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Why Are Their Differences in the Gospels? Does it Affect Their Inspiration? Guest Post by Mike Licona

This is Mike’s third and final guest post.  In the earlier post he explained his views about whether the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant.  He thinks the answers to both are “yes,” though his actual views are not what most people would probably expect.   Here now is the third, and critical post, based on the research he did for his 2017 Oxford University Press book, with the same title:  Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?   

I agree with a lot of what Mike writes here.  In reading it, I’d suggest you bear in mind his earlier two posts, that he sees the Gospels as inspired and inerrant.

Mike has graciously agreed to answer questions you have for him, but only for the next four days!  Otherwise this would go on forever.  And please, in your questions, do your best to keep them concise and direct, without asking multiple questions at once.  Pick the most pressing.  And I scarcely need to remind you of that verse in the Ehrman Revised Standard Version: “The rude and snarky shall not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Many thanks to Mike for taking these posts on.  I really appreciate it.

*****************************************************************************

 

In June 2017, two convicts in the state of Georgia killed two corrections officers who were transporting them, took their guns and fled. One morning, my wife told me the two had been captured in Tennessee by a guy who saw them trying to steal his car and held them at gunpoint until the police arrived. A few moments later, we saw a reporter on television saying the two convicts were captured after their stolen car had crashed during a high-speed police chase. I looked at Debbie and said, “What? But you said . . .” to which she replied, “Just wait and hear the entire story.”

Both accounts are true. The convicts had stolen a car. The police tracked them and were in a high-speed pursuit when the convicts crashed their stolen car and fled on foot through the woods. They were trying to steal another car when the home owner confronted them, held them at gunpoint, and called the police. Here were two stories that seemed irreconcilable to me at first but were easily harmonized.

Harmonizing Gospel differences is a legitimate approach. However, as demonstrated in my previous post, it can quickly go awry. Similarly, skeptical approaches can go too far in the opposite direction, being too quick to conclude that an error is present and assert that the differences prohibit us from trusting anything the Gospels claim. Those applying this standard would have to reject the reports in virtually all ancient literature!

I think there’s a better approach. It’s not a middle ground. It’s actually ground that’s fairly new in Gospels research but …

The rest of this post is for blog members only.  If you want to hear what Mike has to say, join the blog!  It costs pennies a day, and every one of those pennies goes to charity.  And for the content you get — it’s unbelievable value!

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Heaven and Hell in a Nutshell
Is the Bible Inerrant? Guest Post by Mike Licona

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    lobe  December 10, 2019

    Aside from these kind of literary simplifications, do you agree with Dr. Ehrman that there’s reason to think some of the Gospel writers altered the narrative to make theological points? For example, I’m sure you’re familiar with his take on the conflict regarding the day Jesus was crucified, with John having moved the day to Passover so that a clearer parallel could be drawn between the sacrificial lambs & Jesus (whom John believed was the Lamb of God).

    Thanks again for taking time to talk to us laymen, we (well, at least most of us, cough cough) are grateful to get a different perspective!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      lobe: I was unaware that was Bart’s position. That’s what I think John did. He moved the day and time on which Jesus was crucified. I’m also inclined to think he moved the time of the temple cleansing to the beginning of Jesus’s ministry and the day on which Mary anointed Jesus from 2 days before Passover to 6. However, recently I have had less confidence with the latter. I also think Matthew moved the day on which Jesus cleansed the temple from Monday (per Mark) to Sunday and conflates it with Jesus’s first visit during which he merely looks around (per Mark).

      • Avatar
        lobe  December 10, 2019

        I could swear Bart has said that in a few places (his Great Course on the Gospels comes to mind) but now I’m beginning to doubt myself…Hopefully I didn’t inadvertently put words in his mouth! If so, I pray he doesn’t smite me too hard. 🙂

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

          Ha ha! It could be that you heard me offer that interpretation during one of my debates with Bart.

          • Avatar
            rjackson@cscos.com  December 10, 2019

            Well there you go….inerrant right? No errors whatsoever? Glad that position is solid……

    • Avatar
      Gary  December 10, 2019

      Think about this:

      If Paul could see a bright light and believe he had “seen” the resurrected Jesus, why couldn’t the same have happened with Peter, James, the Twelve, and the “500”? The Resurrection Belief can be very easily explained: Some very religious people, on several different occasions, saw a very bright light and believed that the bright light was the appearance of a divine being, in this case, the resurrected “Christ”. If we look at the earliest account of appearance claims, the Early Creed, there is no mention of anyone claiming to have seen a *body*.

      Bright lights, folks. The origin of the Christian religion may very well be: Bright lights!

      • Avatar
        lobe  December 11, 2019

        I’m not sure if you were replying to me or Dr. Licona…but I’m an atheist so you don’t need to convince me that the Christian claims of resurrection probably don’t reflect reality. That said, I don’t think it’s necessary to hypothesize what Peter may or may not have seen. Since he didn’t leave us any writings (probably because he couldn’t, well, write) it would necessarily be speculation. I think it’s enough to say that they claimed to have had experiences which persuaded them that Jesus had risen from the dead and leave it at that.

  2. Avatar
    Jon1  December 10, 2019

    Mike,

    It looks like you ran out of time before answering my question in your post #2, so I’ll try again. It’s related to Jesus’ resurrection, a cornerstone of your inerrancy argument.

    Basically I’m asking how you conclude as a historian that *all* of the twelve and the apostles mentioned in 1 Cor 15:5&7 had a *visual* experience of Jesus. I know that’s what the passage plainly suggests, but how would a historian differentiate between that happening and a scenario where (with bodily resurrection belief already in place) only a *few* of the twelve and the apostles had a *visual* experience of Jesus (like Bart suggests) but the rest (or nearly the rest) experienced *non-visual* phenomena of Jesus’ presence in the highly excited religious environment of belief in Jesus’ resurrection (auditory, sensed presence, dreams, by themselves and/or in groups), and then the word “appeared” was chosen for the creed simply because it was the best word to *succinctly* capture all of the experiences of the leaders that they wanted to designate as teachers, preachers, and defenders of the Christian message (i.e., Jesus Seminar’s idea that these are confirmations of apostolic authority).

    The appearance traditions in 1 Cor 15:5&7 are *in-group community tradition*, so the technical inaccuracy of using the word “appeared” to capture all of the experiences would seem inconsequential if most or all Christians at the time knew that some of these leaders really had experienced Jesus visually and many or all of the others had experienced Jesus’ presence in some other way (auditory, sensed, presence, dreams, solo or in groups).

    The lack of a clear example of an appearance ever being invented in order to confer authority on the percipient (your main objection) seems an empty argument because we have *zero* details about any appearances of Jesus until decades after Jesus’ death, and by then all Christian leaders were well-known and the interests and apologetic motivations might be different than when the creed was formed, such as showing that Jesus was not a ghost (e.g., Lk 24:36-43).

    I agree that the Jesus Seminar’s theory that 1 Cor 15:5&7 are confirmations of apostolic authority is purely speculative, but how is your theory that 1 Cor 15:5&7 are *accurate* reports of visual experiences of Jesus to *everyone* listed any less speculative? How would a historian ever know which scenario actually happened given the paucity of reliable evidence?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Jon1: I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves of the following: We cannot get into a time machine, return to the past and verify our conclusions. What we can do is present various historical descriptions and why we opt for a particular description over others.

      While the scenario you present is “possible,” so is the interpretation of “appear” to be referring to visual experiences. I prefer the latter because (1) Paul thinks of Jesus’s resurrection as something that happened to his corpse and there are very good reasons for thinking Paul was proclaiming what the Jerusalem apostles were; (2) The manner in which all four canonical Gospels describe Jesus’s resurrection is an event that happened to his corpse (e.g., empty tome, women touch him [Matt], he invites his disciple to touch him [Luke, John], he eats food his disciples prepared [Luke], he makes breakfast for his disciples, which they eat [John], he converses at length with them [Matt, Luke, John]). Because I find the data compelling that Mark has largely based his Gospel on the testimony Peter and that John is at the minimum largely rooted in the testimony of a disciple of Jesus, I also think the traditions they preserve reflect what the eyewitnesses were reporting. Accordingly, one has to read the texts in a manner contrary to what they actually say to get the hypothetical scenario you present.

      • Avatar
        Jon1  December 10, 2019

        Mike,

        Again, I agree that Paul and the earliest Christians before him thought Jesus’ *corpse* was resurrected, and the gospels of course all reflect this. What caused this *belief* is a great question, but does not answer the nature of the appearance traditions to the twelve and “all the apostles” which were undoubtedly formed *after* the resurrection belief came about (it takes some time for a creed to form). You’re welcome to think a corporeal Jesus appeared to these people, but my question is: As a historian, without assuming the historical reliability of the gospels (which is your claim), how do you know that *all* of the people in these groups had a *visual* experience of Jesus and not just a *few* of them (like Bart suggests), with the others (or most of them) having *non-visual* experiences of Jesus’ presence (auditory, sensed presence, dreams, solo and/or in groups), and then the word “appeared” was used in the creed simply because it was the most *succinct* way to capture all of the experiences of the leaders that the early community *wanted to designate as teachers, preachers, and defenders of the Christian message* (Jesus Seminar apostolic confirmation theory). Without drawing on the historical reliability of the gospels, why should the historian conclude it is more plausible that “all” of the twelve and the apostles had a visual experience of Jesus like you want to conclude instead of just a *few* like Bart and the Jesus Seminar want to conclude?

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

          Jon1: You wrote, “What caused this *belief* [i.e., Jesus’s corpse had been resurrected] is a great question.” You’re correct! In fact, Dale Allison has called this question “the prize puzzle of New Testament research.” Gary Habermas is the leading authority on the subject. He has amassed a bibliography of some 3,500 academic sources written on the matter between 1975-Present in French, German, and English. That’s roughly 80 academic journal articles, essays, and books written on Jesus’s resurrection every year!

          I’m not sure what I missed in your question. If, at minimum, Mark and John are rooted in the eyewitness testimony of Jesus’s disciples, they are proclaiming bodily resurrection, and John is describing several resurrection appearances in specific terms (e.g., he appeared to his disciples in no less than three group settings in which he communicated with them, invited them to touch him, and fixed breakfast for them which they ate). All four Gospels likewise speak of an empty tomb.

          I cannot disprove that only a few had visual experiences while others had experiences of a different sort. What I can say is the reports that we have (bracketing Paul whose experience is alleged to have occurred after Jesus’s ascension) only speak of one sort: visual experiences of a bodily raised Jesus. These are multiply-attested. Positing that the disciples’ experiences were of a different nature lack evidence and is entirely ad hoc.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 10, 2019

            Mike,

            I’m completely puzzled why you appeal to Mark/John having eyewitness testimony if your historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection does not depend on gospel reliability. I’m also confused why, if you’re going with the minimal facts approach, you don’t argue just *one* fact that historians need to explain: the resurrection belief. The reason I say this is because the appearance traditions seem wide open to ad hoc speculative explanations given that we have *zero* details about them for decades and the gospels could all be later legends. Consider too your treatment of Paul’s appearance of Jesus.

            How do you conclude Paul’s statement “last of all” in 1 Cor 15:8 means Paul thought his conversion experience *differed* from a vision of Jesus? More specifically, how do you know “last of all” does not mean for Paul that he considered himself the last to be *chosen* to receive an appearance of Jesus for purposes of leadership commissioning? Unless one assumes the historical reliability of Acts, the external elements of light and voice that others experience at Paul’s conversion in Acts could just be *legends* meant to bring some objectivity to Paul’s conversion experience, and Luke’s ascension tradition would explain why Luke can’t give Paul a full blown corporeal appearance of Jesus even if he wanted to (Jesus bid his final farewell three years earlier). Why can’t a historian plausibly explain Paul’s conversion and believed appearance by Jesus is the result of a hallucination of Jesus driven by some hidden attraction to Christianity or simply a subconscious desire to be a big fish in a small pond instead of a little fish in a big pond? We have no pre-conversion records from Paul and no ability to psychoanalyze him on a couch, so how can we ever know what Paul’s motivations were for converting to Christianity or what may have caused him to have a visual experience of Jesus? So basically my question is this: Why is a hallucination by Paul any more speculative than your conclusion that Paul had a real visit by Jesus or that Paul thought his conversion experience differed from a vision of Jesus? (Please provide an answer that does not appeal to the historical reliability of the gospels or Acts.)

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

            Jon1: Okay, I think I see where you’re coming from now. My bad! You’re correct that the appearance traditions in Paul do not tell us much about the nature of those appearances. Yet, from those traditions alone, we have appearances to individuals and groups, friend and foe. Since Paul imagines that our resurrection will be similar in nature to Jesus’s resurrection, and he imagines our resurrection as physical, he thinks of Jesus’s resurrection as physical.

            So, you ask, “Why can’t a historian plausibly explain Paul’s conversion and believed appearance by Jesus is the result of a hallucination of Jesus driven by some hidden attraction to Christianity or simply a subconscious desire to be a big fish in a small pond instead of a little fish in a big pond?” A historian can do that. However, it’s entirely ad hoc, pure speculation, psychohistory. Most people can distinguish a hallucination from reality. But lets assume that Paul was uncertain whether he had actually seen the Risen Jesus rather than having experienced a hallucination. Remember that he was persecuting the Christians. He wanted to destroy the new sect because he thought it was heretical. So, even if he had uncertainty pertaining to the nature of his experience, you’d think he’d not jump ship immediately and become a Christian.

            By his own testimony in 1 Cor. 15:30-32; 2 Cor. 11:22-28; Phil. 3:3-11, Paul experienced great persecution for proclaiming the gospel. Hardly an attractive benefits package to become a big fish in a small pond! Why not be a nice sized fish, though not the largest, in a big pond and enjoy a relatively comfortable life?

            While a historian can certainly entertain the scenario you have posited, a historian should choose to hypothesis that explains the most number of facts, does so without forcing any of them to fit, do so with the least amount of speculation, and fit without our background knowledge. I think the resurrection hypothesis wins here. What you have posited is very close to what Gerd Ludemann posits in his 2004 book “The Resurrection of Christ.” I address his view at length in chapter 5 of my large book on Jesus’s resurrection.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 10, 2019

            Mike,

            Regarding the proposal by many scholars (including Bart I believe) that Paul’s conversion entailed a hallucination of Jesus you wrote, “if he [Paul] had uncertainty pertaining to the nature of his experience [i.e. his hallucination of Jesus], you’d think he’d not jump ship immediately and become a Christian.” I think you’re creating a problem here where there is none.

            As others have often pointed out, in addition to becoming a big fish in a small pond and possibly other attractions to Christianity before his conversion, Paul may have started to believe Christians right about Jesus and about Jesus’ later return to clean house. Thinking his own *salvation* at stake (i.e., overrides desire for remaining in comfortable prior life as you suggested), Paul may have had an emotional upheaval and conversion to Christianity that included a hallucination of Jesus. The visual image of Jesus may have been brief and said/did nothing, maybe part of a bright light (like hallucinations sometimes have). We can only guess what Paul’s experience was (because we have no evidence), but the idea is that it was the *underlying attractions to Christianity* that were primarily responsible for Paul’s conversion, not the *characteristics* of the hallucination.

            You say the above proposal is “entirely ad hoc, pure speculation”, which I completely agree with, but how is your hypothesis that Paul was really visited by Jesus or that Paul thought his conversion experience differed from a vision any less ad hoc and speculative (without assuming the historical reliability of the gospels/Acts)? What am I missing?

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 11, 2019

            Dr. Licona: I purchased John Loftus’ new book, “The Case Against Miracles”, and sent it to you as a holiday gift.
            Amazon notified me that you received it yesterday. I sincerely hope you read it. It completely dismantles every single argument you have presented here.

            Your history of repeatedly doubting the veracity of Christianity is for good reason, my friend. The evidence for your supernatural belief system is very weak. Please, please read the book. There are many former evangelicals who are members of Dr. Ehrman’s blog. We know what you are going through. We know how painful it is to recognize that your entire Christian worldview is a house of cards. We know and understand your struggles with doubt. We will be here for you when you finally leave your evangelical Christian superstitions behind.

          • Avatar
            Ficino  December 11, 2019

            “While a historian can certainly entertain the scenario you have posited, a historian should choose t[he] hypothesis that explains the most number of facts, does so without forcing any of them to fit, do so with the least amount of speculation, and fit without [fits with?] our background knowledge. I think the resurrection hypothesis wins here.”

            Prof. Licona, thank you again for continuing your series of posts on here. I take liberty to chime in with Jon1 that the resurrection hypothesis is much weaker than you have represented it as being.
            1. the “facts” with which we start are assertions in documents from at least a generation after the purported event. The “facts” aren’t events described in those documents, since their facticity is precisely what is in question, to various degrees. The empty tomb is not an established fact. The later story or account of the empty tomb is the fact. And so on. I know you’re aware that the facticity is a property of what’s in the text, not of the purported events qua events – which MIGHT be factual.
            2. to appeal to the four gospels as though they are mutually independent sources isn’t valid, for obvious reasons if Markan priority is accepted. Again, of course you know this, but when you say things like “all four gospels speak of an empty tomb” you elide the significance of Matthew’s and Luke’s using Mark.
            3. you rightly urge that we avoid speculation and that we formulate an hypothesis that fits with our background knowledge. But you gloss over the HUGE gorilla in the room, that as far as we know, bodies cannot rise from the dead after a day and a half from natural causes. A supernatural cause has to be posited, as WLC makes free to acknowledge. But posit that and you are already deep into metaphysical speculation and far from what can be established as background knowledge by the methodologies proper to history or science.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            Ficino: Thanks for your comments. I think you have missed an important step. What I consider to be “facts” are the conclusions based on the assertions of several reports. It’s not that I’m merely taking the reports at face value. There is room for misunderstanding here, since I lack the time to go into great depth. What I will say here is that virtually all relevant scholars who study the subject agree with just about all of the “facts” I present in a historical case for Jesus’s resurrection. The only one where there is not a virtual 100% consensus is that some of the experiences of Jesus’s disciples they interpreted as appearances of the risen Jesus to them had occurred to groups. According to Gary Habermas, around 80% grant it. That’s still really good!

            I don’t appeal to all four Gospels as though they are independent sources. I’m with Bart, thinking Mark wrote first, that Matthew and Luke use Mark extensively while supplementing it with Q material and material unique to themselves (i.e., M, L). I also regard John as providing an independent source.

            Yes, a supernatural cause would be required for a corpse to return to life after a day and a half. However, I don’t agree that such requires deep metaphysical speculation. There is much in science and philosophy that suggest the existence of a Creator. That, of course, can be disputed and is. But the converse that God does not exist requires metaphysical discussion. The prominent atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse (FSU) has said that a non-designed universe “requires a metaphysical commitment and an act of faith.” So, when I approach the matter of Jesus’s resurrection as a historian, I come to it neither presupposing God’s existence nor a priori excluding it (i.e., methodological naturalism). Instead, historians should approach the issue with openness and let the facts speak for themself. Otherwise, historians place themselves in a dangerous position where their metaphysics guides their historical investigation rather than facts. The danger in this is manifest: Bad philosophy corrupts good history!

          • Avatar
            Jon1  December 11, 2019

            Mike,

            I guess we’re done with our exchange (you didn’t answer my last question noted above). In a nutshell, once the resurrection belief came about, and assuming the gospels/Acts unreliable, all of the early appearance traditions in 1 Cor 15:5-8 seem to me to have plausible naturalistic explanations (regardless of one’s metaphysical worldview). These explanations are of course all ad hoc (because we have no evidence for what lies behind the early appearance traditions), but without drawing on the historical reliability of the gospels/Acts, your explanation that Jesus really appeared to these people, or even that Paul considered his conversion experience different from a vision, also seems entirely ad hoc. I honestly don’t see how you get around this, concluding that yours is the best explanation for the appearance traditions. That’s why I said it looks to me like you really have a *one fact* argument for Jesus’ resurrection that historians need to explain: what *caused* the resurrection belief in the first place. I can’t think of any better way to explain how I view your historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection. If you see some way to clarify your position or indicate what I’m missing, I’d love to hear it (I’ve already read your 2010 book on the resurrection). If you have no further comments, thanks for the exchange. I think trying to move the ball forward for future generations on which worldview is correct – one where the laws of physics are constant and impersonal, or one where a personal entity occasionally intervenes in the laws of physics on our behalf and leaves us with divinely inspired texts – is important. As I said in some previous comments, I think the real frontier for your camp is to overturn those studies which currently show no violation of the laws of physics even when your camp says there should be (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-04-05/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_prizes_for_evidence_of_the_paranormal; ref Keener’s *testable* claim that prayers effect storms and his inability to follow up on paranormal events he was “invited…to witness” ahead of time (Miracles, pg. 737 and pg. 1)). I think the historical method is a much less accurate way to tell us which worldview is correct and is a maze of conflicting honest arguments and apologetics.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 12, 2019

            Jon1: The way I see things is like this: Virtually all acknowledge that a number of Jesus’s disciples and a persecutor of the church named Paul had experiences they interpreted as the risen Jesus appearing to them. A large majority also agree that several of these experiences occurred in group settings. Most scholars, including Bart I think, grant that they “believed” it was a physical/bodily resurrection. Perhaps you reject some of these. But I content that Jesus’s bodily resurrection is the best historical explanation to account for these facts. Your scenario requires that one read the accounts in a manner contrary to what they say. And I’m referring not only to 1 Cor. 15:3-8 but also all Paul says elsewhere that inform us of his belief that resurrection involved the corpse. Thus, the scenario you propose lacks explanatory power, since, given the truth of your hypothesis, what we have (i.e., sincere belief in the physical/bodily resurrection of Jesus) is not what we would expect.

            The laws of physics inform us how our universe typically works when left to itself. A miracle does not require a violation or setting aside of the laws of physics. It’s simply a time in which the hand of God enters our world and the universe is not left to itself.

            Yes, I, too, have enjoyed our interactions. All the best, Jon1!

        • Avatar
          Jim  December 12, 2019

          I would have to agree with Mike on his statement: “one has to read the texts in a manner contrary to what they actually say to get the hypothetical scenario you present”. The texts are for the most part “theological” documents with strong motivation to promote the “we are all on the same page” motif. The theological approach involves a higher probability/credence assignment to presuppositions than say your rational approach that might assign lower credence to presuppositions. But hey, just my opinion … and I did appreciate your arguments.

  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 10, 2019

    A common thing in ancient biographies was making up speeches for people – speeches that contained the kind of things you would expect a person to say in that situation. Obviously Herodotos does not know exactly what the Persians discussed before invading Greece, but he writes down the kind of discussions that would be had under those circumstances. Do you think there are situations like that in the Gospels?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      AstaKask: That’s a good question. But the answer is perhaps difficult to know. Where the Gospels differ significantly from most other ancient biographies is that, as a traveling itinerate teacher, Jesus would no doubt have said the same things on many occasions. In contrast, speeches like the one given by Catiline to embolden his soldiers prior to facing the legions of Rome that would crush him were invented, since there were few if any survivors. But, like you said, the speech would be invented to convey content that would reflect what the person said. However, it seems that invention of that degree was permissible only when no testimony had survived. I don’t see that as being the case with the Gospels. That said, the Gospel authors could and did rearrange material. For example, Matthew takes various teachings of Jesus and weaves them together in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus probably did not offer everything attributed to him in Matthew’s version. However, I think Jesus probably did teach what Matthew attributes to him in that Sermon.

      I suspect that John is doing something similar on occasion, but with even greater flexibility, such as Jesus’s lengthy discourses in John 13-17.

    • Avatar
      andybruner  December 10, 2019

      Seems like huge portions of the Gospel of John would be in this category.

  4. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  December 10, 2019

    Mike, I know it’s off topic but in a guest post on WLC’s blog you deny Erhman’s assertion that mass hallucinations can occur. Leaving supernatural explanations aside do you admit that mass illusions are possible leading to mass delusion?

    The Fatima miracle was most likely a mass optical illusion of the sun. See here for modern video evidence: https://youtu.be/njP-9LC4Hu0

    How can we be certain the 500 didn’t experience something similar that quickly evolved into “we all saw Jesus”?

    Daniel L. Everett tells an interesting story in this regard:

    “Look! There he is, Xigagaí, the spirit.” “Yes, I can see him. He is threatening us.” “Everybody, come see Xigagaí. Quickly! He is on the beach!”

    I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I turned to Kóhoi, my principal language teacher, and asked, “What’s up?” “Don’t you see him over there?” he asked impatiently. “Xigagaí, one of the beings that lives above the clouds, is standing on the beach yelling at us, telling us he will kill us if we go to the jungle.” “Where?” I asked. “I don’t see him.” “Right there!” Kóhoi snapped, looking intently toward the middle of the apparently empty beach. “In the jungle behind the beach?” “No! There on the beach. Look!” he replied with exasperation. In the jungle with the Pirahãs I regularly failed to see wildlife they saw. My inexperienced eyes just weren’t able to see as theirs did. But this was different. Even I could tell that there was nothing on that white, sandy beach no more than one hundred yards away. And yet as certain as I was about this, the Pirahãs were equally certain that there was something there. Maybe there had been something there that I just missed seeing, but they insisted that what they were seeing, Xigagaí, was still there. Everyone continued to look toward the beach. I heard Kristene, my six-year-old daughter, at my side. “What are they looking at, Daddy?” “I don’t know. I can’t see anything.” Kris stood on her toes and peered across the river. Then at me. Then at the Pirahãs. She was as puzzled as I was. Over more than two decades I have tried to come to grips with the significance of how two cultures, my European-based culture and the Pirahãs’ culture, could see reality so differently. I could never have proved to the Pirahãs that the beach was empty. Nor could they have convinced me that there was anything, much less a spirit, on it.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      VaulDogWarrior: Mass illusions are certainly possible. When a family is riding in a car on a sunny day and all see what appears to be water on the road ahead of them, that’s a mass illusion. A delusion is when one persists in having a false belief despite having conclusive evidence to the contrary. I think mass illusions leading to a mass group delusion is certainly possible. Although not involving a mass delusion, in the 1990s, Marshall Applewhite led followers in his Heaven’s Gate cult to commit suicide by telling them the dot behind the Hale-Bopp comet was a spaceship that would rescue them from the Earth’s destruction if they followed him in suicide. Astronomers were saying the dot was Mars and not a spaceship. It was a mass delusion.

      The phenomenon of a dancing sun at Fatima could have been an illusion. It was a separate matter from the Marian apparition to the children that was simultaneously occurring. Although it’s not the same, I get your point.

      I don’t think the appearances to Jesus were mass illusions leading to a mass delusion. Matthew, Luke, and John are consistent in describing Jesus’s appearances as physical in nature, communicating to groups. He invites them to touch him. He fixes them breakfast. And he eats food. And his tomb is empty.

    • Avatar
      Gary  December 10, 2019

      Hi Vaul,

      I think you are on to something. I would suggest this scenario:

      The four Evangelists were non-eyewitness; they weren’t even the associates of eyewitnesses. The stories about Jesus came to them many decades after the death of Jesus, after passing through many retellings (This is the prevailing view of modern scholarship). So the Jesus Story probably already had embellishments mixed with historical facts. But the Evangelists were not writing modern biographies. They were writing GRECO-ROMAN biographies, a genre, which even Dr. Licona agrees, allowed embellishments in the details—as long as the core facts were not altered.

      So the Evangelists added their own embellishments, and one of those embellishments were the detailed appearance stories of people seeing a walking, talking, fish eating resurrected body. The original appearance stories involved visions of Jesus in vivid dreams, false sightings of Jesus, and illusions of nature (lights, shadows, cloud formations) to groups of people. If the author of Acts is correct, all Paul saw was a bright light and he believed that it was an appearance of the resurrected Jesus. So why couldn’t groups of people see a bright light and believe that it was an appearance of the resurrected Jesus?

  5. Avatar
    stokerslodge  December 10, 2019

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, Mike. You’ve provided food for thought. In a nutshell: can you sum up what it is that convinces you that Jesus really rose from the dead.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Thanks, stokerslodge. In a nutshell: Virtually every scholar in the relevant fields who have studied the subject agree on the following: (1) Jesus died by crucifixion; (2) Shortly thereafter, a number of Jesus’s disciples had experiences they were convinced were of the risen Jesus appearing to them; (2*) although not a universal consensus, around 80% agree that that some of these experiences occurred in group settings; (3) a persecutor of the Church named Paul had an experience he interpreted as the risen Jesus appearing to him and he became one of Christianity’s most aggressive advocates.

      Historians take the facts and posit hypotheses that attempt to explain these facts. Hypotheses should be able to account for all of the known facts (explanatory scope), account for them without forcing them to fit (explanatory power) [another way of describing explanatory power is to say – Given the truth of a hypothesis, we would expect certain things. To the extent that we have these things, a hypothesis may be said to have explanatory power.], account for the facts with the least amount of improvisation, i.e., non-evidenced assumptions (less ad hoc), and be compatible with our background knowledge (plausibility). The hypothesis that best fulfills these criteria is regarded as what probably occurred. In my book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” I assess the major hypotheses offered by modern scholars pertaining to what happened to Jesus and demonstrate that the Resurrection hypothesis far exceeds competing hypotheses in its ability to account for the widely agreed upon facts.

      • Avatar
        Kunalians23  December 10, 2019

        after reading keener latest book…I was reminded that historical reconstruction is never absolute but based on probabilities. As I recall that in one of ur debates with Dr Ehrman …he mentioned that since the probability of a bodily resurrection is extremely low then any other explanation would be more probable for the 3 points you mentioned above. As I remember I don’t think u answered his point directly. So my question is how would u respond to Dr Ehrman’s point. (Btw I consider myself an evangelical). Thanks

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

          Kunalians23: I seem to recall that I did answer Bart. Nevertheless, there are a number of things I could answer his claim that a miracle, by its very definition, is the least probable explanation. Here’s one. In reference to what is it the “least probable explanation”? If God exists and wanted to raise Jesus, then Jesus’s resurrection is the “most probable” explanation of the evidence. Perhaps you’ll reply that we can’t know for certain whether God exists or, even if He does, whether He would want to raise Jesus. In that case, the probability that Jesus rose from the dead is inscrutable. So, in what sense is Jesus’s resurrection the “least probable explanation”? In reference to natural causes? I’d certainly agree that a resurrection should be the least probable explanation by natural causes. But then it wouldn’t be a “miracle” claim, right?

          The manner in which probability is assessed in historical inquiry is via arguments of inference to the best explanation. When one approaches the question in this manner, Jesus’s resurrection is the best explanation, i.e., the most probable explanation of what occurred. One may still reject Jesus’s resurrection on philosophical or theological assumptions. But, in my opinion, it’s the best historical explanation.

          • Avatar
            Kunalians23  December 10, 2019

            Just speaking anecdotally, even if someone believes in God (say myself and all my Christian friends) our experience indicates that resurrection is of low probability that is none of us have experienced a dead people coming back to life in such dramatic fashion even though some have experience smaller “miracles (people declared “medically dead “coming back to life). So couldn’t the resurrection still be of extremely low probability even in reference of a real God who does miracles since no one has really experienced such a dramatic resurrection

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

            Kunalians23: The approach you are suggesting is determining probability based on the frequency of the occurrence of something. Wouldn’t this a priori rule out unique events? We would have to rule out the Big Bang, since it has only occurred once. You might reply, “But we have evidence that it occurred!” Yes, but now you have transitioned to a different argument, one not based on an event only occurring once and not being witnessed to an argument based on evidence.

      • Avatar
        dominchowles@gmail.com  December 10, 2019

        Hi Mike
        I find this answer unsatisfactory . (Re. Stokerslodge)
        1. Re cruxifiction it costs historians nothing to go with it as a cause of death as the evidence from the time suggests this is common practice .The historian’s job is to see what is most probable but it is not 100% the case that Jesus didn’t die by other means . I am not saying he wasn’t cruxified but we are not talking 100% certainty here.
        2. We just don’t have anywhere near good evidence for what these visions or group experiences were to attach much weight to them .
        3. Paul can say what wants about his road to Damascus experience but we are really none the wiser as it is only his source . He also has a vested interest as he isn’t one of the disciples but this gives him some legitmacy .
        4.Historians look at evidence ( you use the term Facts which I think a bit presumptious and appears to suggest bias) and then formulate ideas about what probably happened.
        5. How would you account for the fact that Bart Ehrman is less confident about the identity of the Gospel authors then you are and we may not be dealing eye witness accounts.The said eye witness accounts are not unproblematic as Mark was written around 70 AD ,some 40 years after the cruxifiction.
        6. In some of your replies it would appear that you think Mark wrote Mark but Bart Ehrman would be less confident that this is the case . How do you account for the difference of opinion?

        Dominic

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

          Dominic: You wrote,

          “1. Re cruxifiction it costs historians nothing to go with it as a cause of death as the evidence from the time suggests this is common practice .The historian’s job is to see what is most probable but it is not 100% the case that Jesus didn’t die by other means . I am not saying he wasn’t cruxified but we are not talking 100% certainty here.”

          Agreed. But historians aren’t looking for 100% certainty. They seek the most likely explanation.

          “2. We just don’t have anywhere near good evidence for what these visions or group experiences were to attach much weight to them .”

          I disagree.

          “3. Paul can say what wants about his road to Damascus experience but we are really none the wiser as it is only his source . He also has a vested interest as he isn’t one of the disciples but this gives him some legitmacy .”

          The fact that he trades a life of relative success for one of extreme persecution after having an experience of seeing someone he would have no reason to think he would see suggests he did not invent an appearance to himself for purposes of legitimacy.

          “4.Historians look at evidence ( you use the term Facts which I think a bit presumptious and appears to suggest bias) and then formulate ideas about what probably happened.”

          “Facts” become “evidence” when used to support a hypothesis. It has nothing to do with bias.

          “5. How would you account for the fact that Bart Ehrman is less confident about the identity of the Gospel authors then you are and we may not be dealing eye witness accounts.The said eye witness accounts are not unproblematic as Mark was written around 70 AD ,some 40 years after the cruxifiction.”

          Historians can legitimately look at the same data and arrive at different conclusions. That’s not unique to matters related to Jesus. Eyewitness accounts “are not unproblematic” as you say. However, to the extent that you undermine the value of eyewitness testimony, you also undermine all of history as well as the legal process. If Mark wrote 40 years after Jesus’s crucifixion, that’s still adequately early. Even today, WWII vets are being interviewed on their experiences in a war that ended 74 years ago (or a decade further removed than was John from the life of Jesus).

          6. In some of your replies it would appear that you think Mark wrote Mark but Bart Ehrman would be less confident that this is the case . How do you account for the difference of opinion?

          • Avatar
            dominchowles@gmail.com  December 10, 2019

            Hi Mike
            Thanks for the reply,I can see you have a lot of questions to deal with. re the questions I asked.
            2 .I am sure you would like a wider source base than we have for the visions (non christian roman soldiers diaries would be great for example)
            3. Paul may claim he persecuted Christians but what external evidence do we have for this / A letter from a Roman Governor would help, would you agree.
            4.Facts have an implication of being true and evidence can be anything used to support an assertion . The stronger the evidence ( the more probably it is to be true ) the better .We have evidence that Jesus appeared to people not facts.
            5. We don’t have strong evidence for who wrote Mark all we can hope for is that the narrative didn’t change much from 30AD to 70AD.

            Dominic

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            Dominic: A letter from the Roman governor or high priest pertaining to Paul’s persecutory activities and his conversion would be very nice. What we have are (1) Paul’s own testimony in two of his undisputed letters that he persecuted the Christians before becoming one. That’s huge! (2) We have Luke reporting it in Acts. (3) We have what may be remnants of an oral tradition in Gal. 1:22-24 where Paul says, “And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.” I once heard the prominent historian of Jesus John Meier say that doing history is somewhat like playing cards. We wish the cards in our hand were better. We wish we had more cards. But we’ve got to play with the hand we’ve been dealt. This applies not only to historical Jesus research but also to every historical investigation. I think the hand we’ve been dealt when it comes to Paul’s conversion is exceptionally good, although there’s always more we could want.

            I think we have good evidence that the traditional authorship of Mark is correct. Take a look at this article I wrote; point 2 specifically: https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/10/3/148/htm

      • Avatar
        stokerslodge  December 11, 2019

        Thank you. I’ll put your book on my reading list.

  6. Avatar
    tcasto  December 10, 2019

    I’ll concede your example of the centurion. Likewise the not-cited example of Jairus’s daughter. Can you take on a more problematic example; what transpired in Bethlehem after Jesus’ birth. 40 days then back to Nazareth or a two year hiatus to Egypt?

    Thank you,

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      tcasto: The infancy narratives and the death of Judas are perhaps the two toughest differences. I really don’t know how to think of either. I don’t think the compositional devices I identify Plutarch using are helpful for them.

      • Avatar
        jbskq5  December 11, 2019

        Great answer Dr. Licona! It’s sincerely refreshing to hear.

      • Avatar
        Erik Nelson  February 20, 2020

        Please consider reading them in sequence. First Luke deals with Jesus is first few weeks and months in temporary housing quarters. Then he fast forwards and skips ahead.

        Meanwhile, Matthew continues, the story of Jesus’ first few years, in a more permanent house, then including the “unpleasantness” with a Roman Client King, which Luke may not want to emphasize

        Luke is not wrong? He is just for some reason not drawing attention to and perhaps drawing attention away from the unpleasantness of Herod

        You can easily fit. The periscopes of one gospel into the gaps of the other and vice a versa?

  7. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  December 10, 2019

    Jesus told parables; If any good came of them that is wonderful.
    The Bible (that is the many people who wrote it) tells parables; If any good comes of them that is wonderful.
    Many, many tales are told with a purpose in mind, some entirely mythical, some based on fact. That’s fine as long as people don’t try to wrongly influence people, as long as they don’t use them against other people (as in wars, subjugation or persecution) and as long as they don’t try to make unnecessary profit out of them.
    The Bible should be (honestly without fear or favour) judged accordingly.

  8. Avatar
    Lopaka  December 10, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    Thank you for posting.

    It seems like in private moments people who argue for some religious faith will say that the core reason people don’t believe isn’t about the evidence or history, but that they don’t believe because they want to sin. I heard Tim Keller tell me this in a private aside, and he seemed to assume it was mostly about sexual sin. Recently someone here posted about WL Craig saying something similar (minus the sexual part.) C.S. Lewis says something similar in Mere Christianity, “I  wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?”

    In my experience, most of my former church-going friends don’t believe anymore, and the reason is that we just don’t find it believable. It’s about honest argument.

    Do you think all these people are stubborn and sinful, or that they honestly just don’t agree with believers?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Lopaka: I agree with you that many skeptics are not convinced by the evidence and some believers do walk away because they were reasoned out of belief. I also think that many walk away or do not embrace Christ because they don’t agree with His program. I think both occur. I have no idea which occurs more.

  9. Avatar
    Maglaw  December 10, 2019

    Hi Mike, thank you for your interesting and thoughtful articles. I’ve arrived at a place in my beliefs that pretty much excludes me from Paul’s version of Christianity, but since I think the point was Jesus’s life and teachings rather than a supernatural death narrative, I’m not sure that’s altogether a bad thing. However, I would like to know your take on this. There is nothing I find in the gospels that indicates the disciples or any gospel writers actually saw Jesus being put in the tomb. In fact, there is no way of knowing if Jesus was actually dead when he was taken off the cross – after a period of six hours, when I understand the average length was 3 days. Josephus himself reports an incident in which three men he knew were crucified and he appealed to the centurion to take them down, and he did. One of the men survived and the other two died. I connect that to the fact that a spirit does not eat or drink, has no need to. In other words, if the physical Jesus was seen, and I think he was, then he wasn’t dead in the first place. His friend Joseph of Aramathea was granted the body and took him away – for how many days, and to do what but tend to him, I’m not sure anyone knows. Jesus himself seems to have set up the crucifixion for it to take place on Passover, which would mean that he could not be left there. He certainly knows what Judas is about to do, and seems to have encouraged him to do it. I don’t believe Judas knew what the result of his going to the Pharisees would be, considering his despair at what happened and his suicide. That’s it – as I see it. Jesus wasn’t dead when taken from the cross, was ministered to and revived, and then went to see his disciples where he ate and drank with them and then left. Paul doesn’t say he “Saw” Jesus, but that he heard a voice. I have no problem with that, as Jesus was quite likely dead by then and as a powerful spirit, could speak. Your thoughts?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Maglaw: You asked for my thoughts. You’d have a difficult time convincing others of your view. In fact, literally only a handful of scholars within the past century, most of whom have no historical training, embrace the view that Jesus survived crucifixion. Barbara Thiering is the only NT scholar of which I’m aware who thinks Jesus survived his crucifixion. And there are a number of reasons why the “apparent death” view is not popular.

      (1) The assertion that Jesus died by crucifixion is attested in multiple independent sources, unsympathetic sources (e.g., Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, Mara bar Serapion), early sources (e.g., Paul and the early oral formulas he quotes, Mark), rooted in eyewitness testimony (e.g., Mark, Paul), embarrassing elements (e.g., notice elements in the passion narratives compared to Jewish and even early Christian martyrdom accounts). All of these so strongly suggest Jesus’s death by crucifixion that those contending he did not bear an extraordinary burden of proof.

      (2) The chances of surviving crucifixion were extremely small. You mentioned Josephus’s account of seeing 3 of his friends who had been crucified. It’s the only account in antiquity of a person surviving crucifixion. And the person was deliberately removed from his cross and medically assisted. Josphus appealed to his friend the Roman commander Titus who ordered that the 3 be removed immediately and provided the finest medical care available. In spite of this, 2 or the 3 still died. So, even if Jesus had been removed prematurely and medically assisted, his chances of survival were not good. Even here, there’s a big problem: We have no reports, no hints whatsoever, that Jesus was deliberately removed from his cross with an attempt to save him and that he survived crucifixion.

      (3) Even if Jesus had survived scourging and crucifixion, what would he have looked like? It’s certain that he would not have convinced his disciples that he was the rise Lord of life! Alive? Yes. Risen? Not a chance.

  10. Avatar
    fishician  December 10, 2019

    A stumbling block for me: per the Bible, God proved His existence to Abraham, and Moses, and Jacob, and many others throughout the Old Testament period. Then Jesus proved who He was to the disciples (and others), and even to Paul as one “untimely born.” Yet since that time He expects billions of people to come to faith in Him based on ancient stories written by anonymous authors, which contain incredible miracle claims, without outside corroboration, and which are sketchy (what was Jesus doing for 30 years?, what were his views on slavery, or homosexuality, etc?) and not entirely consistent (who saw the resurrected Jesus, where and when?). When you look at the minority of people today who have faith in Jesus as their savior (a rather small number, in fact, according to evangelical doctrine), you would think God might step up His efforts a bit.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      fishician: I wish we had more evidence. However, I think the evidence we have is sufficient.

      I think the common assertion that the Gospels were written by anonymous authors is overblown. While it’s true that the original manuscripts probably did not contain the author’s name, that does not by any means suggest the authors were unknown. If one takes the absent of an author’s name from the manuscript to cast serious doubt authorship, one must seriously question the authorship of Plutarch’s “Lives,” Livy’s “History of Rome,” Sallust’s “War with Caitline” and his “War with Jugurtha,” and Caesar’s “Commentaries on the Civil War.” One would be hard pressed to find a classicist who seriously questions the authorship of any of these, because the external evidence for their traditional authorship is good. Well, the external evidence for the traditional authorship of the Gospels is also good in comparison. In fact, in some cases, it’s better. If the NT literature made no claims pertaining to the supernatural, I doubt there would be much question pertaining to their essential content.

      • Avatar
        fishician  December 11, 2019

        None of the works you cite make any claims on my life or my soul, and I don’t believe they describe extraordinary miracles (I could be wrong), so the level of evidence is not nearly so critical. I know you’ve heard it said that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence, and I think that is true, and I don’t think the New Testament rises to the level of extraordinary evidence.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

          fishician: Fine. But you’ve now changed your objection from “We don’t know who wrote the Gospels” to Plutarch doesn’t make demands on my life.” (Yes, Plutarch, Suetonius, and many other biographers/historians of that era report supernatural phenomena.)

          I think the objection that the evidence is insufficient for me to embrace a worldview that makes unattractive demands on my life is a reasonable one. In fact, as a result of my own research, it’s the only one that appears reasonable to me. Sometimes I imagine the following: I suppose the evidence that Islam is true is as good as we have that Christianity is true. Would I become a Muslim? Truthfully, I don’t know. I don’t like Islam and don’t want for it to be true. However, if eternity may be on the line, I would want to take the matter seriously and not reject Islam because I don’t like it.

  11. Avatar
    Gary  December 10, 2019

    Dear Dr. Licona. I’m sorry I have irritated you with my many questions and statements. I promise that I will only ask you ONE question on this post if you will give me a straight answer (yes or no) to this ONE question:

    —Is it true that since you were ten years old (the age of your conversion to Christianity), you have believed that the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century man (Jesus of Nazareth) lives inside your body and communicates with you in some fashion, “testifying” to you that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact?”—

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Gary: I will answer your “ONE question on this post.” I think I’ve been clear in past posts. But so there is no doubt to be had, here is my “straight answer (yes or no) to this ONE question”: No.

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 10, 2019

        Wow. I’m shocked. I grew up evangelical. I didn’t know that today’s evangelicals deny the presence and testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Thank you, Dr. Licona. I’ve learned something today.

        “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. —The Gospel of John 16:13-14

        • Avatar
          ftbond  December 10, 2019

          why are you shocked?

          If you asked me that same question, I too would have answered “No”.

          Look at what you asked: “…believed that the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century man (Jesus of Nazareth) lives inside your body….”

          I’m a Christian, yet, I don’t believe that the “spirit (ghost) of an EXECUTED FIRST CENTURY MAN” lives inside me.

          I believe that the Spirit of the Living God – which was also the same spirit in Jesus – not “an executed man”, but, a RESURRECTED man – lives inside me.

          I don’t think there is any Christian that believes that the spirit of ANY man that was simply “executed” lives inside them. They believe that the spirit of a RESURRECTED man – which is also the spirit of God Himself – lives inside them.

          So, what’s the point of your question? Are you just trying to show off the fact that you have ZERO theological understanding?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

            Thanks, ftbond. Here is something “shocking.” A friend who is employed by a rather large ministry just emailed me saying Gary had contacted him with the remarks that follow and requested that he post them on their web site, since I had been a guest on his radio program:

            “Wow! Evangelical scholar Michael Licona just denied the presence and testimony of the Holy Spirit in his heart in a discussion on Bart Ehrman’s blog today:

            “Dear Dr. Licona: Is it true that since you were ten years old (the age of your conversion to Christianity), you have believed that the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century man (Jesus of Nazareth) lives inside your body and communicates with you in some fashion, “testifying” to you that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is an historical fact?

            “Michael Licona: No.

            “Yet on his Facebook page, Licona says that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is “essential” for someone to believe in Jesus as his resurrected Savior! Why the discrepancy???

            “‘But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.’
            —Gospel of Matthew 10:33”

            I’m going to guess that my friend is not the only one Gary has now emailed. This is stooping to a new low for Gary. His consistent mischaracterization of my view in Bart’s blog led me last week to tell him I would no longer interact with him.

            Today Gary apologized saying, “I’m sorry I have irritated you with my many questions and statements.” He then asked me to answer one final question with a yes or no. I did. To be clear, it wasn’t his “many questions and statements” that irritated me. It was his pattern of mischaracterizing my answers. And this is not a new thing for Gary. After Bart and I debated on the historical reliability of the Gospels in February 2018, Gary posted an article on his blog making the claim that I had said the majority of New Testament scholars accept the traditional authorship of the Gospels. That surprised me! I certainty don’t believe that. Was it a slip of the tongue during the debate? I went back and found what I said. It was crystal clear I had not said that. Gary had emailed me notifying me of his article. So, I commented on his blog that he had misunderstood what I had said and provided a link to the video of the debate and where I had said it. I never heard back from him. Neither was my comment posted. Months later, his article was still unchanged.

            Gary does not strike me as one who is genuinely interested in truth. Rather, he wishes to sensationalize by mischaracterizing. Why he does it, I do not know. But I wanted you all to be aware of him and his tactics. I’m thankful that he is the lone exception to this sort of thing on this blog. Almost all of you have been a joy with whom to interact!

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 10, 2019

            Word games. This is why many skeptics see Christian apologists as so disingenuous.

            Dr. Licona: Do you or do you not believe that a (holy) spirit “dwells” within you, “testifying with your spirit” regarding the veracity of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

            I’m sorry I did not make it simpler for you, but there it is. Yes or no, please.

            Dr. Licona said, “After Bart and I debated on the historical reliability of the Gospels in February 2018, Gary posted an article on his blog making the claim that I had said the majority of New Testament scholars accept the traditional authorship of the Gospels.”

            Please give me the date of the post on my blog and I will be happy to make a correction if I misstated your position. I do not moderate comments on my blog so if I had received a comment by the infamous scholar Michael Licona, I would remember that. I do not. If I have incorrectly stated your position, I will post a public apology on my blog and here on Dr. Ehrman’s blog.

            You said under your first post here on Dr. Ehrman’s blog that you believe that the majority of scholars believe in the traditional authorship of the first Gospel, the Gospel of Mark; that it was written by John Mark correct? But now you are saying that you have never said that “the majority of New Testament scholars accept the traditional authorship of the Gospels.” Would you clarify, please?

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 10, 2019

            Micheal Licona, Baptist Press, Sept. 15, 2009:

            For some time, critical scholars have debated whether the traditional authorship of the New Testament Gospels is accurate and many, like Ehrman, have opted to reject it. However, many hold to it. For example, more scholars than not hold to the traditional authorship of both Mark and Luke. A number of critical scholars hold to the traditional authorship of John, although today’s majority contends that a minor disciple who was not one of the Twelve but who had traveled with Jesus and was an eyewitness to His ministry is the source behind John’s Gospel and that one or two of His pupils wrote what they had heard from Him, perhaps even under His close guidance. Even if this is the case, we still would have eyewitness testimony from one of Jesus’ disciples who had traveled with Him. The authorship of Matthew is the most heavily contested of the four Gospels. Yet there are a number of impressive scholars who maintain its traditional authorship.

            Gary: So it certainly sounds as if Dr. Licona, at least in 2009, was arguing that the majority of scholars accept the traditional authorship of Mark and Luke. This is patently false! Not even the scholars and bishops of the Catholic Church, not exactly a liberal organization, asserts that John Mark and a traveling companion of Paul wrote the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

            If I claimed somewhere that Dr. Licona has stated that most scholars believe that ALL traditional authors are correct, then I was wrong. Show me where I said it, please.

      • Avatar
        Gary  December 10, 2019

        Randall Rauser (Christian apologist) told me that my question to you was incorrectly worded. Here is what he said:

        “The Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit is not the view that “the spirit (ghost) of an executed first century man (Jesus of Nazareth) lives inside your body and communicates with you”. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, the Paraclete that Jesus promised would come in his *absence*. If Licona was actually asked that bizarre question, he was surely right to say no.”

        So may I rephrase my question, Dr. Licona?

        Is it true that you believe that a spirit, called the Holy Spirit, lives inside your body and that this spirit communicates with you in some fashion, “testifying to your spirit” that the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is an historical fact?

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  December 11, 2019

        Mike, thank you for your contributions to this blog. Even though, as a non-believer, I generally disagree with you, I appreciate you. Your approach is refreshing. I think you model what Christianity is supposed to be about.

        I also apologize for Gary. I’m not sure what his behavior models, but it’s nothing I wish to be associated with.

        Thanks again and best wishes for a happy holiday season to you and your family.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

          Thanks much, HawksJ! Please know that I do not associate Gary’s behavior with that of nonbelievers. My interactions with the large majority of subscribers of Bart’s blog have been both thought provoking and collegial.

          Last night, I provided a heads-up to those who follow me on my Public Figure Facebook page. Several have told me that Gary sent a similar email to their web sites. Still others said his behavior yesterday was not a one-time thing but that they have seen him act in similar ways on other Christian web sites. So, I’m only one of several people he does this to over the years.

          So that it’s clear what he does, I’ll recast it as follows: Lets suppose a Christian is engaged with some atheists on social media. He persists in his attempts to “catch them” in their comments, manipulates their words despite their multiple attempts to be forthright. And when he gets something he thinks he may be able to use after his manipulation (for example, “Tommy Atheist just said he thinks atheism may be wrong!” when Tommy Atheist had answered “no” to the loaded question, “Can you prove beyond a doubt that atheism is true?”), the Christian sends emails to a slew of atheist web sites announcing his shocking new discovery, “Tommy Atheist just said he thinks atheism may be wrong!” We would think that Christian lacked the maturity of a typical adult. That’s what Gary is doing in the reverse. Again, I don’t regard his behavior as typical of non-believers. And I’m sure there have been Christians who have acted in a similar manner. However, we should expect more from Gary.

          Best wishes to you HawksJ for a happy holiday season!

          • Avatar
            roy  December 11, 2019

            I concur with hawksj, also being unbeliever, but believe in much more civility. long winded gary needs to find something better to do with his time. thanks again for yours, you have been more than gracious with it by even appearing here—roy

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            Thanks, roy! Much appreciated!

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 11, 2019

            This is slander.

            You attack my character with allegations such as “they have seen him act in similar ways on other Christian web sites. So, I’m only one of several people he does this to over the years. So that it’s clear what he does, I’ll recast it as follows: Lets suppose…” and continue alleging that I make gratuitous, false allegations. PROVE IT. Give us a concrete example and a source.

            And who gave you permission to divulge my full name, details of my business, and my geographical location here on this website? Did you get permission from Bart Ehrman? Why would you do that? Is it a “dog whistle” to every fundamentalist religious nut job in the United States to come hunt me down at my place of business to assault me or worse? You may have the right to do that on your Facebook page (which you have) but you do not have the right to divulge my private information here on Dr. Ehrman’s blog.

            Do you feel you are justified in putting my life and possibly that of my wife and children in danger to get even with me for copying and pasting your statements about the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” on Christian websites?? Are those two actions really equivalent?? You are behaving like the cult member you are, sir! You got caught in a corner regarding your belief that a ghost communicates with you about the historicity of Jesus’ alleged resurrection; refused to honestly answer the question; and then went after your critic. Shame on you. Your belief system is disgusting and evil.

            You owe me a public apology.

        • Avatar
          Gary  December 11, 2019

          HawksJ: If you want to sit around and play patty cakes with a purveyor of fear-based superstitions, misogyny, and discrimination against the gay community, be my guest. I for one am going to call out Mike Licona’s BS. And when he repeatedly lies and prevaricates, i will keep after him for an honest answer. I’m sorry you find that inappropriate.

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 12, 2019

            I am asking for a straight-forward answer from Mike Licona that I believe is critical to understanding the scholarship of evangelical scholars. Why won’t Licona *honestly* answer it? We know he believes in the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” because he says so on his facebook page.

            Question: Does Michael Licona, as an evangelical Christian, believe that the resurrected Jesus sent a spirit, the Holy Spirit, to “dwell” within him, “testifying” truths to him, including the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus?

          • Avatar
            Gary  December 13, 2019

            Attention Readers: Dr. Licona did not apologize for divulging my full name, details about my business, and my geographical location, but he has now (finally) deleted this information at the instruction of Bart Ehrman. What does tis tell you about the”spirit of Christ” that supposedly “dwells” within Mike Licona??

            https://lutherwasnotbornagaincom.wordpress.com/2019/12/13/apologist-michael-licona-outs-atheist-skeptic/

  12. Avatar
    Hngerhman  December 10, 2019

    Dr Licona –

    Thanks again for engaging with the blog community – your sincerity and graciousness is laudable.

    Do you believe Jesus is the only person to date to have experienced resurrection?

    And on the subject of our last interchange, literary conventions: If, as per above, you believe John has indeed changed salient details of stories (stipulating for sake of argument that it’s not at the macro level of gist, but it is at the level of details that are intended to make theological-adjacent points, such as which day the crucifixion took place), why should one give credence to the specific details of his narrated resurrection appearances?

    Many thanks!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Thanks, Hngerhman. My answer to your first question is theological in natural, rather than historical. Yes, I think Jesus is the only person to have been resurrected. By “resurrection,” I mean raised in a transformed body that’s now immortal. Others, such as Lazarus, Jairus’s daughter, and the widow’s son were all raised in the same sort of body, only to die again. Paul taught that the resurrection of believers will occur when Christ returns (1 Thess 4:13-17). In the meantime upon death, they exist with Christ in a disembodied state (1 Cor. 4:16-5:8).

      As to your second question, one would have to consider each on a case-by-case basis. Is there a theological or a point one or more of the Gospel authors have in mind when changing the initial appearance to the group of male disciples from Galilee to Jerusalem or vice versa? I don’t know, although I think the change was intentional. After coming to understand that this is how ancient biographers wrote, I don’t get hung up on differences among non-essential details. Although I wish the Gospel authors wrote with modern literary conventions, I also recognize that they didn’t form a committee to discuss how they could mislead future historians.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  December 10, 2019

        Thank you for the quick and crisp response. It sparks a follow-on query:

        For Jesus, out of all the possible miraculous phenomena, why then choose the designation of resurrection vs. a more run of the mill revivification miracle?

        I’m trying to understand the contours of the epistemological standards at play.

        One cannot determine resurrection on the description from our earliest source and only undisputed firsthand witness, Paul. His brief description of his experience is rather vague, with amorphous verb choice that suggests (but doesn’t necessitate) visualization. He clearly believed he had experienced Jesus, but we know next to nothing about the nature of that experience. That his worldview allowed him to fit his experience into a resurrection-shaped box does little work for us as to historicity.

        If it is from the non-Markan gospels, they are later, only one is even reputed to be a first-hand experience, all take some-to-considerable license with the details of their stories, and the reputed first-hander seems to take the most liberties. So accounts of wall-passing et al must, on the above articulated literary convention grounds alone, be taken with considerable salt as to the accuracy of their details. The gist may be preserved – followers had appearance experiences – but purchase on the reliability of the precise details is scant.

        I would agree with your statement that resurrection is a theological determination. I’m trying to understand, if resurrection is the historical bedrock atop which the case for scriptural reliability is built, how one distinguishes (historically) that particular miracle from the multitude of others it could have been, given the sparse data at hand.

        Many thanks!

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

          You ask, “Why choose resurrection rather than revivification?” The difference in wording is in English, since the same Greek terms are used for both (i.e., anastasis, egeiro). Where Jesus differs from revivification is Paul says we will be raised as Christ was raised (1 Cor. 15:20, 23; Rom. 8:11). And we will be raised in an immortal body that he describes in 1 Cor. 15:42-54. This involves the transformation of our present body. Therefore, this is how Paul thinks of Jesus’s resurrection. Of course, this does not verify the appearances in the Gospels. However, Paul’s understanding of Jesus’s resurrection is entirely consistent with the resurrection narratives. And I think it’s quite easy to get to the Jerusalem apostles having the same understanding of Jesus’s resurrection that Paul had.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  December 10, 2019

            Dr Licona –

            Thank you for another sincere and thoughtful reply.

            If I understand your answer correctly, you are implicitly saying that it is Paul’s interpretation of his experience as to why one (we) should choose resurrection vs. revivification (in English, and in concept).

            To make sure we’re not slipping past one another:

            Question: What is it about Paul’s description of his experience itself – the data he presents – that makes you think he’s justified in making the interpretive distinction between resurrection vs. revivification?

            There is nothing in the data he offers that gives any reason to think his interpretation is accurate. There’s simply not sufficient evidence. So on what grounds can we assess him as justifiably correct?

            Tying it back to the Jerusalem apostles doesn’t seem to solve the problem. We know next to nothing about their experiences either, given the second-hand, later and literarily-licensed nature of the accounts. There’s (again) not enough to get an assessment of a justified epistemic claim to resurrection off the ground, even granting that someone miraculously came back from the dead. We’re lacking the data to justifiably say they are correct.

            In addition to a negative argument from insufficient data to make a justifiable determination (argument from epistemological skepticism), there is also an embedded probability issue here. On the very, very best odds one can grant, the background base rate is one in 100 billion probability (10^-11) that a given person resurrected – only one person in the 100 billion or so that have lived. Stipulating for sake of argument that all biblically narrated revivifications are true, it is at least 10-20 times more likely that, if a someone sees/experiences the miracle of a person coming back from the dead, the newly alive person was just revived (rather than transformed from sarx to pneuma). That means ex ante, if revivification and resurrection are the only two options, revivification is 91%-95% probability. Without very compelling evidence to the contrary, picking resurrection is the low (5%-9%) probability choice. The descriptions in the gospels are lacking this compelling evidence – so why pick resurrection?

            Thank you for wrestling this issue with me. I look forward to understanding better your view, and to seeing where my logic is off kilter.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            Hngerhman: You ask, “Question: What is it about Paul’s description of his experience itself – the data he presents – that makes you think he’s justified in making the interpretive distinction between resurrection vs. revivification? There is nothing in the data he offers that gives any reason to think his interpretation is accurate. There’s simply not sufficient evidence. So on what grounds can we assess him as justifiably correct?”

            I provided 1 Cor. 15:42-44 as reason to think Paul has in mind a resurrection body rather than a revivification/resuscitation (a la Lazarus). What evidence do we have that he was correct if we take Paul only? As I say in my book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” I believe the historian can conclude that Jesus rose from the dead. However, they cannot prove anything else other than his post death body was physical in nature. (Of course, I’m using the term “prove” here in the sense of having the caveat “with reasonable certainty.”)

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  December 11, 2019

            Dr Licona –

            Thank you for the insightful and candid reply. The indistinguishability to the historian, even if one grants the existence of miraculous occurrences, between two flavors of re-alivement miracle is a refreshingly epistemologically honest position to stake out, and it is a credit to your approach.

            Your engagement on the blog has been generous and is greatly appreciated – I can only hope you’ve enjoyed it even half as much as I.

            Have a wonderful holiday season, and here’s hoping to see you around the blog again!

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            Hngerhman: Thanks for your gracious reply! Yes, I have much enjoyed the thoughtful and warm interactions with you and many many others on this blog.

            A happy holiday season to you as well!

  13. Avatar
    rjackson@cscos.com  December 10, 2019

    Ok so I follow that you have applied your research on Plutarch to the Gospels and found similarities. No issue there…but above you say “From the differences he observed, he inferred that Plutarch employed a variety of compositional devices, such as compression, conflation, displacement, transferal, the creation of some details, and the fabrication of a context to include historical items, which had occurred in a context unknown to the author.”
    And
    “I wondered if reading the Gospels in view of these compositional devices might shed some light on how the differences came to be. I discovered that it does.”
    So doesn’t that make the Gospels fiction and not inerrant and divinely inspired?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      rjackson: The “Lives” of Plutarch I considered are not “fiction.” Given how I explained “divine inspiration” in my first article, I see no reason why the Gospels authors could not write using the literary conventions in play at the time of writing.

      • Avatar
        Ficino  December 11, 2019

        “The “Lives” of Plutarch I considered are not “fiction.””
        This has interesting connections to the notion of a canonized corpus.

        We have a corpus of writings known as the NT (leaving the OT out for simplicity’s sake). Each piece of writing, and all in it, is said to be inerrant in a way that is convertible with its placement in the canonized collection – whatever “inerrant” means.

        Many utterances couched as assertoric speech acts in the NT are considered erroneous when literally construed – sometimes simply because they entail contradictions with other NT utterances. But because they are in canonized pieces of writing, they are interpreted under the Genre Argument as not intending to assert the propositions that seem to be false, but rather, to assert some different propositions.

        One of the pieces of evidence invoked to support the above strategy is the likeness of the gospels to ancient biography. Plutarch is a writer, in similarity to whom the evangelists are held not to “err” but rather, to employ rhetorical and other strategies found also in biography.

        But let’s compare Plutarch with Plutarch. How much of his life of Theseus or Lycurgus, or Romulus or Numa Pompilius, shall we consider “historical”? Greek and Roman historians consider most of our stories about those men as legend. The first books of Livy are considered legend not history. We can be confident that many things asserted in those biographies are false from the historical POV, however much moral edification and political solidarity they may engender in readers.

        But if we look at Plutarch as conservative Christians look at the NT, we’d be forced to hold that it’s all somehow “inerrant,” just by inclusion in the corpus. We’d have to say that stories about Romulus and Theseus are “inerrant” somehow because they are in the collection, not because as historians we’ve applied a methodology that works for those biographies as it does for biographies of Caesar or Cicero, for which Plutarch’s sources were superior, as sources, to his sources for the earliest periods.

        If you’re going to be rigorous in applying the principle that “if it’s biography, then what’s false as history isn’t really an error,” you’ll have to admit a lot of mythical stuff as being both false as history AND not an error. I think this strategy renders the qualifier, “inerrant,” heuristically vacuous.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 12, 2019

          Ficino: You wrote, “because they are in canonized pieces of writing, they are interpreted under the Genre Argument as not intending to assert the propositions that seem to be false, but rather, to assert some different propositions.”

          I only suggest that one must approach ancient texts with literary sensitivity, the same sort we would give to Plutarch’s Lives, Suetonius’s Lives of the Divine Caesars, etc. That Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are included in a canon regarded as authoritative by Christians has nothing to do with the matter of genre.

          You wrote, “But let’s compare Plutarch with Plutarch. How much of his life of Theseus or Lycurgus, or Romulus or Numa Pompilius, shall we consider “historical”? Greek and Roman historians consider most of our stories about those men as legend. The first books of Livy are considered legend not history.”

          Correct. However, even Plutarch alerts us to the difference between his Lives of Theseus and Romulus with his Lives of those living in more recent times (i.e., those of the late Republic; Plut. Theseus 1). The former are based on the writings of poets and fabulists, which Plutarch says he has reworked to make it sound more like true history, whereas the latter are based on good sources. All four canonical Gospels were written closer to the time of Jesus than the reliable Lives to which Plutarch refers.

  14. Avatar
    brenmcg  December 10, 2019

    Why not take the view that just Jesus was inerrant and the NT is the work of fallible eye-witnesses?

    Jesus never said the OT was inerrant – only that what was written about him must be fulfilled.

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      brenmcg: You may find my first two articles helpful in light of the third.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  December 10, 2019

        From the first article, the first two reasons for believing the bible to be divinely inspired are consistent with just Jesus being inerrant and not the NT/OT

        #1 Jesus rose from the dead.
        #2 The New Testament preserves significant information pertaining to Jesus’s claims.

        and the third reason isn’t true
        #3 Jesus believed the Scriptures are divinely inspired.

        Mark 12:36 Jesus qualifies the quote and says in that particular instance David is speaking by the holy spirit, not always (ie what is written about him must be fulfilled)
        John 10:35 says “if” scripture cant be broken – ie if they believe the OT they must surely believe the one whom God sent
        Luke 16:17 – an understanding that this is saying the OT is inerrant is contradicted by the very next verse – Luke 16:18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (The OT teachings must be wrong)

        Jesus contradicts the OT teachings multiple times – nothing you eat can defile a person; Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of hearts but it wasnt this way from the beginning; Oaths are from the evil one; You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ but I tell you, do not resist an evil person.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

          brenmcg: In the context of my first article, I provide only a few specific references. The motif, however, is abundant and undeniable.

          I don’t understand Jesus as negating the Law in his Sermon on the Mount. Instead, he is going deeper than the letter of the Law. The Law says, “Don’t commit adultery. But I say that you shouldn’t even look at a woman and entertain lustful thoughts.” The Law is a guide. Jesus says God wants purity on the inside (i.e., holiness). If you’re pure on the inside, you won’t do the external acts.

          Regarding your specific example of divorce, Jesus says that Moses allowed for it because their hearts were hardened. Regarding “eye for an eye, but I say to you not to resist an evil person,” the eye for an eye was for judges to exact. But people were taking that as a means of personal revenge. Jesus says that’s wrong.

          That said, divine inspiration and inerrancy were discussed in previous weeks. We’ve now moved on to a different topic: Gospel differences.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  December 10, 2019

            Ok thanks – although I’d find it very deniable that that’s a motif.

            Regarding inerrancy, when Matthew has Jesus tell his disciples to take nothing for the journey not even a staff nor sandals; and Mark has Jesus tell his disciples to take a staff and wear sandals; isn’t this best understood as Mark being a fallible editor and incorrectly understanding Matthew’s theological point that Jesus/Holy Spirit will provide for everything as being some sort of practical advice (bring a staff – wear sandals)?

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

            brenmcg: I take it as Matthew redacting Mark to make the point that Jesus’s disciples are to trust God for everything.

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  December 10, 2019

            But trusting god for everything is clearly the original version. Matthew 10:19-20 “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

            Luke 9:30 has the same version as Matthew.

            Mark is the one doing the redacting and he has misunderstood the original.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            There are some scholars who think Matthew wrote first. However, they are as rare as hen’s teeth. By far, most scholars think Mark wrote first, and for good reasons. If interested, I did two podcasts on the matter:

            re: Matthew Priority: https://youtu.be/AT00Uolpvag
            re: Markan Priority: https://youtu.be/8YUQObDsnAo

          • Avatar
            brenmcg  December 11, 2019

            Thanks Mike – I’ve listened to the podcasts before, but I think Matthean priority will eventually win out!

            And thanks overall for your blog series and willingness to engage.

          • Mike Licona
            Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

            You’re welcome, brenmcg!

  15. Avatar
    vienna1791  December 10, 2019

    Dr. Licona,

    A decent amount of what I believed to be clear and straight forward contradictions can certainly be explained and even reconciled when taken within the context you’ve laid out. Great work, I must say. Not all, though. Perhaps not enough for some. You’ve obviously done extensive research and quality work on the subject.

    This leads to my question: Is a compilation of books (The Bible) that is read by a massive group of people (an overwhelming majority of who are not scholars, nor historians, nor probably educated) as if it were written to contain God’s word for humanity supposed to be this difficult to reconcile seemingly apparent discrepancies in an attempt to preserve its presupposed trustworthiness, particularly if its writing was guided and directed by God Himself to the “masses”?? After all, Christ came to the uneducated and humble, not the knowledgeable and wise.

    It’s been a pleasure reading your work – Thank you!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      Thanks, vienna1791! In my view, the problem emerges when we read the Bible with certain preconceived ideas of what divinely inspired Scripture must look like. Here’s a principle I encourage my students to follow: If we truly want to have a view of Scripture that honors God, we must accept it as He has given it to us rather than insist that it conform to a model shaped by how we think He should have. If we shrink from this, we may claim to have a high view of Scripture when we actually have a high view of our view of Scripture.

  16. Avatar
    Kunalians23  December 10, 2019

    But as a Christian , trying to be fair to nonbelievers…I wish the quality of the evidences would be higher to better attest to this one time event ( I believe that it’s likely that the gospels were based on eyewitnesses and written during a short period after Jesus life on earth). If we determine probability based on the reasonable principle that “extraordinary claim should require extraordinary evidence” then in that sense the resurrection is of low probability. Thoughts?

    This being my last comment …thanks so much for taking the time to reply to all the comments. God bless u and have a merry Christmas!

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      You’re welcome, Kunalians23. You wrote, “If we determine probability based on the reasonable principle that ‘extraordinary claim should require extraordinary evidence’ then in that sense the resurrection is of low probability. Thoughts?”

      I don’t see a necessary connection between (a) probability and (b) extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To me, they appear to be different approaches. So, what about (b)? Landing on the moon in July 1969 was an extraordinary event. Yet, it did not take extraordinary evidence to justify belief that it had occurred. Seeing it on television (and I viewed it very closely!) was an ordinary event. And I observed it on a medium that’s known to be biased and often unreliable.

      Lets take another scenario, a hypothetical one. Lets say my wife walks in our house after going grocery shopping and she’s beside herself. “Mike! I just saw an alien at the grocery store! It was terrifying!” Now, lets assume that, having been married to her for 32 years, I can tell she truly believes that she saw an alien. She has made an extraordinary claim. But does it require extraordinary evidence? And what is meant by “extraordinary”? Does it have to glow? I’m not persuaded that intelligent alien life capable of visiting Earth exists. Yet, knowing my wife to be a rational and intelligent person not easily deceived, I don’t a priori dismiss her testimony. Now lets say that, as I’m cataloguing her report in my mind, our next door neighbor barges in our home panicked and claiming he just returned from the same grocery store in which he saw an alien and became terrified. And lets say that, as far as I can tell, he’s not joking. My wife then turns on the tv and we see on every channel reports of alien sighting from all over the world. There are even a few videos. I then hear a strange loud noise outside and go out and see a strange looking aircraft flying overhead. Now I’m going to have to consider updating my background knowledge. Yet, none of the evidence I’ve cited is “extraordinary;” at least as most think of the term. An extraordinary claim may require additional evidence that challenges me to update my background knowledge. But I wouldn’t say it requires extraordinary evidence; at least how we typically understand the term “extraordinary” in this context.

      • Avatar
        crt112@gmail.com  December 10, 2019

        But what if your wife says she’s found a book that was written 2000 years ago , well before any concept of scientific proof , and within a time when multiple gods were assumed to be intervening in daily life, and that book said some aliens had landed in 30 AD ? Maybe it even said a few people saw the aliens.
        My first reaction would be that by todays standards you have an unreliable source, and based on human experience, research and knowledge it is highly unlikely.
        Having said that, thank you for your posts. If I was still trying to hold to historical reliability of the gospels I’d use you as my reference 🙂

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

          crt112: I think it’s important to observe the step you’ve taken here. Your objection was “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I replied that such does not follow and provided reasons. You then shifted your objection to the reliability of the Gospel sources. Of course, you’re free to do that. However, I just want to point out that you have changed your objection.

          Re: your hypothetical example of a book written 2k year ago reporting some aliens landing in 30AD. Lets say the Gospels, Asconius, and a Chinese source all report what appears to have been a flying saucer land and aliens emerging in Jerusalem, Rome, and China. And lets assume that their reports provide descriptions of the flying saucer and aliens that are strikingly similar. For me, I would have to reassess my present view that aliens of this sort do not exist. How about you?

      • Avatar
        Kunalians23  December 11, 2019

        Dr. Licona- what I meant about extraordinary evidence was just better or a higher quality of evidence (something u demonstrated with ur alien example by having living witnesses). I think it’s easy to imagine what better evidences for resurrection would look like (mass living eyewitness, independent (stakeholder-less) confirmation , control repetition , etc). We could debate the theological benefits of having a higher quality of evidence but I think from a history inquiry perspective it would enhance our ability to judge its probability. Also, it seems reasonable to judge extraordinary claims as low probability until we have a higher quality of evidences suggesting otherwise especially ones that affects everyone’s destiny.
        In my line of work as a cpa, I don’t think I could sign off on the resurrection bc of the uniqueness of the event and the quality of the evidence (lack of reperformance and lack of living or stakeholder-less confirmation…etc) thus I couldn’t confirm the probability of the occurrence. U could then say that would make me agnostic on most historical inquiries. In a sense u would be right but I would also say that most historical questions are not dealing with someone raising from the dead.

        So in the end, I can completely understand a nonbeliever claiming that the resurrection is of low probability bc of the quality of evidence and the extraordinary claims.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

          Kunalians23: Thanks for your comments. I think the quality of evidence for Jesus’s resurrection is very good. At least one eyewitness (Paul), who was hostile before seeing Jesus (Paul), two more sources that are at minimum basing their report on direct eyewitness testimony (Mark, John). The resurrection hypothesis account for the known data far better than competing hypotheses.

  17. Avatar
    veritas  December 10, 2019

    Hi Dr. Licona, thanks for contributing your view in this unknowable subject. In your last post I noticed, you generated four pages of responses. Wow, that’s impressive. It made for some good reading. On aside note. I recently heard one of your debates with Dr. Ehrman. You made a reference to the Pac 10, in your closing argument, as a nickname, having more teams than ten teams. I think you were responding to Bart’s comment of the twelve disciples but only being eleven as to his point. The Pac 10, now Pac 12, ( Colorado and Utah are the two newest members) just like the Big 10 and other conferences, do involve other teams as well. But only those member colleges can play for the championship of that specific conference. So let’s say UNLV went 12-0, they would not qualify for the Pac 12 championship even though they went undefeated and had the best record. Yes, the Pac 12 plays with other teams outside that conference , but those other teams do not belong to the Pac 12 conference. I got the impression when you made the comment, you implied more than 12 teams are in the conference, which are not. Pac 12 is only 12 member colleges, just like the Big 10 is only 10 member colleges, no more/ less. The same as the ACC and SEC conferences. Accept my apologies if I misunderstood. Thanks. ( 2009 debate Charlotte, N.C. Can Jesus resurrection be proven historically? )

  18. Avatar
    drkdowd  December 10, 2019

    Well, I presume it would be universally agreed that in his appearances after crucifiction, Jesus did not say to Paul or any of the other disciples “Recite!”.

    The Gospels are stories about Jesus. Why do they have to be ineffable?. It is a standard that
    only leads to doubt in the fundamental message.

    As Mike Licona implies, witness testimony is not necessarily reliable, and is often tainted by bias.

    The Johannines believed that Jesus was the word of God made flesh. Paul’s followers implied that “Sola fide” is sufficient. The writers of ‘Matthew’ were trying to emphasise Jesus’ lineage to David, and the significance of him as a ‘suffering messiah’. Mark has a lot of ‘Mea Culpa’ in it, suggesting it is based on the reminiscences of Peter.

  19. Avatar
    mtavares  December 10, 2019

    Your point is well made that inerrancy for the ancients may have been different than what us moderns initially view it as. I think that’s why some of us are confused when someone says the bible is inerrant while granting differences in the accounts or incidental historical blunders. My questions is, why hang onto the word inerrant in particular when describing the historical reliability of the bible? Why not a different word or phrase that most modern people would understand out of the gate? Thanks, Matt

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 10, 2019

      mtavares: I agree with you that there are better words to describe the Bible than “inerrant.”

      • Avatar
        Kunalians23  December 12, 2019

        Dr Licona- do u think if u just stop using the word “inerrancy” it would eliminate a lot confusing and maybe the “Geisler/mcgrew” group wouldn’t be so sharp in their criticism. ( I feel like people use the word “inerrancy” has a tribal word that indicates if u are a “good” or “bad” guy).

        Also will u respond to mcgrew last new book?

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 12, 2019

          Kunalians23: I don’t think “inerrancy” is the best term to describe the Bible. However, I’ve chosen to use it for now with qualifications, as others also do.

          The Geisler/McGrew group contains sincere people. Geisler was and McGrew is sincere and good people. But they are uber critical in their very nature. I can’t change that about them and I’m not going to allow their lives to affect where I want to go. I will probably offer a response to McGrew’s new book sometime in the future. However, I don’t think it will be a long one.

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    Zak1010  December 10, 2019

    Dr Licona,

    Discrepancies and contradictions in the Bible are are far too many to count.
    Lets just take the ones that deal with the Doctrine. ( Crucifixion / Resurrection / Deity – Trinity ).
    Each of these have huge discrepancies and contradictions between the 4 Gospels.

    — Crucifixion : Debates / confusion / assumptions till this day about what truly happened.( before, during and after )
    — Resurrection : Debates / confusion / assumptions till this day about what happened. ( who was there? who went to the tomb? who said what? Was Jesus there?)
    — Deity of Jesus – Trinity : Debates / confusion / assumptions till this day . ( Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, God, Messiah…. )

    I want to be a Christian. Where did Jesus say, I am God, bow to me- prostrate to me- pray to me- worship me….?
    John is the only Gospel that mentions it. The trinity verse was omitted in certain Bible versions by High Church authorities. ( confusion )
    You mentioned that Mathew and Luke borrowed or are similar to Mark who used earlier sources Q and others. No where does it mention that Jesus said He was God. Or better yet, why was that left out if he did actually say that? Pretty important to the average lay man.
    Even though the 4 Gospels are at odds with each other, the first three seem to have a common theme.
    Excluding John, the other Gospels talk of Jesus advising / teaching his followers of what to do to prepare for the Kingdom. Not claiming he was God as in John and concentrating on his nature.

    Lots of Gospels were left out of the Canon / Lots of Gospels were lost. If we removed the Gospel according to John, what would be the consistent message from Jesus?

    Scholars today quote and reference using precise notable books with legitimate proven authorship. Yet we quote and reference the New Testament knowing well that authorship is anonymous and certainly not witnesses to any of the three Doctrines mentioned above.

    Dr Licona, God can’t be vague nor confusing or else He can’t hold us accountable. When Jesus said ‘ I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’, what did he mean by ” to My God ” ?

    • Mike Licona
      Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

      Zak1010: I see that you did not heed Bart’s request to limit to one question for the moment. I don’t view them as “huge discrepancies and contradictions.” I think you suffer from literary sensitivity.

      Jesus never said the words, “I am God.” However, he did the things that only God does. Here’s a lecture I gave on the topic a few years ago: https://youtu.be/gT2TN6kA5kY

      • Avatar
        Tempo1936  December 11, 2019

        Unknown authors, Many decades after Jesus died, claimed Jesus did things that only God can do. These claims are likely fictional meant to excite people who want to believe and be moved emotionally much like claims made at a MAGA rally.

        • Mike Licona
          Mike Licona  December 11, 2019

          Tempo1936: Since you wish to continue parading that the anonymity of the Gospels suggests their authors are unknown, I suppose you think the same of Plutarch, Livy, Sallust, Plato, Galen, Porphry, and others. Why not also call their authorship into question? I’ll make it easy for you. Plutarch is regarded as the finest biographer in antiquity. Look at the evidence we have that Plutarch wrote the parallel “Lives.”Then compare that evidence with the evicence we have for the authorship of the Gospels.

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