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Is the Bible Inerrant? Guest Post by Mike Licona

This now is the second of three posts by Mike Licona, Associate Professor of Theology at Houston Baptist University.  Mike has a PhD in New Testament studies and is a committed evangelical apologist, who has written a recent book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2016).  He does indeed admit there are differences in the Gospels, which some people would claim are actually contradictions; but he continues to believe the Bible is “inerrant.”  What does he mean then?  In this clear and lucid post, he explains his views.

NOTE: Mike’s first post generated lots of comments, and it was a bit overwhelming.   He will be willing to answer questions/comments over the next four days, but not afterward.  That in itself is amazingly generous.  Please don’t ask tons of questions in one comment — that (I can say from experience) is hard to deal with!   Moreover, he and I both know that many people on the blog have a different perspective from his.  But please be respectful and courteous, even in your disagreements. .

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Is the Bible Inerrant?

Just as the term “divine inspiration” needs clarification, so does the term “inerrant.” “Inerrant” means without error. So, a simple way of explaining what it means to say the Bible is inerrant is to assert that it contains no errors of any kind. One can imagine a preacher holding up his Bible during his Sunday morning sermon and saying, “This is God’s inerrant Word. Every word in it’s true!” For that, the argument is given, “If the Bible is divinely inspired, it must be inerrant, since God cannot err.” However, as I noted in my previous post, that argument only works if either (a) God dictated the words to the biblical writers who acted merely as scribes or (b) God, in a manner unknown to us, used their personalities and various writing styles to pen every word as He desired. As we observed, neither are likely, given the Bible that we have.

If by divine inspiration we mean that God actuated circumstances whereby the authors of the biblical literature wrote what they did using their own words, arguments, and logic, and that God ultimately approved what they wrote, despite the presence of human imperfections, then the doctrine of biblical inerrancy may be understood in a number of ways.

For example, Vatican II views inerrancy as follows: “the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation [emphasis mine]” (Dei Verbum 11). In other words, the Bible is inerrant in everything it teaches pertaining to salvation.

Perhaps the definition most commonly accepted by evangelicals around the world is …

This is an intriguing post with a view that will strike many of you as unusual.  If you want to read the rest, you will need to belong to the blog.  So why not join?  It doesn’t cost much, and every nickel goes to those in need.

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Final Tribute To Larry Hurtado
Setting Dates for the Gospels

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    lobe  December 2, 2019

    Thanks again for taking the time to write on the blog! No questions today, but I have to say I can’t agree with #1 enough. Insisting that a set of documents that nobody actually has are 100% error free has always seemed to me to be an odd hill to die on. I guess it buys you a higher starting point before the errors could start to accumulate, but your approach seems simpler & more straightforward.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Thanks, lobe.

    • Avatar
      Gary  December 4, 2019

      From the Christian website, “LogosTalk”, June, 2015, regarding Dr. Michael Licona:

      As the apologetics coordinator for the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission board, Mike [Licona] gained the reputation of a stalwart defender of Christianity. …But as he continued his doctoral studies, Mike felt a familiar presence lurking near the edges of his consciousness. The unsettling specter he thought he had banished had returned. His wife Debbie could sense it too. Mike describes the moment they acknowledged its unwelcome reappearance. “One night I’m lying in bed and I figured my wife was asleep. We probably hadn’t said anything for half an hour. And then I just heard her voice pierce into the darkness. ‘You’re doubting again, aren’t you?’”

      He could avoid it no longer. Doubt had made a dramatic re-entry into the apologist’s life. But this time was different. This time he would face it head on.

      That night, Mike shared his doubts with Debbie. Although he felt confident in the existence of God, he couldn’t seem to shake misgivings about other core Christian beliefs—even the Resurrection of Jesus, the very doctrine upon which he had based his academic career.

      …Mike would often take long walks at night, praying through these issues. “I was out one evening praying and said, ‘God I believe Christianity is true, I believe Jesus was raised from the dead. But you know I’m plagued by doubts. If Christianity is wrong, now is a really good time to show me because I am more open than ever. I’m open to looking at the data and following it . . . wherever it leads me.”

      Gary: Dr. Licona has asserted in comments under this post that his belief that the spirit of Jesus dwells somewhere in his body and communicates with him in a vague, non-audible fashion does not affect his scholarship. He tells us that he is able to put aside this bias. Really? How many professional historians talk to spirits during late night walks about their doubts regarding the historical veracity of Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon or Alexander’s sacking of Tyre? Dr. Licona needs to be honest. He needs to admit that his perception that a ghost lives inside his body, communicating secret wisdom and insight to him, has played a HUGE role in his scholarship, his belief in the resurrection of Jesus, and his belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Christian holy book, the Bible.

      • Avatar
        lobe  December 4, 2019

        Let me start by saying that I’m an atheist, and I disagree with a lot of Dr. Licona’s conclusions. That said, I don’t think your comparisons to the Rubicon or Tyre are fair, because those are items not charged with religious significance. Everyone has biases. The best we can do is acknowledge them and try our best to work in a methodical manner that doesn’t allow those biases to unduly influence our conclusions. It’s only natural that one’s worldview will affect one’s thinking. Far from not acknowledging it, this is something Dr. Licona emphasizes repeatedly in his writings. I don’t disagree that that Dr. Licona’s experiences have probably colored his thinking, but if believing that spirits and deities are real disqualifies one from scholarship then we will have to throw out the work of a great deal of the world’s best scholars.

        • Avatar
          Gary  December 4, 2019

          Dr. Licona believes that a first century corpse came back to life and is currently the Lord and Master of the universe. He has stated in the comments under his first post that the atheist readers of this blog will suffer eternal torment in Hell for their non-belief in this “resurrected” corpse. The fact that he consults the spirit of this dead man during late night walks, seriously calls into question the objectivity of his scholarship on this issue, in my humble opinion.

          • Avatar
            lobe  December 5, 2019

            The very question at hand is whether that 1st century corpse was brought back to life. You’ve essentially said that “Anyone who disagrees with me cannot be a scholar”, or equivalently, “Only scholars who come to the conclusion I prefer should be considered”. That’s a pretty biased view, from where I’m standing.

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 5, 2019

            Lobe: You are incorrect, my friend. I have the highest respect for many Christian scholars, in particular the scholarship of Roman Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown, because his work demonstrates that he was not afraid to question the historicity of core beliefs of his Church when the evidence indicated it. Brown very much believed in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus. But unlike Dr. Licona, Brown could admit that many of his beliefs were based on his faith in the wisdom and judgment of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. For Brown, the doctrines of the supernatural “mysteries” of the Incarnation and the Resurrection are true because the Church says they are true not because of historical evidence.

            Evangelical Protestants such as Mike Licona would never say that they believe a core teaching of Christianity is true simply because the authorities of the Church say so. Their highest authority is the Bible—their individual interpretation of the Bible—AND the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” in their hearts. Raymond Brown would never say that his faith was based even in part on his perception of a non-audible, communicating (in some fashion) ghost living inside his body.

            That is the difference. That is why I do not trust the scholarship of most EVANGELICAL Christians. Their beliefs are based on THEIR interpretation of the Bible and THEIR subjective perceptions and feelings. Historical evidence is simply a “tool”, as Dr. Licona says above. It is not the primary reason for their belief.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  December 4, 2019

        I think you’re being hard on Mike. Every scholar has bias, no matter what their faith background may be.

        • Avatar
          Gary  December 5, 2019

          We all have biases, but not all of us believe that we communicate daily with the spirit of the man whose alleged resurrection is in question. Unlike most other Christians, evangelical Christians believe that the spirit of Jesus not only “dwells” in their bodies but he communicates, in some fashion, secret insight and wisdom. Evangelical Christians claim that they have a “personal relationship” with this spirit.

          How can they possibly investigate the historical claims regarding a man who died more than 20 centuries ago if they believe that this man’s ghost lives inside their bodies and is their “best friend”??

  2. Avatar
    Nichrob  December 2, 2019

    “Without error in all it teaches”. The Earth was created in 7 days: Wrong. Original sin (Two creation stories that contradict each other and adapted (stolen) from the Mesopotamians) Wrong. Some tribes are “Chosen”: Wrong. The 4 arguments within the texts for why evil exists: wrong. Almost everything Paul taught: Wrong [Crossan: “Paul was as wrong as he was convincing”]. Apocalyptic Theology is correct: Wrong. Slavery is acceptable: Wrong. Women should be quiet, uneducated, and pregnant: Wrong. QUESTION: You believe that “what it teaches is without errors”?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Nichrob: Genre is important. By far, the majority of Christian theologians today do not understand the 7 days of creation to be 7-24 hour periods. And this view is not new. In the 4th century, Augustine said many interpreted the days of creation as geological epochs of time. And that was 1,500 years prior to Darwin. Even today, many theologians regard Genesis 1-11 as myths-history and not intended to be understood as historical in its entirety. All of the other assertions you made are simply that: assertions. And there are responses for each.

      • Avatar
        Nichrob  December 3, 2019

        I have taken the time to read all the questions posed to you along with your thoughtful and kind responses. You deserve a Klondike Bar.. Thank you for the time you have put into this discussion. We are a tough crowd, but you knew that. Many of us are “Alumni”. Former fundamentalist. But you knew that too…. Now I want to get back to my point and your response. In my journey, I have moved towards a John Dominic Crossan understanding of the Bible. As Crossan puts it, the Bible is parabolic from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation’s final chapter and verse. You appear to be saying “the creation story is parabolic”. I and I presume Crossan would agree with you. The creation stories are “parabolic” and it’s great and refreshing to see fundamentalists finally coming along…. (side note: the fundamentalism I grew up with would disagree with you….). But you pick and choose “this is fact” vs, oh “that is parabolic” (and then throw in a Tertullian or Augustine reference to back up the statement). Well, what if I believe as Crossan does, that the resurrection is a “parabolic” story. You made it clear that you believe it was an actual historical event. I’m past trying to convert you. You are past trying to convert me. But: Stop kidding yourself dear man…..! You pick and choose what is “true” and you pick and choose “what is parabolic”. If the verse condemns women it “genre” or “assertion”. Demeaning women is not “genre” It’s disgusting and wrong….! Your the one who said the Bible is Truthful, not me….. You can’t have it both ways. Is it “God’s” book or not? We’ve all read the book. It’s full of contradictions, it’s filled with hate, false statements, tribal divisions, and it’s a bad read…. But other then that, it’s a great book. And if I haven’t been clear enough, you may want to re-read the “assertion” that the Jews are the children of the devil…… Now there’s a loving Christian thought…. Or was that “genre”, “Roman rhetoric”, etc, etc, etc, etc…. NO, it’s hateful falsehoods….! Period…

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

          Thanks, nichrob. I wouldn’t say Genesis 1-11 is “parabolic.” Admittedly, the matter of how to interpret that text is outside of my lane. So, I want to tread very lightly when referring to it. That said, if a significant number of OT theologians are correct that Gen 1-11 is mytho-history for genre, they don’t usually think that of Genesis 12-forward. Literature can contain different genres. For example, the Gospels contain biography, parables, and teachings, some with apocalyptic flavoring. It’s crystal clear to me that Paul believed Jesus had been raised from the dead and that this was an event in a historical sense. I disagree with Crossan on that matter. If interested, Crossan and I had a debate in Oct 2018 you may view at https://youtu.be/p_7bQlh8uWc. In it, I provide reasons why I think Crossan is mistaken.

      • Avatar
        Fanus  December 4, 2019

        Even the understanding of the 7-days as epochs is problematic. What was the source of light in terms of which night and day was distinguished before the creation of the sun on the fourth day? The biggest problem however is that Jesus is said to have died because of Adam’s sin and that the whole Christian salvation message is based on mythology.

        Mike’s position is proof that even doctors in theology will come up with all sorts of fanciful arguments for convincing themselves of their version of what is true, rather than go wherever rational thinking and the evidence may lead in discovering what is actually true.

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 5, 2019

        Genre is important. Most scholars believe that the genre of the Gospels is “Greco-Roman biographies”. In this genre, what is important is the core story and character traits of the central character (Dr. Licona has confirmed this in one of his excellent books, which I have read.) However, embellishments in the details were perfectly acceptable and even expected.

        Therefore, the following is entirely possible: Jesus was crucified. Jesus was buried. Jesus’ tomb was found empty. Speculation arose as to the cause of the empty tomb. This speculation led some to despair (“someone took the body of our Lord”) but it led others to experience cognitive dissonance: they so desperately wanted Jesus to be the messiah; to overthrow the Romans; to establish the New Kingdom—that they experienced vivid dreams, false sightings, illusions, and maybe hallucinations. These experiences led to the resurrection belief. This is the core story we find in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15.

        Then decades later, four authors decided to write Greco-Roman biographies about this man, Jesus. They retained all the core elements of the story, but INVENTED fantastical details, as was common for writers in that time period:
        They invented sightings of Jesus on the Emmaus Road; sightings of Jesus in an Upper Room where disciples could touch Jesus and watch him eat broiled fish; sightings of Jesus by women; sightings of Jesus lifting off the ground to levitate into the clouds. This would have been perfectly acceptable in this ancient genre of literature. The early readers of these books would have understood these elements to be fictional. They would not have accused the Evangelists of lying or of deception. Unfortunately, later generations of Christians, who did not understand genre, came to believe that all these invented, embellished details were HISTORICAL FACTS. But they were not. These details simply made the Jesus Story much more interesting to read and hear (and much more dramatic as tools of evangelism).

        Why can conservative Christians see fiction in the Creation Story through the lens of genre, but they cannot do the same when it comes to the Appearance Stories in the Gospels??

  3. Avatar
    Tuskensp  December 2, 2019

    If there is an all powerful god, why wouldn’t his sacred text be perfect? (inerrant, interesting to read, clear for all to understand universally) For me personally, the fact that the Bible isn’t perfect is just another bit of evidence against the existence of god.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Tuskenp: Your comment seems to assume a certain product as Scripture. I see no reason compelling to suggest it had to be that way. Moreover, there are some things even an all-powerful God cannot do. For example, He cannot draw a square circle. He cannot create a rock bigger than He can lift. Logical impossibilities are exempt as a requirement for omnipotence. As Alvin Plantinga suggested in the 1970s, it may very well be that it’s logically impossible for God to create a world of free beings, all of whom do the right thing all of the time. In a similar way, it may be the case that, apart from divine dictation, God could not have created a Bible that’s perfect and clearly understood in every way.

      • Avatar
        Tuskensp  December 3, 2019

        If Jesus really was god, why couldn’t he have written down the important things he wanted us to know?

      • Avatar
        Leovigild  December 4, 2019

        “it may very well be that it’s logically impossible for God to create a world of free beings, all of whom do the right thing all of the time.”

        So in Heaven, which we presumably occupy for all eternity, we are either not free beings, or we will not do the right thing all of the time. Which do you think it is?

    • Avatar
      meohanlon  December 4, 2019

      A great answer to this question was once provided by Alan Watts, as to whether God would intend for the bible to be a perfectly reliable guide with one consistent, internally coherent frame of reference. “He would do nothing of the sort, for it would rot our brain,” he said. Perhaps, whatever intelligence might be behind the bible and every other religion’s written or unwritten attempt to connect to the divine, there is very important reason why we should question it (not to reject it, but simply accept it as part of an ongoing search, whether or not the reader finds in it something of personal value)

  4. Avatar
    Gary  December 2, 2019

    Dr. Licona: Which takes precedence in your worldview: historical evidence or the testimony of the Holy Spirit in your heart?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      That’s a fair question, Gary. If I could clearly identify the testimony of the Holy Spirit ion my heart, that would take precedence. Because I cannot, historical evidence plays a very large part in my assessments about the past.

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 2, 2019

        Fair answer. However, can you see why many skeptics doubt your ability to be objective, Dr. Licona, when you give at least some credence to a “still, small voice” inside your head regarding universal truth claims, including historical claims such as the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus? If I were to debate you on the historicity of Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, we both would debate historical evidence alone. Neither one of us would appeal to an inner voice as additional evidence for our belief (at least I hope not). So how can you claim to have objectively evaluated the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus and the inspiration of the Bible when your belief on these issues is, at least in part, based on an inner voice?

        If you were to discover that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is weak, would you still believe in its historicity based on the perceived presence of Jesus inside you? In other words, is the perceived testimony of the Holy Spirit within you sufficient evidence to believe in the resurrected Jesus?

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

          Gary: I think you’re projecting stereotypes onto me. I did not speak of a small voice inside. The fact that I’m willing to trust my historical inquiry above a small voice should suggest to you that I’m trying to manage my biases while conducting my inquiries. If you read my book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographic Approach,” you’ll see what steps I took to place my biases in check during my investigation.

          Every one of us has biases, whether we recognize them or not. And we are influenced by many things. Blaise Pascal wrote, “People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.” Our desire to discover and follow truth wherever it leads is something many claim but few actually live out. Those who know me well are aware of the extent to which I wrestled with my own objectivity or lack of it going into my investigation. And they are aware of how I dealt with it throughout my investigation.

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 2, 2019

            I certainly agree that we all have biases, but most skeptics do not believe that the spirit of a dead person lives inside their body, communicating with them regarding universal truth claims.

            “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” –Romans 8:16

            Dr. Licona; Do you believe that the spirit of Jesus testifies (communicates) with you (your spirit)?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

            Yes. But it’s not a voice. And I don’t place such a feeling above what I think the historical data suggests.

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 3, 2019

            Ok, so unlike evangelical scholar Craig Keener, who hears Jesus address him as “my child”, you do not hear the audible voice of Jesus, but you do perceive, in some fashion, the spirit of Jesus dwelling within you, correct, Dr. Licona? You can, as the Apostle Paul said, boldly proclaim: “I know that Jesus lives in my heart/soul.”

            “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” –Galatians 2:20

            Do you believe this passage of Christian Scripture to be literally true, Dr. Licona? If this passage is literally true, the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth “lives” inside of you. So how can you possibly give precedence to historical evidence related to this first century man when you believe he “lives” inside your body? If I believed that Elvis Presley “lives” inside of me and communicates in some non-verbal fashion with me, how objective do you believe I will be when examining the evidence for Elvis Presley sightings?

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 3, 2019

            Dear Dr. Licona:

            —You believe the Bible is (in a vague, general fashion) inerrant because you believe it to be the inspired Word of God.

            —You believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God because you believe there is good evidence for the historical claim that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead in the first century.

            —You believe that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from the dead in the first century, in part, because you believe that his spirit lives inside your body, “testifying” in some non-audible fashion, that you are his child.

            Is that rational thinking, Dr. Licona?

            With all due respect for your obvious intelligence and your reputation as a kind and generous human being, why should anyone take your research related to Jesus of Nazareth seriously?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

            Gary: I really find it difficult to communicate with you sometimes because you not once but often read things into what I say that aren’t there. In fact, I think you are the only one on this blog interacting with me who is doing this. It is not true that I believe Jesus was raised from the dead in part because I believe his Spirit lives inside my body “testifying” in some non-audile fashion, that I’m his child.

            Respectfully, I think you have a tendency to project your stereotypes of Christians onto me.

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 3, 2019

            Do you or do you not perceive or sense the presence of Jesus within you?

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 3, 2019

            “The Holy Spirit’s work is essential in order for a person to come to Christ. Who you are and your personal testimony are also very important. Evidence is a tool in your pocket. If you are sharing your faith actively, you will find yourself reaching for it frequently.” —Michael Licona, on his Facebook page, October 12, 2018

            Interesting. Why are you proud to talk about the spirit of Jesus “working” within you when talking to a Christian audience but you complain of stereotyping here with skeptics? I alleged that you believe that the spirit of Jesus lives inside your body and communicates with you (I did not specify how). Your statement above confirms my allegation. So why are you refusing to answer the question??

            The truth is that you believe that a spirit (ghost) lives within your body and it is the “work” of this ghost that is “essential” for one to believe in the reality of the resurrected Jesus. That is what you say above. The fact that you are hemming and hawing on this issue with us skeptics demonstrates my point: Evangelical Christian apologists use historical evidence “as a tool in their pockets”, but their belief is primarily based on the “work” of their (holy) ghost: the perception that a “superhero” ghost lives within them and communicates with them in some fashion.

            My dear fellow skeptics: I believe that the above discussion is a demonstration of the best method we skeptics should use to counter the clever, often contorted, often sophisticated-sounding arguments of Christian apologists trying to convince you of the reality of their supernatural superstitions. Don’t waste your time debating them regarding historical evidence. You must address their core belief: that a 2,000 year old ghost lives inside of them. Once you do this, and refuse to let them dodge the issue as Dr. Licona is so desperately attempting to do here, you expose their belief system for what it is: a silly, EMBARRASSING, irrational, ancient superstition. Conservative Christians engage in scholarship and historical discussion to provide a respectable cover for their superstitions. Don’t buy into their game. Go for the jugular: Expose their belief in human body-inhabitating ghosts.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

            Gary: I’m sorry that you feel and think that way. In doing so, you set yourself apart from almost everyone else commenting in this thread. You continue incorrectly to project on me your thoughts of what you assume I believe. So, I’m going to leave you to yourself. You are welcome, of course, to continue to comment. And I will approve the posting of your comments. But going forward I will not be replying to you.

  5. Avatar
    Gary  December 2, 2019

    How do you know that any of the books of the NT are the inspired, inerrant, Word of God? Some of these books, such as II Peter, were not accepted into the canon until several hundreds years after Jesus’ death. Even if you were to believe that every book in the canon was accepted in the first century by all the churches established by Paul and the Twelve what authority does that give to these books as the “inspired, inerrant Word of God”. Jesus did not certify any of these books. What divine authority do churches have? None, if you are a Protestant. How do we know that the apostle Paul was truly speaking for God and not for himself? Maybe he was mentally unstable. You have zero evidence that Paul was speaking for God or thay his epistles are the Word of God other than appealing to II Peter, which again, was a disputed book. The evidence for the canon of the New Testament as the inspired, inerrant Word of God is extremely weak. It is a matter of faith (wishful thinking).

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Gary: I see two issues here: inerrancy and canonicity. They are related to a degree but not entirely, of course. Catholics have a different canon than Protestants. And even the Orthodox have a different canon. I do not base by case for inerrancy on 2 Peter 1:20-21 or 2 Timothy 3:16, although one can certainly use those texts to show at minimum what some first century Christians believed.

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 2, 2019

        Why should we accept any of the books of the NT as the inspired, inerrant (however one wants to define that term) Word of God when we have no authority, other than early churches, attesting to the authority of these books? The truth is that you have no good evidence for the inspiration and truthfulness (inerrancy) of the books of the New Testament other than your assumption that the early churches (fallible human beings) selected the correct texts; your disputed assumption that some of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life; and your assumption that Paul of Tarsus was speaking for God, and not for himself in some state of mental illness.

        That is pretty weak evidence for any modern, educated person to believe a never heard of before or since claim that a first century brain-dead corpse came back to life with a super-hero body, levitated into the clouds, and currently reigns as Lord and Master of the universe from a golden throne. Isn’t your belief primarily based on the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” in your heart, Dr. Licona?

  6. Avatar
    fishician  December 2, 2019

    One of the problems I have with terms like “reliable” is that the Bible has spawned many denominations, even sects within those denominations, who have different understandings of matters pertaining to salvation, baptism being an obvious one. Use of instrumental music being forbidden in the church being less common, but just as crucial for those who hold to that view. So, either God doesn’t care about these many differences and we’ll all be saved in the end, or there really is one correct way to understand the Bible, and you better get it right, in which case God did a poor job of transmitting His will to us errant fallible people through the Bible. Or, the Bible is purely human-inspired and written, and does not reflect God’s will in any reliable manner. I lean toward the last possibility.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      fishcian: I’d say science is reliable. But science can be done poorly. And scientists can interpret the results in an erroneous manner. Virtually all, if not all, of the differences between denominations, and even between Catholicism, Orthodox, and Protestantism do not involve essential doctrines.

      • Avatar
        fishician  December 3, 2019

        I have talked to people in these various branches who would vehemently disagree that the differences do not involve essential doctrines!

  7. Avatar
    AndrewB  December 2, 2019

    Hello, Dr. Licona,

    Thanks again for continuing to unpack your understanding. Agree or not, I find it intriguing and worth reflecting on. I do have a question from this reading. You say that if Jesus was risen from the dead then Christianity must be true – to this I wonder – what aspects of Christianity? Allow me to focus that question to something more answerable.
    Do you think the world was created in 6 days or would you lean more towards an evolution perspective (presumably guided or driven by divine will)? (What I’m thinking is that your answer may give more insight onto how flexibly you may take things from Christianity. Such as Genesis as divine mythology (a myth but created by-serving God’s will for understanding) or whether such things are literal and that science must be understood in such perimeters. A more applicable case of how you interpret the truth of Christianity onto understanding the world.
    Thanks!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Thanks, AndrewB. I suppose we’d have to take a look at each on an individual basis. Regarding creation, I wrote the following in my reply to another: “Genre is important. By far, the majority of Christian theologians today do not understand the 7 days of creation to be 7-24 hour periods. And this view is not new. In the 4th century, Augustine said many interpreted the days of creation as geological epochs of time. And that was 1,500 years prior to Darwin. Even today, many theologians regard Genesis 1-11 as myths-history and not intended to be understood as historical in its entirety.” That said, lets assume for the moment that Genesis 1-11 is in error, regardless of how one may interpret it. If Jesus rose, what he taught is very likely to be true. Of course, one would need to argue that the New Testament preserve the essence of Jesus’s teachings. But you can see how I’d progress in my thinking.

  8. Avatar
    jbskq5  December 2, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    Having watched many of your debates and talks before, I think it would be useful to address a specific example frequently given for why the Bible cannot be described as “inerrant” even in the loose sense that you describe here. Most people familiar with literature of any kind probably agree that the number of times a rooster crowed is inconsequential. What of something much more material, such as whether the women who discovered the empty tomb told anyone or not? Really, you could pick any of the standard “Easter challenge” points. I’m pretty sure I know how you’ll respond, but it will be good to show how the reasoning you lay out in your post actually applies in a practical sense.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      jbskq5: Yes, I’ll be happy to. In fact, I address the particular difference you mention in my book “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography” (New York: OUP, 2017). Mark says “they said nothing to no one” (16:9). We find an almost identical grammatical construction in Greek earlier in Mark 1:44 where Jesus heals a leper and instructs him to “say nothing to no one” but show himself to the priest and make an offering. I take Mark as reporting Jesus telling the man to go straight to the priest and not to stop along the way to tell others about your healing. Moreover, Jesus predicts his death and resurrection several times in Mark (e.g., 8:31-33; 9:30-32; 14:28). So, he already mentions a forthcoming resurrection appearance. Scholars disagree on when Mark was written. But most think it was no later than AD 70. Paul and the other apostles were proclaiming Jesus’s resurrection and appearances to them long before Mark was written, even prior to Paul’s letters. So, Mark would have known of appearances prior to writing his Gospel. Finally, if we interpret the statement “and they said nothing to no one” as meaning they did not tell anyone about what they saw, then how did Mark know about it? In my opinion, everything points to interpreting 16:9 in a manner similar to 1:44 as I’ve suggested above.

      • Avatar
        jbskq5  December 2, 2019

        “it’s terribly ad hoc. We should look for another solution instead of subjecting the Gospel texts to hermeneutical waterboarding until they tell us what we want to hear! ”

        I see your response as an ad hoc solution in order to force the text to say something it doesn’t, as I suspect you suspected.

        What would constitute a meaningful difference in order to persuade you that the Bible is not inerrant? Is your starting point inerrancy, or is it a dispassionate reading of the text in its literary and historical context? I ask because to me (and to the majority of critical scholars) the passage I mentioned reads as literary artifice for dramatic effect from an author who was concerned with telling a story, not presenting historical facts. So; if you agree with that assessment, then how can you say the bible is inerrant? And if you disagree, then what would constitute a meaningful enough difference to persuade you otherwise?

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

          jbskq5: Well, I provided reasons why I don’t think Mark is engaged in artistry in 16:8. I’m not sure the majority of critical scholars think that it is. They provide many proposals for what Mark is doing here. Most of them are mutually exclusive.

          A difference meaningful enough for me to jettison a belief in inerrancy as I have defined it would be (this is something quick off the top of my head): John’s Gospel claiming in contrast to the Synoptics that Pilate handed over Jesus to the Jewish leadership and gave them permission to execute Jesus in the manner they desired. Henceforth, Jesus was led outside the city and stoned. That would be an error even by my definition.

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 5, 2019

        ” Paul and the other apostles were proclaiming Jesus’s resurrection and appearances to them long before Mark was written, even prior to Paul’s letters. So, Mark would have known of appearances prior to writing his Gospel.”

        Just because the evidence indicates that Paul and the author of Mark believed that Jesus had “appeared” to some people does not mean that Paul and the author of Mark believed that a body that could be touched appeared to people and ate food in front of them. These details are only found in the later gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. So it is entirely possible that the original “appearances” of Jesus were based on sightings of Jesus in vivid dreams, illusions of nature (groups of people can see the same illusion), false sightings, etc..

        Conservative Christians assume that the appearances mentioned by Paul and the author of Mark involve sightings of a walking, talking, fish eating body but they have no evidence of anyone making such a claim until the appearance of the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John in the late first century.

        It is entirely possible that every alleged person or group of persons mentioned in the Early Creed originally claimed to see a non-touchable Jesus in dreams and illusions. The Appearance Stories in the Gospels are later literary embellishments.

  9. Avatar
    Jon1  December 2, 2019

    Mike,

    I think your supernatural worldview (hence Jesus’ resurrection, hence biblical inerrancy) is the pink elephant in the room that you need to more rigorously investigate.

    Consider your use of anthropologist Bruce Grindal’s report of seeing a dead corpse rise from the dead and play drums in a highly excited and primitive religious environment in Ghana in the 1960s (first three minutes of your video at https://youtu.be/WRYIr2aBkLk; Grindal’s report at https://www.jstor.org/stable/3629816?seq=1). You give the unmistakable impression in your video that Grindal himself (professional anthropologist and atheist before this event = credibility) *agrees* with you that a real bodily resurrection occurred. However, this is false. Grindal considered his experience an “altered state of consciousness” (pg. 67 and first sentence of article) and writes, “Had I chosen…to set up some objective recording device, such as a camera or tape recorder, the event simply would *not* have happened” (pg.76). Grindal clearly thinks his experience “real” (pg.77) only in some kind of spiritual or consciousness sense. You even innuendoed that Grindal’s rejection of atheism entailed his acceptance of supernatural events, but it might only entail his openness to a God/gods or some kind of spirit world. Grindal’s obituary only refers to a typically secular “celebration of life” ceremony and his dedication to “humanism” and “rational thinking” (https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/tallahassee-fl/bruce-grindal-5054920). More importantly, Grindal provides no firsthand reports in his article of what the others with him saw, nor does he even report asking them what they saw; they all just laugh after the event (top of pg.69) and “no words were said” (pg.77). Given this evidence, the others with Grindal may not have seen the same thing as Grindal, or saw nothing unusual at all. Why do you conclude Grindal saw a real resurrection here instead of concluding Grindal (and possibly others) hallucinated?

    Our human tendency to fool ourselves is why we need the scientific method. The most rigorous prayer study on health outcomes to date shows nil results (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05/), but your community could conduct a probably much cheaper, easier, and larger test of Craig Keener’s claim, “the stopping of storms after prayer is not uncommon” (Miracles, pg. 737). Similarly, decades of monetary rewards for demonstrating a supernatural event remain unclaimed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_prizes_for_evidence_of_the_paranormal), but your community could invite serious researchers to paranormal events that you are “invited…to witness” ahead of time (Keener, pg.1). Why doesn’t your community pursue these opportunities?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Thanks, Jon1. After that debate (of which the video link you provided), someone challenged me about how I had interpreted Grindal’s account. So, I reread the journal article he had written and discovered I had accidentally conflated details from one of his accounts with another he had mentioned in the same article. My bad. I don’t recall all the details at this moment. Nevertheless, the main point I was making with that example is that Grindal’s experience was so real that he jettisoned his atheist worldview. He did not become a Christian or even a theist. But he was certain at that point that a supernatural dimension of reality exists and went to his grave with that view. I learned these things from one of his former students and from his widow.

      Regarding prayer studies, you have referred to one. There are others published in peer reviewed journals with opposite findings. Moreover, the few studies that suggest no difference in the results of prayer almost always do not distinguish between those of mainline denominations and evangelicals/pentecostals, whereas the others do.

      I don’t know of circumstances by which one might invite scientists to observe a miracle. God is not a sort of circus animal that can be goaded into acting.

      Thanks for your comments. They are quite off topic from my post on inerrancy. So, I’d rather keep to that subject, so that I can guard my time.

      • Avatar
        Jon1  December 2, 2019

        Mike,

        I don’t think my two questions were off topic given that Jesus’ resurrection is one of your reasons for inerrancy, and I think you too lightly brush off your mishandling of Grindal’s report (of which you provided the link in the comments of your first post).

        Your accidental conflation of details from two of Grindal’s accounts is totally understandable and inconsequential (e.g., it was Tumukuoro’s drummer, not Ali). That’s why I didn’t bring those details up. What I brought up was your unmistakable impression (first three minutes of your video at https://youtu.be/WRYIr2aBkLk) that Grindal himself (professional anthropologist and atheist before this event = credibility) *agrees* with you that a real bodily resurrection occurred. That’s dead wrong. You don’t seem to want to own up to this. Even on what you consider your main point – that Grindal jettisoned his atheist worldview – you leave the listener to assume this means Grindal believes the laws of physics are sometimes violated. Nothing suggests this, and as you note Grindal didn’t even become a theist. I’m guessing Grindal came to believe in some kind of supernatural spirit world, which I can understand for a 27 year-old living for a year in a highly superstitious village exposed to all the things he mentions in his report. You might consider making a correction on the two points above in the comments section of your video so that those who watch it (and have watched it) are not misled. But the biggest point of all is the question I posed that you did not answer: Why do you personally conclude Grindal saw a real resurrection here instead of concluding Grindal (and possibly others) hallucinated?

        I believe the prayer study on health outcomes showing nil results I referred to (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05/) is widely considered the most rigorous to date, but good point that evangelicals/pentecostals might produce different results. Can you please cite the study you think best represents your views? My guess is that it has already identified methodological flaws and shows an effect much smaller than anticipated. That is why I suggested your community conduct a probably much cheaper, easier, and larger test of Craig Keener’s claim, “the stopping of storms after prayer is not uncommon” (Miracles, pg. 737). You said you “don’t know of circumstances by which one might invite scientists to observe a miracle.” What about the events Keener was “invited…to witness” ahead of time (Keener, pg.1)? Again, why doesn’t your community pursue these opportunities?

        Respectfully.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

          Thanks, Jon1. I only hesitate to admit error on my part with regards to Grindal’s claim of resurrection because I’d have to revisit the article and check details, which I haven’t done. If I’m wrong, I’m fine admitting it. I’m by no means perfect. My wife can prove it, too! 🙂

          Regarding other prayer studies, I’d have to go back and do some research to give you a good answer. Unfortunately, I don’t want to take to the time to do that at this point. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful to you, because I certainly don’t feel that way. I just want to prioritize my time. I do recall at the moment the title of one of those studies. The title was something like “A wing and a prayer.” The physician’s name was Byrd. And it was published in the “Southern Medical Journal.” There are a few others. But that’s one that comes to mind.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 2, 2019

            Mike,

            No problem reviewing the details of Grindal’s report, and no problem making a mistake. My wife and many others prove me capable of mistakes all the time too.

            Where can one expect to see your corrections if upon further review you agree that you significantly mischaracterized Grindal (i.e., he does *not* agree with you that a real bodily resurrection occurred, and there is no evidence that Grindal adopted your view of supernatural intervention into the laws of physics)? Also, where can one expect to see you answer my question: Why do you personally conclude Grindal saw a real resurrection instead of concluding Grindal (and possibly others) hallucinated? If you were mistaken here too, perhaps in your correction you can give another example where you believe the laws of physics were violated. Please choose carefully, because these claims take hours to look at closely, and there always seems available a naturalistic explanation or unanswerable questions about the evidence (basically Keener’s entire compilation of miracles).

            The link I provided for the 2006 most rigorous prayer study to date on health outcomes showing nil results (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05/) mentions the two decades earlier study (1988) by Dr. Byrd that you prefer (available at https://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/smj.pdf) and says:

            “This study [the 2006 study] is particularly significant because Herbert Benson [the physician who ran the 2006 study] has long been sympathetic to the possibility that intercessory prayer can positively influence the health of patients. His team’s rigorous methodologies overcame the numerous flaws that called into question previously published studies. The most commonly cited study in support of the connection between prayer and healing is: Randolph C. Byrd, “Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population,” Southern Medical Journal 81 (1998 [should be 1988]): 826–829.”

            I am sorry to press this so hard, but why doesn’t your community conduct a probably much cheaper, easier, larger, and more valid test of prayer using Craig Keener’s claim, “the stopping of storms after prayer is not uncommon” (Miracles, pg. 737), and why doesn’t your community invite scientists to observe those events that Keener is “invited…to witness” ahead of time but which Keener can’t because, “my academic schedule and other factors have so far precluded my plan to do so” (Keener, pg.1)? Frankly, it looks like you folks are hiding behind the apologetics associated with historical events instead of subjecting your claims to real scrutiny.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

            Thanks, Jon1. After I take some time to reassess what Grindal wrote, I may say something in a future publication in which I mention him.

            Re: Byrd study, I would have to collect a number of prayer studies, compare them, and make my final assessment. Given my present research interests, this is not a priority for me at the moment. However, it’s something I need to do in the not-to-distant future.

            Re: Supernatural, many of us have experienced what we consider to be phenomena of a supernatural nature (yes, “supernatural nature” is redundant). I have had a number of experiences I interpret as “demonic.” I have a friend who is not a Christian, not a theist, has a genius IQ, and is thoroughly convinced he has had multiple experiences of “spirits,” “ghosts,” “apparitions” or whatever one may wish to call them. My friend Dale Allison has experienced an apparition of a dead loved one who imparted accurate information to him he could not have known. My friend Pat Ferguson whom I’ve known for years experienced an apparition of a friend she had not seen for several years that awakened her in the middle of the night at a time she later learned was the moment she had died miles away. Unfortunately, these things often don’t occur in a controlled environment. And many who experience them don’t feel inclined to publish the experience for fear of being thought weird. What I can say is folks like myself, Keener, and many others are not in some sense hiding. For myself and Keener, we simply have moved on and have other interests to which we are attending.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 3, 2019

            Mike,

            How is your reference to spirits, ghosts, and apparitions (and NDEs for that matter) relevant to whether or not a supernatural entity ever intervenes in the *laws of physics* (e.g., causes water to flow against gravity, causes cancer to heal, causes a dead man to resurrect)? I actually think spirits, ghosts, apparitions, and NDEs are interesting fields of study and am open to some kind of existence beyond bodily death, but as you say these phenomena are difficult to study and nail down beyond anecdotal stories. In contrast, your camp’s claims about prayer (“the stopping of storms after prayer is not uncommon”, Keener, Miracles, pg. 737) and claimed supernatural events that you are “invited…to witness” ahead of time (Keener, pg. 1) most definitely involve supernatural intervention in the *laws of physics* and, more importantly, they involve *predictions* that can most certainly be tested. The problem for your camp is that these predictions have already been extensively tested and the results are null. I think you will agree with me (and almost everyone else it seems) when you read all of the prayer studies and see that the 2006 Benson et al. prayer study is the most rigorous to date (summary of multiple prayer studies at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05/) and that decades of monetary payouts for demonstrating a paranormal event have gone unclaimed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_prizes_for_evidence_of_the_paranormal). That’s why it looks to me like your camp is in some sense hiding from this line of inquiry. Your camp should be deeply disturbed by these results and be leaping at the opportunity to pursue a probably much cheaper, easier, larger, and more valid study of the effects of prayer on things like weather (Keener’s claim) and be falling all over themselves to invite scientists to seriously record and study paranormal events that Keener is “invited…to witness” ahead of time. Instead, Keener’s academic schedule has no time for such things and you all stay mired in historical arguments and anecdotal stories. Why do you think your camp is not pursuing these promising and reliable ways of confirming your supernatural worldview?

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 4, 2019

            “The Holy Spirit’s work is essential in order for a person to come to Christ. Who you are and your personal testimony are also very important. Evidence is a tool in your pocket. If you are sharing your faith actively, you will find yourself reaching for it frequently.” —MICHAEL LICONA, on his Facebook page, October 12, 2018

            Dr. Licona: Why when addressing a Christian audience regarding issues related to Jesus of Nazareth do you emphasize the work of spirits but when talking to us, a group of skeptics, you emphasize historical evidence? In your statement above, the alleged work of the spirit of Jesus is given precedence (it is “essential”) over (historical) evidence (simply “a” tool), but in a previous statement in this comment section, you denied this. Why the contradiction?

  10. Avatar
    sashko123  December 2, 2019

    “The Bible is true, trustworthy, and without error in all that it teaches and to the extent that God intended.” How can this be a justifiable definition, since it creates an rule for post hoc evaluation of what God intended — whatever is verified as accurate is placed in the bin “God intends this” and whatever is verified as false is placed in a bin “God did not intend this”” It seems to fail ever to properly test a) whether God could intend something that turns out to be false or b) whether something could turn out to be true which God did not intend.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      sashko123: I agree. To me, inerrancy is not an essential doctrine. At most, it’s of tertiary importance. As I say in the article, once I came to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead after extensive research, I knew that Christianity is true and that some errors in the Bible wouldn’t change that fact. And, if Christianity is true, I have reason to think God would ensure that everything I need to know about salvation and how to please God has been been preserved in Scripture.

      • Avatar
        sashko123  December 2, 2019

        Thank you, Dr. Licona, for your response!

  11. Avatar
    flcombs  December 2, 2019

    The obvious thing to me is: if Jesus is as claimed and God really cares about the message, Jesus could have written “the word” and God made sure it couldn’t be changed. The fact that it relies on human writers, scribes, translators, historians, etc. would prove that if there is a God he really doesn’t care about it much. Assuming a God has the power to communicate directly, why get the message distorted through human filters? Of course many do claim to get direct communication, but people obeying voices in their head often do things condemned by others, like killing people. Well the Bible does say God ordered that kind of thing, so maybe he does still!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      flcombs: Of course, God could have delivered His message via divine dictation. That’s not what we have, of course. The question of primary importance to me is “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” If he did, then God simply chose a different way to communicate his message. Perhaps he could not communicate it in the manner we would prefer.

      • Avatar
        flcombs  December 3, 2019

        ” Perhaps he could not communicate it in the manner we would prefer.”

        If god has limits like that, I doubt he has the power to raise someone from the dead and it should be strong cause for skepticism. It would indicate that the stories of the OT and god’s powers to personally appear, communicate and work miracles are false too. There can’t really be an omnipotent god if something is limiting his abilities to do today what Christians claim he can and has done in the past. There are daily opportunities for Christians or god to show clear miracles if they really had the power and if it really mattered. The bible is full of stories where god does those things to get his message and desires across to humans. Otherwise any of us can make the same claims of miracle abilities: If I told you that I had the power of god and can work miracles but “I’m not going to do it right now because that’s not how it works” would you believe in and follow me?

        It’s not really a matter of preference: It’s only if there is a god that really cares about you and wants you to get his message would he insure that you got it clearly and untampered. Of course an illiterate Jesus would explain why he didn’t leave any writings for the true word of god. It is really evident even to Christians that there is a great debate over “proof” of Jesus’ resurrection and events of 2000 years ago and with so many different Christian groups, they can’t even agree on the meaning and “commands” of what is claimed to be god’s word. There is no proof or debate needed that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding and ignorance about “god’s word” and 2000 year old events. So the burden of proof should be on those claiming all that is any proof of a omnipotent, omniscient and caring god and what he really wants!

        Even the “Jesus rose from the dead” claim doesn’t prove anything, since even if true, it could just as easily have been Satan trying to deceive and guide people away from his true path, Judaism. But since based on unverifiable 2000 year old stories it could just as easily have been he wasn’t actually dead or other explanations.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

          flcombs: You wrote, “Even the ‘Jesus rose from the dead’ claim doesn’t prove anything, since even if true, it could just as easily have been Satan trying to deceive and guide people away from his true path, Judaism.” That’s true. But I think it’s logic chopping at this point. If Jesus claims to be divine and risen from the dead, I’m reasonable to trust what he says. Perhaps you would remain unconvinced. Each of us must chose for ourselves.

          • Avatar
            flcombs  December 4, 2019

            If the Bible is to be believed as presented today, surely the god of Exodus has the power to ensure his word and desires are known without question. I shouldn’t have to make guesses about events 2000 years before my time, in passed down stories by people I don’t know in languages I don’t understand and bombarded by a myriad of different interpretations about all of it. It shouldn’t be a matter of “faith” but “do or do not” (as Yoda says…)! 😊 Most apologist arguments about these things appear to justify reasons for limits on the god they then claim is omnipotent! If true then he isn’t!

            Christianity’s argument for god and his nature conflicts with the evidence (maybe is one but not like the claim): he can’t do today miracles and direct communication, appearance, etc. like he used to do to prove his word and desires, resulting in having to argue over ancient stories and documents and confusion. Any omnipotent, omniscient and loving god would certainly want there to be every opportunity for everyone to be “saved” (if really needed from his OWN creation) as is claimed and would want no doubt what he wants and what to do. He has not done that. And prisons are full of people that have listened to “voices in their heads”, so I wouldn’t push that as evidence of what god wants.

            Claim is the key: the founders of most religions have claims to some form of divinity or having divinely received the true word of god, yet Christians demand proof. I basically just go by the same skepticism used with them that I learned as a Christian consistently on Christianity as well. But even arguments of one claim being “better” than another doesn’t put any of them at an acceptable level of proof since there is no requirement to have to pick any of them as true or the best one. The arguments used to justify assuming questionable facts as “true” as proof of the resurrection also put me in a position of having to accept other religions as true, which can’t be possible.

      • Avatar
        flcombs  December 3, 2019

        BTW, I’m open minded and willing to be convinced with facts, but go with what I’ve seen and debated so far of course. I know it’s not you, but a few years ago I got into an extensive debate for several weeks about the resurrection and other claims about the bible, etc. with (I believe) your son-in-law until the site “crashed” for a couple of months (he asked me to come over from a debate we were having with a letter he wrote to a local newspaper). It was an apologist site and me against many. But the arguments were basically you had to agree to a set of assumptions in order to get to the “proof”. Well if you do that, then you have to also give credence to similar assumptions in other religions and then they also have “proof” and so in the end it doesn’t really matter because they are all true. I haven’t seen anything in other debates and writings otherwise.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

          flcombs: My son-in-law Nick is a good guy. I’m not aware of the discussion you mention. But I hope it was a pleasant one for you.

          • Avatar
            flcombs  December 4, 2019

            It was several years ago (still have a lot of what I wrote before posting but would have to look), but for me I always put these things as discussion and learning and don’t take them personally anyway. I’m an analyst by backgroud so often challenge group-think in religion and politics for the sake of people understanding the other guy. It was probably more like you here where you are mainly the minority view! It was a site compatabile with his views, so a lot of piling on, which I don’t care but seemed like most of them weren’t actually along the lines of the actual discussion and just jumping in and I couldn’t answer them all! I will say that the last posting or two I was taking issue with Nick over some of his “supporting” arguments. He was quoting studies of others to back up some claims (like how various type societies work). It didn’t look that way from what I saw and I actually was able to contact some of them by email and verify that he was misquoting or taking them out of context. Ironically, he had quoted Dr Ehrman as supporing one thing and I showed that was not the case from one of his books and it’s actually what lead me to this blog and many other of his books! Nick was mentioned as criticisim source for the blog item “An Irritating Criticism: My View of Paul’s View of Christ” and someone gave him a gift subcription to participate abd was actually on this blog briefly in 2015.

  12. Avatar
    pianoman  December 2, 2019

    Hi Dr. Lacona, Was Jesus able to reed and write? If so, why didn’t he write a book of his teaching? The “Book Of Jesus” would have been a better way to understand his teachings. If I had a plan for salvation, I think I would want to write that in a book and not let others do it for me. Thanks Jim

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      pianoman: I would also want to do it in the manner you suggested. But neither of us created the universe or sustain it. There may be many factors of which you and I are unaware that would prohibit doing things as we think we would. But if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true and we don’t have to know the details of why God did things as he did.

  13. Avatar
    thelad2  December 2, 2019

    Hello, Mike, and thank you for the thoughtful post. Many questions come to mind, but the one I would ask you to address concerns a point made by the late Christopher Hitchens regarding the resurrection of Jesus. To paraphrase Hitch, even if one concedes that Jesus rose from the dead (which he did not), how in any way does that confirm Christianity? Jesus is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Further, the concept of a dead/risen/sins forgiven Messiah is never discussed among the Old Testament’s many pages. Only the fertile imaginings of proof texting Christian apologists have been able to connect Jesus to those ancient Jewish writings. For Christianity to have made any sense to its earliest target audience (Palestinian Jews), you would think the good Lord would have spelled out the importance of Jesus and the truth of Christianity a bit more clearly. Your thoughts? Thank you.

  14. Avatar
    mpool  December 2, 2019

    I am very quick to admit that I don’t know for certain where I stand on many issues I grew up with as an evangelical Christian. However, God seems to have no problem in working through imperfect people and circumstances, and I feel it only stands to reason that the Bible likewise does not need to be perfect in order for it to be useful and for God to speak through it.

  15. Avatar
    Hngerhman  December 2, 2019

    Dr Licona –

    Hope you and yours enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving holiday.

    Thank you for another thoughtful and nuanced post. I (and many others) greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your views and engagement with us.

    With regards to your point about terminology, I think you will find a lot of agreement – the lightning rod seems to be the term ‘inerrant’ itself, because of its connotation of “no errors”. Not the way you define it, but the term’s everyday meaning.

    Definition: “The Bible is true, trustworthy, and without error in all that it teaches and to the extent that God intended.”

    Question: To understand the extension of this definition, would it be the case that, where there is error or discrepancy, then (by definition) those points at issue would not be have been important within God’s intention?

    I ask because of the implications of the following differential in small vs. large matters of discrepancy:

    (a) Small Matters: Something like the exact order of operations for the raising of Jairus’s daughter seemingly has little substantive import for one’s ultimate faith. That she were raised would be the crux, the rest is seemingly detail – details which could easily (and justifiably) fall outside God’s intention.

    (b) Large Matters: However, something on the order of the fact that the gospels outright disagree on Jesus’s final words (and all attempts at reconciliations thereof are sadly ad hoc), that seems like a much larger issue. Jesus’s state of mind or message that frames the meaning of crucifixion, that isn’t a small matter.

    By stipulating the dividing line as to what is allowably errant as that which falls outside God’s intention, it would seem to define as out-group topics/points many articles that the faithful would find very important. And given the many disagreements, it also (empirically) effectively reverse-defines ‘God’s intention’ as that which a theologian is sufficiently clever to reconcile in the face of discrepancy (or error or omission, etc.).

    Thank you in advance for taking up the question.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Hngerhman: Thanks for your kind remarks. I’m happy to engage with you all, although today it has taken up several hours. You ask, “would it be the case that, where there is error or discrepancy, then (by definition) those points at issue would not be have been important within God’s intention?” Yes, that seems to be true of my position.

      You provided 2 examples:

      Small Matters: Differences in the story of Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter. The main difference pertains to whether the girl was still alive (Mark, Luke) or dead (Matthew) when Jairus approached Jesus. I see the difference as Matthew simplifying his account and getting to the bottom line, the gist, of what occurred. He does this several other times in his Gospel. So, I do not view this as an error even in a strict sense.

      Large Matters: Differences in how Jesus’s final words are reported. As with Jairus, I treat this in detail in my book “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography” (New York: OUP, 2017). In short, I think Luke and especially John have redacted Jesus’s words. All Johannine specialists agree that John has adapted Jesus’ words. Of course, they’ll disagree on the extent of adaptation. Even the conservative biblical scholar F. F. Bruce wrote decades ago in his commentary on the Gospel and Epistles of John that John’s version of Jesus’s teachings is an expanded paraphrase, a translation of the freest kind, and a transposition into a different key. The Johannine specialists with right leanings will say John has preserved the voice of Jesus (ipsissima vox) while often abandoning the words he used (ipsissima verba).

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  December 2, 2019

        Dr Licona –

        Thanks so much for the generous time. Your reply was as thoughtful and gracious as ever. And I will indeed pick up your book.

        With respect to Jairus’s daughter, I’m somewhat loathe to tarry on it, because we both agree, for different reasons, it is an issue of small import. But there is a point of logic in your argument that I am not grasping.

        Per your suggestion, let’s stipulate that Matthew’s intent was one of conscious and goodhearted simplification. It nevertheless remains the case that account A says person D was alive at time T, and account B says person D was dead at time T. On this statement of purported empirical fact, the accounts are logically mutually exclusive.

        Stipulating (again) Matthew’s good intent, I would agree that “error” may not be the best label. But, whatever label we ultimately agree to, it is the case that the two accounts are biologically/physically/logically inconsistent on the specific point of what state of the world obtained at time T. If a person (for the best of possible motives) changes a proposition P to proposition not-P, their intent does not thereby obviate the fact of the matter that P and not-P are mutually exclusive with respect to logical truth value.

        On Jesus’s final words – funnily enough, I think we’re here also grappling with the same species (or at least genus) of logical issue. Accounts A and B say person J said statement 1 at time T. Account C statement 2, and account D statement 3. The three proposed statements (of empirical fact) are not the same. Granting that Luke and John redacted, potentially transposing statement 1 into different registers and keys, it still remains the case that the statements 2 and 3 are composed of alternative notes with further differing melodic structures. Statement 1 is different than statement 2, and both in turn differ from statement 3. The intent of the composers does not change the fact of the matter that these are not the same melodies.

        Thank you for taking the time. I look forward to understanding where my logic has gone awry. Also, I very much look forward to reading your book. I know I am taking head-on these topics you have treated at much further length elsewhere. I just cannot presently see a way around the logic at issue.

        Many thanks!

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

          Thanks, hngerhman! As I wrote to another who commented in this thread, the differences can be troubling if one comes to the texts expecting reports to be of the same nature as transcripts of a legal deposition. However, if one comes to the text expecting reports to reflect how events were normally reported in antiquity, indeed, how many of us describe events today in our ordinary communications, one will not be so troubled. Words are paraphrased to communicate the gist of what was said. We compress, conflate, abbreviate, simplify among other techniques. In doing so, we’re not attempting to deceive. Nor do we think we are being sloppy.

          Here’s a way I often speak of it in my lectures. Most of us who are married understand that guys often tell stories differently than girls. Girls like details – and lots of them! Guys are more inclined to get to the bottom line. So, we’ll often abbreviate and/or alter minor details in order to avoid having to provide details we regard as being insignificant and for which the guy to whom we’re telling the story could not care less. If you want, take 2 mins and 40 secs and view where I explain this at https://youtu.be/rLwnjx6-5dc?t=483.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  December 3, 2019

            Dr Licona –

            Thanks for the gracious reply, as well as the YouTube link (I’ve seen several of your talks, but not this one specifically).

            If I am interpreting you correctly, it would appear that we agree about the underlying logic, but disagree about standards.

            Jairus’s daughter:
            – Agree on logic: Jairus’s daughter couldn’t have been both alive and dead when Jairus approached Jesus. That singular detail is inaccurate in at least one account
            – Disagree on standards: you – Literary conventions were more lax historically, so a strict logical inconsistency is fine given the then-lower standard; me – The strict logical inconsistency is not fine, but it’s also not at all an important detail

            For Jairus’s daughter, the standards issue isn’t particularly acute, as we seemingly agree it’s not an issue of major import (though for different reasons).

            The standards issue, however, is seemingly much more amplified with Jesus’s final words. If, because of then-extant literary conventions, it’s judged ”fine” to not correctly portray Jesus’s final words, I think many would argue that the current-day adjudicator’s evaluative standards are set very low. At that level of standard, it’s hard to see how any two propositions, no matter how inconsistent, could be considered irreconcilable.

            One final question: Given the work that literary convention can do to smooth over logical inconsistencies, what are the distinguishing features of the (admittedly impromptu) counterfactual of John saying Jesus was stoned outside the city such that it would not pass muster, or the actual fact about the time of Quirinius could be a potential error, but Jesus saying different things at his end would pass the test? Standards set at a level that let literary conventions permit John/Luke to change Jesus’s (quite important) final words, it would seem, would also admit for Luke riffing on time of story or John playing around with mode of death.

            You’ve been more than kind to engage at this level (with me and others), so I’m loathe to press the point further. Thank you for all your thoughtfulness and generosity for participating on the blog!

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

            hngerhman: That’s a fair question. I haven’t done enough study to ascertain where the limits were for the use of certain compositional devices. Polybius would allow much less than Sallust would. Luke may have felt more constrained than John. Craig Keener pursues this sort of matter in his new book “Christobiography.” It’s excellent and written by a top shelf scholar!

            Why I would consider John saying Jesus was stoned outside the city to be different than the time of Augustus’s census is there is so much in the passion narratives and Paul’s letters that’s connected to the crucifixion, not to mention Jesus’s predictions in the Gospels that he would be crucified. If John had instead narrated a stoning outside the city, that would be a huge difference. In contrast, if Luke’s timing of the census were definitely mistaken, it’s a relatively minor mistake.

            Pertaining to Jesus’s final words on the cross, I note these and some possible explanations I regard as plausible in my book “Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography” (New York: OUP, 2017).

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  December 4, 2019

            Dr Licona –

            Thanks so much. This has been a true pleasure.

            Your books (also picked up the Resurrection book…) are next in my Kindle queue, and I’m very much looking forward to digging in.

            All the best!

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

            You’re quite welcome, Hngerhman! Enjoy!

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  December 2, 2019

        NB – Just bought the Kindle edition.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

          hngerhman: I hope you’ll enjoy it!

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  December 3, 2019

            Thanks, I’m certain I will!

  16. Avatar
    michael51  December 2, 2019

    I see it this way…God influenced, or moved, particular men to write about what they knew. Some of what they knew could be actual eyewitness accounts, some second-hand accounts, some of it oral tradition passed down. Different observers of the events could have seen things differently, or in the process of oral transmission, some details could have changed, or in the writing, details may have had different emphasis from other writers. Nevertheless, the men wrote what they knew. So if there were factual errors in their knowledge, these would have been made it into the text. But these are not significant because the authors were not concerned about precise accuracy of detail. They were making a statement and were supporting it by relating life events. How many times the rooster crowed was not significant to the story, just that Jesus knew beforehand Peter would deny him.

    I had always heard the Bible “does not just contain the word of God, it IS the word of God” meaning the exact words came from God, but there was never any real attempt to explain the differences in the Gospels, for example. I came to realize we place too much emphasis on precise wording and detail when I saw the NT frequently quoted from the Septuagint, a translation that sometimes deviates from the Hebrew text. If the NT writers quoted from the LXX, that made it a legitimate source, sanctioning the variation.

    I also look at the fact that nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus or the Father instruct anyone to write things down to keep it straight for posterity. The accounts were finally written down for human reasons—the return of Christ was delayed, the apostles were dying out, deviant teachings were taking hold, sending a written document was easier than sending a person, etc. So I see these as human projects where God prompted the people of his choosing to carry it out with what they had. That’s the inspiration I see.

  17. Avatar
    michael51  December 2, 2019

    Dr. Licona, I’m reposting something I put in your previous topic but too late to get your response. I’d really like to see your answer…

    Regarding divorce or separation, in 1 Cor. 7:10-11, Paul passes on a command he explicitly states he received from Christ (which matches what Jesus said in the Gospels), but immediately following in vs. 12-13, he writes something he just as explicitly states is his own advice (not the Lord’s command). Here he has clearly made a statement based on his own wisdom (even though he feels it is divinely approved). My question is this…couldn’t there be other places in the Bible where the writer is speaking from his own personal wisdom and understanding of things, and not necessarily conveying something from God? The writer may feel he is speaking God’s word, or maybe he knows he has no clear direction from God and is just giving his personal opinion or advice which he feels is sound and appropriate for the situation at hand. For example, later in 1 Cor. 11:13-16, Paul makes a statement regarding length of hair. Paul says, “Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.” Really? It looks to me that Paul is appealing to tradition and cultural norms to support his position. Sure, I can see that in the ancient world, short hair was best for men because of their roles as hunters and warriors, and if a woman had long-enough hair, how it would considered a covering. He can’t be referring to nature because, for example, with the lion, the male is the one with the mane. He says “we have no other practice.” Well, maybe that’s because nobody dared to break with convention. So I’m thinking sometimes the writers just gave their best idea in their temproal-cultural context, but not necessarily what God would say for those outside of that.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      michael51: I would certainly consider what you suggest as a reasonable possibility.

  18. Avatar
    dankoh  December 2, 2019

    Dear Dr. Licona,
    I appreciate your willingness to once again walk eyes open into the lions’ den! And let me add that I agree that an error in one part of the Bible (the creation myths, for example) does not necessarily invalidate the whole.

    I see at least two problems with your argument. First is that it appears to be circular reasoning: You identify those parts of the Bible that deal with salvation as being inerrant because God is responsible for them, but the only evidence we have for the existence and nature of God (Christian version) comes from the Bible. In effect, you claim the Bible as its own authority.

    Second, your argument depends on Jesus’s resurrection being unique. But we know of other stories from that time and earlier of resurrections, some bodily. Aristeas of Proconnesus in particular comes to mind. Although the Greek philosophers dismissed the idea of his bodily resurrection, Celsus evidently thought it possible (Against Celsus, iii.26-31) and Tertullian was aware of it.

    Regards,
    Dan

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Thanks, dankoh. I do not think I argued in a circle. I begin with the resurrection of Jesus. If he truly rose, his claims are worth careful attention. Through historical analyses, we can learn much of what Jesus taught. This includes his view of God and Scripture. Thus, I don’t have to hold to an inerrant or divinely inspired Bible to get these.

      Although there are a few accounts of bodily resurrection in pagan accounts that predate the first century, they don’t have anything close to the quality or quantity of testimony we have for the resurrection of Jesus. I address parallels in pagan accounts in this lecture: https://youtu.be/GOCHludb7X4

  19. Barfo
    Barfo  December 2, 2019

    Having de-converted from Christianity over the course of the last two years mainly due to my view over the lack of control a good god should have over his creation. I asked myself, “does God even exist?” I went on a journey and explored outside the realm of theology and blind faith. Having read books on Old Testament archeology and most of Bart Ehrman’s books I knew trading faith for reason was the only logical conclusion in order. Although at times I feel as though I turned my back on an old friend, I also feel that I was duped into believing something that did not exist. I have not changed my views or feelings on life or the actions I take in life. I no longer struggle with the guilt of believing I’m a natural sinner. I now realize I’m a product of human nature with natural feelings and thoughts.

    I know that religion/Christianity brings comfort to many people and I support those that believe and need it. I’m not bothered that the currency in my wallet says, “In God We Trust” on it or a nativity scene is placed on the lawn of a public library. All I can say is that from what I have learned lately is that someone (I won’t name names) did not supervise the creation the New Testament very well.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Thanks for your comment, Barfo. However, when all is considered, I don’t at all view embracing the Christian faith as trading reason for faith. When all is considered, in my opinion, the Christian faith makes far more sense than does atheism.

  20. Avatar
    Ficino  December 2, 2019

    Thank you for your thoughts, Dr. Licona.

    1. On this of yours: “The Bible is true, trustworthy, and without error in all that it teaches and to the extent that God intended.”
    Your qualifiers following “without error” render your definition of “inerrant” vacuous. For some proposition or precept in the Bible, we need to know in advance what it is and whether it is true or binding. If a passage asserts P, and P is pretty clearly false, and the apologist counters, “well, it’s not really asserting P so it’s not false,” then we wonder whether your thesis is unfalsifiable in principle. Even worse with “God intended.” We don’t know in advance what God intended; we don’t have external information about whether in some passage, God intended P to be taught. But why is the unfalsifiable credible?

    2. On this of yours: “if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true, period.”
    Doesn’t follow without auxiliary premises. For example, I was raised in a Hinduistic group that held that Jesus rose from the dead using his yogic powers. The group taught a system of thought diametrically opposed to that of Christianity on many fronts.
    You might say, well, Jesus and the biblical writers teach a different system from your boyhood Hinduistic group. But you don’t have a principled basis for rebutting the Hindu who replies, as my teachers did, “those passages in fact aren’t asserting what you think, and God doesn’t intend your teachings to be taught, but rather, other ones:” Back to 1.) above.

    Your conception of inerrancy is fatally open to the objection that it’s an “easy to vary” explanation. When any defeater P can be dismissed on the grounds that “the passage doesn’t assert P” or “God doesn’t intend P”, when P is the literal sense, then you’ve inoculated the Bible against disconfirmation but have rendered its claims impossible in principle to evaluate rationally. You may not be able to refute me if I claim that changes in climate are caused by Demeter, in line with changes in Demeter’s emotions, but there won’t be a basis of credibility beneath my “easy to vary” explanation.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 2, 2019

      Ficino: re: 1, Inerrancy is a doctrine taken by faith. Although I think one can argue for its plausibility. re: 2, I would argue that the Gospels and Paul’s letters are far more likely to preserve Jesus’s teachings than Hindu Scriptures. And one would have to perform hermeneutic gymnastics to make them conform more closely to Hindu teachings than Christian ones.

      • Avatar
        Ficino  December 3, 2019

        I’m glad that you are articulating your views on here and that you describe the doctrine of inerrancy as taken by faith. It seems to me pretty clear, though, that what we might call the “genre argument” winds up in special pleading (my 1.), and that appeals to the resurrection accounts as evidence for the truth of the religious teachings threaten to be circular because, as I suggested, those appeals require auxiliary premises which themselves depend on the religious teachings understood in a certain way (my 2. and your response to it).

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