to get the Evangelical Free Church to defrock Harris. An ETS-trio of leading systematic theologians—Roger Nicole, Millard Erickson and Bruce Demarest—exonerated Harris of anything that could be considered counter to inerrancy, evangelicalism or the Christian faith, but Geisler still managed to publish a book on The Battle for the Resurrection that had so many factual misrepresentations of Harris that Harris needed a lengthy appendix in his subsequent work, From Grave to Glory: Resurrection in the New Testament to list and correct them.
Next came the open theists. When the ETS failed to get the 2/3 majority needed to ask John Sanders to resign and got only a 1/3 vote to get Clark Pinnock to resign, Norman Geisler resigned instead, hoping to lead a mass exodus in protest against the “encroaching liberalism” of the ETS. The exodus utterly failed to materialize so Geisler began speaking as he traveled of the organization as the Formerly Evangelical Theological Society.
Then there was Darrell Bock, an amazing conservative evangelical inerrantist scholar with a distinguished career of teaching at Dallas Seminary, that “bastion of liberalism”! Bock’s heresy? He co-edited the volume of the papers produced by the Institute of Biblical Research’s Historical Jesus study group with Bob Webb, and Bob in his introductory articles in the volume made some statements that were incompatible with ICBI inerrancy. But the volume never intended to represent ICBI or even ETS, and Darrell did not make the statements, Bob did. But in Geisler’s Inerrancy for a New Generation (which is really inerrancy unchanged from an old generation), Bock and Webb are repeatedly grouped together as if Bock agreed with everything Webb wrote by himself!
More recently, Mike Licona’s views became horrid and dangerous in Geisler’s eyes. Formerly an adjunct professor Southern Evangelical Seminary, Mike had to leave when he wrote a 700+ page defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, brilliantly employing new historiographical arguments in its defense. What on earth, then, was his heresy? In just three or four pages, Licona asked the question (he didn’t even answer it!)—might it be possible that the little segment in Matthew 27:52b-53, found in no other Gospel, about the resurrection of certain unspecified saints who appeared to people in Jerusalem, was an apocalyptic symbol not meant to be taken literally? Licona didn’t know for sure, but thought the question worth asking, and for this he has been the ongoing subject of Geisler’s polemic to this very day.
Finally, Geisler attacked Craig Blomberg. Along with David Farnell, Geisler wrote an article posted on-line about how Blomberg had now denied inerrancy and it was time to expose him to the world. A study by Blomberg, published in the mid-1980s in two different forms, including in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, had defended the historical reliability of the miracles in the Gospels, including some of the most puzzling ones that many scholars had questioned. But Blomberg had the audacity to tuck in a couple of paragraphs commenting on Matthew 17:27, which reads ἵνα δὲ μὴ σκανδαλίσωμεν αὐτούς, πορευθεὶς εἰς θάλασσαν βάλε ἄγκιστρον καὶ τὸν ἀναβάντα πρῶτον ἰχθὺν ἆρον, καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ εὑρήσεις στατῆρα· ἐκεῖνον λαβὼν δὸς αὐτοῖς ἀντὶ ἐμοῦ καὶ σοῦ (UBS Greek New Testament).
A woodenly literal translation of this verse would be: “but in order that we not scandalize them, having gone to the sea, throw a hook and take the first fish coming up, and having opened its mouth you will find a stater. Having taken that, give to them for me and you.” As is characteristic of Matthew’s style, the verses combines several aorist participles of attendant circumstances with imperative mood verbs that are all most smoothly translated as commands. The ESV, for example, translates the most relevant part of this verse as: “go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.” To be more consistent, though it would be less stylistically elegant, it should have said, “go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up and open its mouth and you will find a shekel.” In other words, there are four participles or imperatives here that give four consecutive commands: “Go,” “cast,” “take,” and “open.” Then there is one future-tense prediction: “you will find.”
Functionally, the commands serve as conditions for the prophecy. Peter cannot find the coin in the fish’s mouth unless he opens it. He cannot open the fish’s mouth unless he takes it off his hook. He cannot take it off his hook unless he casts his line into the lake to begin with. And he cannot begin to fish unless he goes to the lake in the first place.
In short, we are never told whether or not Peter obeyed any or all of these four commands from Christ. The grammatical form of this verse is not that of a narrative or an account. Matthew does not write that Jesus said to Peter, “Come, let’s go down to the lake and go fishing. So Peter and Jesus went to the shore and Peter cast his line (or dangled his hook over the side of his boat). Soon a fish began to nibble at the bait. They hauled it in and Peter pried open its mouth. Lo and behold there was a shekel, just what the two men needed to pay the temple tax for both of them together.”
It is, of course, quite possible that this is exactly what happened. But the text never says that’s what happened. Blomberg finally had an opportunity to point this out directly to Geisler yesterday in a thread on a blog by Joseph Holden, President of Veritas Seminary. Here are the exact words of Geisler’s response: “If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, then we do not have to wait for a fulfillment to know it is true. Further, the traditional view is that the Gospel narrative is historical, and the story in Matthew 17 about the command to catch the fish is part of that record. Finally, either Jesus did or did not command Peter to go catch the fish. If he did not, then the Bible is not completely inerrant. There is no third alternative.”
Let’s analyze each of these statements. (1) Do we have to wait for a fulfillment of a prophecy to know whether or not it is true? How about Jonah 3:4—“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown”? But it wasn’t. Why not? Because there was an implied condition based on the whole purpose of Jonah’s preaching—to get people to repent. If they didn’t repent, Nineveh would be overthrown. In Matthew 17:27 there are four conditions: Peter has to go to the lake, he has to throw in a hook, he has to take the first fish, and he has to open its mouth. The only way Geisler can know that all these four conditions were fulfilled is if he is relying on a version of Scripture that says Peter did precisely those four things. But textual criticism has shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is not what the autographs said. Geisler is therefore in violation of the ETS clause on inerrancy: “the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore is inerrant in the autographs.” Geisler’s view is based on knowledge he claims to have, which not found in the Bible alone and certainly not in the autographs, and so he has denied the ETS doctrine of inerrancy.
(2) It is the traditional view that this is historical. Here is a strange statement indeed for a Protestant to make. Either one bases one’s views on what is actually in Scripture or one bases one’s views on what is in tradition. There is no third alternative. But tradition is different from “the Bible alone,” so again Geisler has denied the ETS clause.
(3) We must affirm that Jesus commanded Peter to go catch the fish. Agreed—and this is irrelevant to the issue. Blomberg never claimed that Jesus didn’t give the command. The question is what did Peter do?
But it gets worse. The ICBI statement is much more extensive than the ETS doctrinal statement. Its eighteenth article begins, “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis.” That is exactly what Blomberg has done. Careful attention to the grammar of Matthew 17:27, shows four commands followed by a promise. The commands must be obeyed in order for the promise to be fulfilled. The text fails to state whether any of the commands were obeyed. So by insisting he knows that they were, Geisler has denied the ICBI doctrine of inerrancy. He has changed the inspired text to turn it into five prophecies: “You will go to the lake, you will throw in your hook, you will catch a fish, and you will find in its mouth.”
Please note: not a shred of this post is based on the controversial method known as genre criticism—of identifying the literary form of a portion of a document and interpreting it according to the rules for interpreting that form. It would be scandalous, for example, to note that all the other miracles referred to in the Gospels are in the literary form of a historical narrative and as a result to treat them as if they actually happened. So we are not relying on some dubious identification of Matthew 17:27 with some literary form found outside the Bible like a law, a psalm, a proverb, a creed, a virtue list or vice list, and so on. Because these can be found outside the Bible, they should never be used to help identify the literary form of any part of the inspired text of Scripture. No, we are sticking strictly to the grammatico-historical method, relying entirely on the grammatical forms of the verbs in this verse.
In light of Dr. Geisler’s stunning denials, published on the internet at defendinginerrancy.net as seen in his comments to objections, schools, churches and organizations beware. If you want to remain faithful to inerrancy as understood by the ETS and ICBI, you will not allow Dr. Geisler to teach for you. You will cancel speaking engagements that you have scheduled for him, just as he sought to do for all those he decided had denied inerrancy but refused to admit it.*