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Is the Bible Inspired by God? Guest Post by Evangelical Apologist Mike Licona

This particular post is free and open to the public.  If you belonged to the blog, you would get five posts a week, for about what it costs to send a letter.  And every penny goes to charity!  So why not join?

Mike Licona has burst on the scene as one of the leading spokespersons for evangelical Christianity and its theological claims, especially that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, that purely historical research can actually demonstrate that it happened, and that the Bible is literally inspired by God himself and to be accepted as inerrant.

As many of you know, I have had three public debates with Mike (on the question of whether historians can proved that Jesus was raised from the dead; the debates were not about whether Jesus was raised from the dead – they were about whether this kind of claim can be proved by historians using historical methods, or, instead, is a theological claim that cannot be demonstrated historically); and recently we shared a stage at an evangelical Christian “apologetics” conference that focused on whether there are contradictions in the Gospels, and if so, how/if they affect whether we can consider the Gospels historically reliable.

Mike and I take different positions on these and many other issues.   A few weeks ago I on the blog I summarized his views about contradictions and the inspiration of the Bible – he agrees that there are some passages that in fact can *not* be reconciled with others  but at the same time he affirms that the Bible is “inerrant.”  I wasn’t sure I was summarizing his views accurately, and so I asked him if he would be willing to write some blog posts for us explaining what he actually thinks.  He has graciously done so, and here is his first of three posts.   (Please note — it took me a minute to realize this — his argument below is cumulative.  That is, he is not making three separate arguments that the Bible is inspired [if you look at it this way, the first two arguments may seem to be non-sequiturs]; instead, the third argument is premised on the truth/validity of the first two argument; if they are true, then the third has probative force).

Feel free to ask him questions or to make some observations!

Mike Licona is author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels and Evidence for God: 50 Arguments For Faith From The Bible, History, Philosophy, And Science


The Case for the Divine Inspiration of the Bible

I would like to thank my friend Bart for inviting me to contribute three posts to his blog. Yes, we are friends, despite our disagreements. Strangely, we became friends through public debates. Those interested in learning how that happened, I describe it in this article: https://bit.ly/32LkMaY. Now, onto my three posts.

Historians do not possess the tools to verify theological claims. Take, for example, the statement “Jesus died for our sins.” While historians can verify that Jesus died, they cannot verify that his death has atoning qualities. As a historian, I do not possess the tools to verify the theological claim that the Bible is divinely inspired. However, I do think it’s rational for a Christian to believe that it is. And I’m going to provide reasons that ground my belief.

To begin, it’s important to ask what it means to say the Bible is divinely inspired. The answer may seem intuitive: To say the Bible is divinely inspired would appear to suggest that it’s the product of divine dictation. However, it’s actually not so simple. In fact, Christians disagree on the matter. And it’s rare to find a Christian who holds this view if she has even a smidge of theological sophistication.

I reject divine dictation as the method of inscripturation, because the human element in Scripture is clear. The human element goes far beyond recognizing the biblical authors’ different personalities, writing styles, vocabularies, and education levels. The human element also includes Mark’s poor grammar that Matthew and Luke often improve. Surely, we are not to imagine God reviewing Mark later and thinking, “I can do better than that. Let’s say it this way in Matthew.” The human element also includes a couple instances of Luke’s editorial fatigue when using sources. Surely, we are not to imagine God catching this at a later time and thinking, “How in heaven did I miss those?” Then there’s Paul’s memory lapse in 1 Corinthians 1:16 pertaining to whether he had baptized anyone outside the household of Stephanus. Surely, we are not to imagine God prompting Paul to take a writing break while he checked heaven’s records! These observations clearly reveal a human element in Scripture; an element that includes imperfections and rules out divine dictation. Accordingly, although the process of divine inspiration is not described in the Bible, our interpretation of what it means to say the Bible is “divinely inspired” must allow for human imperfections in Scripture.

Twenty years ago, Christian philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig argued, in essence, that God, knowing all circumstances that could possibly occur, generated those whereby the biblical authors would write what they did at an appropriate time. In that sense, the biblical literature is divinely inspired, because God approved it. For example, in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, the words are Paul’s. The logic and arguments belong to Paul. If God were to dictate the letter, he may have said things differently. But he approved the letter. (The article was originally published in Philosophia Christi, 1.1, 1999, 45-82 and may now be viewed at https://bit.ly/32u8Rya). Although the scenario Craig posits cannot be confirmed, I think it’s perhaps the best way for understanding what it means to say the Bible is divinely inspired, since it takes into serious consideration what the Bible says about itself as well as the character of Scripture. You can see that this view has implications pertaining to how the doctrine of biblical inerrancy can and perhaps should be understood. This will be the topic of my next post.

So, why think the Bible is divinely inspired? In what follows, I’ll provide 3 key reasons.


 #1 Jesus rose from the dead.

I’m fully aware that most readers of this blog do not think Jesus rose from the dead. However, I’m sharing my reasons for thinking the Bible is divinely inspired. Although I cannot devote any space to the topic here, I have argued in great depth elsewhere that there are good historical reasons for thinking the resurrection of Jesus actually occurred. And a historian can arrive at this conclusion apart from any belief that the Bible is divinely inspired. Those interested may consult my book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).

If Jesus rose from the dead, we would have a good reason for giving our serious consideration to his teachings. Of course, one could reply that Jesus could have been an alien from another planet with powers beyond our comprehension and who decided to deceive us. Although such a scenario cannot be disproved, it’s terribly ad hoc. Every worldview, including atheism, requires a bit of faith. Given Jesus’s resurrection, Christians’ believing Jesus’s teachings about himself would require faith. But it would be a reasonable faith.


#2 The New Testament preserves significant information pertaining to Jesus’s claims.

Historians of Jesus do not have the luxury of assuming the divine inspiration or inerrancy of the Bible. Historians acting responsibly will consider the data apart from such assumptions and seek to conclude what the data suggest. Using common-sense criteria, such as multiple independent sources, embarrassing sources, unsympathetic sources, and eyewitness sources, we can render a number of conclusions possessing various degrees of confidence. For example, it’s granted by nearly every historian of Jesus, regardless of their theological and philosophical persuasion, that Jesus believed he had a special relationship with God who had chosen him to usher in his kingdom and that he performed numerous deeds that astonished crowds and that he and others claimed were divine miracles and exorcisms. Moreover, a growing number of historians hold that Jesus claimed to be divine in some sense and that he predicted his imminent death and subsequent resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead, it becomes quite probable that he actually had a special relationship with God, that his astonishing deeds were actually divine in their nature, and that his claims of divinity were correct.


#3 Jesus believed the Scriptures are divinely inspired.

Jesus’s belief that the Old Testament is authoritative is a clear motif throughout all four Gospels. Jesus appealed to the Scriptures to settle theological disputes. He saw his ministry as fulfilling prophecy. Then there are statements where Jesus says, “David himself said in the Holy Spirit . . .” (Mark 12:36) and “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35); “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail” (Luke 16:17). But why are the Scriptures authoritative? It’s because their authority comes from God. Thus, to disobey Scripture is to disobey God. This was also the understanding of the Jewish leaders who confronted Jesus when he healed on the Sabbath, which they claimed was to break God’s law (see Mark 2:24; 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:2-16; 9:1-38).

What about the New Testament? If Jesus was the Son of God in a divine sense, his teachings are authoritative. Although it’s unlikely that the Gospels preserve precise transcripts of Jesus’s teachings – and it’s clear that they often redact them, I’m persuaded by a number of reasons that the Gospels preserve the gist of what Jesus taught. And some occasions may be close to the actual words. Word limitations prohibit my elaborating further.

Outside the Gospels, Paul believed he had received authority from Jesus to teach (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:17; 14:37; 2 Cor. 13:10). And his essential teachings were confirmed by the apostolic leadership (Gal. 2:1-10; cf. Pol. Phil. 3:2). John taught that those who are not from God do not listen to apostolic teaching (1 John 4:6).

Of course, merely claiming to have received authority from God to teach does not give one that authority. However, if Jesus is divine, his teachings are authoritative and we would expect for him to have commissioned his disciples to pass them along. And this he does (Matt. 28:19; John 14:26; 15:25-16:3). That commissioning would bestow authority on them. Accordingly, to the extent that the apostolic teachings are preserved in the New Testament literature, we may say that literature is not only authoritative but also divinely inspired as defined above.

Of course, only a little can be said in such a small space. In my next post, I will discuss the matter of biblical inerrancy.



Maybe Jesus DOES Talk about “Homosexuality”?
Jesus and “Homosexuality”



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    RonaldTaska  November 17, 2019

    Dr. Licona, Thanks for discussing these issues. I look forward to the inerrancy post. Are you headed toward saying that the “human element” means that there are human errors in the Bible, but the Bible is inerrant when it comes to explaining what is required for salvation because clearly the presence of human errors means that the Bible is not inerrant? Maybe God’s contribution is inerrant, but how do we figure out what part comes from God and what part comes from humans? Obviously, step #1 in the above discussion is a HUGE and crucial one. It would be helpful to have a concise explanation of that argument. My experience with decades of experience attending conservative churches is that all of them start immediately quoting scripture with the assumption that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the only thing that needs to be consulted in making important decisions. I have become more and more convinced that this “assumption” needs to be carefully and thoroughly examined and it is an important enough assumption that it merits such examination. Anyway, for you to post on a website such as this one shows considerable courage on your part and I respect that a lot. Carry on and I hope the responses you receive are helpful and civil.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      Thanks, Ronald. I’ll be articulating my view on inerrancy in the second post.

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        pianoman  November 20, 2019

        Hello Dr. Licona, Was Jesus able to reed and write? If yes, why did he not write a book to us explaining his teachings? The “Book Of Jesus” would have been very helpful in understanding Christianity. Thanks Jim

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        Gary  November 28, 2019

        When you discuss “inerrancy”, Dr. Licona, would you kindly address your view of a literal Hell? You have stated further down in the comments that you do not know where Hell is located. I find this odd since you seem so certain of its existence and so certain that we non-believers are going to be sent to this place of torment and punishment. Many Bible authors infer that Hell is “down”. Here is the author of Ephesians:

        But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,

        “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
        he gave gifts to his people.”

        9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) –Ephesians 4: 8-9

        Gary: The author of Ephesians, a book which I am sure you believe to be an inspired, inerrant book of the NT, the Word of God, clearly believed that Jesus the Christ descended “into the lower parts of the earth”. The “underworld”. Most Christians believe that this refers to Jesus descending to Hell/Paradise immediately upon his death to liberate the righteous and take them to heaven.

        With such a clear description of the location of Hell, why are you hesitant, Dr. Licona, to state that you believe that Hell, a massive dungeon full of billions of sinners, is located somewhere in the “lower parts” of the earth??

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      Gary  November 24, 2019

      Imagine this: A guy from Africa visits your town and tells everyone that Elvis Presley has risen from the dead. When asked for proof, the man says that Elvis has appeared to the twelve members of his (Presley’s) band and entourage, to the best friend of Elvis, to the brother of Elvis, to five hundred members of the Elvis Presley Fan Club at one time and place, and finally to him.

      When asked how many of these alleged eyewitnesses to an Elvis Presley sighting (besides himself) he has met personally, the man says, “two”. But he adds that if you don’t believe him, most of these eyewitnesses are still alive. “If you don’t believe me, you can fly to Burundi, in Africa, to interview them and confirm the story.”

      Would you believe that Elvis Presley is back from the dead and appearing to people in Africa based on this evidence?

      I doubt it.

      So why would you believe a similar tale, with the same evidence, for someone who lived two thousand years ago and for which there are NO living (alleged) eyewitnesses to interview?

      The Bible is not a divinely inspired “word of an invisible deity”. It is a collection of ancient, scientifically ignorant, supernatural tales.

      • Avatar
        Gary  November 24, 2019

        Disputed eyewitness testimony from 2,000 years ago is not sufficient evidence to overturn the massive, cumulative scientific data that brain dead corpses never come back to life. I suggest we reject and ignore this claim until, and if, better evidence is presented.

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    godspell  November 17, 2019

    Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written contribution. My take on your three points:

    1)Assuming Jesus did rise from the dead, how do we know (as many apparently pointed out at the time) that he wasn’t sent by the opposition? I don’t believe that for one moment, but if one makes supernatural claims, one has to recognize the possibility that supernatural forces are not necessarily benevolent, as most humans (including Christians) have believed for a very long time. A miracle in itself doesn’t prove anything regarding the veracity of scripture.

    2)There are also accounts of Simon Magus performing astonishing feats, like flying through the air in a demon chariot–before he became a Christian (according to Acts and no other source). There are innumerable accounts of magicians, sorcerors, wonder rabbis, and many others doing astonishing things from this general time period. I would say what distinguishes the accounts of Jesus’ miracles is that they all seem to signify more than magical powers–they are illustrative of his beliefs about how people with no special powers should behave toward others, and about how faith can overcome death itself. But literal miracles still would have no bearing on whether the gospels are divinely inspired, since you don’t need divine inspiration to write down what people witnessed in material reality. I mean, you don’t think the New York Times is divinely inspired, do you?

    3)This is the strongest argument–but it posits already believing Jesus is not merely holy but divine, which he doesn’t seem to have ever claimed. As an exceptionally devout Jew, he revered the OT. He probably did believe he had been tasked by God with helping to fulfill scriptural prophecy. He seems to have had a special passion for the Book of Jonah–which has rarely been taken literally by educated Jews and Christians–it’s a teaching story, and God didn’t have a huge fish swallow a reluctant prophet to teach him a lesson.

    Finally, I don’t think we can employ such a circular argument. To wit–“We know Jewish scripture is divinely inspired because Jesus said it was, and we know Jesus is divine because Christian scripture (written mainly by converts after Jesus’ death) says he was.”

    It’s not faith I have an issue with. At all. I’m something of an apologist myself. But without portfolio, which gives me a bit more room to maneuver. 😉

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    jscheller  November 17, 2019

    I think Dr Licona’s 1st and 2nd points are reasonable. In fact, these are the basis for Christianity. I’m more reticent on support of the 3rd point, given my understanding of the vast amounts of discrepancies and primitive views I find in the Hebrew texts, as well as my take on Jesus’ view of scripture if we concede that his words are filtered through writers that upheld traditional Judaism. For example, look at the “You have heard…but I say” contrasts Jesus makes in Matthew chapter 5 – How can one call Exodus 21:22-25 Divine Law in light of Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:38-42? Furthermore, if Jesus’ reference to Hebrew texts qualified those texts as Divinely inspired, then why isn’t The Book of Enoch in our Old Testament, given the fact that Jesus was clearly referring to it when he told the Sadducees that they didn’t understand scripture because the resurrected would be like the angels in heaven, neither marrying or being given in marriage?

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    joynow72  November 17, 2019

    I found this very interesting . Thanks for sharing . Jan

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    RICHWEN90  November 17, 2019

    You seem to be starting from the premise that Jesus was divine. You seem to base that premise on a belief that he rose from the dead. We might wonder what it means to be “divine”. Apart from that, on the face of it, it actually seems more reasonable to suppose that he WAS an alien being supported by advanced technology. We don’t have, in that case, to suppose the existence of anything that is supernatural. “Divinity” and transcendent supernatural things are far more conceptually difficult than advanced technologies. But even more likely than such advanced technologies and aliens intervening in our affairs is the simple idea that Jesus was a mere mortal who was crucified and allowed to rot away in some sort of trash heap. Legends grew around his life, just as legends grew around the life of Buddha, and other ancient figures. It’s easier and more probable to suppose that Christianity began as a sort of cult. I don’t see any compelling reason to suppose that Jesus was divine or that the Bible is the product of anything other than human endeavor– as inspired as “War and Peace” or any other literary creation. If you take the Jesus Divinity route, you have to deal with the naive cosmology in the Bible, all of the implausible and even counter-factual mythology in the Bible, and the weirdness of his “resurrected” body. Like, what was it made of? What happened to the fish he supposedly ate? What about those wounds? What if he’d been decapitated? Would he have carried his head around like a valise? In what sense was this body physical? The implication is that heaven is a substantial place, over our heads, up in the sky. The nonsense accumulates exponentially as more and more questions are asked. It just doesn’t fly.

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    roy  November 17, 2019

    mr licona, first thank you for your time.As a non believer it is very difficult to understand how many people devoutly believe in god(s) given the tremendous amount of info available today(easily understand why previous generations and ancients believed, not having any understanding of science and world-universe order) I believe it is a physcological need and fear of death primarily, but back to subject of bible, I agree it is a good collection of stories and messaging, but being able to prove it untrue today in so many ways it seems to me that an all knowing all powerful god could have crafted a much better book, and possibly even have PRESERVED it(original), since we do have so many other ancient stories(epic of Gilgamesh) or the law of Hammurabi, or the Egyptian hieroglyphics. I realize that most Christians today have only a passing knowledge of the bible(and only focus on the good parts) but as more and more knowledge becomes more available I believe the future of Christianity in particular and religion in general will be phasing out within this century, perhaps a double edged sword, good in many ways, losing things in others. and I am particularly baffled by womens acceptance since it was(is) such a sexist manuscript(your thoughts?)

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      Thanks for your comment, Roy. I think you have to be careful of committing the genetic fallacy, whereby one rejects a conclusion held by someone because they arrived at that conclusion in a manner you find unconvincing. People can arrive at conclusions for the wrong reason. But the conclusions can still be correct. For example, I put my faith in Christ at the age of 10 because it made sense to me. Of course, my epistemological processes were quite immature at that age. But I remain a Christian today because I’m convinced by the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection. So, I could admit that I arrived at the conclusion at age 10 in a manner that would not be sufficient for me today. But that doesn’t mean I was wrong then.

      Perhaps I can put it differently. Lets say there are only 10 possible worldview. Of course, there are more. But lets just keep it at 10 to make this easier. And lets say everyone alive embraces one of the 10 worldviews. And lets say they embrace them only because it’s the way they were raised. And lets say only one of the 10 worldviews are correct. Those believing the correct worldview may have done so for a reason we consider flawed. But this says nothing about the truth of their worldview.

      Someone may believe that God exists because s/he has a fear of death. But that doesn’t mean that belief is mistaken. I think there are good reasons for thinking God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t agree with you that science has disproved God. Many top scientists believe God exists, that He acts in our world, and are Christians. For example, it has been said of George Ellis of the University of Cape Town that he knows more about cosmology than anyone, including his late friend Steven Hawking. Francisco Ayala is one of the leading evolutionary biologists in the world. Francis Collins was head of the Human Genome Project. Allen Sandage is perhaps today’s leading astronomer. William Phillips is a Nobel Prize winner in physics. All of these leading scientists and many more are Christians and see no tension between science and their Christian beliefs. Of course, there are tensions between certain interpretations of science and Christian beliefs.

      • Avatar
        Gary  November 17, 2019

        Dr. Licona believed in Jesus as his Lord and Savior at age 10. I prayed to Jesus to forgive me of all my sins and to be my Lord and Savior at age 9. As an adult, Dr. Licona investigated the evidence for the central claim of Christianity, the historicity of bodily resurrection of Jesus, and found the evidence sufficient to validate his childhood decision. As an adult, I investigated the evidence for the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and found it woefully insufficient to validate my childhood decision. I deconverted. How often do modern, educated people investigate the historical evidence for the historicity of Ceasar’s crossing of the Rubicon or Alexander’s sacking of Tyre and decide that the evidence is woefully insufficient? Yet today, thousands and thousands of educated Christians are deconverting from Christianity for this very reason: the evidence for this alleged event is so woefully poor. Yes, a few “atheists” do convert to Christianity, but the statisticians tell us that it is Christianity that is bleeding members not atheists. This is why apologetics is currently the big rage in conservative Christianity: the need to defend this ancient supernatural tale is dire!

        Let’s look at what we are talking about: the belief that a three-day-dead first century corpse came back to life, exited its sealed mausoleum, hung out with its friends for 40 days, and later levitated into space in front of a crowd of people. Yet there are ZERO contemporary, non-Christian reports of this event! Zero! The greatest event to ever occur in human history, but no one bothered to write about this story until several decades later. And the few that did write about this event, decades later, were all members of a minority religious sect whose entire worldview DEPENDS on the historicity of this alleged event.

        • Avatar
          Gary  November 17, 2019

          Dr. Licona is a very intelligent, very educated, very good, kind man. Any one who has seen him debate or has seen his recent comments on the deconversions of two big name Christians can see this. But Dr. Licona believed in the reality of dead corpse reanimations when he was TEN years old! How is this any different from the Muslim who believed in the reality of flying horses as taught by his religion as a child…and THEN…as an adult set out to confirm his childhood belief? Bottom line: Even if the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses (most experts say they were not), ask yourself this question: Would you believe in a modern day dead corpse reanimation (resurrection) based on the eyewitness testimony of a group of mostly uneducated (“unlearned”) peasants from a third world country? I don’t think so.

        • Avatar
          Gary  November 21, 2019

          Why are you censoring some of my comments, Dr. Licona? You are not required to respond to my comments, but in fairness, I think you should post them. Dr. Ehrman has never once blocked one of my comments. Although you might not like some of my comments and may feel that I unfairly summarize your position, I don’t think you can accuse my comments of being abusive. Please post all non-abusive comments. That is the standard on this blog.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 22, 2019

            I haven’t blocked any of your comments, Gary. Not any. That said, I’m not a blogger and this is the first time I’ve done something like this. So, I’m bound to make some mistakes. If I have made any, they’re unintentional.

            That said, I think I’ve been more than generous with my time with you. So, consider this my final reply to you.

          • Avatar
            Gary  November 23, 2019

            I apologize for assuming that you were blocking some of my comments. I posted the following (and an additional) comment on the 17th and it has not been posted even though you are responding to posts from today, the 23rd. My error.

            Here was my comment on the 17th:

            Dr. Licona is a very intelligent, very educated, very good, very kind man. Any one who has seen him debate or has seen his recent comments on the deconversions of two big name Christians can see this. But Dr. Licona believed in the reality of dead corpse reanimations when he was TEN years old! How is this any different from the Muslim who believed in the reality of flying horses as taught by his religion as a child…and THEN…as an adult set out to confirm his childhood belief? Bottom line: Even if the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses (most experts say they were not), ask yourself this question: Would you believe in a modern day dead corpse reanimation (resurrection) based on the eyewitness testimony of a group of mostly uneducated (“unlearned”) peasants from a third world country? I don’t think so. So why believe such a fantastical claim from 20 centuries ago?

            Dr. Licona tells us that he believes in the truth claims of Christianity, most importantly the bodily resurrection of Jesus, based on “evidence, reason, and faith”. But what he fails to mention is that he has believed—since he was TEN years old—that the spirit of this dead man lives somewhere in his body giving me secret wisdom and insight. How can we believe that it is possible for Dr. Licona to objectively evaluate evidence regarding the divine inspiration of the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus when his primary reason for belief is the voice he hears in his head?

            It is certainly your right not to respond to any more of my comments, Dr. Licona, but I hope you will be so kind as to continue posting them. Thank you.

      • Avatar
        roy  November 17, 2019

        thank you for your reply, and did not mean to imply science has proved the nonexistence of god (the bible yes) I do not believe the existence or non-existence of god can be proven or disproven, but I believe much more in logic and reason than in faith only, and if there was a god he is a horrid, horrible entity. the horrors of the old testament, man’s inhumanity to fellow man,children born with deformities, disease, abuse,starvation, the atrocities committed on animals, yes, he certainly works in mysterious ways, which amazes me all the more that people continue to believe so strongly

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

          roy: None of us can get into a time machine, return to the past, and verify our worldview. So, regardless of the worldview one chooses, there is no escaping the fact that faith is involved. I’m all for reason. So, my choice ends up being based on reason, evidence, and faith. I happen to think my choice involves the least amount of faith when all is considered.

          Regarding the items you mentioned pertaining to God, it’s beyond the scope of the articles Bart has asked me to post. So, I’d like to refer you to a book written by my friends Paul Copan and Matthew Flanagan: “Did God Really Command Genocide?” https://amzn.to/37frn0X

  7. Avatar
    lobe  November 17, 2019

    Thanks for writing on the blog, Dr. Licona! I’ve greatly enjoyed your debates with Dr. Ehrman and though I disagree with you on a LOT of things I respect your intellectual honesty.

    Question for you: Do you think that belief in the supernatural a prerequisite for believing in the Resurrection? In other words, if you approached the evidence without any prior belief of the supernatural, would the evidence of the Resurrection be sufficient for you to conclude that Jesus supernaturally rose from the dead? I recall from one of your debates with Bart that you spent some time talking about events you’ve experienced that you perceived as supernatural, but I don’t remember if that was because you felt it necessary for your case.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      Thanks, lobe. Fair question. I think the responsible historian should approach Jesus’s resurrection neither presupposing the supernatural nor a priori excluding it. Instead, s/he should approach it with openness to the supernatural and let the results of assessing the data speak for themselves. Otherwise, I place myself in a position where it’s my worldview rather than the data that leads to my conclusion. The danger in that is manifest: Bad philosophy corrupts good history!

      • Avatar
        lobe  November 17, 2019

        I see the danger of letting your worldview dictate the results (confirmation bias is a real problem for us all, skeptic and believer alike!) But doesn’t that run the risk of giving the supernatural a too generous prior? Like if you were to examine the evidence for an alien abduction, one could argue that you should give aliens a 50/50 shot, because you want to “approach the problem with openness”. It seems like the magnitude of the claim warrants a prior that’s at least a *little* bit lower than 0.5.

        (Sorry for the Bayesian speak…I’m an engineer, I like numbers lol)

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

          lobe: I think you’re fine to use Bayes. The challenge with BT is what one allow when assessing the Prior. I would include things such as well evidenced Near Death Experiences, veridical apparitions, radically answered prayer, and strongly evidenced paranormal phenomena. Each of these provide a strong blow to metaphysical naturalism. In my opinion, when combined, they render naturalism so improbable as to be beyond reason. Although there are many examples, I have an 11-minute video in which I provide one example for each: https://youtu.be/WRYIr2aBkLk

          • Avatar
            lobe  November 17, 2019

            Thanks Dr. Licona, I’ll check it out!

      • Avatar
        joemccarron  November 19, 2019

        I don’t think we should assume the philosophy is bad. But I do agree we shouldn’t claim our philosophical analysis is historical analysis.

        If someone says they think it is impossible for Jesus to have rose from the dead, because they think it is impossible that anyone rose from the dead, that is fine. So such a person rejects that it happened as a historical fact *even if* the historical criteria/analysis supports it. I have no issue with that.

        But such a person should acknowledge that the historical evidence may support the resurrection even though more important philosophical considerations make him or her reject the claim that Jesus in fact rose from the dead. That leads to clarity of thinking and we can properly examine the philosophical underpinnings of the belief that a resurrection is impossible.

        To some extent as a Christian I do likewise with some other religion’s claims of miracles. I look at the historical evidence of miracles occurring in support of Christianity. And if they are on the whole greater than the historical evidence of miracles occurring for some other religion then we may have a religious reason to reject the other religions miracle claims.

        For example if someone were to provide historical evidence that Muhamed miraculously split the moon. I may agree with them on the weight the historical evidence should be given. It is just that other considerations (philosophical or religious) may lead me to be ultimately unconvinced. Some may disagree, but it seems to me that the God that would give Jesus Miracles would not also give Muhammad miracles. They seem to have messages that are too dissimilar. The historical evidence of the resurrection would weigh against the competing religions miracles. A similar point could be made for various miracles claimed by pagan Gods. There is nothing wrong with having other considerations besides historical criteria just don’t claim those other considerations are historical analysis.

        So yes make sure you keep your historical analysis separate from your philosophical or religious reasoning. That is just a matter of being honest with yourself and clear about your reasoning. But there can be good philosophical or religious reasons to reject a historical claim.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  November 19, 2019

          Well said, Joe! I agree with everything you wrote!

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  November 21, 2019

            Thank you Dr. Licona. I have listened and learned from some of your debates just as I have from Dr. Ehrman. It is definitely encouraging to hear that my views are shared by someone who has clearly spent time considering these issues.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 22, 2019

            Thanks, Joe! I’m glad you have found some of my work helpful.

  8. Avatar
    flcombs  November 17, 2019

    There are many areas that could be discussed but one really stands out: isn’t this mainly circular reasoning? We are using quotes of the Bible to prove that we should believe the Bible and its authority. Naturally we could expect writers of the NT to claim they had authority, so claiming they have it based on their own writings is hardly”proof”. After all, we have the word of Mohammed and the Qur’an that prove their authority and to speak the TRUE word of God. What about Joseph Smith? Doesn’t he also claim authority and “isn’t it written?”. Things like this only apparently really work by having a starting faith in one religious claim so you can ignore similar claims by other religions.

    Claims of Jesus’ support of scriptural authority naturally don’t apply to the NT since it didn’t exist. And exactly what books or writings did Jesus actually refer to? What we think of the whole OT or just part, i.e. was he saying the “Song of Solomon” is the word if God, and where? For the NT, as mentioned, we just have its own writers assuring us that THEY are naturally the ones with true authority. Hardly unique or persuasive, and certainly not the same level of proof that Christians demand from other religious groups.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      flcombs: I can see where you think there’s circular reasoning by using what the Bible says about itself. I was limited to 1,400 words. But I could have been more clear. The texts in the Gospels I used pertaining to Jesus’s view of the Old Testament was to show a pattern of his thought. In recent years, historians of Jesus have looked at identifying a motif that’s multiply attested. My point is that it’s multiply attested that Jesus believed the OT was divinely inspired (the motif).

  9. Avatar
    brenmcg  November 17, 2019

    The only thing Jesus thought was authoritative in the old testament was what was written about the messiah; Luke 24:44
    But he believes the OT contained man made laws; Matthew 19:8

  10. Avatar
    brenmcg  November 17, 2019

    “The human element also includes Mark’s poor grammar that Matthew and Luke often improve”

    Doesn’t this go against the expectation that bad writers copy from good ones?

  11. Avatar
    Stylites  November 17, 2019

    I do not doubt the sincerity of Mike Licona’s scholarship nor the tremendous amount of work and effort he puts into it. What I do question is how useful it is here. Most Blog readers have moved on beyond debating whether or not the Bible is inerrant. As for the resurrection, belief in it ultimately rests on whether one believes witnesses to it had visions or hallucinations. Since the individual experiences are not repeatable they are not scientifically capable of being proven or rejected. Historians can verify that people believed they saw something. They cannot verify whether they actually did or not. Thus, I think discussions on biblical inerrancy and proof of the resurrection are not particularly helpful.
    The kind of questions I would like to see discussed here are more along the lines of the following:
    1. Did the Q source actually exist?
    2. Is the Gospel of Thomas gnostic or not? When was it written?
    3. Did Luke’s travel diary in Acts actually exist or is this just some sort of literary effort intended to strengthen legitimacy for the story?
    4. Can any case be made for the historicity of either Moses or the Exodus?
    5. Could Abraham be a composite figure somewhat similar to the claim sometimes made for Homer?
    6. Could either Mary Magdalene or Judas be mythical figures, as some have claimed?
    7. What sort of burial did Jesus have, a tomb or food for the dogs or something else?
    8. Who was John the Seer of Revelation?
    And of course there are many more, but hopefully this is enough to indicate the kind of debates I think are useful. I realize some of these topics have been discussed in the Blog. But it is always possible to take another look.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      Stylites: To be open with you, the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture are not topics to which I give a lot of thought. I love matters pertaining to the philosophy of history and historical investigation. Bart asked me to write on the topics covered in these three posts.

    • Avatar
      PBS  November 20, 2019


      Terrific post. Thanks. I agree with all of your suggested topics. But I part ways at the suggestion that we who frequent this blog no longer have any longer in a subject like the debate over inerrancy (or not) of the Christian Scriptures. I think the overwhelming number of responses confirms this. I for one hope to see more of the same and though I am a Christian, I long ago abandoned inerrancy, viewing as a category error. As Rob Bell put it, to say that something of the nature of the Bible is inerrant is like saying a beautiful sunset is inerrant. And as Kenton Sparks lays it out, the Bible is like creation. Both are broken to a degree due to the impact of existing in time & history but both remain, as they are, God’s Word and God’s World.

  12. Avatar
    Gary  November 17, 2019

    First, I want to say how much I respect you, Dr. Licona, I have read several of your books. As I read them I detect in your writing a sincere, honest attempt to discover the truth. We all have our biases, but you appear to try very hard to overcome yours.

    You said this above: “I’m persuaded by a number of reasons that the Gospels preserve the gist of what Jesus taught. And some occasions may be close to the actual words.”

    Wow. This is a striking admission for any evangelical, but even more for an evangelical NT scholar (I am a former evangelical). If we today can only trust the Gospels to provide us “the gist” of what Jesus SAID, how can we possibly trust the historicity of the fantastical DEEDS and EVENTS that allegedly occurred involving Jesus? How historically reliable can these ancient texts be if someone like you, an expert, only trusts their “gist”? And most importantly, how can we possibly believe the fantastical claim that the corpse of a first century preacher came back to life, was endowed with supernatural powers, and later ascended into the clouds, from texts which most scholars do not believe were written by eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses, and you yourself believe can only be trusted to provide us the “gist” of what this man said?

    How can we possibly have a rational discussion regarding the divine inspiration of the Bible when you have admitted that the text you believe to be Word of the Creator can only be trusted in its “gist”?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      Thanks for your kind remark, Gary. Yes, I do try to manage my biases while engaged in historical investigation. I can’t say that I’m always entirely successful. But I do make sincere efforts, because I don’t think there’s anything to fear with truth. If the Bible turns out to be different than I have believed, I may be disappointed. But there’s nothing for me to fear. Truth is truth.

      The term “gist” can have a wide range of possibilities, although it includes the main and essential parts of what occurred. You’ll get a better idea of what I mean by it in my third post.

      Regarding the texts not being written by eyewitnesses, see my other comment to fishician about authorship and eyewitness testimony in the Gospels.

      • Avatar
        Kirktrumb59  November 20, 2019

        The Science of False Memory (Oxford Psychology Series)
        by C. J. Brainerd and V. F. Reyna | May 5, 2005

  13. Avatar
    Hngerhman  November 17, 2019

    Dr Licona –

    Thank you very much for the guest post. I (and many others here) have enjoyed your debate events with Dr Ehrman.

    In terms of the argument you are making, how do you intend to avoid the circularity of:
    – Jesus was resurrected (derived from the Bible, which derivation presumes that the Bible is factually correct in one of the ex ante *least* probability items it narrates)
    – The establishment of the fact of Jesus’s resurrection itself (indirectly) confers inerrancy (sufficient factuality around highly improbable claims) onto the Bible’s narrative

    To get to Jesus being resurrected, one has already entirely helped oneself to the very assumption that the arguments are, ostensibly, setting out to conclude. It’s question begging already embedded in the beginning of the argumentation, unless there’s a subtlety in the argument that has not yet been made clear.

    I look forward to the future posts, and thank you in advance for addressing my question here.


    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      Hi, Nathan. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the debates Bart and I have had. I have and I think Bart has, too. Having viewed them, you already know that I do not presuppose the divine inspiration or inerrancy of the biblical literature to argue for the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection. In fact, in my first debate with Bart, and perhaps the second (I don’t recall), I used only those facts on which Bart also agreed. We both arrive at these “facts” by historical investigation. So, I don’t see a circularity in my argument when it comes to the divine inspiration of Scripture.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  November 17, 2019

        Dr Licona, thanks so much for your reply. Much like in your debates (and your books), you’re sincere, clear and direct, and above all, charitable of thought and manner.

        I agree completely that you have not explicitly argued from either inspiration or inerrancy to the historicity/factuality of Jesus’s resurrection. My concern is that the circularity arises from an implicit assumption that lies behind the mental algorithm that chooses between alternative explanations. Namely, to get from (a) the Biblical account of the resurrection, on the one hand, to (b) a statement that this account is a sufficiently accurate description of what transpired in history, on the other hand, seems to help itself to the assumption of the specialness of the text. Why do I think that?

        Assume text T makes extraordinary claim EC. Further assume EC is extravagantly ex ante improbable. The only way to establish that the truth of EC is probable is to demonstrate that substantially all alternative explanations that carry higher ex ante probability (vs. EC) are (highly likely) false. When there are a veritable myriad of explanations that would account for the data that are both (a) higher ex ante probability than EC and (b) unable to be ruled out by the historical evidence at hand, EC (by definition) cannot be the most probable explanation of the data. Seemingly the only reason left for still siding with EC, vs the multitude of other explanations, is the implicit assumption of the specialness of the text T.

        Assume we read a claim of a historical datum: Bill experienced a flying elephant. Extraordinary claim: An elephant was actually flying. Normal explanation (one of many; ex ante probable): Bill had a mental experience that, while real to him, didn’t actually track with the reality of the external world. Because we have no further access to Bill, there is no basis on which to rule out the normal explanation. Why choose the extraordinary claim?

        I look forward to your upcoming posts, and to understanding where the above reasoning misfires.

  14. Avatar
    fishician  November 17, 2019

    According to Christian theology the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the most important sequence of events in human history. Yet God, in his divine wisdom, did not allow even a single eyewitness to record his or her experience (the Gospels give no evidence of being written by eyewitnesses, hence the need for later Christians to make the attributions). Paul is the closest we come, but he admits his encounter was a vision after the fact. Per the Gospels even Jesus’ disciples had a hard time understanding who Jesus was and what he taught (particularly in Mark, Galatians shows differences in Peter’s and Paul’s understandings), yet God expects later generations reading sketchy and inconsistent reports of Jesus to come to a saving faith in him. And all these issues don’t even get to the root problem of why a loving God demands blood sacrifice before he will forgive. Good grief, if a neighbor asks my forgiveness for some offense I’m not going to demand he sacrifice his dog, much less his son! Thank goodness I’ve learned to read and think for myself.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      fishician: We will have to disagree on the matter of whether the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony. I’m persuaded that they do. This is not the place to discuss the matter. I have discussed the authorship of Mark in an article I published earlier this year: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/10/3/148/htm. In it, I provide reasons for thinking Mark is basing his report on what he heard from Peter, Jesus’ lead apostle. This is not a fringe position. I have a graduate student at HBU whose MA thesis I’m supervising. His research is virtually complete. He has consulted literature written by 204 critical scholars from 1965-Present on who wrote Mark, was it based primarily on Peter’s testimony, and when it was written. I can tell you at this point that the majority of critical scholars are saying that Mark’s primary source was Peter.

      Moreover, Craig Keener’s massive work on John’s Gospel informs us that the majority of critical scholars today, although rejecting the traditional authorship of John the son of Zebedee, think John’s Gospel was either written by a minor disciple of Jesus or was more likely written by someone who used one of Jesus’s disciples, perhaps John the son of Zebedee, as his primary source.

      • Avatar
        Gary  November 17, 2019

        Dr. Licona: “I have discussed the authorship of Mark in an article I published earlier this year: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/10/3/148/htm. In it, I provide reasons for thinking Mark is basing his report on what he heard from Peter, Jesus’ lead apostle. This is not a fringe position.”

        That contradicts statements by Richard Bauckham, whom many evangelicals consider one of the best conservative NT scholars: “The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” p.

        According to Richard Bauckham, your position runs counter to “almost all recent scholarship”. “Almost all” sounds like a consensus. If a position contradicts a consensus, by definition, it is fringe.

        And it isn’t just Richard Bauckham who believes that the overwhelming majority of modern NT scholars reject or question the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. NT Wright has been quoted as saying, “I do not know who wrote the Gospels, nor does anyone else.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, not exactly a liberal, anti-supernaturalist organization, states on its website that it is highly unlikely that John Mark, the associate of Peter, wrote the Gospel of Mark or that any eyewitness or associate of eyewitness wrote ANY of the Gospels.

        I currently am conducting a survey of prominent conservative Protestant and evangelical scholars and theologians on this exact issue. Gary Habermas has responded to my survey. Dr. Habermas agrees with Richard Bauckham’s statement above that a significant majority of NT scholars do NOT believe that the Gospels were written by anyone who had direct contact with an eyewitness. I’m not sure where your assistant is getting his information but it contradicts the statements of Bauckham, Wright, Habermas, and the United States Catholic bishops.

        • Avatar
          Gary  November 17, 2019

          From the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

          Although the book is anonymous, apart from the ancient heading “According to Mark” in manuscripts, it has traditionally been assigned to John Mark, in whose mother’s house (at Jerusalem) Christians assembled (Acts 12:12). This Mark was a cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10) and accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:3; 15:36–39). He appears in Pauline letters (2 Tm 4:11; Phlm 24) and with Peter (1 Pt 5:13). Papias (ca. A.D. 135) described Mark as Peter’s “interpreter,” a view found in other patristic writers. Petrine influence should not, however, be exaggerated. The evangelist has put together various oral and possibly written sources—miracle stories, parables, sayings, stories of controversies, and the passion—so as to speak of the crucified Messiah for Mark’s own day.

          Traditionally, the gospel is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution and when destruction loomed over Jerusalem. Its audience seems to have been Gentile, unfamiliar with Jewish customs (hence Mk 7:3–4, 11). The book aimed to equip such Christians to stand faithful in the face of persecution (Mk 13:9–13), while going on with the proclamation of the gospel begun in Galilee (Mk 13:10; 14:9). Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria, and perhaps shortly after the year 70.

          Gary: This statement by the bishops of the Catholic Church directly contradicts your claim, Dr. Licona, above where you say:

          “I have a graduate student at HBU whose MA thesis I’m supervising. His research is virtually complete. He has consulted literature written by 204 critical scholars from 1965-Present on who wrote Mark, was it based primarily on Peter’s testimony, and when it was written. I can tell you at this point that the majority of critical scholars are saying that Mark’s primary source was Peter.”

          Gary: So who should we believe: the scholars of the Catholic Church or your assistant?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

            Gary: Regardless, my student has done the actual work of what a full-range of critical scholars from 1965-Present are saying. Others can say what they want. But have they actually conducted a serious survey of the academic literature?

          • Avatar
            joemccarron  December 4, 2019

            Catholic Church:

            “Papias (ca. A.D. 135) described Mark as Peter’s “interpreter,” a view found in other patristic writers. Petrine influence should not, however, be exaggerated. The evangelist has put together various oral and possibly written sources—miracle stories, parables, sayings, stories of controversies, and the passion—so as to speak of the crucified Messiah for Mark’s own day.”

            Dr. Licona:

            “I have a graduate student at HBU whose MA thesis I’m supervising. His research is virtually complete. He has consulted literature written by 204 critical scholars from 1965-Present on who wrote Mark, was it based primarily on Peter’s testimony, and when it was written. I can tell you at this point that the majority of critical scholars are saying that Mark’s primary source was Peter.”

            I don’t really see a contradiction here. Everyone seems to agree there is evidence that Mark had a connection with Peter. The Catholic position is that it was not his only source. Dr. Licona says Peter was Marks primary source not his only source.

            “That contradicts statements by Richard Bauckham, whom many evangelicals consider one of the best conservative NT scholars: “The argument of this book [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses]–that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus–runs counter to almost all recent scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists [the authors of the Gospels]. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.” p.

            It would be good to have his reasoning for this view of recent scholars.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

          Gary: Yes, it does run counter to Bauckham’s recent claim. But I will have the numbers and names to back it up with Mark. Keener has done the work with John and Luke/Acts. So, we are not going merely with hunches based on those colleagues with whom we affiliate.

          BTW, I replied to your survey yesterday. You should be receiving it within the next few days.

          • Avatar
            Gary  November 17, 2019

            “He has consulted literature written by 204 critical scholars from 1965-Present on who wrote Mark, was it based primarily on Peter’s testimony, and when it was written. I can tell you at this point that the majority of critical scholars are saying that Mark’s primary source was Peter.”

            I look forward to reading your assistant’s survey. I hope he will publish the names of the scholars he surveys so that we can confirm that the survey provides a true representation of all modern NT scholarship and not just that of evangelicals and conservative Protestants.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

            Gary: I’m encouraging him to publish it. However, much will depend on whether he ends up going on to do a PhD and using it in a chapter of his dissertation.

            I can assure you that his 204 critical scholars fit everywhere along the theological spectrum!

          • Avatar
            Gary  November 17, 2019

            “Gary: I’m encouraging him to publish it. However, much will depend on whether he ends up going on to do a PhD and using it in a chapter of his dissertation.”

            Dear Dr. Licona: Approximately eight years ago, another evangelical scholar/theologian made another bold, bombshell claim in a debate with Dr. Ehrman. He claimed that a first century fragment of Mark had recently been discovered and promised the audience that very shortly we would all see the evidence. Eight years later, we found out that the “evidence” was not only poor but incorrect! Aren’t you doing the same thing here? You are making a bold “bombshell” announcement that overturns the current perceived consensus position of the majority scholars on the authorship of the Gospels, but then not releasing any evidence to back it up; only promising that such evidence “might” be coming years in the future.

            I have collected statements from numerous scholars and other authorities on the New Testament which contradict the research results of your graduate student. You can read them here:


          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

            Yes. Dan Wallace made such a claim and did so on a short video I made of him. Dan had minimal data on which to go at that time. And he has apologized for his premature statement. However, it was based on the premature conclusion of an expert. In the case of Mark, I have personally supervised this student’s research. So, to be clear, he has combed the literature from 1965-Present written by critical NT scholars, literature that provides reasons for their views, the pros and cons. It’s not simply sending out a survey with a handful of Yes and No questions such as the one I received from you. And once I answered your first question, the survey was complete. You also asked some who are not NT critics. I’m not at all saying this to negate your conclusions. However, I’m satisfied with my student’s research. I’ve seen what he has done. And it’s quite good.

          • Avatar
            Gary  November 18, 2019

            My survey does not purport to be statistically representative of anything. It is simply a survey of the OPINIONS of 30 prominent evangelical and conservative Protestant scholars and theologians on the issue of the authorship of the Gospels. And at the same time that I release the results, I will release all the data. That is the proper, standard, professional manner of conducting a survey, performing research, or performing a literature search.

            Imagine the following: A prominent, highly respected scientist makes a public announcement that a literature search performed by himself and his research assistant (a graduate student) has found that the majority of scientists from 1965 to the present believe that climate change is fake news. It is a lie. Climate change does not exist.

            When asked for the data, the prominent scientist states that unfortunately he cannot release the data to confirm his bold claim. His research assistant has the last word on its release, as he plans to use the data for his doctoral thesis. So if the data is released at all, it will be years in the future. The scientific community and the public would be outraged. The scientist would be heckled and laughed out of every future scientific conference he attends.

            What you are doing is shameful and beneath you, Dr. Licona. Release the data or retract your claim.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

            Gary: You’re over-reacting here, friend. I offered the comment about my student’s research because the matter of authorship was brought up in the dialogue. What I offered was not at all unprofessional.

          • Avatar
            Gary  November 18, 2019

            Dear Dr. Licona, I again want to emphasize how much I have always respected the honesty and integrity of your work and the respectful manner in which you interact with those with whom you disagree. But your statement above does serious damage to your reputation as an honest investigator of the truth.

            Every conservative evangelical Christian apologist on the planet will latch on to your above statement regarding the scholarly consensus on the authorship of the Gospel of Mark and will launch attacks on skeptics for refusing to accept “eyewitness testimony”. They will do this based simply on the word of ONE expert: Mike Licona. They will do this without having any data to support this claim. Christians and skeptics should honestly debate the evidence. Relying on ONE expert’s word on such an important issue is not appropriate. Please see our point of view: We see your belief system (conservative Christianity) as an evil. (That does not mean that we see all conservative Christians as evil!) We see what evangelical Christians have done to our country with their overwhelming support of Donald Trump, probably the most immoral, dishonest president in our history. We skeptics believe that we are fighting for the scientific method, rational thinking, and equality for all and against superstitions and religion-based bigotry.

            Truth and facts matter.

            We need more details about your student’s research. Is his literature search based solely on scholars who have written on the topic of the authorship of Mark? What if the majority of scholars who have written on the authorship of Mark are evangelical and conservative Protestant scholars for whom the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is CRITICAL to the believability of their core belief: the resurrection of Jesus? That is what we need to know. Does his/your literature search reflect the position of the Academy as a whole or only those scholars who were sufficiently interested in Mark’s authorship to write about it? Just because most scholars who have written about the authorship of Mark believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels does not necessarily mean that most of the Academy believes that the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, the traveling companion of Peter. Do you see why more information about your data is necessary?

            Please release your data or retract your claim, Dr. Licona.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 19, 2019

            Thanks, Gary. My student’s research will come out in due time. The sooner the better, of course.

        • Avatar
          b.dub3  November 23, 2019

          This comment seems to be irresponsible in it’s untimeliness. No such claim should be made unless the related and relied upon data is disclosed otherwise those reading it may quote the claim as if it is a scholasticly held view. Until the claimed facts it relies upon are released, the true and sincere scholar would be patient and bide his tongue. Sorry Dr Licona, but I find these types of unsubstantiated claims to be common, albeit expected, among apologists, but to be avoided by sincere scholars. I also find your adhoc claim about the dead African corpse to be desperate in relying as evidence because the claim was that of an atheist. I’m sure David Copperfield truly appreciates the endorsement however.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 24, 2019

            b.dub3: You are correct about the untimeliness of my comment pertaining to Mark. It is true that a have a grad student who’s working on this. But I need to ensure that the final result of his research bears out what he said prior to announcing it. I should have learned from the premature announcement of the so-called 1st century Mark fragment that turned out being 2nd-3rd c. I withdraw the claim.

      • Avatar
        fishician  November 19, 2019

        Nothing in your response contradicts my assertion that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses (perhaps I didn’t make that assertion clear enough?). In fact, you seem to affirm the fact that they were at best, most optimistically, second hand accounts. And since we don’t have any writings by Peter or John it’s hard to say how accurate the records are!

      • Avatar
        Gary  November 24, 2019

        Can we trust evangelical Christian scholars and theologians, such as Dr. Licona and Dr. Craig Keener, to be objective in their research related to Jesus of Nazareth when they believe that the spirit of this dead first century prophet lives somewhere inside of them, communicating with them, giving them life direction on all matters, from which person to marry to which job offer to accept??

        Read this about Pentecostal theologian, apologist, and author, Dr. Craig Keener:

        “Keener admits that he did not have the time or resources to vet more than a small number of the miraculous claims in his book (“Miracles”). But his enthusiasm apparently got the best of him, hence his choice of quantity over quality. Such enthusiasm even extends to Craig Keener’s ability to HEAR God’s voice, as recorded in the dual autobiography he wrote with his second wife, Medine. The words from God that Craig hears often begin with the phrase “My child,” and consist of God reminding him how much he is loved, or, when Craig feels down, God reminds him how much his sufferings resemble those of Jesus, Elijah, and Hosea, or other Bible characters who suffered. For instance, when Craig found out that his first wife had been unfaithful, God emphasized that He also suffered due to the Israelites being unfaithful to Him.” —“The Case Against Miracles”, edited by John Loftus


        Keener hears a spirit inside his body say audible words?? That is looney-ville, folks!

        And we are supposed to believe that the research of these men is objective?? I don’t think so.

  15. Avatar
    ksgm34  November 17, 2019

    Mike, I read a lot of apologetics in my teens and twenties because they helped to strengthen my faith. I never doubted the existence of the Christian god or the truth of the Christian narrative. But I constantly struggled with never feeling God’s presence or any kind of response to prayer. I can’t count the number of times in my life I have been sobbing on my knees begging God to show up in some way, in any way. I have yearned for his comfort and his love. I have sought him with all my heart. I have knocked and knocked and the door was never opened. I have experienced so much anxiety and fear as a result of this absent God. I desperately used the bible to reassure myself God would keep me. But ultimately the only experience of God I’ve ever had has been resounding silence. I agonised for such a long time that God didn’t want me, that I wasn’t elect. But if this is the case then there isn’t a single thing I can do about it and apologetics can’t help me here! Thankfully my mental health has improved significantly since I’ve largely been able to stop obsessing about such fears. I’m not commenting to be convinced that somehow, against all the evidence, God loves me, but to highlight that apologetics can only take one so far.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 17, 2019

      ksgm34: I see that your struggle is real. I have one very close to me who struggles with mental health. It’s a matter with which very few can understand. As I read your comments, I saw there was more to things than faith and evidence. I’m glad that your “mental health has improved significantly.” I agree with you that apologetics can only take one so far. One must have a bit of faith, regardless of the worldview one chooses.

      • Avatar
        ksgm34  November 18, 2019

        Thank you for expressing your sympathy. I want to be clear that most of my mental health struggles stem from fear of the Christian god and the fact that, looking back, I felt completely rejected by him. I never ever doubted that he existed, though.
        When a child experiences continued rejection from their parent, it’s like a shock to the system. It can’t be processed by the psyche, it’s just too much. This is the nature of trauma. I’ve come to understand that I was essentially traumatised by Christianity, because being rejected by God was like an ultimate rejection.
        Even if somebody could unequivocally prove that the resurrection happened, this can have no impact on my life unless God actually shows up.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

          Thanks, ksgm34. I’m not a mental health professional. But from what you have written here and in your previous comment, I’d guess there’s more going on behind your struggles than having a fear of the Christian God.

          • Avatar
            b.dub3  November 24, 2019

            Right, because there is no way his experience and diagnosis and what is behind it can possibly be explained as the accurate causation! Thank you for minimizing his explanation and thus his experience..

  16. Avatar
    lutherh  November 17, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    While I’m an agnostic-to-atheist (depending on definitions), I come from a conservative confessional Lutheran family with no shortage of pastors. Thus I know how intelligent, sincere, and kind believers can be (much to the surprise and disbelief of so many liberals and atheists I know).

    I appreciate your approach to debates and discussions. Your knowledge and generosity of spirit shine through. (The same, it should be said, applies to Dr. Ehrman.) While I’m sure there’s an occasional mind changed through mockery, condescension, or animosity, I suspect far more come about through friendly (and probably slow) discourse … with the benefit of a more congenial atmosphere even in the absence of conversion.

    Thanks for your work.

  17. Avatar
    Ersay  November 18, 2019

    Excuse me for writing Mr. Erhman. Mr. Licona, do you think the Ebionites are pursuing the Jewish Law? Circumcision and other Jewish religious rules. There are claims that the Ebionites are true Christians. Do you think that these claims have historical basis?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

      Ersay: Bart is much more familiar with the Ebionites than I am. He would be a good one to answer.

  18. Avatar
    dankoh  November 18, 2019

    Dr. Licona, thank you for this fascinating presentation; I can see why Dr. Ehrman enjoys debating with you! Let me just make a couple of observations: First, we have no idea what was going on and what arguments were being made in the 20 years or so between the crucifixion and the first surviving document of the Jesus Movement, 1 Thessalonians.This makes it perhaps impossible to know when and why the early leaders settled on the gospel version of events (though it is possible they considered and rejected docetism, at least). Second, the gospel portraits of Pilate are completely at odds with what we know about him from Philo and Josephus and the general power and behavior of Roman governors. To take just one example, Pilate knew nothing and cared less about Jewish sensitivities, so he would not have wasted any time debating the nature of kingship as John claims he did. Also, the gospels increasingly shift blame for the crucifixion from the Romans to the Jews, an indication more of rising discomfort with the Jews’ lack of interest in Jesus than of historical reporting.

    Another consideration is the miracles as reported; miracle workers were common in that period and Jesus was in effect competing with them. I note, for example, that the Pharisees were not astonished by nor angered by Jesus’s miracles, only that he was doing them on the Sabbath.

    I don’t have space to flesh out this argument, but I think it is clear that much of Scripture (OT) is questionable history (not all of it), and that the Jesus Movement’s claims that Scripture predicted Jesus are noncredible reinterpretations that rely on taking words out of context.

    These are some of the reasons why I cannot accept the argument that the NT (or the OT) shows evidence of divine inspiration.


    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

      Thanks, dankoh! You wrote, “we have no idea what was going on and what arguments were being made in the 20 years or so between the crucifixion and the first surviving document of the Jesus Movement, 1 Thessalonians.” I think we have a pretty good idea of what was going on. After Jesus’ death, his disciples did not go off on a permanent religious retreat, never to be heard from again. According to Paul’s undisputed letters and the book of Acts, Jesus’ disciples continued to spread his message for at least the next 2 decades. And that brings us to the very doorstep of when the first Gospel was written. Moreover, it assumes the Gospel authors lacked the desire and sense to sift through traditions about Jesus, filtering those with questionable origin, and retaining those known to have been rooted in eyewitness testimony. Furthermore, I think we’re on good grounds for accepting the traditional authorship of Mark and Luke and that John is based on eyewitness testimony. Finally, Paul’s undisputed letters provide a window into some of the activities going on during those 20 years (e.g., the conflicts, what led him and Barnabas to visit Jerusalem in the late 40s where he met with Peter, James, and John to run the message he had been preaching past them). Although we don’t have direct access to those 20 years, I don’t think our knowledge of what occurred during that time is as insecure as some think.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  November 19, 2019

        What I meant by saying we don’t know what happened then is that we don’t know what were the arguments and disagreements among the Jesus followers before most of them settled on the idea that he was the messiah who “died for our sins.” Even in the NT we see a tendency not just to dismiss but to erase any argument that challenges this theme – not unreasonably so from their perspective since they had decided that a wrong or mistaken belief could send one to hell. Even so, Paul’s letters and later epistles make it clear that they were not all in agreement even back then.

        I also cannot accept Acts as eyewitness or close to eyewitness testimony, as it was written late in the first century, and also claims actions contrary to fact, such as the mass baptism of close to half the population of Jerusalem over 2 days, an event that would have not gone unnoticed by more contemporaneous sources had it actually occurred. (It also conflicts with Paul.)

        You write, “it assumes the Gospel authors lacked the desire and sense to sift through traditions about Jesus, filtering those with questionable origin, and retaining those known to have been rooted in eyewitness testimony.” But the gospels all record the story of Barabbas, which is not only of questionable origin but contradicts known historical facts: the Jews never had such a custom (though the Greeks did); Pilate had absolute power in Judaea and could simply have released Jesus if he felt like it; there were two other condemned lestai besides Barabbas but Pilate never offers them to the crowd; Pilate had nothing but contempt for crowds, as documented by Josephus; the priests had Jesus arrested at night because they feared the crowd favored him, but between midnight and the next morning they had somehow convinced the crowd to oppose him instead. The point of this and other stories, especially in John, was not to report eyewitness testimony but to transfer blame for the crucifixion from Pilate to the Jews.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  November 19, 2019

          Thanks, dankoh. I don’t see the motif of Jesus dying for our sins as a later development. Of course, it’s in Paul’s undisputed letters. And Paul tells us he had presented the gospel message he was preaching to the Jerusalem apostles and that they had certified he was on message (Gal. 2:1-10). The earliest Gospel has Jesus saying he came to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

          Regarding half of Jerusalem being baptized in Acts, hyperbolic language was common. E.g., Matt. 3:5-6 is certainly hyperbolic.

          I don’t view the story of Barabbas as contradicting historical facts. Other ancient literature reports of four Roman rulers and a Herodian prince who freed prisoners in order to appease the demos. For example, Josephus reports of Albinus, the Roman procurator of Judea, who in AD 64 (I think that’s the correct date, though I’m pulling this from memory) executed the worst criminals and freed all of the rest in order to please the Jews. Moreover, the story of Barabbas is attested in multiple independent sources (e.g., Mark, John). And that’s pretty good, if both are rooted in eyewitness testimony as I believe they are. If multiple attestation accounts for anything, the story of Barabbas should not be quickly dismissed.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  November 19, 2019

            Thank you for your reply. But I think you have still missed the point of my concern. We do know that, from about 50 CE on, the Jesus Movement was in general (though not universal) agreement that Jesus died on the cross “for our sin.” But we do not know, and perhaps never will know, how they arrived at that position in the years from 33 to 50, in part because of the pattern already seen in the NT of eliminating all contrary views (such as Docetism, though we do know it existed even so). Again, I discount Acts because it was written after the position had been decided on and was not going to report any contrary views or actions.

            My objections to the story of Barabbas have to do with the details – Pilate in fear of the crowds (who only a few hours earlier had been so in favor of Jesus that the priests were afraid of them), the gospels’ claim that this was a Jewish custom when it was not, etc. The fact that each gospel has the same story suggests to me that the later ones found it useful and repeated it, not that they are reporting eyewitness testimony. The dissimilarity test only works if the story is credible in the first place, and there are too many problems and contradictions (I haven’t listed all of them) for me to find it credible.

            I do find, however, that it was useful to help explain to the Greek world why the Jews, the people of Jesus, had shown no interest in the message of Jesus, a conundrum that to this day continues to bother many Christians.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  November 19, 2019

            dankoh: None of us can get into a time machine, return to the past and verify our conclusions. We have to go with the evidence and assess what we think is most probable. Given my previous reply in which I provided reasons from Paul’s ties to the Jerusalem apostolic leadership and multiple attestation, I think I’m on solid ground when concluding the earliest accepted apostolic message is that Jesus saw himself as an atonement for sin. Given the extant data supporting that conclusion, those who think otherwise bear a strong burden of proof.

            Of course, Acts was written after the fact. It could not have been written prior. All history is written after the fact.

            Re: the story of Barabbas, our accounts are not exhaustive. The same can be said of all historical accounts. If John is rooted in eyewitness testimony, as most Johannine scholars hold, then we have multiple independent sources attesting to the story of Barabbas (i.e., Mark, John), though John is reporting it later. It makes little difference that Pilate’s practice was not reported otherwise. In Acts, it’s reported that Claudius had recently expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). If not for a single sentence in Suetonius’ Life of Claudius (25), there would be no other report of such an event. Not even Josephus reports it, though it had occurred in his own lifetime!

          • Avatar
            michael51  November 19, 2019

            Jesus dying for sins was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53. There had to be an explanation of WHY God would allow his son to be put to death. Do you see it that way?

        • Avatar
          dankoh  November 19, 2019

          Forgive me, but I feel the need to respond once more. We know what the apostolic position was once Paul started writing, but we don’t know how the Jesus Movement arrived at that position, how long it took them to arrive at it, and what other possible positions they may have considered before settling on this one. That is what I mean by the absence of information from 33 to 50 CE.

          You write, “It makes little difference that Pilate’s practice was not reported otherwise.” Again, that is not my point. My point is that Pilate’s actions regarding Barabbas (and his other actions in the gospels) are contradicted by what his contemporary Philo did report about him. (Also Josephus, though he is contemporary with the gospels.) It is also contrary to how Roman governors behaved in general.

  19. Avatar
    AstaKask  November 18, 2019

    Dr Licona, how set in stone is the canon for you? Let’s say that we discover a text of one of Paul’s lost letters and that it clarifies some things scholars discuss. All (or nearly all, since some scholars will disagree with anything) scholars agree that this was actually written by Paul. Should this letter be incorporated into the Bible?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  November 18, 2019

      AstaKask: Great question! And it’s one I always pose to my students and even in some of my public lectures. I’d love it if one of Paul’s lost letters was discovered! And I’d be open to discussing whether it should be added to the canon.

  20. Avatar
    dominchowles@gmail.com  November 18, 2019

    Dr Licona
    I think you got off to bad start when you said it’s rational for a Christian to believe that the Bible is divinely inspired as opposed to saying that Christians can use a certian rationale to get to the belief that the Bible is devine , as it were. I wonder what Bart Ehrman would say about your biases that you may or may not have in your reasoning?

    • Avatar
      dominchowles@gmail.com  November 19, 2019

      Hi Mike
      Blimey,is my comment the only one that didn’t get a reply? I thought I was being polite . In a debate with Bart Ehrman, William Lane Craig attempted to use Bayesian Analysis to prove the existance of God or the Resurection ( I don’t remember which ) and pretty much gave the debate to Ehrman at that point. WLC is not someone who brings authority to a point and I think it unwise to use him as such.
      Cognative biases do affect one’s abiltity to be rational and I need more from you to show that you are guarding against yours.


      • Mike Licona
        Mike Licona  November 19, 2019

        Hi, Dominic. In his debate with Bart, William Lane Craig did not use Bayesian analysis to prove the resurrection of Jesus. He was answering Bart’s claim that the resurrection of Jesus was the least probable explanation, if my memory serves me correctly. Craig replied that the only way to calculate probability in that instance would be to use Bayes Theorem and cited Richard Swinburne’s book “The Resurrection of God Incarnate” in which Swinburne employs Bayes Theorem to assess the statistical probability of Jesus’s resurrection to be at 97%. Craig then went on to say such an enterprise could not be done. (Again, I’m trying to recall this correctly. It was 2007!) Therefore, the statistical probability of Jesus rising from the dead is inscrutable. I’m not aware of any Christian philosopher, NT scholar, or apologist who uses Swinburne’s argument. I, for one, never found it persuasive, although I wanted to when I read Swinburne’s book.

        Baysian analysis has its limitations. Very few historians (I’m only aware of two) think it’s a legitimate method for use in historical investigations. One reason why is the Prior is virtually impossible to determine. For example, what’s the Prior that the U.S. dropped nuclear bombs on Japan in WWII? That’s impossible to determine. What’s the Prior for Black Holes? That’s likewise impossible to determine, since Black Holes are theoretical entities posited to explain observable phenomena. Historical hypotheses are similar to theoretical entities in science, in so far as they are posited to explain data.

        Whether or not you agree with Craig, he is an authority. He has two earned doctorates: PhD in Philosophy, which he earned at the University of Birmingham under the supervision of John Hick and a DTheol in Theology, which he earned at the University of Munich under the supervision of Wolfhart Pannenberg. He is also widely published by prestigious publishers and journals.

        You are correct that cognitive biases “affect one’s ability to be rational.” I have cognitive biases. You have them. Everyone has them. One deceives himself to think otherwise.

        • Avatar
          dominchowles@gmail.com  November 19, 2019

          Thanks for the reply ,I know you must be busy . I agree re biases and they are something we need to be aware of as they weaken our reasoning.
          I went back to check the video of Ehrman and Craig and did have a chuckle when the latter reeled out his Probability Calculus which I found problematic, not Bayesian as my faulty eye witness memory thought. I found Bart Ehrman to be very much the Historian in that debate and WLC the Evangelist but I suppose we will have to agree to differ.

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