Here Comes Inerrancy Again

Has the focus on Inerrancy died out yet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am someone who does hold to Inerrancy, yet I do not think I can say I hold to ICBI Inerrancy. I think in light of new information in historical studies, we need to reconvene and have another meeting to determine what we mean by Inerrancy. This is not because of a lack of trust in the Scriptures, but because of the new information. If Inerrancy is true, it will survive any new information that comes our way. If it is not, it won’t. If it is not true, let us abandon it. If it is true, let us find a way to defend it.

Yet I do not really fight the Inerrancy battle any more. It’s not because I think it’s a losing battle. It’s not because I don’t think it can be defended. It’s not even because I do not think the doctrine is worthwhile. It is because it becomes a central point of the faith and that if it is seen as fallen, then it takes everything else with it.

An example of this is young-earth creationism. Now I know several people who are YECs. There are biblical scholars I respect who are YECs. My own wife is a YEC. My ministry partner is a YEC. I am not. I hold more to John Walton’s view on Genesis 1.

Yet here’s an important difference. The people who I respect who hold this view also do not make it an essential. Too many people who are YECs have it as a fundamental of the faith. If you deny YEC, you’re denying Christianity. You’re denying Inerrancy. You are an enemy of the faith trying to destroy it. You are liberal in your approach. You are making compromises with modern science.

What will happen when this is the focus? Young students will go off to school and get information for the first time that contradicts their YEC view. Do they simply dispense with that and go off and study the works of leading scholars and come to a different view? No. They decide that Christianity itself can’t be true.

What of Inerrancy? It’s the same way. Young people are often told that this is an essential of the faith. Then off they go to college unprepared. What happens? They get presented with 1,001 Bible contradictions and they have no idea what to do. In the end, they abandon their faith. It’s not just young people. I’ve had mature adults tell me that if there is one contradiction in the Bible, then it’s not true and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. I’ve heard atheists say that if this one part in a Gospel contradicts another, then can we trust anything historically in the Gospels?

What happens for the apologist is this becomes what I call a game of “Stump The Bible Scholar.” The critic thinks if they find one contradiction that you can’t answer, then they can just dismiss all of Christianity. How many such alleged contradictions are there? Hundreds of them. Is it fair to expect any of us to have to carry around an answer in our heads to every single contradiction? No.

Yet some in the field still have not got the memo. Case in point, though he has been quiet for a long time, Geisler has written a long piece again with Inerrancy coming under attack once more! Once again, my focus will be on his attack on my father-in-law, Mike Licona.

As Geisler writes “He redefines “error” to include genre that contains factual errors. He claims that “intentionally altering an account” is not an error but is allowed by the Greco-Roman genre into which he categorizes the Gospels, insisting that an CSBI view cannot account for all the data (MP3 recording of his ETS lecture 2013).”

Simple fact. Licona is right. Let’s consider one example. Can Geisler tell me what order the temptations of Jesus happened in? Is it the case that Jesus was tempted to jump from the temple pinnacle first, or was he tempted to worship the devil first? Luke says he was tempted to worship the devil first. Matthew says he was tempted to jump from the pinnacle of the temple first. (To be sure, all of them agree that the absolute first was the turning of stones to bread)

Does Geisler want to actually suggest that Jesus went into the wilderness twice and fasted 40 days and 40 nights twice and then the devil came and tempted him twice and used the exact same temptations but switched things around? Doubtful.

Does this affect Inerrancy? Hardly. The ancients were not as interested in chronology as we were. They could have a thematic account and that works fine. In fact, if it’s said someone wants to alter an account and therefore it’s not false, well everyone of us knows that this is false.

To use an example, suppose some Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. I have a good dialogue with them and they leave. Well my folks love me and they want to hear about my apologetic endeavors so I call and tell them the story. I don’t remember everything, but I tell them a basic account.

Then I call Licona to tell him how it went. Am I going to tell the story differently? You bet! Why? Because Licona knows the apologetics language so something that would make no sense to my parents makes perfect sense to Licona. That is altering. One account will have details the other did not have. This is also considering the fact that I am the author of both accounts.

Geisler’s greatest problem I think is his absolute inability to interact with genre criticism. He states

“Another aspect of non-inerrantist’s thinking is Genre Criticism.”

No. This is a genre of historical thinking in fact. To say the Gospels are in fact sui generis, that is, in their own category, yet this in fact practically becomes a category. The question we have to ask is can Geisler produce any NT scholarship that indicates that the Gospels are in fact sui generis or at least that they are not Greco-Roman biographies?

What Geisler is doing is in fact arguing they are not Greco-Roman biographies based not on reading Burridge and giving a sustained argument against his view, but by saying that it leads supposedly to a false conclusion, denying Inerrancy. (Which it doesn’t. You can affirm the Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies and believe the Bible is Inerrant.)

Let us suppose I held this argument.

If evolution is true, Genesis is false.
But Genesis cannot be false.
Therefore, evolution cannot be true.

Now to be entirely clear, I do not hold to such a position at all. My view of Genesis would not change whether or not evolution is true or false. If I wanted to show that evolution is false, what would I do? Well I’d go out and I’d study the sciences and I’d read all that I could on both sides and then when I had informed myself of the position, I’d make a logical argument based on the evidences.

My argument would not convince anyone who held to evolutionary theory as it is, and indeed, it shouldn’t. The case against evolution must be made on a scientific basis if it is to be made. The case against the Gospels being Greco-Roman biographies must be made on a historical and linguistic basis.

Geisler goes on

“Although he claims to be an inerrantist, Mike Licona clearly does not follow the ETS or ICBI view on the topic.”

Are we to believe that Inerrancy did not exist until ETS or ICBI came? Are we to believe that it is only in light of modern information from ETS or ICBI that one can truly hold to a position called Inerrancy? This is quite interesting. One must reject modern information that has come to light to understand the Gospels, but one must accept modern distinctions that have arisen to define what Inerrancy is and if you do not hold to ETS or ICBI, you do not hold to Inerrancy.

If Licona says he is an inerrantist, let’s do something interesting. Let’s believe him. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Does Geisler suspect Licona has some hidden ulterior motive that he wants to destroy the faith of some? If anyone thinks that, then the view is simply laughable. Yet the term “non-inerrantist” is a sort of code word that is thrown around in order to tell someone “Do not trust this person! This person is the villain!”

No. Let’s listen to their case instead. That works much better. Unfortunately for Geisler, the more he does this,the more he will drive people away from ICBI and from ETS. If anyone wants to know an excellent reason why I’m skeptical of ICBI and even joining ETS, it’s because I’ve seen Geisler’s usage of ICBI and the way he wants ETS to be ran. In fact, I know of other up and coming minds in the field who think the same way.

“Licona argues that “the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios)” and that “Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…, and the often include legend.” But, he adds “because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 34).”

Note also that Licona says this at the beginning of his book. He’s not writing this book for evangelicals. He’s writing this book for scholars who may or may not be evangelicals. He’s making a case from a historiographical standpoint. At the end, he does admit the honest truth about historical genres and bioi. This is entirely true. If one reads a bioi, it can be difficult to know.

What needs to be present is in fact historical argumentation against this claim instead of just presenting it as problematic in itself. The argument cannot be dismissed because it supposedly leads (And it doesn’t) to a conclusion that we don’t like. It must stand or fall on its own terms. Let’s consider again another example of this. Let’s consider an atheist.

If Jesus really rose from the dead, my father who died as an atheist is in Hell.
I do not like the thought of my father being in Hell.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Now let’s consider an opposite perspective that a Christian could make.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then I am without hope in this world.
I do not want to be without hope.
Therefore, Jesus did rise from the dead.

Now either Jesus rose or he didn’t. Neither of these arguments however are persuasive.

Geisler goes on to say

“This led him to deny the historicity of the story of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-53 (ibid.,527-528; 548; 552-553), and to call the story of the crowd falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am he” (John 14:5-6) “a possible candidate for embellishment” (ibid., 306) and the presence of angels at the tomb in all four Gospels may be “poetic language or legend” (ibid., 185-186).”

For the first one, this is an assumption. Geisler is presupposing the account is historical, when that is in fact the very fact that is under the topic of debate. It will not work to say that if you cannot take this literally (A concept Geisler does not understand), then nothing in the Bible can be taken that way. (A mistake Al Mohler also makes.) If Geisler wants to show the case wrong, he needs to make a historical and literary argument. He does not need to wave around Inerrancy. Frankly, the whole concept of Inerrancy should never have been brought up. As for the charge of embellishment, Licona is presenting an argument for possibility in a scholarly situation, which is what he’s supposed to do. He himself does not hold to any embellishments in the text. This has been pointed out repeatedly and one can hear it for themselves on Chris Date’s podcast here. The same can be said for the angels at the tomb. Licona is not denying that there were angels. He’s presenting an argument in a scholarly venue and to show he is not begging the question at the start, he cannot just assume there are no legends or embellishments in the text.

Of course, we also have the changed date in John, but again, I wish to ask Geisler, who changed the order of the temptations? If this is being done for thematic purposes, the audience knows this. Now I do not agree with Licona on this one, but Geisler needs a stronger case. Licona also informs me that Geisler in “When Critics Ask” does not even mention this problem. Does Geisler have a solution?

Geisler goes on to say quote Licona saying

So um this didn’t really bother me in terms of if there were contradictions in the Gospels. I mean I believe in biblical inerrancy but I also realized that biblical inerrancy is not one fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is. So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren’t. So um it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed” (emphasis Geisler’s)

It is interesting to see that the resurrection being a fundamental is not worth highlighting, but saying that Inerrancy isn’t a fundamental is. Does Geisler think one can be a Christian and not believe in Inerrancy? Does he think one can be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection? I would hope he would answer yes for the former and no for the latter. Yet here, Geisler is putting a secondary doctrine before a primary doctrine. This is exactly the problem with his critique of Licona in the first place.

And for the record, it wouldn’t bother me if there were contradictions. I’d have to change my views on inspiration and Scripture, but my Christianity would not fall apart if the Bible had contradictions in it.

Geisler goes on to say

“This popular Greco-Roman genre theory adopted by Licona and others is directly contrary to the CSBI view of inerrancy as clearly spelled out in many articles. First, Article 18 speaks to it directly: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (emphasis added). But Lincona rejects the strict “grammatico-historical exegesis” where “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” for an extra-biblical system where Greco-Roman genre is used to interpret Scripture. Of course, “Taking account” of different genres within Scripture, like poetry, history, parables, and even allegory (Gal 4:24), is legitimate, but this is not what the use of extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre does. Rather, it uses extra-biblical stories to determine what the Bible means, even if using this extra-biblical literature means denying the historicity of the biblical text.” (Emphasis Geisler’s)

Note again that there is no argument to a position like Burridge’s. As for Scripture interpreting Scripture, how? The Bible cannot interpret something. One can explain something by looking at another passage, but interpretation is done by minds. Geisler also says that there are genres within Scripture, but has this strange idea that there can be no genre of a whole book within Scripture? Does he think a prophecy book, like Nahum, is the same genre as a historical book, like Joshua?

Geisler also says it the problem is that it uses extra-biblical stories to determine what the Bible means.

Geisler, I suspect some Christians who are strong YECs want to talk to you about this. After all, you use extra-biblical science, something the ancients had ZERO access to, to interpret Genesis 1 and argue that it cannot be talking about a young Earth in that text. Why is it you can use extra-biblical sources that the ancients could not access to interpret an ancient document, but Licona cannot use extra-biblical sources that were contemporary with the literature to interpret the text?

Please note also these YECs would say that you are denying the historicity of Genesis 1 by using extra-biblical science and compromising with unbelief. They would also say that you are denying Inerrancy by having an interpretation that denies the literal reading of Genesis 1. Now I think that they are wrong, but they are accusing you of something similar to what you are accusing Licona of, except Licona actually uses information that is relevant to the time.

It won’t work to say you don’t do this. After all, in this very entry you say

“Of course, as shown above, general revelation can help modify our understanding of a biblical text, for the scientific evidence based on general revelation demonstrates that the earth is round and can be used to modify one’s understanding of the biblical phrase “for corners of the earth.” However, no Hebrew or Greco-Roman literature genre should be used to determine what a biblical text means since it is not part of any general revelation from God, and it has no hermeneutical authority.”

So once again, Licona uses information that is contemporary and the people of the time would have recognized to interpret a passage? BAD! Geisler uses modern science that the ancients did not have in order to interpret a passage? GOOD!

There’s more also on dehistoricizing but as said, that’s the very question under debate. I was not aware that Geisler had become a presuppositionalist….

Geisler continues,

“Furthermore, similarity to any extra-biblical types of literature does not demonstrate identity with the biblical text, nor should it be used to determine what the biblical text means. For example, the fact that an extra-biblical piece of literature combines history and legend does not mean that the Bible also does this.”

Yes, which is also why Licona has not said that the Bible does in fact do this.

In new material, Geisler tries to defend himself.

“Some have objected to carrying on a scholarly discussion on the Internet, as opposed to using scholarly journals. My articles on Mike Licona’s denial of inerrancy (see http://www.normgeisler.com/articles) were subject to this kind of charge. However, given the electronic age in which we live, this is an archaic charge. Dialogue is facilitated by the Internet, and responses can be made much more quickly and by more people. Further, much of the same basic material posted on the Internet was later published in printed scholarly journals.”

Note also that Geisler did not meet with Licona willingly for a round table dialogue. All Licona asked for were witnesses to be present. Why would this be denied? Would not Geisler want to make sure the meeting was held in the most honorable method? Yet Geisler refused.

One can say this is an archaic charge, but in reality, it was entirely unprofessional. Scholarly disputes are to be handled in the scholarly community. Geisler immediately posted in attack mode putting Licona on the defensive and as I will say later on, did in fact go after his job. For someone wanting dialogue, Geisler has not interacted seriously with his critics, as we will see. My responses go unanswered. J.P. Holding’s responses go unanswered. Max Andrews’s responses go unanswered.

Geisler goes on to say

“In a November 18, 2012 paper for The Evangelical Philosophical Society, Mike Licona speaks of his critics saying “bizarre” things like “bullying” people around, of having “a cow” over his view, and of engaging in a “circus” on the Internet. Further, he claims that scholarly critics of his views were “targeting” him and “taking actions against” him. He speaks about those who have made scholarly criticisms of his view as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” And he compares it to the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote, “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.” Licona complained about critics of his view, saying, “I’ve been very disappointed to see the ungodly behavior of a few of my detractors. The theological bullying, the termination and internal intimidation put on a few professors in SBC…all this revealed the underbelly of fundamentalism.” He charged that I made contacts with seminary leaders in an attempt to get him kicked out of his positions on their staff. The truth is that I made no such contacts for no such purposes. To put it briefly, it is strange that we attack those who defend inerrancy and defend those who attack inerrancy.”

The reality is people looking at this on the internet saw what Geisler is pushing hard to deny. He was being a bully and to this day still is. Licona himself has told me about the presidents of Seminaries who got the calls Geisler never says happened, or the professors at those Seminaries who heard it from those presidents. These do not wish to give their names due to not wanting to be targeted. Why did Licona lose his job at NAMB but because of this Inerrancy debate? (Licona loved what he did at NAMB, but decided to resign because Geisler’s attack on him could make him a centerpiece of debate and he did not want NAMB dragged into that.)

Geisler’s behavior has been a major turn-off to people who once supported him, including myself, and now we want nothing to do with him any more. His legacy has been seriously damaged and there is no one he can blame besides himself. Geisler asks why we defend those who attack Inerrancy and attack those who deny Inerrancy.

Answer is, we don’t. We do not see Geisler defending Inerrancy. We see him attacking Licona for having a different interpretation and turning it into an Inerrancy debate. Licona has given a historical case. If Licona can be shown to be wrong in the case, then he will change it. If not, then he won’t. Licona is making a decision based on the evidence. Would Geisler prefer he not do that?

Geisler goes on to say

“While it is not unethical to use the Internet for scholarly articles, it wrong to make the kind of unethical response that was given to the scholarly articles such as that in the above citations. Such name-calling has no place in a scholarly dialogue. Calling the defense of inerrancy an act of “bullying” diminishes their critic, not them. Indeed, calling one’s critic a “tar baby” and labeling their actions as “ungodly behavior” is a classic example of how not to defend one’s view against its critics. “

No. It’s not wrong. It’s accurate. This is what was going on. Yes. Geisler has been called a tar baby and perhaps what Geisler should do is take a good long look at himself and ask why that happened. Could it be the problem is really with him? Geisler is instead playing the victim here. He’s the one who went and pushed Licona down on the playground and doesn’t like it when other students come up and say he can’t do that and take a stand themselves. Geisler’s own actions are a classic example of how not to defend one’s self against one’s critics.

Finally we hear

“What is more, while Licona condemned the use of the Internet to present scholarly critiques of his view as a “circus,” he refused to condemn an offensive YouTube cartoon produced by his son-in-law and his friend that offensively caricatured my critique of his view as that of a theological “Scrooge.” Even Southern Evangelical Seminary (where Licona was once a faculty member before this issue arose) condemned this approach in a letter from “the office of the president,” saying, “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste” (Letter, 12/9/2011). One influential alumnus wrote the school, saying, “It was immature, inappropriate and distasteful” and recommended that “whoever made this video needs to pull it down and apologize for doing it” (Letter, 12/21/2011). The former president of the SES student body declared: “I’ll be honest that video was outright slander and worthy of punishment. I was quite angry after watching it” (Letter, 12/17/2011). This kind of unapologetic use of the Internet by those who deny the CSBI view of inerrancy of the Bible is uncalled for and unethical. It does the perpetrators and their cause against inerrancy no good.”

Licona is right. The internet is not where scholars go to dispute their claims. Scholarly conclaves are the place for that. My ministry partner and I are not scholars however. Yet even with this video, Geisler STILL has it wrong. I DID NOT PRODUCE THE VIDEO! I do not know how many times I have to say this before it will sink in. Some people have noted that the date on this blog often comes out as 2007. I do not know how to fix it. That’s how technically inept I am. When art work is done for my podcast, it is done by my wife because I do not know how to do it well on my own. I cannot produce a picture like that easily and Geisler thinks I produced a video? Watch the video at the time and see how at the end, it says it’s a production of Tektonics ministries.

Geisler wants his critics to listen to him, but it seems he does not want to listen to his critics.

Now let’s look at other charges about the video.

First, Geisler says it was offensive to list him as Scrooge.

Okay. I think it was offensive to go after Licona and have him lose his job at NAMB and pass around a petition behind his back. In fact, I suppose my ministry partner will agree to something. It would be just fine for the video to be taken down as soon as Geisler publicly apologizes to Licona for how he did that and does something to make restitution. Until then, the video stays.

Geisler lists several people who complained about the video. Unfortunately, these are also not named so we cannot say anything about them. Yet why should I take them seriously? I know several people who thought the video was in excellent taste and wonderfully represented what is going on in the situation. Why should I choose Geisler’s sources over mine?

The time has simply come to rethink Inerrancy, and Geisler’s behavior has been a large catalyst in this. This is largely also in light of recent scholarly works that have come out such as Sandy and Walton’s “The Lost World of Scripture.” My review of that can be found here and my interview with Sandy on this excellent book can be found here. As Sandy and Walton say on page 303 “The alternative
is to recognize that inerrancy needs to be redefined in light of the literary
culture of the Bible. Hopefully this book is a step in the right direction.” (I recommend the whole of the 20th and 21st chapter)

More critiques of Geisler can be found here at Deeper Waters and a search feature can find several titles. (Hopefully I can get them all linked together once I figure that out. Again, I’m the one who was supposed to have made a video…)

I interviewed Mike Licona on my own podcast with the first 20 minute segment talking about this discussion. That can be found here.

A link to all of Holding’s material can be found here.

Max Andrews’s can be found here.

For those wanting to make sure I represented Geisler honestly, his piece can be found here.

We might respond to more of this piece later on. We might move back to Carrier instead. Time will tell.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

This post originally appeared at Deeper Waters.

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