Is scholarly Evangelical Christianity abandoning strict inerrancy? Like the young-earth creationists of old, upon the earth’s age being conclusively determined, are scholars relegating the classic strict confines of inerrancy to a minority position?
Michigan winters add time to my commute; terrestrial radio does not quite satisfy the entire period. From boredom, I have been downloading various podcasts, debates, lectures, etc. to fill the time. I happened across Frank Turek’s November 30, 2012 Podcast whereby Turek interviews Dr. Mike Licona regarding alleged contradictions within the canonical gospel accounts. My particular sense of humor appreciated Frank Turek—whose sole claim to fame is co-authoring I Don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist with Dr. Norman Geisler—was interviewing Dr. Licona regarding inerrancy when Dr. Licona’s most strident critic in this area is Dr. Geisler. I covered this contention before. I was hoping Turek or Dr. Licona would mention the confrontation, but alas…they did not.
Dr. Licona already has stirred controversy by claiming Matthew’s Zombies (Matt. 27:52) were a poetic device and not precisely historical…it would seem he is coming out with a paper and eventually a book taking it one step further. Dr. Licona is indicating the gospel authors utilized literary devices common at the time in writing Jesus’ biography, and were never intending to write strictly, specifically historical and inerrant works as current inerrantists claim.
Dr. Licona reviewed the works of another First Century biographer--Plutarch. Because we have numerous works of Plutarch (he was a popular author; many copies were made), we have quite a representative catalog. As Plutarch wrote biographies of different people living at the same time, we can observe his writing about the same event, but from differing perspectives. Plutarch would modify the stories, dependent on the biography. For example, Dr. Licona notes in one Plutarch account regarding the Catiline conspiracy, Plutarch indicates the conspirators were arrested on one day, convicted the next and executed on the third. But in another account, Plutarch states the conspirators were arrested, convicted and executed on the same day. This is termed “condensing”--where an author condenses the account for literary reasons.
Dr. Licona claims a similar condensing when Matthew (Matt. 21:18-22) “condenses” the fig tree cursing into a single day as compared to Mark’s (Mark 11:12-20) two-day period. This isn’t exactly ground-breaking material to me or many other biblical scholars—we have said all along trying to fit the Gospels into a 21st century strictly factual genre as compared to reviewing the documents in the genre of their time is fitting a square peg in a round hole. Problems arise.
The more interesting discussion (to me) regarded the day Jesus died. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus died on Passover day, after the Passover meal. According to John, Jesus died the day before Passover, before the Passover meal. Some may remember I discussed this previously.
Dr. Licona indicated Plutarch—in his Julius Caesar biography—modified an event to claim it occurred 8 years after it actually did in order to fit Plutarch’s literary scheme. In the same way (according to Dr. Licona), John “moved” the day of Jesus’ death to coincide with the day of preparation before the Passover. Dr. Licona emphasized if we went back in time with a video camera, we would record Jesus died on Passover just like Matthew, Mark & Luke say. That John was utilizing a literary device--common and accepted at the time--to write Jesus was killed the day before.
(Further, Dr. Licona goes on to indicate John moved the actual time of Jesus’ death from early morning to mid-day equally for a literary reason to coincide with the timing of the burnt offering. Interesting.)
Needless to say, Dr. Geisler is unhappy with this approach to the canonical Gospels.
I can’t help wonder if cracks are starting to appear in the façade. I am seeing Christianity’s fear it is becoming outdated with the former doctrines, and attempting to bolster its position to one not ridiculed by the academics. No longer is biblical creationism espoused—now it is the more scientific sounding, “Intelligent Design.” Not musty books and black ties, but lab coats, and cool videos and thick books filled with scientific data.
No longer “KJV is good enough for me” but a scholarly world of textual criticism, where passages are debated and discarded based upon scholarly research. Is strict inerrancy the next to fall? Are younger biblical scholars no longer satisfied with “here is some nonsensical, but logically possible explanation” having Jesus do the same thing three or four times? Dr. Licona…it would seem…says, “yes.”