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A New Way of Explaining Contradictions in an “Inerrant” Bible

The other recent development in conservative evangelical apologetics – so far as I can discern as an outsider – is a real move to adopt serious historical scholarship on the Bible and apply it to the defense of the reliability of Scripture.   That may seem like a paradoxical move to non-evangelicals, since it is precisely serious historical scholarship that, since the 18th century, has been the major problem when it comes to the reliability of the Scripture.  In fact, it’s the *main* problem.  So, uh, how does that work?

I believe, but I may be wrong, that Mike Licona is at the forefront of this development within evangelical circles.  Two of his most popular books are Evidence for God and The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. His view is that we should not try to harmonize different Gospel accounts in every instance.  Sometimes, of course, it’s perfectly suitable and appropriate (I agree on this).  But sometimes harmonization simply leads to weirdness and implausibility.  At least in the eyes of most reasonable human beings.

And so, for example, in Matthew’s Gospel, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells Peter that he, Peter, will deny him three times that night before the cock crows.   In Mark’s Gospel, he tells Peter that he will deny him three times before the cock crows twice.  Well, which is it?  In the old style of harmonization – I thought this was funny even in my younger days – a standard reconciliation is to say that what actually happened is that Peter denied Jesus SIX times: three times before the cock crowed and three more before it crowed the second time.  Yeah, right.

The problem with that interpretation, apart from being rather risible, is that it means that none of

the Gospels indicates what Jesus actually said or what actually happened, since what *really* happened isn’t what any of the Gospels says.   Do you really want to change, or rather, sacrifice what the authors said in order to make sure they don’t disagree?

Mike has written a recent book taking a very different approach, one that actually is interested in historical research; it’s called Why Are There Differences in the Gospels (Oxford University Press, 2016).  Rather than harmonize the accounts, he tries to explain why they are different.  And they are different because …

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Who Would Invent the Story of Women at the Tomb??
Modern Evangelical Christian Apologetics

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    screwtaperocks  October 24, 2019

    I know others must have thought this thought before, but don’t these modern Evangelicals realize that they are the new Mainline? Mike Licona can only liberalize so far, but his progeny can go a little further, and theirs further still. This is the story of the liberalization of the oldest Protestant denominations. As a former Evangelical, I started to realize this long ago.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2019

      Yes, it would be interesting to see the lay of the land in, say, 50 years.

  2. Avatar
    Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  October 24, 2019

    I fear that the inconsistencies and contradictions in the narratives of the Evangelists are ‘pecata minuta’ compared to the flagrant historical errors and above all, scientific, not only of the OT – where some are ridiculous and cause great laughter – but also in the NT.
    In these cases, the mantra of the evangelical apologists that the details and nuances, in which they believe that only errors are found, are not terribly important, since the details and technical questions are, many times, the whole thing.
    And since you are going to invite Mr. Licona to explain to us in your blog how he can believe at the same time in two contrary things in its essence and foundation, to explain to us how the solves the serious scientific, historical and geographical errors of the OT and the NT.

  3. Avatar
    ksbehsixkdndbdh  October 27, 2019

    To quote Orwell, isn’t this just “double think”?

  4. Avatar
    michael51  November 3, 2019

    That the differences existed from earliest times and were allowed to remain intact as the writings were circulated and collected into the canon and used for all the centuries tells me they had been acceptable. Why should the differences be so important now?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      I suppose because now, as opposed to then, people think that every word in the Bible needs to be comletely inerrant.

  5. Avatar
    michael51  November 4, 2019

    Now isn’t that amazing…the massive effect the Bible had oh history without people being worried about conflicts in small details. Maybe the problem isn’t with the Bible, but with what a group of well-meaning but over-constraining men decided it had to be.

  6. Avatar
    Loring  November 12, 2019

    This discussion of inerrancy makes me think that the “old has become new again.” In 1983, after 8 years of fundamentalist college and seminary, I was heading into my last year of studies. While working on my thesis, I ran across the book “The Debate about the Bible: Inerrancy versus Infallibility” by Stephen T. Davis (1977). It changed my life. My views on inerrancy were seriously challenged. It prompted me to spend much of the fall semester researching the difference between inerrancy and infallibility. By the time the semester ended, I didn’t believe in inerrancy any more. (Not good at a fundamentalist seminary with one semester to go!)

    It seems that both of the positions identified by Bart boil down to affirming that the “gist” of the Bible is what is inerrant. This is basically the “infallibility” position put forth by Davis. He says that “there are historical and scientific errors in the Bible, but I have found none on matters of faith and practice” (p. 115; cf. p. 118). I’ve been out of fundamentalist and evangelical circles for decades now, but I couldn’t avoid the conclusion that today’s evangelicals are repackaging “infallibility” in the name of “inerrancy.” They want to use the word “inerrant,” but they really mean “infallible.” Davis’ book was so powerful to me at the time because it showed–by comparing scripture to scripture–that there were errors in the Bible. That would seem to preclude calling it “inerrant.”

    If people want to call the color of the sky “red,” I guess they can. But it’s blue to the rest of us. What these evangelicals are doing it a word game. Two purported stories of an event that disagree substantially with each other cannot both be “inerrant.”

    I’m an atheist now (I guess I’m an example of the “slippery slope”!), so I don’t subscribe to either position. But I think Davis was at least being more honest about the situation. He said inerrancy was wrong. So, he tried to posit infallibility as an alternative. Based on Bart’s report from the conference, modern evangelicals seem disingenuous to me. I’m glad that evangelicals are applying modern, critical methods to their study of the Bible. But I don’t understand how you can admit to errors in the Bible and still call it “inerrant.” It’s a contradiction in terms.

  7. Avatar
    80367mon  May 23, 2020

    I think that you are doing a great job by informing the public and I appreciate you for that. Sometimes I wonder why Christian would say that Jesus is God and so on. I know that the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus is God but like you said in your debates that Jesus is God in a sense. What sense? I think know the answer to question. I will get to that later. I need your feed back on these few verses that help me to understand that Jesus is not God. In Proverbs 8:22-31 those verses help me to see that Jesus was part of God’s creations and so forth. The other verses that help me to see that Jesus was not was this found in 1John 4:3,15. Those verses help to see me that we in no way cannot denied that it was Jesus(not God) came into the flesh. If christian claims that iJesus is God to me they are a hypocrite and false. Like you said we cannot have it both ways.

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