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."

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