Friday, August 26, 2016

Geisler Becomes A Presuppositionalist

We have been quite surprised to find that Geisler normally affiliated with the classical tradition in Christian apologetics has switched to the presuppositionalist one. No doubt, James White will be quite pleased with this. Where has Geisler done this? In his latest rant against Mike Licona of course.

By the way, we're also surprised it took him so long this time. Mike had already spoken at the Apologetics Academy and made the statement that others have already responded to. We can't help but wonder what was keeping Geisler away from the most important of all battles? Was he not told because he was preparing to respond to an atheist and then someone said that Mike Licona had breathed again and Geisler had to jump into gear? Inquiring minds want to know!

Geisler's latest piece is here. Now I will state that I am at an advantage because as it stands, Mike took my wife, his daughter, out for an evening last night of father-daughter time together and when he came in and we all chatted together, that's when we got the email about this and we looked through it together. Mike was quite amazed to see all the things that he apparently believes and holds to that he did not know he believes and holds to.

In his YouTube presentation on this topic, Mike Licona declared that “probably Mark is confused” concerning the location of the Feeding of the 5000. Later, in his internet article on the topic (8/23/2016) he wrote, “The difficulty appears after the feeding when in Mark 6:45 we read that Jesus told His disciple to cross over the lake to Bethsaida. This seems difficult to reconcile with Luke’s report that the feeding had occurred at or near Bethsaida.”
Of course, I do think that Mike didn't phrase things the best when he spoke and that can happen. William Lane Craig can be seen on YouTube defending the proposition that 2 + 2 = 5 for instance. It can happen. I spoke last Sunday about Mike in a talk I gave about having Aspergers and referred to him at first as my wife Allie's father-in-law. It happens.

Still, this doesn't change the fact that there does seem to be a discrepancy that is difficult to reconcile. This isn't a problem to admit. One can be an inerrantist and admit there are apparent discrepancies and even some that we can have a really hard time answering. Dare I say it, but maybe some cannot be answered for us based on our present knowledge of the text.

After reviewing what Licona considers several admittedly “possible” solutions, he dismissed them for various reasons; they were “awkward,” did not solve the “tension,” “a stretch,” or “groundless.” He concludes, “while some are less ad hoc and more plausible than others, none of them enjoys anything close to a scholarly consensus….” He then resorts to his favorite solution—a hermeneutically definitive appeal to extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre and finds similar difficulties when Plutarch tells “the same stories differently.” Thus, Licona concludes that he also is willing here to accept the “confusion” of Mark, and “remain content to live with an unanswered question.”
And what exactly is so awful here? Of course, Geisler has not interacted with our criticisms here of his claims that the Gospels are not Greco-Roman biographies. Instead, he has simply stated his position and acted as if that should be sufficient. Who cares what your critics are saying? We have an agenda after all!

He also doesn't really interact with the point. Yes. Some harmonizations can be ad hoc. Some can be groundless. Some can be a stretch. One need only think about the idea that when Peter betrayed Jesus, the cock crowed six times, or that Jesus gave the sermon on the mount twice and used different pronouns each time. Mike has instead actually done something that should be done. He's actually gone to the culture that the Bible was written in and asked how differences were handled then.

So now Geisler has a brief response. What's his first point?

First of all, there is no unresolvable problem for an inerrantist here, as even Licona admits there are “possible” solutions.
Indeed there are, and some do work better than others. The sad part about all of this is that Geisler does not give one. Instead, this is what makes me think Geisler is taking a presuppositionalist approach. There is no problem because inerrancy is true. Well what about this supposed discrepancy? It's answerable. How? Because inerrancy is true. And what's the answer? Don't know, but it's there because inerrancy is true.

Now of course, one could still hold to inerrancy even if one does not know of a solution just by saying "I have seen solutions come to past problems and I am not ready to change my position at this point due to something that is at this point problematic." This is what happens when anomalies show up in classical scientific theories for instance. Unless a major amount of evidence comes through, one is justified in going with the preponderance of the evidence.

Still, it would have been nice for Geisler to have given one suggested resolution and let Mike interact with it. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

Second, he even acknowledges that some solutions are “more plausible” than others.

I mean, is this supposed to be a major point? Even if one thinks all explanations fail, what's the point of saying that some are more plausible than others. All attempts to shoot at the bullseye in the archery contest failed, but some where closer than others.

Third, Licona’s problem rests with his acceptance of Greco-Roman genre which allows for even contradiction in the Gospel, as there are in Greco-Roman literature. 
Note of course this does not necessitate intentional contradictions, but let's suppose we go with this. People who wrote in Greek period could allow for this. Geisler acts like a writing style is pagan. Should we say the same about the Greek language that the New Testament was written in? Is it out of grounds because it's pagan?

Note also that this is Licona's "problem." It's not a problem we have to deal with in the text. Of course, Geisler himself has given no solution to this. You would think if he was going to say that Mike is missing a clear point, he'd easily be able to address what the solution to the problem is.

Also, what is wrong with allowing for contradictions to begin with? I think we all should. That does not mean that there are contradictions, but it can mean "If you can show that there is one, we will have to accept it." Isn't that going where the evidence leads?

Fourth, he reflects his distaste for some attempts to use the time-honored method of “harmonizing” (which goes back as far as Tatian’s Diatessaron, c. 150-160 a.d.) to reconcile the tension or apparent contradiction. He calls it “hermeneutical gymnastics” and elsewhere refers to similar proceedings by the exaggerated term “hermeneutical waterboarding.” 
Frankly, this reminds of me of students on college campuses who respond to something they don't like to hear by speaking about how offensive it is. Unfortunately, it's not addressed whether or not this is the case. Are some supposed time-honored methodologies gymnastics or pretty much forcing the text to say what you want it to say? Are all attempts at harmonization legitimate?

Fifth, Licona’s confusion, not Mark’s, also stems from the hidden premise that if there is no “scholarly consensus” on a problem, then we must consider it unanswered, if not unanswerable. He seems unwilling to admit the venerable conclusion of St. Augustine who wrote, “If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken; but either: [1] the manuscript is faulty, or [2] the translation is wrong, or [3] you have not understood’” (Augustine, Reply to Faustus 11.5). But to repeat, itis not allowable to say, The author of this book is mistaken’”—or confused.God is not confused, and He cannot err (Heb. 6:18), and the Gospel of Mark, along with the rest of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16), is the Word of God. Therefore, it cannot be confused or err. If anyone was confused here, then mark it down, it was not Mark. 
Mike was very surprised to learn that he thinks that if there is no scholarly consensus then the problem is unanswered if not unanswerable. It's a wonder where Geisler got this idea. As for Augustine (Is he inerrant now? Sure seems like it), I would like to ask why is it not allowable to say that? Of course, I'm not saying there is an error in Scripture, but is our position unfalsifiable? What does it do to say we believe in Inerrancy if whenever we are presented with a problem just say "Well, Inerrancy is true anyway?" No. We need to have an answer. If we study extensively on one and get nothing, well we could still just be agnostic and give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. If they start to pile up, then we can work on that.

And by the way, Mike's work is leading groundbreaking research on this that has never been done before. Mike's work is meant to help solve Bible contradictions. In other words, it's defending inerrancy.

Maybe Geisler is more familiar with asserting inerrancy instead of defending it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Norman Geisler Wants You To Know He Still Cares

Ah yes everyone. The time of summer has come upon us. Let's remember the old song of Mungo Jerry.

In the summertime, when the classes are out
Geisler sits on back and speaks his thoughts
When it's writing time
Mike Licona, Mike Licona's on his mind.
Make a post, write a blog.
Go and attack him one more time.
And so it is that Geisler has wanted to remind you that, hey, he still cares about Mike Licona, an issue that he was writing about years ago and that he's getting no traction with in the evangelical community but, hey, Geisler wants you to know that he still cares. This despite the fact that Geisler is not talked about at SBL at all really, he still seems to think he has the authority. In fact, I just did a search at SBL. I typed in Geisler and only got one hit based on an article in 2005 and just to reference on book of his. I typed in "Richard Carrier" next and got the same number of hits. At least Carrier's is more recent.

So anyway, let's take a look at how much Geisler cares in his latest article. As we go through, a whole lot more of it is more of the same. Once again, I'm convinced that Geisler has ICBI at the front of His Bible and probably includes it as the 67th book of Scripture.

Of course, Geisler speaks about 300 scholars. Unfortunately, his definition of scholar is quite lacking and looks to match the definition Ken Humphreys gave me in my debate with him. You don't know who Ken Humphreys is? That's okay. Most people don't. He's this crazy guy who runs the Jesus Never Existed web site. His definition of scholar was anyone who could write well in English and put together a good argument.

If you want to see the list, you can go here. No doubt, many of these people are scholars and many of them are respected scholars. Many of them are just not scholars. That does not mean they're not fine people in their own right and not worthy of respect in their own right, but they are not scholars. It's also noteworthy that some people on the list actually support Mike Licona. In fact, you can find twelve scholars in this video that Geisler is going after. Not all are members of ICBI, but some are.

Geisler also points to the ETS as an authority on this. Isn't this odd? You see, when ETS voted to expel Gundry, ETS was in the right! Now move forward to when Clark Pinnock is under question. What happens? They're no longer evangelical. Who says? Norman Geisler says so. See what he says here:

And it is an evangelical tragedy of great magnitude that the Executive Committee of ETS and a majority of its members have retained Pinnock in what has now become the formerly Evangelical Theological Society.
Now that Geisler wants to use the ETS again, all of a sudden they are evangelical. When exactly did they change back to being evangelical? Is it the case that if they agree with Geisler, they are evangelical, and if they disagree, they are formerly evangelical? Will we be hearing about how reliable they are and then if they ever vote on Mike Licona and keep him in that they will say that they were formerly evangelical again?

If you want to know if ETS is authoritative, you just have to ask one question. Do they agree with Geisler? If they do, their vote matters. If they don't, they're not evangelical. And he wonders why he's called the Evangelical Pope!

We can skip a lot of this because it's the same-old, same-old. Most of us don't read a lot of Geisler's articles much because there's hardly anything new. It's kind of like he's someone just begging for attention at this point. Unfortunately, the attention he's mostly getting is from those who are outside and saying "Seriously?" Perhaps if Geisler wants to look at the effects he's having lately, he needs to see what's happening with the Evangelical Exodus.

Still, let's remind everyone that Mike Licona has a book coming out answering the question of explaining contradictions in the Gospels and showing that they are not really contradictions. Dare I say it, but Mike Licona has done more specialized research in this area than Geisler has. If you should listen to anyone on contradictions in the Gospels, it'd be Mike. He actually interacted with the best scholars in the field and you can be sure I will be interviewing him on his newest book on my own program.

Let's get to this idea that extra-Biblical sources are not allowed. The ICBI claim is apparently that Scripture interprets Scripture. Excuse me, but this makes no sense to me. Can one passage of Scripture illumine another one? Sure. Can it interpret it? No. Only a mind can interpret a passage.

This also assumes that Scripture was written in a vacuum. There was no interaction with the culture of the time. The writers did not use phrases that were part of culture at the time. Consider Acts 26:14 when God tells Paul it is difficult to kick against the goads. This largely comes from the Greek writer Euripides and reflects a Greek proverb of the time about resisting the will of a deity.

Let's look at some further points of Geisler's.

First, it is questionable to assume that the Gospels should be understood in like manner the way Greeks understood biography, as Richard Burridge suggested (see What Are the Gospels, Eerdmans, 2004). But why should they? Even Burridge admits that the Gospels may be a genre of their own and that genre is not determinative in interpreting a NT text (121). Even Rudolph Bultmann, father of NT criticism, asserted that a consensus of modern critical scholars claimed the NT may have its own genre (Burridge, ibid., 11, 270).
Unfortunately for Geisler, I cannot see where Burridge says what he claims he says on page 121. Even if he does and I have somehow missed it, this is Burridge starting to lay out his case. It would be saying before examining the evidence "It could be XYZ." This is the way scholars write. Before making their case, they state all the things that could be and then go and present the case. Burridge's conclusion is that the Gospels are indeed in this genre. It's really amusing as well that Geisler goes back to Bultmann for his authority. We all know Bultmann would uphold inerrancy. Bultmann also wrote in a time when this new research had not been done but then, Geisler hasn't really cared for being up-to-date on New Testament scholarship.

Second, the NT writers were Jewish in orientation, and the Old Testament (OT) was their background. There is an occasional citing of Greek writers in the NT, but two of the three are in one sermon given by Paul to Greek philosophers (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12). Yet the pages of the New Testament are peppered with citations from the Old Testament (OT). Roger Nicole (Harvard, Ph.D.) noted that: “If clear allusions are taken into consideration [along with direct citations], the figures are much higher [than several hundred]: C.H. Toy lists 613 such instances, Wilhelm Ditmar goes as high as 1640, while Eugen Huehn indicates 4105 passages reminiscent of Old Testament Scripture. It can therefore be asserted, without exaggeration, that more than 10 per cent of the New Testament text is made up of citations or direct allusions to the Old Testament” (Roger Nicole, “New Testament Use of the Old Testament” in Carl F.H. Henry, Revelation and the Bible, Baker, 1958). In short, there is no real evidence of a NT dependence on extra-biblical Greek sources or genre for the meaning of their affirmations. 
It's really hard to look at this and think Geisler thinks he's making a point. It's a way of saying the Gospels did not quote Greek writers a lot, so they did not write in Greek styles. Let's keep in mind that they were written in the Greek language and not the Hebrew language. (The quotation from Papias aside) So apparently, the writers were fine with writing sacred Scripture in Greek, but they would have thought that the culture would be wrong to use at all. Why did they quote the OT so much? I don't know. Maybe to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scripture and what they taught was the true teaching of the Old Testament all these years. You're not going to find that in the Greek writings.

So once again, we have no real point here.

Third, 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 was 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 NT did not adopt Greek beliefs to understand the phenomenon of the resurrection. So, adopting Greek genre to understand the NT is contrary to the heart of the NT Christian Gospel message of the death and resurrection of Christ. 
So let's get this straight here. The Greeks did not believe in the resurrection. Therefore, the Gospel writers who did not take on Greek beliefs would not take on Greek genre in their writings. We're still left wondering "Then why write in the Greek language?" A language is not pagan. A genre is not pagan. They are simply styles of writing. Once again, it's hard to think that Geisler really thinks he has a point here, but sadly he does think that.

Fourth, the Greek genre view overlooks the clear statements of Luke 1:1-4 that NT writers had a keen interest in historical accuracy. Luke speaks of writing an “orderly account” based on “eyewitnesses” and having himself “followed all things closely for some time” so that his reader cold “have certainty” concerning the events of which he spoke. This does not speak of someone who is creating the events, but who is recording them—accurately. And both Mathew and Mark are parallel to Luke in their record of events and words of Jesus. That is why the three are called synoptic (same-view) Gospels. Even Burridge claimed that Luke’s declaration of reliability should be taken seriously (Burridge, 209). This does not mean that the Greek NT always gives the exact words (ipsissima verba), though it sometimes does, but that it always gives the same voice or meaning (ipsissimavox). 
We stand amazed at this kind of thinking. Does Geisler really think that writers of bioi were not interested in historical accuracy? Sure, there could be exceptions, but are we to think Plutarch didn't care for historical accuracy? Plutarch, who is one of our main sources on these historical figures wrote in that style. In fact, Geisler could avail himself of the work of Loveday Alexander on the preface of Luke. Luke wrote in a style there that historians would recognize from the writings of the time to indicate an investigation.

Fifth, the author of the Gospel of Luke has proven to be an accurate historian, and Mathew and Luke give the same basic message, often in the same words. So, the historical accuracy of Luke speaks of the accuracy of Matthew and Mark as well. Indeed, some noted Roman historians, who deal with the same period of time, offer words of praise for the NT. A. N. Sherwin-White wrote, “So it is astonishing that while Greco-Roman historians have been growing confidence, the twentieth-century study of the gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, have taken so gloomy a turn in the development of form-criticism…that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious” (187). He calls the mythological view “unbelievable” (189) (A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the NT). Sir William Ramsay affirmed similar support for Luke’s accuracy (see his St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, Putnam 1896; Reprint 1960). 
We again wonder what the point is. People who are writing in the Greco-Roman Bioi genre cannot be accurate historians? Where does this come from? If a history is accurate, it's not Greco-Roman in style? Well thanks a lot Norman Geisler for throwing out much of ancient history. As someone who dialogues with mythicists, I find they're willing to throw out much of ancient history to throw out Jesus. Geisler meanwhile is willing to throw out much of ancient history to keep Jesus. Similar mindset. Different conclusions.

Sixth, the NT writers condemns non-historical legends and “myths” (1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14), warning against some who are “wandering off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:4.) And when the NT speaks of OT figures they refer to them as literal persons such as, Adam, Moses (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Tim. 2:13); Noah (Matt. 24:37-38), David (Matt. 12:3), Abraham (Heb. 11:8-19), and many others. So, to allow the belief in legends or myths in the NT is contrary to both principle and practice of NT writers. Thus, Licona’s claim is clearly unfounded when he declares that in the NT “it is often difficult to determine when history ends and legend begins” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 34). 
This kind of saying is easier to understand of Mike Licona's when you actually read the book (We invite Norman Geisler to do so). Licona is starting to make his defense. At the start of one's investigation, you don't say "This is what we conclude." You are inviting your hearers to come along on the journey. Note also that Licona is talking about all of ancient history. In some accounts, it is hard to tell. Geisler takes it to just refer to the NT and thus says it is unfounded. Still, if Geisler gets a simple interpretation of what Licona says wrong so obviously, then it's not a surprise that he gets so much else wrong.

Seventh, the Greek genre view wrongly assumes that NT biography has poetical content in the narrative. For example, Robert Gundry’s use of Aristotle to allowed contradictions to prove his point. Aristotle (Poetics, chap 25, 1460), but this was only for poetry, but not for non-poetic narratives. But even so, Aristotle urged that even in poetry the use of contradictions be avoided as much as possible (ibid.). So even if Aristotle were the model for NT Gospels, it begs the question to assume that the Gospels are poetry. Luke clearly describes his Gospel as accurate history, not poetry or myth (see point Three above).
Frankly, this really makes no sense. I don't think Licona is saying the raised saints is poetry. I think he's using the language to describe it as poetic license as it were, much like someone making a movie based on a book has the right to make some minor changes for a film adaption, but that doesn't mean the movie is poetry. As for Aristotle being a model for the Gospels, I have no idea what Geisler is really arguing here.

Eighth, Licona’s view that some NT texts may be legends is contrary to the fundamental rule of interpretation which demands a text be understood in its historical-grammatical context. As the ICBI framers affirmed, “Scripture is to be interpreted therefore in terms not only of its immediate context but also of the whole context of the Word of God” (CCSBI, XVIII). ICBI declared: “We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (CSBH, Article XIII. Emphasis added). In fact, it is self-defeating to deny this hermeneutical principle that texts should be interpreted in the light of their literal, historical context. For the denial itself implies that others should take this denial in its literal, historical context as the author of the denial meant it. 
This is simply point six repeated. Licona has not said that any texts are legends, but being a good investigator, he does not rule out an option at the start. He strove to come at this from a neutral position. Again, we invite Geisler to read the book.

We close once again convinced that Geisler is still tilting at windmills. (Oh my. Did I just use an idiom there. Is that allowed?) We hope someday he will read Mike's book. We also hope that someday he will actually listen to the responses that are presented and reply to them. Of course, to do this would be to let his followers know that there are responses and who knows, the dread thought might come to some of them that Geisler is wrong and the responses are better than what he is putting out, not just my responses but others as well.

We also want to let it be known that if anyone is detracting from the position Geisler wants them to have today, it's Geisler himself. I have said before that Christians should give thanks for Richard Carrier undermining atheism by marrying it to Jesus mythicism. Unfortunately, Christians who want to defend inerrancy are having a harder time with it since Geisler has married it to his interpretation of ICBI. Perhaps we could say that in his mind "Geisler has spoken. The case is closed."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Geisler Increases His Blacklist

You would have thought he would have learned to be quiet, but no. While the rest of the world is going about its business, Norman Geisler is still out there preaching the Gospel of "Mike Licona is wrong about inerrancy." Of course, he's not satisfied with just going after Mike Licona. There are numerous other people to go after as well. We wonder how many more people Geisler will have to blacklist before his crusade is done.

Naturally, he starts with ETS. Of course, Geisler is not clear on his position on ETS. In a writing like this, they’re treated as evangelical, but not too long ago, they were treated as formerly evangelical. For instance, when we go here we read:

In short, the ETS framers would not affirm any of these and Pinnock has not denied any of them. If he really wants to clear the record, then all he has to do is deny all 21 of these in clear and unequivocal terms. If he does not, then his unrecanted written views are contrary to what the ETS statement really means since the framers would not agree with any of them. And it is an evangelical tragedy of great magnitude that the Executive Committee of ETS and a majority of its members have retained Pinnock in what has now become the formerly Evangelical Theological Society.

So whenever you hear about ETS, you always have to ask if we should trust their opinion or not. Are they evangelical or formerly evangelical? Geisler says they made the wrong opinion about Pinnock and therefore we shouldn't trust them, but they made the right opinion about Gundry, and therefore we should trust them, and that right opinion is the one brought forward today. It's an odd picking and choosing. 

Still, Geisler wants to go after more people now. Who is included in his hunt? Some old names but some new ones. Now he's going after Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Dan Wallace, J.P. Moreland, Douglas Moo, W. David Beck, James Chancellor, William Lane Craig, Craig Keener, Gary Habermas, and William Warren. Of course, we dare not leave out Mike Licona, the arch-heretic.

Geisler is still trying to say that Licona says there are errors in the historical text. It still hasn't dawned on him that if an author did not intend to write history, then there is no error if he does not write history. Consider for instance an example Wallace brings out in his review of the Ebook on the subject of inerrancy that I co-wrote:

A case in point (not mentioned in the book): several church fathers, whose bibliological credentials on the New Testament at least were unimpeachable, claim that Jesus’ healing of the blind man in Mark 8.22–26 was not historical. This is one of two miracles of Jesus recorded in Mark that are not found in either Matthew or Luke. Both of them involved Jesus using spittle (the other is the healing of the deaf-mute in Mark 7). Jerome says that the story is “not historical, but symbolic.” And Ambrose, the bishop of Milan in the fourth century, saw the spittle as a symbol for the washing away of sins in baptism.
By Geisler's standards, these church fathers were denying inerrancy. Is he willing to say that? Will we see Jerome and Ambrose of Milan blacklisted next? What about Geisler's own denial of inerrancy that has never been answered from Max Andrews? 

Of course, this is followed by what Sproul, Packer, and Geisler himself have to say. Unfortunately, we don't know the information these men have been given. Geisler has also never said anything about Packer being friendly to a position of theistic evolution. All we have on this is Geisler's word for everything and frankly, many of us have learned to not trust that word.

Interestingly, now Geisler is going after the minimal facts approach. This is very interesting since this approach has been around for a long time and now Geisler is calling it into question in a move that I'm sure will make Richard Carrier and other mythicists proud. Yes. An evangelical is going after the minimal facts and criterion used for historical authenticity. Thanks Norman Geisler for giving more ammunition to the mythicists to use against Jesus. We really appreciate it!

Geisler misses at the start that not everyone who uses the minimal facts approach says there are errors in the Bible. Could you believe in inerrancy and use this approach? Yes. Why? Because you're going to your opponents and saying "Let's use the data your guys accept and let's see how far it gets us." You see, many of us have an interest in not getting people to believe in inerrancy, but to believe in the risen Jesus. I believe my position that the Bible is inerrant because I believe in the risen Jesus. It is not the reverse. To do otherwise is frankly to just have bad epistemology. 

How do you know the Bible is true? If you have to verify every single thing in the Bible to know it's true in order to  believe in the resurrection, then you have a problem. How about if you believe in the resurrection first and then you can reason to the Bible? In fact, perhaps you believe in the resurrection and don't believe the Bible is the Word of God. You still trust Jesus is the Lord and God of this universe who died for your sins and repent and accept Him as savior. You know what that means? It means you spend eternity in the blessed presence of Jesus Christ. The question is not what you do with Scripture but what you do with Jesus.

In fact, I recently  had to answer a question from someone along these lines who was arguing that Christianity is true because the Bible is inerrant. I had to tell him that this was the false way to go. You don't defend Christianity by showing the Bible is the Word of God. The first Christians didn't even have a New Testament to defend. You do it by showing that Jesus rose from the dead. If you start with inerrancy, the person you want to evangelize just has to go look up a web site with 101 Bible contradictions. You must answer all of them. What happens when you do that? Does he fall on his knees and proclaim Jesus is Lord? Nope. He'll go get 101 more. In the end, guess what? You'll STILL have to prove Jesus rose from the dead. Why not just start with that?

Geisler still goes on to say:

Second, it a serious theological mistake to use an apologetic strategy as a hermeneutical method. Even if the Minimal Facts strategy would work to show some key passages of Scripture pass muster, this does not mean it is an adequate method do determine the authenticity of the Gospels, to say nothing of their inspiration. For instance, the Double Reference may provide extra confirmation of some text, but it is not necessary for confirming a biblical text. There are many passages mentioned only once that would be eliminated if the event must be mentioned twice. This would include the miracle of turning water to wine (Jn. 2), the story of the woman at the well (Jn. 4), Zacchaeus (Lk. 19), Nicodemus (Jn. 3), the Magi (Matt. 4), the resurrection of Lazarus (Jn. 11), the healing of the blind man (in Jn. 9), even the actual birth of Christ (Lk. 2), and many other Gospel events.
Likewise, the Principle of Embarrassment is not necessary to confirm a text as authentic. Most things recorded in the Gospels are not an embarrassment to the author and yet they are authentic. The same is true of other ancient literature. Neither of these principles is necessary to confirm an event from the ancient world is authentic. (emphasis in the original)
Likewise, the Principle of Embarrassment is not necessary to confirm a text as authentic. Most things recorded in the Gospels are not an embarrassment to the author and yet they are authentic. The same is true of other ancient literature. Neither of these principles is necessary to confirm an event from the ancient world is authentic. (emphasis in the original)
Then I would simply like to ask how Geisler confirms that an event is historical? If he says "Because the Bible is the Word of God" then he is just using circular reasoning. The only way to do it is to use some method of historiography. There is no other way. When you do history, you have to use historiographical methods. Now are these other events unprovable by these methods? Yes. Just like many events are. What we do then is to reason from general reliability and then look at other methods and say "Where we cannot test, we give the benefit of the doubt." It works even better if we have already established the resurrection of Jesus. 

If Geisler thinks he has a better methodology, he's free to share it. Better yet, he's free to share it with the world of NT scholarship and see if it passes muster. We eagerly await it other than standing up and saying "The Bible is the Word of God and what it says is true because God cannot error." Yeah. I'm sure Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier will both be persuaded by that one.

Geisler goes on to say that:

Third, the new hermeneutic of Neo-evangelicals is a slippery slope. Once one admits the existence of minor errors and the possibility of others in the Gospel, then it is one short step to undermine inerrancy altogether. For example, if one admits Matthew erred in claiming that the saints were resurrected (Mt. 27) after Jesus’ resurrection, then what hinders one in the same passage from claiming that Jesus did not rise either. Licona struggled to explain this (Licona, TheResurrection of Jesus, 553), but his explanation is not convincing, as New Testament critic Bart Ehrman (cited above) illustrates. (Boldness his)
Of course, this is the idea of "Well if it happens once, how do we know it didn't happen elsewhere?" The answer is simple and one that eludes Ehrman as much as Geisler. We use the methods of historiography. Ehrman himself knows this because in a book like Did Jesus Exist? he will point to several beliefs that can be known to be true about Jesus based on the Gospels. Geisler is just persisting in all-or-nothing thinking, the exact same kind of thinking that produces someone like Bart Ehrman and pushing the panic button to do it. Sorry, but the sky is not falling.

Indeed, the presidents of many seminaries do not agree with Licona, including those of his own Southern Baptist denomination. After reviewing Licona’s situation, one SBC president, Dr. Al Mohler, proclaimed that “Licona has not only violated the inerrancy of Scripture, but he has blown a massive hole into his own masterful defense of the resurrection” (“The Devil is in the Details,” Sept. 11, 2011). Another Southern Baptist seminary president claimed he would never hire Licona at his school.” One non-Southern Baptist school, which dropped Licona from their faculty, had a professor on Licona’s examining committee who reported: “He [Licona] even said that if someone interpreted the resurrection accounts as metaphor and therefore denied the historicity of the Gospel accounts, that would not contradict inerrancy. That was unbelievable ” (Letter, Sept. 22, 2014).
For starters, I have already replied to Al Mohler here. Al Mohler is not a New Testament scholar and does not have the expertise on NT studies  to speak here. Meanwhile, Geisler has pointed to unnamed people and said these people who are not identified we should put our trust in. Sounds great. I'll point to several internet atheists who go by different names on YouTube and elsewhere who say that Geisler's brand of inerrancy has led them to be skeptics today and who look at the way Geisler is treating Licona as an example of how you can't have a contrary opinion in evangelicalism and the scholarship is all biased.

In conclusion, if you want to know who is truly undermining  belief in inerrancy the most truly today, don't look to Mike Licona or Craig Blomberg or anyone else, including myself. It's Geisler. People are looking at him and saying "If believing in inerrancy means I have to ditch these great thinkers in Christianity  and believe what Geisler believes, then so much for inerrancy." I urge people to go with the view of inerrancy in Defining Inerrancy.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Response To Lydia McGrew

I was quite saddened to see what was on Lydia's blog post this morning. Saddened because I do have a great relationship with Tim McGrew who I value as one of my dearest friends in this world. I do not want to have this be seen as a personal attack.

As the son-in-law of Mike and Debbie Licona, some might say that I will just walk in lockstep. Not a bit. In fact, Mike and I have had some strong disagreements as have Debbie and I. They know something for sure about me. (Other than the fact that I'm crazy about their daughter.) I speak my own mind and I do not let myself be easily swayed. If I thought Mike was seriously wrong on something, I would tell him. He knows this because I've done it before. 

So let's look at what is said. Lydia starts this off by speaking about how Mike is a New Testament scholar and apologist, which is certainly true, but that he shook up the world by suggesting that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 was a literary device. This part I don't really agree with. Mike did not shake up the evangelical world. It was Geisler who did it for whatever reasons and started his own personal crusade against Mike. This continues to this day where you can go to Norman Geisler's web site and see articles about Mike Licona. (Sadly, just taking a look on this, I see that there's a section of online articles and the response to Mike Licona is put above "How to Know God.")

The reality is I think Michael Patton wrote one of the finest pieces here in this regard. What he said was:

My ears perked up to the conversation between the two gentlemen at the Credo House. Hoping against hope that I would not hear what I thought I might hear, longing for the conversation to dignify truth, justice, and the evangelical way, I tuned in to see how this invite to hear Mike tell his testimony might play out. From behind the bar, this peaceful coffee barista’s countenance turned red-nosed in anger as I heard how Licona was introduced. “You know Mike Licona,” the one man told the other, “the guy who Norman Geisler called on to repent because of his view of the dead saints that rose in Matthew. He believes . . .” I told the guy to stop. I took over and told about the Mike Licona who just produced what might be the best historic defense of the resurrection that an evangelical has ever had his thumb print on. I told about the Mike Licona who is traveling all over the world in the power of the Spirit persuading people that the Christ is alive right now. I told about the Mike Licona who is out on the front lines debating atheists with grace, kindness, and resolve. I told about the Mike Licona who reaches out to those who are doubting their faith with mercy, gently giving hope back to them one gentle spoonful at a time. The Mike Licona that Norman Geisler has created should be nothing more than a parenthetical afterthought.
I could not agree more. Unfortunately, even if you go to Mike's Wikipedia page, there is a whole section on this controversy. This is a controversy that should have never happened. With the way Mike was treated, you would have thought he had been denying the deity of Christ. Instead, Mike writes a whole book defending the resurrection and what happens? He gets called to the carpet.

Trust me. The non-Christian world noticed. I don't know how many skeptics I saw saying that Mike's losing his jobs is proof that in Seminaries and places like that that you can't hold to positions that go against the grain. This to them was all the more reason to not take Christian scholarship seriously. Now of course, we could say the same could happen to a scientist who dared to really question evolution, which I take no sides on, but that people were saying this should concern us.

The reality is most evangelicals just really weren't caring so much as Geisler was. It was not what Mike said that the watching world noticed but how the Christian community was attacking its own. To disagree is one thing, and we should have disagreements, but to go after someone's livelihood is another, and I am thankful to see that Lydia does go against that. Mike had taken the steps to resolve this privately, but the debacle went public instead of being treated in a scholarly conclave like it should have.

By the way, I've seen the way it should happen. I was privileged to go to the last meeting of ETS and be in a session where Mike presented his views with responses from Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock. Mike responded to them as well. I did not get to see Bock, but at the end of the conference, I did see Blomberg who had disagreed with some of Mike's views. There was no animosity whatsoever. It wasn't even on my mind. This is the way it should have been handled.

And as for the events being a poetic device, my concern here is to say "Well what happens when we see this showing up in pagan literature?" After all, it does. Do we say "Well that's not historical because that's not the Bible, but it is historical when it is in the Bible."? If so, then we are doing what the skeptics regularly do. We are treating the Bible with a different standard. What should have been said is "You know Mike. I'm not really sure about your idea and I think it could be mistaken, but let's investigate it and see what we can find out." I can assure anyone of this. If someone could make a persuasive enough scholarly case against Mike's position, he would change his mind. Mike has to go where the evidence leads. Is that not what we should all be doing?

Lydia now gives us three ways that Mike says the Gospels handled situations differently.

Compression: When an author knowingly portrays events over a shorter period of time than they had actually occurred.
Transferral: When an author knowingly attributes words or actions to a person that he knew belonged to another.
Displacement: When an author knowingly removes an event from its original context and places it in another.
Lydia wants to speak about the word knowingly. Is the Gospel really giving us false information? For instance, she points to John's dating. Why did John do this this way? I don't know. My plan is quite simple. When I get the chance to talk to Mike again, I plan to simply ask him and look at his reply and see what I think of it. Mike's studied this for a long time using the best scholarly material so I take what he says very seriously.

Now as for compression, I have no real problem here with compression. In fact, this could get us to fall into the trap of skeptics. After all, how many times have you heard the thing about Luke not knowing when the ascension took place. In Luke, it seems to happen immediately. In Acts, it's after 40 days. This is compression. This should show us that this took place and if we are going to judge an ancient work, we should judge it by the standards of the time and not by our standards.

Lydia also disagrees with how Mike handles the strained harmonizations. Unfortunately, there are harmonizations like that. Just look at something like The Jesus Crisis. There are too many harmonizations that are just frankly embarrassing. Yet Rob Bowman has commented with a great answer. You can read that here.

As for the coming of James and John, what's wrong with Mike's approach? We have seen this elsewhere before. Who came and spoke to Jesus? Was it the centurion or his servants? One account says one thing. Another says another. Why not think the servants came on behalf of the centurion?

Lydia goes on to say that:

1) Disdaining harmonization inflates the number of places where the gospels are actually saying something (in the ordinary sense of "saying something") that is false. Relabeling these false statements as "literary devices" doesn't change the fact that, by abandoning even modest harmonization, you just blew up to much higher levels than necessary the number of places in the Gospels where what the text is to all appearances saying just isn't what really happened.
And the part in italics, which are hers, is the key part. To all appearances. This gets to what I see online with skeptics who want to argue against what the text "clearly" says." When we speak this way, we speak of how it looks to us. We can easily forget how it looks to an ancient person in their society. Would they see the "plain meaning" of the text?

2) Adopting the idea that the evangelists were knowingly changing things all over the place does not eliminate the possibility of actual errors of memory or mistakes in understanding (e.g., Luke's understanding of what was being claimed by one of his sources). It merely brings in an additional source of unreliability. So it's not as though one who adopts this method is somehow protecting the Gospels from claims that one or more of the evangelists made some bona fide error. A highly literary John who says that something happened on a day when he knows it didn't happen doesn't become ipso facto a John with a better memory. Hence one's estimate of the unreliability of the statements in the Gospels should (unfortunately) actually be raised by this approach. Of course, one could simply choose to interpret any putative error as a "deliberate literary trope," but this would be entirely arbitrary.
I think a key issue here is did the audience also know that this was happening? Mike's contention is that the audience would have recognized these literary devices. Consider the case of Paul's dialogue in Romans 7 that so many people today think describes every man's struggle with sin. Most scholars today think it is not autobiographical, but that is not what the "plain meaning" suggests. The difference is the audience would have recognized what was going on. If the audience recognized it, then there is not an issue.

3) Licona does not intend to say that there are usually clues in a given text as to when such a deliberate change is taking place. At one point in the lecture he says that there might be such a clue from "editorial fatigue," because an editor didn't sufficiently "clean up" a passage that he was displacing from a different context, but he does not appear to hold in general that there will be such clues. And that makes sense, given the view he's propounding. One shouldn't expect such clues given his definitions, since the definitions make it clear that the writer is deliberately attempting to write "as if" the event took place at a different time, the words were said by a different person, and so forth. This makes such changes invisible unless we happen to stumble across them by noticing discrepancies with other accounts. Licona claims to have identified quite a few of such tropes; he emphasizes in his talk that the three he discusses in the lecture are only a sample. He also shows great readiness to believe that the evangelists are using them. It would therefore seem that, if his view of the evangelists' modus operandi is correct, the probability is actually "decent" (20%, 30%? more?) in any given passage that the author is deliberately changing something, using one or the other of such techniques, but making it look like he isn't doing so. The rate of the use of such techniques postulated by Licona seems a lot higher than the ordinary rate of minor error on the part of honest witnesses who are in a position to know what happened and who are not trying to fictionalize their accounts. In other words, if we adopt Licona's approach it seems that we have significant reason to distrust the factual statements in the Gospels even where we don't have any other reason to doubt them. Take, for example, Licona's own readiness to believe that Mary the sister of Lazarus actually was the one who anointed Jesus' feet. But why think that? If John had no qualms about changing the date of the event, if the gospel writers had no qualms about putting words in a person's mouth when that person didn't say them, and so forth, why not wonder if John "transferred" the foot anointing from some unknown woman to Mary the sister of Lazarus? And then also transferred the story to Saturday to group all the stuff about Mary close together? The point is that once you start saying that the gospel writers, in essence, made stuff up for literary reasons, this has a tendency to metastasize. And I contend that it spreads far more quickly than the admission that they may, while trying to get it right, have made a few small errors.
And these are good questions worthy of discussion, so how about this? Mike's written a book on this that's due out in the fall. How about we read it and see his case and then critique the case then when we have a much fuller case. A presentation unfortunately cannot give the whole picture as you can't put all the footnotes in you want and everything.

4) In general, this approach runs in precisely the wrong direction, because it presents the Gospels to us as highly "massaged," literary documents in their relationship to the truth, not as honest memoirs just trying to tell it like it happened. What research in areas like unexplained allusions and undesigned coincidences reveals is the latter--the marks of truthful witnesses with the normal variation of detail that we would expect from them, not the marks of literary composition of a fictionalizing sort. The highly literary view of the Gospels tells us to look for hidden meanings and agendas rather than taking them at face value. This causes an artificial view of other evidences as well. For example, consider the evidence of unnecessary details. The Gospels are full of otherwise pointless time indications, statements that one place was "near to" another place, details about how many fish were caught or how many men were fed, and so forth. The historical view of the Gospels would lead us to note that these are prima facie evidences of verisimilitude. This is how real people talk. They throw in unnecessary details, they make unexplained allusions, and so forth. It is part of the dysfunctionality of over-sophisticated New Testament criticism to teach readers to overlook this obvious fact and instead to go off into fancies of literary speculation--e.g., symbolic meanings for specific numbers and names, etc. Licona's approach, while less fanciful than some others, is definitely on the ahistorical, over-literary side of this divide. It thus undermines readers' ability to see the force of other evidences of reliability, since it teaches them to think of the Gospel writers as people who are trying to do lots of invisible altering of the facts for literary or theological purposes.
Now I have no problem with undesigned coincidences and see no reason why both cannot be employed, but I do hesitate when we speak of the way ordinary people talk and about taking a text at face value. Are we not still too much reading this as if it was a book written to a 21st century Western audience?

My whole concern in all of this as Lydia goes on is that it looks like the whole thing is starting again. I was expecting something to happen when Mike had his book released, but not before. I do think that these are issues worth discussing and I do plan on discussing them, especially whenever I get to interview Mike on it. (I've asked for first interview!)

Ultimately, this is also one reason I just do not make a strong effort to defend Inerrancy really. If you engage a skeptic who makes a big deal out of it, they will just go to a website with 101 Bible contradictions and even if you addressed all of them, there would be more that they would want to have addressed. This has become such a hot button issue that we are losing sight of the real deal. When is the resurrection going to be central? When are we going to look at the Risen Jesus?

In Christ,
Nick Peters