Monday, May 18, 2015

Can We Still Trust Bob Wilkin?

Bob Wilkin has written a post on Defending Inerrancy asking if we can still trust New Testament professors. This is of course since arch-villain Craig Blomberg actually wrote a book asking if we can still believe the Bible, which he answers with a resounding yes. (Blomberg is noted as well for being involved with the supreme villain Mike Licona, who actually wrote a masterful defense of the resurrection of Jesus, but called into question whether one event in the Bible is literal or not which sparked this whole thing.)

Wilkin starts off saying about Blomberg that
 He says we can still believe the Bible, but only if we learn to distinguish between inspired fiction and inspired history.
He then says that if that sounds puzzling to you, it should.

It would be nice to know where exactly Blomberg says this in the book. Of course, he could. I don't have an exhaustive memory of it. Unfortunately, Wilkin does not tell us. He's more than happy to point out the conservative scholars that Blomberg argues against. The reality is that none of these conservative scholars are really scholars at all in the field of the New Testament and would not be recognized as such by writers in the field. Still, they must surely be listened to and their opinions treated seriously for they are "conservatives." Of course, this is really interesting to many of us who consider ourselves conservatives and actually write books defending the Bible and the resurrection and debate those who contradict it regularly.

When writing about Blomberg, Wilkin starts off with saying that Blomberg says when we read the Bible, we must recognize not every account is a historical event. Of course, Wilkin knows that there are parables, but he says some stances Blomberg takes will be shocking. For instance,

According to Blomberg, Jonah was probably a real prophet but the book of Jonah is a parable. Jonah was never swallowed by a large fish. He never went to Nineveh. The whole account is just an inspired short story (pp. 157-60).
Here's the problem. Blomberg never once says it is a parable. Not once. He does say arguments given for its historicity don't necessarily follow, but he himself never takes a side in the matter. Wilkin needs to show specifically where Blomberg says Jonah is probably a real prophet and the book is a parable. Both of those are false statements and for one wanting to uphold what Scripture teaches, Wilkin might want to see what it says about false witness about one's neighbor.

Wilkin goes on to the Genesis creation account.

What about Adam and Eve and the six days of creation? Blomberg believes that Genesis 2-3 cannot be pure fiction (p. 154). That is comforting. At least there is some kernel of truth there. Blomberg considers Genesis 1-3 to be fiction with a little bit of history underlying it. In his view there were two people named Adam and Eve. But they were not directly created by God. They were chosen out of a group of humans who lived at that time. The universe was not created in six days. But it was created in some fashion. Blomberg says, The genre of much of Genesis 1-11 remains a puzzle; historical narrative as the ancients would have recognized it begins in earnest only with the call of Abram in Genesis 12 (P. 154). 
Who else questions whether the whole account should be read in a literal sense? J.I. Packer, one of the framers of ICBI. In fact, he has endorsed books on asking if we have to choose between creation and evolution. I have written on that here. As for six literal days, there are few conservative scholars who would hold to six literal days if you mean 24-hour days and as for a universal flood, many believe in a local flood that was universal in scope. All of these can be conservative positions.

What about Job? It too is inspired fiction, though there might have been an actual person by that name (pp. 155-57).
Really? Blomberg says it's inspired fiction. I want a direct quote. Can Wilkin show me a direct quote where Blomberg says this?

Blomberg says the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-21 is a parable, though it is not called a parable by the Lord. The events described never happened. The fact that no other parable lists the specific names of people (this one mentions both Lazarus and Abraham by name), and that it is not called a parable, should not confuse us. This is inspired fiction (p. 150).
Blomberg also points out that this parable is told on the heels of three parables should clue us in. One wonders also if Wilkin wants to say a man in hell before the resurrection has a tongue and a body since in a more orthodox stance, that does not happen until the resurrection. Well what about the naming of Lazarus. Why would Lazarus have a name?

It's simple. The name refers to someone helped by God. Furthermore, it's meant to be a contrast. The rich man would normally be seen as the person to be honored and as having the blessing of God. The poor man would have the opposite. In Jesus's parable, Lazarus is the one truly blessed and he is the one worth talking about. The rich man is not even worthy of a name. It's a shaming device.
Remember the amazing account in Matthew 27 of departed saints in Jerusalem who rose from their graves when Jesus rose from the dead? Matthew says, the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27:52b-53). Blomberg says that Matthew included this account because of the desire to maintain that Jesus’s [sic] bodily resurrection from the dead guarantees the coming bodily resurrection of all God’s people from throughout human history” (p. 174, emphasis his). He then continues. But does that mean that Matthew 27:52b-53 must reflect simple history? Or could the text, too, narrate symbolically what Paul phrases more prosaically [in 1 Cor 15:20]?” (pp. 174-75). In his view it is not “simple history. His point seems to be that this never happened, but that Matthew included it to show that all will rise one day. He even defends a scholar named Michael Licona (Houston Baptist University) who wrote concerning Matt 27:52b-53: “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel (Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 553).
Note again that Blomberg does not take a side. Wilkin has this habit of thinking that because one can make an argument to show that the other side is not denying the Bible, that one must be in total agreement with that side. Of course, we have mention again of the supreme villain Mike Licona, who might I remind everyone again wrote a masterful defense of the resurrection of Jesus, you know, the teaching that's only the central pillar of the Christian faith.

Licona went on to wonder “if some or all of the phenomena at Jesus death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus resurrection is not more of the same” (p. 553). He goes on to suggest that the answer is no. Jesus really rose from the dead. However, if one adopts the views of Blomberg and other New Testament scholars like him, it would seem that just about anything reported in the Bible might be considered inspired fiction.
Naturally, we have a slam on the panic button right here. There is no interacting with Licona's argument. There is no investigating it for its merits and analyzing any problems. The answer is simply that if we follow Licona's methodology supposedly, we could consider anything fiction. This despite the fact that Licona has a long section on what historiography is and how to do it but hey, facts. Who needs them?

Wilkin goes on to cite Blomberg again:

Sadly, some extremely conservative Christians continue to insist on following their modern understandings of what should or should not constitute errors in the Bible and censure fellow inerrantists whose views are less anachronistic (p. 10).
So what does Blomberg mean by this?

What he is saying is that there are errors in the Bible based on our modern understanding of the reporting of history. However, Blomberg says that the people of the first century didn’t view historical reporting as we do. They felt it was not an error to present miracle stories as history, when in fact they were fiction created by the Gospel writers to express their faith in Jesus. 
He does? Blomberg means this? For a crowd that goes on about how we can't know authorial intent, it's amazing how much Wilkin seems to know this. No. What Blomberg means is that modern standards of writing were different from historical standards.

What did the sign on the cross of Jesus say?

What did Peter say at the confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi?

What did God say at the baptism of Jesus?

Did the centurion come to Jesus himself or did a servant come?

What order did the temptations of Jesus take place in?

If you assume a modern understanding, you will have problems. If you take an ancient understanding where topics can be arranged thematically and topically and not necessarily chronologically, you have no problem.

Blomberg would have us believe that the New Testament authors had a very low view of reporting history. Hence, Matthew can include a resurrection that might never have actually occurred (Matt 27:52b-53; see p. 174-78). John can report that Jesus cleansed the temple at the start of his ministry (John 2:13-20), when in fact, according to most New Testament scholars today, He only cleansed the temple once, at the end of His ministry.
No. Blomberg would have you believe no such thing whatsoever and again, that message against false witness should be kept in mind here. It's interesting that after this last one about the cleansing of the temple, we have a little link to a footnote that says that Blomberg does not discuss this incident. Of course, his not discussing it will not stop Wilkin from writing about it as an example. Perhaps he should do something like, I don't know, use views that Blomberg says he actually holds to?

Blomberg and his non-anachronistic, and not-overly-conservative New Testament colleagues like Bock and Harris (Dallas Theological Seminary) believe that at Jesus baptism the Father did not say, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, as Matthew reports (Matt 3:17). Instead, He supposedly only said. You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:21-22). If anyone suggests He said both, one to Jesus and one to John the Baptist and the crowd, then he is called ultraconservative” (pp. 176,214) and “far right” (p. 120). Surely Matthew’s readers knew not to think that the Gospel writers reported what was actually said or done. According to Blomberg, the Gospel writers made things up but that’s OK because they viewed the reporting of history much differently than we do today. 
It's amazing that someone as conservative as Bock can be treated in this regard. (Again, a nice little footnote to say Blomberg does not discuss this incident.) Wilkin needs to answer the question. Which was said at the baptism? If he thinks both were said and one to Jesus and one to the crowd, he needs to state why the Gospels do not say that. Why does no Gospel writer mention both being said? This is reading into the text a bizarre idea. Having Jesus be told that He was the Son of God and pleasing to God would mean the crowd needed to hear a personal message at the same time, or vice-versa?

Can we still trust New Testament Professors? No, we cannot trust most New Testament Professors. At most leading Evangelical seminaries those who teach the New Testament hold Blomberg’s views. He mentions some of his friends who are New Testament scholars and who, like him, have been criticized for supposedly abandoning inerrancy. Blomberg speaks of such evangelical stalwarts as Darrell Back [Dallas Theological Seminary], D. A. Carson [Trinity Evangelical Divinity School], and Craig Keener [Asbury Theological Seminary]” (CWSBB, p. 120).
I'm quite convinced we can't trust Bob Wilkin since he has misrepresented Blomberg and given him views that he does not hold. (If anyone thinks I'm wrong in this, not only have I read his book, but I consider Blomberg a friend and I know the views that he holds very well. He also wrote the foreword to my Ebook on Inerrancy.) If Wilkin wants to remove Christians from NT scholarship of the caliber he's speaking of, he does so at the peril of the next generation, and to add to all these people, Keener is also one who is nothing but honest and diligent in his research and there's no need for Wilkin to smear him as well. He's written the leading work on miracles today and the most thorough commentary on Acts around. (And also, the scholar at Dallas is Darrell "Bock.")

Wilkin can write all he wants to about our modern understanding of inerrancy, but what he needs to ask if the ancients held the same view. If they did not, then he is going to be running into problems as he will read his own culture into the Bible. He also might not want to be so quick to point to what the Southern Baptist Convention did since as scholars like Mark Noll point out in his book on the Civil War as a theological crisis, the convention was formed to defend slavery and what kind of reading of the Bible did they use? Yep. An ultra-literalistic one. In fact, it was the scholars who were more interested in the social and historical context of what was going on that were the abolitionists and they did not have a chance against a hard-line literalism.

The kind that is being pushed today and is helping to create internet atheists regularly.

Can we trust NT professors today? Yes. Yes we can.

We are not so sure about trusting Bob Wilkin.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


  1. Hi name is Robert (Bob) Wilkin, not David Wilkins. The site this was posted on got his name wrong.

    1. Odd that they didn't even get that basic fact right then.

  2. If Blomberg does not believe what Bob points out that he wrote in his book, why did he (Blomberg) say those things in his book? Bob gives the page number where he said it. He gives exact quotes along with the page numbers. If Bob has misunderstood anything incorrectly, I know that he would want that pointed out to him. He would make the correction. But so far only accusations have come his way. There is no evidence that Bob misrepresented him in what he said in his book. It sounds to me like the 2 men (Bob Wilkin and Craig Blomberg) have 2 different beliefs about the the inerrancy of scripture. One says that much of the stories in the Bible are fictional stories to make a point… called "inspired fiction" and the other believes that God meant exactly what he said… literal (unless it's made clear that it is a parable or illustration). A very important distinction~!!!

    1. There are quite a few areas of concern here.

      First off, have you read Blomberg's book? I have it here. I looked for the places where Blomberg denies these things. I found where he said some people think otherwise, but not where he does. I also saw him say that does not necessitate a denial of inerrancy.

      My biggest concern is with this literalist hermeneutic. Why should I believe that the Bible is written in a culture that is literalist like that? The Bible is a rich piece of literature that uses all manner of literary expressions and tools. There is no rule I know of that says literal unless otherwise. In fact, the first interpreters, the church fathers, figured otherwise.

      We could in fact make it more interesting. Mark Noll wrote an excellent book called The Civil War As A Theological Crisis. Slavery was a major issue and a lot of it had to do with the Bible. There were two groups. The literalists and the non-literalists. The literalists wanted to go by the "plain meaning" of the text. The contextualists as I prefer to call us wanted to look at the Bible in light of what was known about the ancient culture.

      The literalists were also the slave owners trying to say the Bible justified slavery.

      Be careful what route you choose to go down. It has a dark history.

  3. Hi Nick.

    My name is Shawn. I work for Grace in Focus Magazine. Thanks for taking the time to respond to Bob’s article. In your blog post you asked a number of times for proof that Blomberg holds this or that view. Of course, Blomberg’s main point is to outline some options that he thought were compatible with inerrancy (pp. 150-173). He presented those as examples of the kind of questions and options that can be applied to any part of Scripture. That's why Bob brings up examples that Blomberg does not specifically discuss.

    Just to recap, Bob was writing to address Blomberg’s idea that inerrancy is so broad that any narrative portion of Scripture may actually turn out to be nonhistorical in a modern sense (because it was written according to ancient literary conventions), and that that’s compatible with believing in inerrancy. The main point is not to attack Blomberg's personal views, but how he was presenting inerrancy.

    Still, you asked where Blomberg personally holds this or that view. You can find the answer on p. 177, where he tell us what his personal stances are. They turn out to be very liberal. Here’s a summary of his summary:

    • Genesis 1: Nonhistorical. Literary framework view.
    • Genesis 2-3: Nonhistorical. “Leans towards” Kidner’s view that Adam and Eve were two Neolothic people chosen by God out of a group.
    • Jonah: “Suspects” it may be history, and that the author meant that a miracle really did happen.
    • Job: Nonhistorical. “Gravitates” towards Longman’s view that it is a parable.
    • Isaiah: One author.
    • Daniel: “Baffled” but “inclined” to believe it is predictive prophecy.
    • Matthew: Rejects Matthew as midrash as “highly unlikely.” He’s “Yet to be persuaded” that 27:51-52 is nonhistorical.
    • Epistles: Good case for traditional ascriptions (but not conclusive!).

    Most of our readers studied at Dallas Seminary in the 60s-80s or attend church by pastors from that background. That’s where Bob went. And that’s the context for Bob’s discussion of inerrancy. DTS prided itself on defending the Bible when other seminaries were going liberal. That's the legacy Bob and our readers are trying to defend. Someone who was only “inclined” to believe that Daniel was genuine predictive prophecy could not be a pastor in one of our churches. So you can imagine that Blomberg’s contention that it is compatible with inerrancy to teach that Daniel was actually written by a group of people after the events had taken place in the “guise” of prophecy (p. 163) would be absolutely beyond the pale for us. So are most of the views Blomberg outlines on pp. 150-173.

    In fact, the views that Blomberg says are compatible with inerrancy are, in Bob’s opinion, the very kind of liberal interpretations that DTS and the inerrancy confessions were supposed to combat! If that’s what passes for inerrancy nowadays then it is hard to see how we can really trust the Bible at all. Our readers need to be aware that ETS affiliated NT professors are teaching these views and we need to stop financially supporting these seminaries.

    You might think Bob’s being naïvely literalistic and should read the Bible the way Blomberg does. That’s fine. But that’s also a different discussion.

    1. Hi Shawn. Let's look at some of the issues.

      First off, Inerrancy really is a broad boat. It simply means that whatever the Bible teaches is true. We should not take something like the ICBI statement, which is recent, and act like it has been the entire position of the church throughout history. Can someone be wrong on what the Bible teaches and still believe in Inerrancy? Absolutely. I seriously doubt anyone on this planet has everything in the Bible right after all.

      But let's look at what Bob said about Blomberg's views. First off, p. 177 is not cited in the original post. Why did Wilkins not mention this page? Instead, he said Blomberg specifically denied certain doctrines while not giving the exact location and in fact, saying "I lean towards a view" is not saying "I deny another view." It's not even saying "I affirm a view." After all, a number of these views are OT and Blomberg's area of expertise is not the OT.

      So does he say Genesis 1 is non-historical? No. He takes an old-earth creationist view, which is well within the bounds of orthodoxy, and a literary framework. The literary hypothesis does not say the text is non-historical. It says that historical events were arranged in a literal format. I myself hold to Walton's view and yet I affirm that Genesis 1-3 are historical.

      Who else held to such a view? Augustine held to a more framework view because he thought creation was all done instantaneously. The whole 7 days were done at once. This was talked about in a literal interpretation of Genesis. Do we want to see Augustine denied the historicity of Genesis?

      For Genesis 2-3, he suspects Kidner is right, but remains open to other options. Note that saying that Adam and Eve were two of a group chosen does not deny the historicity of the account or of Adam and Eve. Wilkins also says that Blomberg says that Adam and Eve were not directly created by God. Blomberg could be open to that, but he has not said it directly.

      For Jonah, Blomberg is not talking about the whole book but the account of the fish. Since he is not denying it, then what is the danger? Blomberg is open to investigation.

      For Job, he is not saying that it is nonhistorical. Longman believes there was a righteous sufferer in the past.

    2. For Daniel, Daniel 11 is a difficult passage to interpret. Since this is not Blomberg's area, of course he's not going to be as heavy on that.

      For Matthew, Blomberg is open to Licona's view, as he should be. This is the way historical investigation is done. More on that later.

      The problem I see ultimately is liberal is often used as a dangerous code word. Now I am not liberal at all, but I try to read liberal scholars. They can often see things my own presuppositions might blind me to. In that case, they give ideas worth considering then. In fact, I would say people like myself have a greater confidence in the Bible and what it says. After all, we are open to investigation and think that investigation will show that the Bible is reliable. What I see from the other side is in fact wanting to flee from modern scholarship and retreat into a bubble of fundamentalism.

      For those who think that being willing to look beyond a literal interpretation and being open to the social and historical context is something dangerous, I wish to point out what Mark Noll said in "The Civil War As A Theological Crisis."

      "On the other front, nuanced biblical attacks on American slavery faced rough going precisely because they were nuanced. This position could not simply be read out of any one biblical text; it could not be lifted directly from the page. Rather, it needed patient reflection on the entirety of the Scriptures; it required expert knowledge of the historical circumstances of ancient Near Eastern and Roman slave systems as well as of the actually existing conditions in the slave states; and it demanded that sophisticated interpretative practice replace a commonsensically literal approach to the sacred text. In short, this was an argument of elites requiring that the populace defer to its intellectual betters. As such, it contradicted democratic and republican intellectual instincts. In the culture of the United States, as that culture had been constructed by three generations of evangelical Bible believers, the nuanced biblical argument was doomed"

      The Civil War as a Theological Crisis by Mark A. Noll

      The same kind of Inerrancy I see paraded around today is what is creating new atheists and was used to justify slavery in the Civil War. I find it unsustainable and a dangerous anti-intellectualism.