Friday, February 22, 2013

Winds of Change?

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.”


  1. Norm Geisler says:
    “First of all, whatever else there may be to commend Mike Licona’s view of Scripture, one thing is certain: his view is not consistent with the historic view of inerrancy as held by the framers of the ETS and ICBI statements”

    It should be obvious to anybody what a façade this is. Christian biblical research, aka apologetics, is not about discovering truth in the text. It is about being consistent with the Evangelical Theological Society’s and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s statements. Just tow the party line. A true Christian must follow the mission statement or he is kicked out of the club.

    I certainly do not follow current trends in Evangelical Christianity, but I am not sure we are going to see any cracks in the inerrancy doctrine any time soon. I spent most of my Christian life firmly thinking I was reading the Bible as inerrant, when I secretly believed Adam and Eve to be myth and Evolution to be true. If the Bible had genres of myth, so be it – it was still inerrant in my mind. The Christian religion is so malleable, that believers can bend their theology into any pretzel they have to if they want to squeeze it into the party line. To tell the truth, I do not know how many Christians really ever think about this sort of thing any way. Let us stick with Fundamentalists, because I certainly do not know a single Catholic who gives a rip if the Bible is true or not. But I only knew of challenges to the Bible and apologetics pretty much after I had already left Christianity. These are things most Christians have no interest in dealing with. Hell, I had a co-worker witness to me just a few weeks ago. His whole schtick was recycled pseudo-science from Strobel’s Case for a Creator – which just seems insane to me. He kept affirming Jesus by attacking evolution, and when I asked him if he understood what the theory of evolution via natural selection was, he had no idea and he did not really care to know. When I tried to explain to him what the theory was, he quickly changed the subject. DaGoodS, these people have no intention of investigating challenges to their inerrancy doctrine. There are no challenges, as far as they are concerned. That is what I thought as a Christian, and that is what I continue to observe with my Christian pals at work.

    "Winds of Change"? I hope you are right, but I would not hold my breath waiting for it.

    Wow – that really burnt my fuse. Sorry about that.

  2. I think HIS is right. I think among some factions it may become too much to try to reconcile all these events. Small groups may abandon inerrancy but the larger body of fundamentalism chooses to close their eyes and cover their ears and sing "la, la, la" really, really loudly.

    And even though Dr. Licona is conceding some ground here, that doesn't even mean he's giving up inerrancy. It just means he's offer up literary license as a means to reconcile all the gospels. In other words, Matthew, Mark and Luke, in his mind, are historically accurate, but if we allow John to use literary license then, voila, it still all fits in the box. Put the lid back on it! Hurry!

  3. I'm starting to see this shift at my church among those with theology degrees who are leaders. Not that this is widespread, but as the internet continues to provide the opportunity for more to educate themselves, maybe more leaders will be forced to confront these issues and quit closing their eyes and ears. Good to see everyone again.

  4. HeIsSailing and D’Ma,

    No, it may not be soon…but I do see it coming. At what point did public opinion in America shift on gay marriage? Not sure there was one defining moment, but in just a few decades we went to adamantly opposed (and some 30+ voting opportunities against) to majority in favor. And our recent election was a sweep in FAVOR of gay marriage!

    Additionally, I see a changing demographic. We have younger (Wallace, Licona) scholars who buck the trends of the older evangelical establishment—Geisler, etc.

    Within my lifetime, I would not be surprised to see strict inerrancy become a minority position like Young Earth Creationism. A loud, vociferous and vocal minority—to be sure. But being left behind by those willing to accept biblical writings within the framework of the writing’s generation.

  5. Read the Geisler article and went what you know they disagree again and them read about your comments on Michael Patton's blog about Peter and how you didn't get a response and how Bill Platt tried to set you straight. Michael is blogging again about Peter and I asked the question how do you know how Peter died. Guess what they didn't post my question! Opps maybe some cracks happening!

  6. Sorry first sentence error. Read the Geisler article and then went to Michael Patton's blog and read about what you commented on Peter dying. Hope this makes more sense.