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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 (Oxford University Press, 2016), and is also the author of Evidence for God. 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
    RICHWEN90  December 3, 2019

    Several times you compare evidence for the resurrection of Jesus to evidence in the pagan world or in other religions for similar events, and you find the evidence for the Christian resurrection myth superior to the evidence offered for other resurrection myths or supernatural events in other traditions. So I wonder how you would evaluate evidence in favor of various Marian apparitions and miracles, particularly Lourdes and Fatima. These were recent events (relatively), the accounts of these events were in modern languages and circumstances, and they were rather thoroughly investigated by people who were determined to discredit these events. The question goes to quality of evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus vs evidence for supernatural events that you, I suspect, would reject out of hand. You are an evangelical, a Protestant, and I rather suspect that you would bring this bias to the table in ANY discussion of any evidence for a supernatural event in ANY context. Hence, a lack of objectivity.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      That’s a fair question, RICHWEN90. While I am an evangelical Protestant and don’t think Marian apparitions were actually Mary, I am open to it. In some instances of Marian apparitions, I’m persuaded that something supernatural may be going on. But I reserve judgement on what it is because of my theological convictions. However, as I said, I’m open to some of them being Mary. There is no way to verify much about the claims of the 14 year old Bernadette to have seen Mary 18 times at Lourdes. It’s one child making a claim with no one else present. The testimonies of three children at Fatima to have seen Mary appear to them on six occasions is likewise suspect. But the testimonies of many to have witnessed the sun dance when they were with the children on one of the six occasions place it in a slightly superior position to Bernadette’s testimony. But it still doesn’t come close to what we have for Jesus’s resurrection. Similar to normal historical events in which the evidence is superior for some than it is for others, we have the same thing for supernatural events.

  2. Avatar
    michael51  December 3, 2019

    In a reply you stated: 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.”

    Please cite that reference for me. That looks like what I think—that faith is very much based on feeling. Positive or negative emotions—felings of joy, fulfillment, abandonment, dissapointments—seem to be the primary determinant. Then, being in a culture that prides itself on intellect and reason, we use “facts” to justify what we choose to ourselves and others. It works both ways.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      michael51: The reference is “De l’Art de persuader” [“On the Art of Persuasion”] written 1658 and published posthumously.

      Remember that Pascal was a Christian and argued that the evidence that Christianity is true is much better than the evidence suggesting it is not. However, he went on to argue that one should be a Christian even if the evidence supporting Christianity was just equal to the evidence suggesting it is not. Therefore, the conclusion you drew from Pascal’s initial statement, specifically that “faith is very much based on feeling” is mistaken.

      • Avatar
        michael51  December 4, 2019

        Got it. We’re dealing with both a difference in time and translation from French to English, so maybe the word “attractive” has a different meaning. As humans, we have an extremely complex mix of emotions, some of which we are aware, many of which we are not. I see our choices are based on the interplay of these emotions, combined with how our individual brains are wired and what role experience and education has played. Apologetics and discussion of information is fine as far as it goes, but the real question to ask is “WHY do we believe/not believe?” Why do you and Dr. Ehrman, both in possession of the same information, come to different conclusions? There’s not enough data and too many possibilities, so we fill in the gaps of knowledge based on what we feel. (And maybe here’s where we can bring in the human spirit-soul.) Thanks for the reference. I’ll look it up. I’m somewhat familiar with Pascal’s work, but I hadn’t read that before.

  3. Avatar
    dwcriswell  December 3, 2019

    Mike:

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments. I have a serious question I would like to see how you feel about. This is somewhat an inflammatory example, but Mark 16:17-18, the snake handling passage. I guess (maybe wrongly) that you agree with most this was added after Mark was written by scribes. You can understand from your education and study that this isn’t consistent with the main message of the Bible. But what about an Alvin York type that lives in the Tennessee Hills and all he has to go on is a Bible and a preacher who hasn’t read anything but the Bible. How are they supposed to come to the realization this is not a passage to be followed. Thanks so much!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      That’s a fair question, dwcriswell. Yes, I agree that Mark 16:9-20 did not belong to Mark’s original Gospel. But that doesn’t challenge my view of divine inspiration or inerrancy. That said, it’s unfortunate that the Alvin York type continues to appeal to those verses to justify allowing themselves to be bitten by poisonous snakes. That especially stupid today when there are so many ways to learn that 9-20 are spurious.

  4. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  December 3, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    I want to thank you for so far an interesting set of posts. They have been informative of how the idea of inerrancy has changed over the years (In my opinion, at least from my upbringing). I want to ask a broad question that might possibly lead into smaller detailed questions….

    You mention and I’m paraphrasing here that if Jesus rose from the dead, and what he taught is “true”, then Christianity is most probably right and true. Please correct me if I’m wrong on this above. My main question here is what would it matter? And how can one dismiss the many other religions that others believe are right and have just as much truthfulness as Christianity does. Christians believe the Muslims are wrong in their teachings, yet a Muslim believes that Christians are not fully informed.

    Let us take Apollonius of Tyana. Who has similar characteristics as Jesus does as described in the NT. Why can’t we say his teachings are correct? His understanding of the gods, morality, general wisdom, etc could just as much be the truth as any other. Or all the many truths and religions of the ancient works before Christianity and Judaism? These have many truths and errors to them, just like the Hebrew Bible and the NT.

    I’m honestly not understanding the notion you suggest that if Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity is probably true. I still ask the question so what if he did? How many others have done the same in antiquity/written about? I’m not convinced anymore that there is enough evidence that Jesus did, or fulfilled “prophecies”, or name your claim. Even one of the writers of the NT admits that belief/faith is the evidence of thingsnot seen, but hoped for (paraphrasing here). So to go out and try to prove “historically” that Jesus rose from the dead to me seems one has defeated the purpose and intention of faith/belief (according to a NT writer).

    I’m not trying to bash or argue, just throwing out my thoughts and questions.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      fedcarroll77: In answer to your question, I’d say that if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. I think most would agree that conclusion is probably true. Now I suppose one could object that Jesus may have been deceiving us. And while that’s a possibility, it seems more like logic chopping to me.

      But what about other religions? For example, Islam. I don’t mean to be unkind or disrespectful but I think that, second only to Mormonism, Islam is the most easily refuted religion in the world. Regarding Apollonius of Tyana, to my knowledge, we have only one extant source that mentions his post death appearance. Philostratus wrote c. AD 225, more than a century after Apollonius’s death. He describes a single post-death appearance. It occurred at an unnamed time. It was to a single disciple who was sleeping at the time. No one else saw him. That’s not even close to the sort of evidence we have supporting Jesus’s resurrection. So, when it comes to other figures in antiquity who are said to rise from the dead in some sense, I’d say we should subject those claims to the same sort of critical historical inquiry we give to Jesus’s resurrection. Those I have looked at don’t fair well at all.

      The author of Hebrews defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (11:1). Everyone of us has faith, regardless of the worldview we embrace, because none of them can be established with absolute certainty. And even if I was an eyewitness to seeing Jesus’s corpse return to life and walk out of the tomb, I would still need to exercise faith to follow him, because I could not know with certainty that he was not an alien attempting to play a cosmic joke on humanity. Faith is more than intellectual assent. It involves an act as well. And it comes in degrees. Jesus told a man to believe that he could heal his son. The man said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In Acts, the apostles appealed to the miracles Jesus had performed in their presence (i.e., those in the crowd) as reason for believing what they were saying about Jesus. They added that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that they were eyewitnesses to that fact. If evidence negates faith, then the apostles were in trouble.

      • Avatar
        Omar6741  December 3, 2019

        Dr. Licona,
        Could I ask you to share, just briefly in each case, your three most decisive refutations of Islam?
        Thanks!
        Omar

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

          Omar6741: Rather than list them, I’ll direct you to a debate I had a few years ago with Muslim apologist Yusuf Ismail at North-West University in Potchstroom, South Africa. My opening statement will provide the data you seek: https://youtu.be/R4A8IyQDMjc?t=233

  5. Avatar
    quadell  December 3, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Your positions are very thoughtful. I have a question relating to canonicity, because to determine if the Bible is reliable, inspired, and inerrant, one must know what one means by “the Bible”. Some books are unambiguous, so if you conclude that the Bible is inerrant, Matthew and Galatians are certainly included. But some early churches omitted 2nd Peter, Hebrews, 3rd John, and/or the Revelation. Some included 1st Clement, the Didache, the Shepherd, and/or the Epistle of Barnabas. Martin Luther famously did not consider the Epistle of James to be inspired and inerrant in the same way that he saw Paul’s letters. Catholic churches include Tobit, some Ethiopian churches include the Book of Enoch, etc.

    How does one determine which of these books are reliable, inspired, and inerrant, and which are not? Does one simply use one’s own (fallible) judgment and hope for the best? Does one appeal to tradition, and if so, which tradition? If a Christian claims 2nd Timothy is not inspired or true in its teachings, but the Gospel of Thomas is, on what basis could a fellow Christian say this is incorrect?

    Thanks for any clarification you can offer,
    Michael

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      Thanks, quadell, and great question! For me, I’m fairly comfortable with some unanswered questions and with answers that lack something approaching certainty. People within any discipline have unanswered questions and answers lacking the certainty they desire.

      Canonicity is a somewhat fuzzy matter. Some Christians contend that the literature eventually approved for the canon is what God wanted. It’s somewhat similar to my view of how Scripture is divinely inspired. However, I don’t prefer that view of the canon. I have far less confidence pertaining to whether 2 Peter should be in the canon than I have for Matthew and Galatians, as you’ve mentioned above. Some speak of “the canon within the canon.” So, I’d place the undisputed literature within that canon. And I’d add Colossians and 2 Thessalonians to it. I give the canon within the canon more weight than I do the canonical literature outside it.

      • Avatar
        quadell  December 3, 2019

        Fascinating, thank you for the thoughtful answer! It seems like there’s room for a lot of diversity of opinion, even among those who hold to the inerrancy of scripture.

  6. Avatar
    tadmania  December 3, 2019

    Even if every aspect of the NT could be confirmed as historically true EXCEPT the resurrection of Jesus (and all that ensues) would you be in a better position with your view about the text or a worse one? Honestly asking what you think. Thanks for ‘running the gauntlet’, sir!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      My pleasure, tadmania. “[I]f every aspect of the NT could be confirmed as historically true EXCEPT the resurrection of Jesus (and all that ensues),” my argument for divine inspiration and inerrancy would be on weaker ground. But you may also want to exempt Jesus’s nature miracles such as walking on water and calming storms, since, if true, they would provide reasons for trusting what Jesus taught.

      We could also distinguish between not having enough evidence to confirm Jesus rose and knowing that Jesus’s resurrection has been disconfirmed. I could maintain my faith as a Christian with the former. But I couldn’t if I was convinced the latter were true.

      • Avatar
        tadmania  December 3, 2019

        And so… would you say that your judgment regarding the factual accuracy and validity of the NT is the reason you structure your arguments as you do, or do you prioritize your criticism on the basis of whether one item or another would undermine your chosen theology? After all, you cannot ‘know’ that Jesus was raised from the dead. You can only argue that a book makes the claim and that your faith hinges upon the prospect.

        Where lays the border of integrity here?

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

          tadmania: I don’t think the Quran is in any sense divinely inspired. However, I can still learn much about early Islam from the Quran via historical inquiry. For example, Jesus is represented as making a statement about himself and God in sura 5:72. I don’t believe he ever made that statement. However, it tells me what Muhammad was probably teaching about Jesus not being deity in contrast to Christian belief. In a similar manner, scholars use the Gospels and conclude things about Jesus all the time, even when they don’t trust much reported of him in the Gospels. In my work on Jesus’s resurrection, I take a purely historical approach. While it is true that I cannot know with absolute historical certainty that Jesus was raised, I’m persuaded that proper historical inquiry reveals that it’s very probably that he did.

  7. Avatar
    Kunalians23  December 3, 2019

    Thanks for the clarification. I had another question. Do u know how prevalent ur views are among evangelical New Testament scholars. It appears that keener/Strauss agree with u but Peter Williams and Blomberg seems to be critically of ur view?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      Kunalians23: Peter Williams and Craig Blomberg are good friends of mine. They are also more conservative than me in some of their views. Craig Keener, Mark Strauss, Craig Evans, Darrell Bock (to a slightly lesser degree) are pretty much where I’m at in many matters. I think William Lane Craig is fairly close, too. I think there’s definitely some move away among some evangelical NT scholars from the more rigid positions of Williams and Blomberg.

  8. Avatar
    dankoh  December 3, 2019

    Dear Dr. Licona –

    I’ve been reading over some the questions and responses – and let me say that, like Bart, I admire the time and effort you have devoted to answering questions!

    That being so, let me pose another question, slightly tangential to your main point. You argue, as I understand it, that your reading of the Biblical materials convinced you that Jesus rose from the dead, and that therefore Christianity must be true. Assuming these points arguendo, what then is your position regarding those who (like most of us here) do not accept that Christianity is true. Do you posit that, while Christianity is true, it is not the only truth? Or must Christianity be the ONLY truth (sorry, italics don’t work here) and everyone who does not admit that is doomed to hell?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 3, 2019

      Thanks, dank. Yes, this is taking more time than I anticipated. Yours will be my final reply for today. Yesterday and today I have 4 hours each day interacting with you all. It has been fun and challenging! But I have to place some limits, of course.

      It wasn’t specifically my reading of the biblical literature that convinced me that Jesus rose from the dead. It was the application of strictly controlled historical method. If interested, I go into great depth on matters pertaining to what is history, how we learn about the past, and apply these to the question of Jesus’s resurrection in my book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010).

      My understanding of what Jesus taught and what his disciples subsequently taught is that following Jesus is now the only route to eternal life. Things get more complicated pertaining to those who have never heard. And I’ve wrestled with that matter elsewhere (https://youtu.be/5m3w0gtKYo8?t=1333). So, I do think that those who reject Jesus will not experience eternal life. I don’t like that thought and I hope I’m wrong. But if Jesus actually taught that and actually rose from the dead, I’m in no position to say he’s mistaken or should change his mind.

      • Avatar
        RICHWEN90  December 4, 2019

        If you don’t have time to reply to this, I understand. You’ve been very gracious. At any rate I wonder about the issue of credulity. We might accuse followers of Jim Jones, David Koresh and their ilk of having an excess of credulity. But if Jesus said, in effect, do not question me, do not evaluate what I say, simply accept what I tell you, submit, be passive, believe– is he not demanding from his followers the sort of credence/credulity that tends to get people in deep trouble? In what respect does Jesus differ from the used car salesman who tells me that some vehicle on his lot was owned by a little old lady who only drove it on alternate Tuesdays? It isn’t so much criticism of the message, but of what is asked of those who are receiving the message. Normally, one would be cautious and carefully evaluate an extraordinary claim (I am the SON OF GOD!), but Jesus seems to demand uncritical acceptance.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

          RICHWEN90: I don’t see Jesus doing that in the Gospels. In fact, the Gospels portray Jesus’s disciples doubting at times. On one occasion we see Peter rebuking Jesus for telling them of his impending death and resurrection. Jesus did not make it easy for his disciples. He promised them persecution, beatings, imprisonment, and martyrdom. He told a rich man to sell everything he had and give all the proceeds to the poor if he wanted to follow him. He told others that if they followed him they would have no consistent place to sleep, they’d have to leave their families and be willing to take up their crosses and follow him. Then we have data that informs us his disciples and two skeptics (Paul and James) had experiences in which they were sincerely convinced Jesus had been raised from the dead and had appeared to them. These reinvigorated his disciples and compelled Paul and James to become followers of Jesus. They faced persecution, imprisonment, and several were martyred (Peter, Paul, James at the very minimum). One must adequately explain what led them (i.e., disciples, Paul, James) to have such as strong belief that Jesus had been raised. We don’t see this with the followers of cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Koresh. Many of their followers were killed by their leaders, and probably against their will.

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 5, 2019

            “We don’t see this with the followers of cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Koresh.”

            There is a very simple explanation for why the Resurrection belief developed about Jesus and not for other “messiah pretenders”:

            —Jesus was the only messiah pretender with an unexplained empty tomb!!!

            Of course, there are many natural explanations for empty tombs, but apologists don’t believe that they are more probable than a divine reanimation of a corpse, for some odd reason. The empty tomb of Jesus triggered speculation, which triggered false sightings, illusions, vivid dreams, and maybe even an hallucination or two. And the resurrection belief was born!

  9. Avatar
    joncopeland  December 3, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    I’ve been trying to learn more about evangelical theology. One perspective I’ve encountered is that the Bible is God’s written Word and that Jesus is God’s living Word; they are two forms of one revelation. Does this accurately reflect most evangelical’s understanding of Christ and the scriptures? I am having some trouble grasping this concept.

    Secondly, would you agree that we put our trust in the Holy Spirit to guide our interpretation of scripture? That is to say, the Bible does not speak for itself, but rather, it is a tool through which the Spirit speaks. This is something Dale Martin talks about in his latest book.

    Thanks for taking time to reply to all of these comments and write these posts. You’ve been quite generous.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

      Hi, joncopeland. Many have made the comparison you’ve articulated: the Bible = God’s written Word; Jesus = God’s living Word. But one may rightly ask what is meant by the term “Word.” In my first of three articles, I explained what I mean by saying the Bible is “divinely inspired.” I don’t think that would apply to Jesus, however. That said, although theological matters are important to me, it’s historical matter that captivate my attention. So, unfortunately, I don’t have any more to say in answer to your question.

  10. Avatar
    seahawk41  December 3, 2019

    Mike, thank you for your thoughtful post. I grew up in a denomination that referred to itself as “conservative evangelical”, that being intended to differentiate it from “fundamentalist”. My brother and my father-in-law both have degrees from Asbury Theological Seminary, where Ben Witherington teaches. I obtained a PhD in physics and taught physics, astronomy, and other subjects at one of their colleges. As time went along my thinking moved farther and farther from that position, and I moved to one of the more “liberal” denominations. That is background; here are my comments: I think the whole discussion about “inerrancy” is pointless. The Bible is a document produced by humans; I view it as one source among others to guide us on our spiritual paths/journeys. I am just finishing reading Dever’s “Beyond the Texts”, which makes clear that much of the OT consists of legends, theological arguments, and some history. Why argue over whether it is inerrant, when it obviously is not? Why not consider it just like other ancient literature?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

      Thanks, Seahawk41. I’m going to refrain from discussing the OT, since that’s not my lane. Dever is a leading OT scholar. But he’s not the only one and there are many who do not share his views.

  11. Avatar
    aar8818  December 4, 2019

    The Muslim percieves reality one way. The athiest perhaps another way. Should they not be allowed in heaven based on the way they perceive reality if it causes them to deny Christ? One can conclude that the resurrection is plausible based on their interpretation of the evidence but it is not with absolute surity; as other views of Christ ex. as an apocalyptic prophet but not God, are completely plausible as well.

  12. Avatar
    MRadig  December 4, 2019

    Dr. Licona, doesn’t your acceptance of Biblical Inerrancy commit you to affirming that the census figures in Numbers 1 are historically accurate when most scholars would consider them implausible? If you do think the figures are accurate, can you direct me to resources which defend that view?

  13. Avatar
    dominchowles@gmail.com  December 4, 2019

    Hi Mike
    Did we ever have “autographs”?
    Dominic

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

      dominchowles: There were certainly original documents. Perhaps there were drafts, finals, and second editions in some cases.

      • Avatar
        dominchowles@gmail.com  December 4, 2019

        Hi Mike
        I think it goes without saying that there were original documents but you seem to be impliying that the authors were Mathew ,Mark ,Luke and John ,not necessarily in that order.It matters who wrote the Gospels for obvious reasons. You also state ,much earlier than Bart , a timeline of 20-70 years ( in your reply to sjhicks21) for the Gospels to be written while Bart goes with 50 years at the earliest. If Paul is writing about AD50 why does he not mention the earliest Gospels by name as opposed to saying “Scriptures” . As a Christian I can see why you would do this but as a Historian I can’t.
        Dominic

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

          Dominic: Oh, I didn’t realize you were referring to the authorship. I think I recall Bart saying that Mark was written c. AD 70, Matthew and Luke in the 80s, and John in c. AD 95. If he’s correct, that’s 40-65 years after Jesus, if we assume Jesus died in AD 30 (though many think AD 33).

          Although the traditional authorship of the Gospels is seriously questioned by many scholars today, I think they’re being too skeptical. I’m not aware of a single classicist who questions whether Plutarch wrote the “Lives.” The evidence we have for the traditional authorship of all four Gospels is superior to what we have for the authorship of Plutarch’s “Lives.” Is the evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels as good as we would like? No. But it’s still decent when compared with what we have for some of the other ancient literature the authorship of which is not questioned.

          For more on authorship, see my article at https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/10/3/148/htm#fn015-religions-10-00148. Scroll to my second point “The Author Chose Sources Judiciously.”

          • Avatar
            dominchowles@gmail.com  December 5, 2019

            Thanks for the reply Mike .It’s interesting you keep going back to Plutarch although I am not sure how appropriate it is really.Plutarch may or may not have written works attributed to him or Homer the Iliad but it is the stories themselves that have survived that are important. This is very different re the Resurrection as it fundamental to Christianity that the narrative is true /accurate ,hence the emphasise on eye witness accounts . If the eye witness accounts are not reliable then Christianity has a problem.
            Dominic

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

            Dominic: Every specialist on Plutarch thinks he wrote the Lives. Do you have reason to say “Plutarch may or may not have written” them?

            I agree with you that the question of the resurrection of Jesus is more important than most of Plutarch reports in the Lives. However, my point is that I’m on decent ground for thinking the attributions of the Gospels to their traditional authors are correct. And since their authors, traditional or not, wrote fairly close to the events they purport to describe, it’s reasonable to believe that much of the tradition is rooted in eyewitness testimony. Moreover, in my historical case for Jesus’s resurrection, I rarely appeal to the Gospels. So, it’s a moot point anyway.

  14. Avatar
    Jon1  December 4, 2019

    Mike,

    It looks like you left our other discussion at a dead end. If it’s okay, I’d like to ask you three other somewhat off-topic but I think brief questions that will not result in extended discussion:

    1) Do you think Jesus’ resurrection is the *only* plausible explanation for the three minimal facts outlined in your book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, or is it only your view that Jesus’ resurrection is the *most* plausible explanation for your three minimal facts?

    2) Do you now draw on Gospel reliability to make your historical case for Jesus’ resurrection, or do you still rely *only* on your three minimal facts to make your historical case for Jesus’ resurrection?

    3) Why don’t people in your camp make yourselves more available for questions like Bart does? His model of donating the money to charity while giving an hour or so of his time each day is incredible. Your camp could all follow suit and people could seriously question and much more thoroughly consider your views.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

      Jon1: In reference to my abrupt ceasing of sustained engagement related to my first article, I was at the annual SBL meeting with a non-stop schedule. So, I had to bow out from engaging further. I have more time this week and next. In answer to your questions:

      1) When the various hypotheses posited to explain the data are subjected to strictly controlled historical method, it’s my contention that the Resurrection Hypothesis accounts for the data (agreed upon by virtually every scholar in the relevant fields who have studied the subject) in a manner that’s far superior to the ability of competing hypotheses to account for the same data.

      2) I do not now draw on Gospel reliability to make a historical case for Jesus’s resurrection. Sometimes I will now include some second order facts (those for which I think the supporting data are strong yet do not enjoy a virtual unanimous consensus of scholarly agreement) in the hopes of being challenged on them.

      3) I cannot speak for others. For myself, I don’t have the intellectual bandwidth possessed by Bart and many others. Bart impresses me by how much he is able to produce. I don’t know how he stays active with his blog and continue with his research and writing. But he does! Admirable. Craig Keener is a beast in what he produces. It’s beyond my comprehension. I just don’t possess those capabilities. As inspector Harry Callahan once said, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” 🙂 I know mine. So, I make no efforts to keep up with others, because I know I cannot and what I can do would suffer. My goal is to engage in quality research, produce quality literature, love my family, and walk humbly before God. Even then, I often fail.

      • Avatar
        Jon1  December 4, 2019

        Mike,

        Your abrupt ceasing of engagement was in the first page comments of this, your second article (not your first article), but no worries. Basically, I just asked there how your reference to spirits, ghosts, apparitions, and NDEs are 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)? Spirits, ghosts, apparitions, and NDEs seem distinctly different from claims that leave traces in the *physical* world, especially claims that can be *measured*, like Keener’s claim that “the stopping of storms after prayer is not uncommon” (Miracles, pg. 737) and paranormal events Keener is “invited…to witness” ahead of time (Keener, pg. 1). I’m truly puzzled why your camp isn’t more interested in measuring these things. Keener’s academic schedule has no time for such things and you all seem to stay mired in historical arguments and anecdotal stories. Why do you think that is, and do you think it is a mistake? (Seems like an easy question.)

        Regarding your statement that the Resurrection Hypothesis is “far superior” to competing hypotheses, do you now reject your 2004 statement, “Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the *only* plausible explanation for the known facts” (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, pg. 128)? Again, no problem if you’ve changed your mind; I’m just wondering what exactly your position is now.

        Something occurred to me after our discussion of Bruce Grindal’s report. In your video (first three minutes at https://youtu.be/WRYIr2aBkLk), you essentially handed on to your constituents of first importance what you in turn had received from Grindal (cf. 1 Cor 15:3), and you accidentally distorted it in favor of your biases. Do you see anything implausible about the possibility that *Paul* is the one who constructed the formal creed recorded in 1 Cor 15:3-7 out of less formal reports that he received during his visit with Peter and James and that there might have been some distortion?

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

          Jon1: I apologize that it appeared that I abruptly ceased the engagement. I didn’t mean to come across in that manner. Unfortunately, I am spending more time engaging with others on this blog than I had planned. Monday: 4 hours; Tuesday: 4 hours; Wednesday: 2 hours. I’m not complaining. I’m receiving many thoughtful questions and pushback. And I appreciate that. In the post this week, Bart gave some preliminary thoughts. One was not to load up with questions. I have replied to several of your questions and pushbacks. I suppose I just chose not to reply to some you mentioned earlier.

          Yes, NDEs, apparitions, etc. differ from a nature miracle such as the stilling of a storm. However, the point I was making with mentioning them is that they point to a spiritual dimension of reality. Such is at home with resurrection and is a huge challenge to atheism. And it was during a debate with an atheist philosophy professor that I raised the matters.

          I explained why I haven’t spent much of an effort attempting to document some miracles. I can’t speak for the others.

          I have not changed my mind since 2004. I think the resurrection hypothesis is the only plausible explanation for the data agreed upon by virtually all critical scholars who study the matter.

          It’s unlikely that Paul constructed the formal creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-8. Not only are there non-Pauline terms, he introduces it by saying, “I delivered to you of first importance what I also received.” This suggests the imparting of oral tradition. Moreover, in Gal 2:1-10, Paul said he went to Jerusalem and ran the gospel message he had been preaching by the pillars of the Jerusalem church: Peter, James, and John. Paul says, in essence, that they certified his message to be in alignment with their own. I think we have good reasons for thinking 1 Cor. 15:3-7 reflects what the Jerusalem apostles were preaching.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 5, 2019

            Mike,

            Good point about the non-Pauline terms in 1 Cor 15:3-7 suggesting the creed was formed as we have it before Paul, and thanks for the extensive time you have put into answering my questions.

            I think I have suggested enough times already that you folks test for the effects of prayer and subject paranormal events known about ahead of time to serious study. The current studies on both suggest there is nothing there, that we are fooling ourselves in some way (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_prizes_for_evidence_of_the_paranormal). I hope your camp takes this suggestion up at some point.

            Since Jesus’ resurrection is central to your argument for biblical inerrancy, I’d really be curious what you make of the Jesus’ Seminar’s conclusion (and Ulrich Wilckens years earlier) that the appearances to “the Twelve” and “all the apostles” in 1 Cor 15:3-7 were not intended to be *testimonies* to the resurrection but confirmations of apostolic authority. I believe Bart has said he thinks only a few of Jesus’ followers had a brief hallucination of Jesus, so maybe things like scripture and the hope of participating in bodily immortality at Jesus’ return are things that won converts to Christianity and the details of appearances were not in the initial decades of much interest or, if anyone asked about the appearances, perhaps in time many would have been able to say they briefly saw Jesus, or had a powerful religious experience of his presence, or had a dream, and that was a good enough answer. Do you consider this a “plausible” explanation for the these two group appearance claims and, if not, why not?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

            Jon1: You wrote, “I’d really be curious what you make of the Jesus’ Seminar’s conclusion (and Ulrich Wilckens years earlier) that the appearances to ‘the Twelve’ and “all the apostles” in 1 Cor 15:3-7 were not intended to be *testimonies* to the resurrection but confirmations of apostolic authority.”

            I’m glad you mentioned that. This matter came up in my 2010 debate with Jesus Seminar fellow Stephen Patterson who offered it. If interested, here’s an mp3 of that debate: https://bit.ly/33PTZLb. I challenged Patterson to give me one clear example of the Christian church doing this within the first 150 years of its existence. He could not. Now, that’s not to say that the mention of an appearance of the risen Jesus to a person was never used to suggest the person had authority. I think it is used in that sense on some occasions; e.g., Paul in 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8-10. But what the Jesus Seminar and some others suggest is that an appearance was invented in order to confer authority on the percipient. There’s simply no early evidence for that being the case. Moreover, we don’t know of an authoritative group of 500+ (1 Cor. 15:6). Nor would it seem that the women at the tomb carried positions of authority. And what about the appearance to the Emmaus disciples? We don’t hear of Cleopas having a position of authority in the early Church. And what about the other disciple who is left unnamed? It would be strange to invent an appearance to confer authority on the percipient then neglect to name who it is! The claim that the appearances were invented to confer authority on the percipients seems to me nothing more than an ad hoc conjecture, entirely without any factual support.

            I believe you’re correct that Bart appeals to hallucinations for some of them. But I find that problematic for a number of reasons. Resurrection appearances are multiply attested in Matthew/Luke, John, and Paul where Jesus is reported to have appeared to all of the disciples and there were group appearances. Multiple studies conducted over more than a century have shown that, while hallucinations are fairly common among those who have lost a loved one, only around 7 percent experience a visual hallucination. (Visual is only one type of hallucination. There are auditory, gustatory, olfactory, tactile, kinesthetic hallucinations. By far, the most common hallucination experienced by those grieving the loss of a loved one is sensing their presence in the room, yet not with any of one’s natural senses.) Why is it that the disciples would all experience a visual hallucination rather than one in a different mode? Moreover, hallucinations are false sensory perceptions of something that isn’t really there. They’re like dreams. So, group hallucinations would seem to be just as impossible as a group dream. If not, they are certainly extremely rare. Yet, are we to suppose that nearly 100 percent of Jesus’s disciples experienced a visual hallucination and sometimes did so in group settings with the visual hallucination being so similar that they all thought they saw the same thing. That seems quite implausible to me and a stretch of unreasonable proportions. And then there’s Paul. Paul had believed Jesus was a false prophet and failed messiah and that he was serving God by persecuting the Christian movement, seeking to destroy it. He was certainly not grieving Jesus’s death. In fact, Jesus would have been the last person in the universe Paul would have wanted to see or expected to see. Still, he had an experience he sincerely believed was the risen Jesus appearing to him. And it radically changed his life to be one of Christianity’s most proactive proponent. Moreover, hallucinations don’t lead people to think a person was raised physically from the dead.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 5, 2019

            Mike,

            I would love to discuss the appearance to the 500 (which could be a later legend added to the creed by Paul), the appearance to Paul, whether or not the multiple attestations of appearances in the Gospels are truly independent of each other, the cause of the resurrection belief, etc. with you, but let’s just focus on the appearances to “the Twelve” and “all the apostles” (1 Cor 15:5&7) assuming the resurrection belief was already in place. As Bart says, only a few people briefly hallucinated Jesus, more probably sensed his presence, some probably heard a word or short sentence from Jesus, maybe some had dreams and ecstatic spiritual experiences. That’s all we got initially at Christian origins, along with the sincere belief that Jesus is an atoning resurrected messiah who will return from heaven very soon bring in the final redemption.

            Given this, I don’t see the force of your point that we have no clear examples in the first 150 years (why not pick 2000 years?) of Christians conferring authority on someone (or groups of people) by assigning an appearance to them. We have 1 Cor 15:5-7 a few years after Jesus’ death, and then *nothing* for several decades. Obviously, by the time the Gospels came about authority designation was no longer an interest. Maybe this is because by the time the Gospels were written all of the authority figures had already been identified, or some other motivation was more important, like proving that the Jesus was not a ghost. Why do you use the motivations of the Gospel traditions to determine what the motivations were decades earlier at the very beginning of the church?

            For sure, it is pure speculation that the appearances to the Twelve and all the apostles were to confer authority on them with little interest in the technical details of the appearances, but aren’t you speculating just as much to assume the emphasis of the early church was the same as the decades later Gospels?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

            Jon1: You wrote, “As Bart says, only a few people briefly hallucinated Jesus, more probably sensed his presence, some probably heard a word or short sentence from Jesus, maybe some had dreams and ecstatic spiritual experiences. That’s all we got initially at Christian origins, along with the sincere belief that Jesus is an atoning resurrected messiah who will return from heaven very soon bring in the final redemption.” Those suggestions do not comport with the extant reports. What we have are multiple reports of “appearances” to groups and to individuals. The appearance to Peter is reported by Luke and Paul. The appearance to the 12 is reported by Matthew, Luke, John, Paul, and is implied by Mark. The appearance to the women is reported by Matthew/Luke and John. Nothing suggests a dream or ecstatic spiritual experiences. Those come later. Nowhere is ecstatic experiences such as speaking in tongues or prophecy regarded as an appearance of the risen Jesus.

            What I said is there are no clear examples within the first 150 years of an appearance being invented in order to confer authority on the percipient. You wrote, “We have 1 Cor 15:5-7 a few years after Jesus’ death, and then *nothing* for several decades.” Well, we have the claims articulated in the tradition being around probably immediately after Jesus’s death. Paul tells the Corinthians that he had delivered to them c. AD 51 what he had previously received. We don’t know when that was. But it was sometime during those 20 years. And that means others had it even earlier. So, the content, i.e., Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, appearance, which Paul says are of primary importance, are being reported very soon after Jesus’s death. Paul was persecuting the Christians because he thought they were teaching heresy. If the content of the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-7 were items of primary importance, one could assume the apostles were proclaiming these things even prior to Paul’s conversion. So, these things are being proclaimed very early and probably prior to Paul’s conversion. They’re being proclaimed immediately after Paul’s conversion. Paul is proclaiming them for years. Around AD 49, he runs them past the Jerusalem apostles who give him a thumbs up. He’s proclaiming it in the early 50s to the Corinthians. Mark (lets call it AD 60s) mentions the resurrection and alludes to an appearance in Galilee (14:28; 16:7). So, the appearances of Jesus are consistently proclaimed from shortly after Jesus’s death through the penning of Mark. That’s not “nothing for decades.”

            You present a scenario and acknowledge that it’s “pure speculation.” But that’s my point. There’s not a clear example of an appearance being invented in order to confer authority on a percipient within the first 150 years and perhaps longer. Remember, you asked me what I thought of the claims of several Jesus Seminar members to the contrary.

            You suggest that I, too, may be speculating that the appearances were not invented to confer authority not the percipients. Here’s why I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. Paul discusses the appearances in 15:3-8 then goes on to say that if Christ was not raised, we will not be raised. And if we will not be raised, the Christian life is not worth living (why suffer persecution for a lie? Instead, eat and drink for tomorrow we die). But, Christ was raised. Therefore, we will be raised. Therefore, the Christian life is worth living. His reasoning makes no sense unless he was teaching that Jesus was truly raised from the dead. Moreover, remember that Paul converted when he had an experience that he believed was the Risen Jesus appearing to him. The Gospels have Jesus predicting his death, burial, resurrection, and appearances. I’ve contended elsewhere that Jesus did predict these things.

            In summary, in answer to your question pertaining to what I think about the claims of some Jesus Seminar members that the appearances were invented to confer authority on the percipients, I’d say we have good reasons, historical reasons based on actual evidence, for thinking the apostles were proclaiming Jesus’s appearances to them and that they actually believed he had. In contrast, it’s pure speculation to assert that the appearances were invented to confer authority.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 5, 2019

            Mike,

            I think you’re misunderstanding some things. I accept the creed existed a few years after Jesus’ death, so no need to argue that (although I think the 500 could have been added later by Paul). We can get to Paul’s vision later, but it’s of course worth noting that it might only have entailed some brief light and voice. Jesus’ predictions are widely considered legends, so why bring those up?

            Bart proposes a few brief visual hallucinations led to the resurrection belief. I’m not so sure, but assuming the resurrection belief already in place, the speculative Jesus Seminar hypothesis as I understand it is that the appearances to “the Twelve” and “all the apostles” were confirmations of apostolic authority to teach and preach, i.e., leaders, listen to them. The few visual hallucinations and other related phenomena in a highly excited religious environment (sense of presence, auditory, dreams, ecstatic experiences) were the background for these appearance claims, and probably helped recruit some people (with scriptural appeal and impending doom being other recruiting arguments), but the primarily purpose was to *identify leaders* who could teach and preach. The creed has no *details* about the appearances and there are no details forthcoming until decades later in the Gospels (i.e., “nothing for decades”), at which time the interests and apologetic motivations might be different (like trying to prove Jesus was not a ghost, plus all of the leaders were by that point known), so your references to MMLJ seem pointless, unless you are assuming their historical reliability or speculating the same interests and apologetic motivations for them as decades earlier.

            I agree there’s no clear example of an appearance being invented to confer authority in the first centuries of the church. As far as I know, the Jesus Seminar has never claimed that either. They have just speculated what might *plausibly* explain the claim that Jesus appeared to “the Twelve” and “all the apostles”. Since there is no detail in the creed, nor for decades after, and the interests and apologetic motivations of the Gospels might be different, why is that implausible or more ad hoc than you assuming an *accurate* report of visual appearances of Jesus to everyone in these groups? You say your position is not speculation because Paul and those before him were teaching that Jesus was truly raised from the dead, but my hypothesis assumes a sincerely held resurrection belief too.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 6, 2019

            Mike,

            My best summary:

            In the first few years after Jesus’ death, before the creed, in the highly charged environment of belief in a resurrected messiah returning soon to bring in the final redemption, a few people had brief visual hallucinations of Jesus (maybe a half dozen in addition to Peter/James), a few others had brief auditory experiences (maybe another half dozen), more felt Jesus’ presence (maybe a dozen), others had dreams of Jesus (another dozen). Sometimes these experiences occurred in group ecstatic/spiritual gatherings. Now the creed gets formed. The appearances to “the Twelve” and “all the apostles” *primarily* designated those who could teach and preach, but it was also true that Jesus *visually* appeared to some of them, and most (maybe all) had experienced one of the other phenomena of Jesus’ presence (auditory, sensed presence, dreams). I think this is what Patterson was trying to say in the last five minutes of your debate (https://bit.ly/33PTZLb).

            The technical inaccuracy in these appearance traditions was inconsequential to insiders who already believed Jesus resurrected and knew that many/all the leaders experienced Jesus’ presence in some way. Skeptics who probed the appearances probably quit/never joined the movement. Christian leaders probably knew outsiders would think Jesus appeared visually to everyone listed, but I think it plausible they accepted this distortion, especially since it would help recruit others. Consider the signed Book of Mormon testimony of Martin Harris (and possibly the eight witnesses) implying the gold plates were seen with *actual eyeballs*. It took eight years before Harris, under extreme questioning, admitted that he (and the eight) saw the plates only in vision or imagination, and yet Harris still “knew” the BoM “was true” (https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letterbook-2/69). This shows that even clear deception does not preclude sincere belief, and what seems like a major deception to us is often viewed as a minor/inconsequential deception by those doing the deceiving. Modern political examples might be the 2003 nukes in Iraq, that a video caused the Benghazi attack, and claims of no quid pro quo (Trump or Biden, your choice).

            Since there are no details about the appearances in the creed, nor for decades later, and the interests and apologetic motivations of the Gospels might be different than when the creed was formed (e.g., showing Jesus was not a ghost; leaders already known), why is the above scenario implausible or more ad hoc than you assuming an *accurate* report of visual appearances of Jesus to everyone in these groups?

  15. Avatar
    sjhicks21  December 4, 2019

    Dr. Licona

    I am very impressed with your effort in responding to the many questions of folks on this blog. In fact it seems incredible, the degree of patience and composure you have shown. One question I have concerns your view of ancient sources. In her book SPQR, Mary Beard discuses at length the problems with accepting ancient sources about the Romans and about Cicero and even proposes an alternate theory of Cicero’s role in the late stages of the Roman Republic noting that the winner’s and later writers often wrote history to suit their purposes. This is also clearly true in any reading of Josephus’ Works which show that he had clear biases and was probably altering history somewhat to please his Roman overlords. Given that the writers who have come down to us about most historical figures, even Herodotus and Thucydides, are suspect and the obvious superiority of their education and writing ability over the Gospel writers, do you assume that the Gospel writers were any better at getting the history right. They were not experts at examining witness accounts and they obviously did not have detailed carefully prepared witness accounts, but rather stories with accounts embedded in them and written much later clearly designed for one purpose – to convince their readers that Jesus was in fact the Messiah (Christ). Also it is clear from ancient historical manuscripts that most of the writers felt free much of the time to make up what the historical figure said based on what they thought he would have said. Also, it is clear from any study of ancient historians, including Biblical writers of the Old Testament and other non canonical writings, that they regularly invented stories to support what they wanted reader’s to believe had happened and which served as justification for belief in God and his power. All of this seems to provide a much better, simpler, understandable and rational explanations for why the Bible says what it does rather than that miracles and resurrections actually happened which defy reason and especially the laws of physics, which obviously weren’t very well understood at the time allowing ancient writers to be far more credulous than those of today. Thanks for any response. I understand the difficulties involved in responding to all of us.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 4, 2019

      Thanks, sjhicks21! You raise an excellent challenge! It’s true that ancient historians/biographers did not have the same commitment to accuracy we require in modern historical writing. There’s only one author of that period who wrote closely to how modern historians do: Asconius Pedianus (wrote mid-1st cent. AD). Most have never heard of him. That’s because he wasn’t regarded nearly as highly as other historians of his day. At that time, readers wanted to know about the past. But they also wanted it cast as good literature. And that literature was to tell a good story for any number of reasons, such as ethics.

      So, ancient historians and biographers were allowed some degree of flexibility. But as Keener demonstrates in his new book “Christobiography,” they were not allowed to invent stories entirely. They were permitted to invent speeches as long as they conveyed what that person would likely have said on that occasion or was known to have communicated at a different time. In other words, their words mould have to be consistent with the views they were known to have had. Granted, some authors would on occasion go outside the bounds of what was allowed. But those were the exceptions.

      The Gospel authors were not highly polished authors such as we see with Thucydides, Polybius, Sallust, Plutarch, and Tacitus. They wrote klein literature. Nevertheless, when we can assess how Matthew and Luke stick to Mark, and perhaps to the Q material, we observe that the degree to which they vary from their source material is less than what we observe taken by the finest historians of their time. Moreover, all of the Gospel authors are writing closer to the event they report than many of the events reported by the other prominent historians. I’ve spent significant time with Plutarch. His Lives of nine figures who played roles that would lead to the transition of the Roman Republic to Empire are priceless to modern historians. Yet, Plutarch is writing around 140-190 years after those events. Suetonius’s finest Lives of the Divine Caesars are his “Julius” and “Augustus.” Yet, he is writing at least a century after the death of Augustus. In contrast, all four canonical Gospels were written within 20-70 years of Jesus. And there are good reasons for thinking Mark and Luke, at minimum, had direct access to at least one eyewitness while they were still alive. I could go on. My point is that the Gospels, though not written by the elite of that day, were still written by those in a position to obtain accurate information about Jesus. And they take fewer liberties with the data where we can test them than most of the other elite historians of that era.

      • Avatar
        sjhicks21  December 5, 2019

        Dr. Licona
        The point of my post was that the probability is much greater that non skilled historians (such as the Gospel writers – how many other histories did they write and what was their scholarly background), even by ancient standards having created something that was pretty much non historical versus the very, very low probability that a miracle or resurrection actually was historical seems pretty obvious and therefore most rational. The Gospel writers would not have known how to challenge witness testimony or doubt claims of miracles since they obviously believed they were possible and did not have the rhetorical or analytical skills (or knowledge of physics) to challenge eyewitness testimony. There are no comparison of different versions and discussion of differences in experience to give context to the claims or to show that they even thought about these issues in a sophisticated way. Thus it is far more rational to conclude that they were writing faith justification documents with stories and sayings based on highly filtered and interpolated history rather than actual verifiable facts. Given the unlikelihood of miracles and resurrections it is far more rational to assume that those parts of the history are myths accredited to the history to honor and amplify the felt sense of the importance of the man who impressed them beyond measure in life and whose death seemed so unjustified and cruel. So much so that they ended up calling him Jesus Christ and felt he was not only the messiah but amazingly the Son of God because some were so overwrought that they had visions of him after his death.

  16. Avatar
    mwbaugh  December 4, 2019

    Hello Mike,

    I am a Christian with a non-literalist and non-inerrant take on the Bible. I am very impressed with your openness and graciousness on this thread. While we may not agree on many ideas, I have gained a lot of respect for your faith and character. Thank you for engaging in this conversation.

  17. Avatar
    b.dub3  December 4, 2019

    I believe we have such an example. Was Jesus crucified the day before the Passover meal or on Passover itself? As you know the synoptics state that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover after the meal, whereas John records that he was crucified on the day of preparation of the meal before Passover.

    This contradiction is akin to the one you mention here. Your example is of the mode of his death where the actual contradiction is of the timing of his death. Why would one be more problematic than the other? If you state that it is because the crucifixion is central to the faith, I would contend that the mode of his death is immaterial to the fact of his suffering and death.

    The stone the builders rejected could suffer by stoning, but we know he didn’t. If all we had was John, we’d mistakenly believe that the Lamb of God was sacrificed at the very moment the lambs in Jerusalem were sacrificed, but we know that is not the case. Thus a very meaningful difference by your definition.

  18. Avatar
    timcfix  December 4, 2019

    Thank you for this brilliant work. I know I am late and I really do not expect an answer, but I will state my question anyway, maybe some of the other readers wil contribute. If you were punctuating the Gospel of Luke 23: 43, which side of ‘today’ would you put the coma?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

      Thanks, timcfix. I would place the comma prior to “today,” since there would be no reason for Jesus to use it otherwise. After all, they are both on crosses. So, there is no tomorrow! 🙂

  19. Avatar
    Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  December 5, 2019

    [First part]
    Very interesting and sincere comment, Mr. Licona. Thank you very much.
    With your permission, I will try to improve it and clarify it a bit here and there.

    1st The inerrant term has a simple and unambiguous definition: “without any error.” If someone claims that the Bible is inerrant, it means that from its first to its last word it contains no error.

    Since it is a documented and proven fact beyond all possible doubt that the Bible is plagued with errors, most apologists without irreversible atrophy of critical thinking and common sense, perhaps for fear of being pointed with the finger by their colleagues as heretics, they still cling to the inerrant term, although with a multitude of qualifications and caveats. It is as if they said that the inerrancy of the Bible is not total, but only partial and full of light and shadow.
    In that sense, the doctrine of total inerrancy of the Bible, an almost exclusive question of American Protestantism (see as an example The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, 1986), is perhaps the most serious mistake made by evangelicals called conservatives — it would be better call them “Bible idolaters” — by exposing their Holy Scriptures to the incongruity of forcing Christians to believe that they are the Word of their omniscient God and, therefore, free from all errors, when manifestly, the errors of all kinds and in almost all the matters of which the Bible deals, are counted by hundreds. It is, in popular terms, a shot below the flotation line of the credibility of the Bible as the Book of Revelation of an omnipotent God. And saying it even more simply and bluntly, an insult to the intelligence of believers.
    2º That the hypothesis — tremendously easy to prove that it is false — applies only to the original manuscripts, is a pure wishful thinking and even a gross fallacy since it leaves the burden of proof on missing objects and without any hope that they are found one day, and you can thus rule out a priori all the errors of the texts that have come to us for not being the originals. It can be said without any risk to be mistaken that the originals had almost as many errors — some of them are clearly added to the originals — as the Bibles circulating among Christians today, whatever the translation may be.
    [To be continue]

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

      Fernando: Hospital ORs are said to be “sterile.” But they are not 100% sterile. Tropicana claims that its Pure Premium is “100% Orange Juice and that’s it.” But we know that it’s not technically 100%.

      Many American evangelicals appeal to the Chicago Statement as you’ve observed. But Catholics instead have a different statement having a rather different definition. You don’t have to like a definition. I have reservations with the Chicago Statement. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Chicago Statement’s position that inerrancy only applies to the originals is “wishful thinking.” Those who contend for inerrant originals use philosophical and theological arguments to get there. I don’t think they’re successful. But I wouldn’t say that their conclusion derives from “wishful thinking.”

  20. Avatar
    Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  December 5, 2019

    [Continuation]
    3rd And then … from a point of view of the Lutheranweltanschauung, of Sola scriptura, the total inerrancy of the Bible is the only solid rock to which Protestants can cling to not see their faith wreck.
    We must not give many explanations to understand this, because once it is admitted that the Bible contains errors, many of them of great importance, who decides and by what criteria are these errors? Well, in the Protestant churches, everyone has the power to interpret the Holy Scriptures to their liking and convenience.
    In that sense, the Catholic Church had an ingenious occurrence: the Bible is inerrant in matters of salvation. But it has never been defined what salvation is nor is there a list of vital matters for such salvation. Those who decide what salvation means and what are the subjects of the Bible that affect that salvation are the high hierarchies of the Catholic Church. In particular, the Ecumenical Councils chaired by the Pope and the Supreme Pontiff himself in his Encyclicals, when he speaks “ex cathedra”.
    This ruse must be recognized that it had some success, although it could not prevent the schisms of the East and that of the Protestant Reformation. But it has worked better than this latest variant of Christianity, i.e., Protestantism, which has produced more than 25,000 “denominations,” a euphemism for speaking of Protestant schismatic churches.
    Among evangelical apologists who accept that the Bible is not inerrant, as Mr. Licona seems to be, attempts have been made to save the Christianity of this shipwreck by resorting to various tricks and traps. For example, what we can call the “epistemology of the Holy Spirit” promoted by Messrs. Plantinga and Lane Craig, which among other arbitrariness and entelechies is based on what they call “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” or sensus deitatis (“sense of deity” “) or semen religionis.
    As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends th not upon the testimony of any man, or church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God ”, is irrelevant, since it is a circular argument, since the supposed authority of the Sacred Scripture as the Word of God is based exclusively on that is how the Bible itself proclaims itself.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 5, 2019

      Fernando: You wrote, “from a point of view of the Lutheranweltanschauung, of Sola scriptura, the total inerrancy of the Bible is the only solid rock to which Protestants can cling to not see their faith wreck.”

      From my point of view and also the point of view of many Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, Christianity is true because Jesus rose from the dead. So, even if the Bible has errors, Christianity is still true.

      Carl F. H. Henry was a prominent evangelical NT scholar. He also had a strong commitment to biblical inerrancy. Yet, he could still write, “”The New Testament supplies no basis for elevating scriptural inerrancy to kerygmatic superprominence. The apostolic core-message does not inject inerrancy into every proclamation of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, and into the Bible’s proffered alternatives of repentance or judgment. Still less reason exists to revise the Apostles’ Creed by inserting inerrancy as its first article. The mark of New Testament authenticity is first and foremost proclamation of the crucified and risen Jesus as the indispensable and irreplaceable heart of the Christian message.” Carl F. H. Henry, “God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4” (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 365.

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