Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blessed Easter!

I Corinthians 15
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
[snip]
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Luke 24
32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,
34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and did eat before them.

Easter post here on the importance of the historical, bodily resurrection at What's Wrong With the World.

Blessed Easter!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What if the Gospels are bio-pics?

The "literary device" theory that I have written so much about in the past year holds that it was culturally accepted for the gospel authors to alter facts for either literary or theological purposes. Suggestions to this effect range from altering who said what within a scene to changing the year in which the cleansing of the Temple occurred by a full three years to inventing entire incidents.

At times the debate on whether this is a problem can become mired in the ethics of it: Would it be morally wrong for the Gospel authors to do this?

My brief answer is "Yes, it certainly would be." But I'm concerned that another point, perhaps equally important, not be lost sight of.

Those advocating the "literary device" theory will attempt to deflect any ethical judgement against the Gospel authors on the grounds that this was socially accepted, so it was not morally wrong, since everyone sort of tacitly understood that at any given moment an author of a so-called "bios" might be doing such a thing. In this respect, they will say, the Gospels are like movies that are based on true events. Nobody thinks that it is morally wrong for someone to make a bio-pic or a partially fictional movie, because it's just understood that it might be partially fictionalized. The makers of Chariots of Fire are not lying because they crafted a scene in which Jennie, the sister of runner Eric Liddell, expresses concern that he is too devoted to his running and that this may be taking away from his commitment to God. I have heard that the real Jennie, who was still alive when the movie was made, was a little unhappy that she had been portrayed in this way, since no such conversation ever took place. But oh, well, many would say: We all ought to know better than to take everything in a movie to be non-fictional. In other words, non-naive people just know to put a question mark over most things in a dramatized, partially fictionalized bio-pic, and that's why its makers aren't doing something ethically wrong.

But there is now an epistemic problem. What if the only source we had about that period in the life of Eric Liddell were Chariots of Fire? What if we knew that it was partially fictionalized, that its makers had "taken liberties" with what happened, but we didn't know how far that had gone? What if we had no way to check out the specifics?

Perhaps the most we could then conclude would be that Eric Liddell existed, that he probably won some major Olympic victory (maybe a gold medal, though that might have been "transferred" from a silver medal--you never know), that he lived approximately in the period after WWI, that he was deeply religious, and that there may have been some kind of perceived conflict between his religious scruples and his athletic competition. In the movie it is that he would not run on Sunday. And in real life, we can check out the fact that that was true in real life. But suppose we couldn't check it out, but we knew that the movie was fictionalized. Then we'd have only a vague thought that maybe Liddell was asked to run at such a time or in such a way that he perceived it as conflicting with his religion. Or heck, maybe the conflict was something quite different (diet?).

It would be extremely difficult to be confident about anything much, and even in that previous paragraph I am, to no small extent, making up as I go along what we could be confident about and what we couldn't, and how qualified the whole thing would have to be. After all, bio-pics can vary pretty widely in how much liberty they take.

So if the Gospels were like bio-pics, this would mean that from a factual point of view they are not good sources for the life and teachings of Jesus. To no small extent we would be guessing as far as trying to figure out just how "big picture" we would have to go before getting to the far more minimal historical facts that we could glean from them. There would be a great deal we could not know, as the redactive fog descends.

Now, that would be a pretty big deal, especially since we're being asked (if we're Christians) to be ready to die for Jesus and to commit ourselves to a variety of creedal propositions, even if we just restrict ourselves to so-called "Mere Christianity."

The Gospels are our primary source documents for the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. We don't have other sources in which we can look things up to separate fact from fiction if the Gospels are like bio-pics.

So it would be a pretty radical thing to decide that the Gospels are like bio-pics. I therefore propose that people try to examine the arguments that are given for this type of liberty that the Gospel authors supposedly had. Do those arguments hold up? I've argued at length that they do not.

Please do this instead of spending your time arguing that it wouldn't matter anyway. And please don't distract yourself into arguing that it wouldn't matter because it "wouldn't be unethical." Whether it would be unethical or not, since it would greatly reduce the amount that we can know with any degree of justification about Jesus, we need to figure out whether the Gospels are accurately characterized in this way.

It is astonishing to me, and somewhat disheartening, that it is this hard to get people even to look through the telescope. It seems to me that those spending endless amounts of energy (e.g., on Facebook) arguing that this would be no big deal are apparently determined to let go or let slide the thesis that this is what the Gospels are like. Hey, if it's no big deal, why should we bother finding out if it's true or not?

Wouldn't your time be better spent trying to find out if it's true or not? And at a minimum, wouldn't it be better epistemically if the Gospels, as historical sources, are not like bio-pics, are more reliable than that? So let's try to figure that out. Because there is no good reason to think that they are. See the series.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"I thirst"

As we go into Holy Week, this song is especially meaningful.

It strikes me that perhaps the last time I shared it I didn't even know that the historicity of Jesus' words "I thirst" had been called into question by so-called "evangelical" scholars. What a sad thing that is.

Our Lord not only suffered all of the agony of crucifixion but also expressed physical agony. And the great wonder of it all is that he, who was the king of creation, who made the rivers and the seas, suffered thirst for you and for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"We Would See Jesus"

This was one of those hymns I kept passing up in the hymnal, thinking, "I don't know that one." Well, it was time to get to know it. It's beautiful, partly because of the Mendelssohn tune. The tune is "Songs Without Words" opus 30, #3.

The words...Well, they were written when hymn lyrics were hymn lyrics. Fun fact: Anna Bartlett Warner, who wrote these lyrics, also wrote the words to "Jesus Loves Me." More verses here. Performance here.

1. We would see Jesus, for the shadows lengthen
Across this little landscape of our life;
We would see Jesus, our weak faith to strengthen
For the last weariness, the final strife.

2. We would see Jesus, the great rock foundation
Whereon our feet were set with sov’reign grace;
Nor life nor death, with all their agitation,
Can thence remove us, if we see His face.

3. We would see Jesus: sense is all too binding,
And heaven appears too dim, too far away;
We would see Thee, Thyself our hearts reminding
What Thou hast suffered, our great debt to pay.

4. We would see Jesus: this is all we’re needing;
Strength, joy, and willingness come with the sight;
We would see Jesus, dying, risen, pleading;
Then welcome day, and farewell mortal night.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Transcript and commentary: The "I am" statements, again

Regular readers will remember the dust-up last fall in which I discussed the fact that ostensibly evangelical scholar Craig A. Evans had agreed with skeptic Bart Ehrman, strongly implying that Jesus never uttered the "I am" statements or "I and the Father are one" in an historically recognizable fashion. Instead, he said, these were "he is" declarations of the "Johannine community."

At that time, NT scholar Michael Licona rather surprisingly jumped to Evans's defense, going on at some length to bolster and stand up for his views. When I (quite understandably) concluded that Licona shared those views, Licona accused me of misrepresentation, claiming that he, personally, is agnostic on the historicity of these sayings in John and merely was explaining what "many scholars" think on the subject. However, it was apparently sufficiently important to explain and defend what these "many scholars" think that he did so repeatedly and at some length, adding a great deal to what Evans had said. Exchanges on the topic from that time can be followed here and here.

On February 21, 2018, Dr. Licona debated Bart Ehrman on the question of the reliability of the Gospels. There is much that I could say about this debate, the most notable point of which is that, frankly, Dr. Licona didn't really defend the reliability of the Gospels. One of the more painful portions is the place beginning around 1:46 and in the minutes following where Licona insists that Luke knowingly, and contrary to fact, places the first meeting between Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, even though it really took place in Galilee (minute 1:47), but that this is nonetheless "accurate" because Licona dubs Luke's deliberate fictionalization on this factual point a "compositional device." Ehrman is (predictably) merciless. Ehrman: "The appearance was in Galilee but Luke says it was in Jerusalem, and you think that that's accurate?"

If that's the case, one wonders what becomes of Doubting Thomas? (Recall that Licona casts some doubt on the historicity of the Doubting Thomas sequence in the book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, p. 178, but doesn't quite conclude there that it is ahistorical.) Given Licona's relative confidence now (according to his statements in this debate) that the first meeting between Jesus and his disciples really took place in Galilee, where does that leave the Thomas sequence? Did the other disciples send a message from Galilee down to Thomas, who was still hanging around dubiously in Jerusalem, that they had seen Jesus? What happened next? Moreover, since the meeting that Licona is now saying is the true first meeting, as recorded in Matthew 28:16ff, uses the phrase "the eleven" for the number of central male disciples present, and since Licona has already insisted in his book that this must be a counting noun rather than a generic term for the group, this would also (on Licona's interpretation that this was the first meeting) seem once again to contradict the Doubting Thomas sequence. One wonders if Licona has thought of this, or if it is a matter of any concern to him.

In this post I chiefly want to transcribe and discuss Licona's answer to Ehrman's argument from silence concerning Jesus' comparatively more explicit claims to deity (such as "Before Abraham was, I am" and "I and the Father are one") in the Gospel of John. In his usual bullying fashion, Ehrman goes on about this at some length around from 1:14 and following, trying to make it sound like John is in opposition to the synoptics concerning the deity of Christ and as though it is just too incredible that Jesus could have made these statements historically without their being mentioned in the synoptic Gospels. It is sheer sleight of hand and should be called out as such, but it is difficult for most people just to stand up to Ehrman when he does this kind of thing.

A questioner in the Q & A reminds Licona of that portion of Ehrman's discussion. Licona thanks the questioner for reminding him, since he had not responded to it in his first rebuttal. He then goes on a tour of alleged places in the Gospel of Mark that imply Jesus' deity by Jesus' actions. Some of them are solid, such as the claim to the divine prerogative to forgive sins in Mark 2. Others are highly dubious as claims to deity. These include Jesus' claim in Mark 3:27 to be able to bind Satan, which isn't a claim to deity at all. It is of course a claim to represent the one true God, who is stronger than Satan. But the archangel Michael can bind and cast down Satan, per the Book of Revelation, though he is a created being.

Anyway, there is nothing at all wrong with challenging Bart's implication that the synoptics don't give the faintest hint that Jesus is God. That is Bart's typical exaggeration, and it's fine to call it out.

But Licona, who is getting set up to call the historicity of Jesus' unique claims in John "irrelevant" (!), exaggerates the strength of the case for Jesus' deity from the Gospel of Mark alone. He continues by calling into question the historicity of the unique statements in John:
2:08:15

So what Mark does is he gives us a literary portrait of Jesus, of Jesus claiming to be God through his deeds. Whereas what I think in John’s gospel, and virtually every single Johannine scholar will say, that John is giving us a paraphrase. He’s taking Jesus’ stuff and he’s restating it in Johannine idiom. And many will say that John takes what Jesus would have said and done implicitly and he restates it in an explicit manner. So did Jesus actually make some of these divine claims explicitly, word-for-word, like he does in John? Who knows? But whether he did or not is irrelevant. He still made claims through his actions and the things that he did that came to the same thing.
The first point I want to note here is the increasing difficulty Licona should have in plausibly denying that he is expressing his own view that the statements in John are not recognizably historical. Here he actually says, "Whereas what I think in John's gospel..." then shifts mid-sentence to "virtually every single Johannine scholar," then to "many will say" and finally to "Who knows?" But he started out with "Whereas what I think in John's gospel..." in contrast to the apparently historical events just recounted from Mark.

If this is what he thinks, then this is what he thinks, and he should be willing to admit it rather than being unclear.

Next, the apparent implication that "virtually every single Johannine scholar" denies the literal, recognizable historicity of the unique deity sayings in John is fairly hyperbolic and dubious. It is certainly false if we include the "democracy of the dead." It is questionable even if applied to evangelical scholars living today.

But perhaps Mike meant to do what he does elsewhere, which is to make some extremely strong statement such as "virtually every Johannine scholar says" that John "adapted Jesus' sayings"--a statement so vague as to be nearly contentless--and then to use that broad claim as a jumping-off point for some more specific claim concerning ahistoricity in the Gospel of John. Thus "virtually every Johannine scholar" ends up being an unwitting endorser of some specific claim concerning John's allegedly altering facts. He does this, in fact, with the very point at issue (the historicity of the unique deity claims in John) in this post. There, he moves from a statement by Craig Keener that all "Johannine scholars acknowledge Johannine adaptation of the Jesus tradition" to John's alleged "adaptation" in the form of completely making up the more explicit claims to deity in John in contrast to this, a conclusion (wrongly) inferred from the synoptics: "Jesus spoke of His identity implicitly, even in terms that were somewhat cryptic" rather than anything "nearly as overt as we find in John."

We don't actually know that virtually every Johannine scholar, much less "all" such scholars, believe that John did that. Even if they did, of course, this is a fairly blatant argument from authority in the worst of senses and a poor argument. Popularity, especially popularity among the living alone, has always been a terrible test of truth. And the same applies to "many scholars," with which Licona continues.

The next point I want to note is the abuse of the term "paraphrase." If, as discussed by Licona elsewhere, all that Jesus said and did concerning his deity is the kind of implication that we find in the synoptic Gospels, if the scenes surrounding John 8:58 and John 10:31 and the shocking statements by Jesus in those verses never took place in any recognizable form, and if John wrote the scenes as they occur in his Gospel anyway, knowing that they never took place historically in a recognizable fashion, this is not paraphrase. It is not remotely like paraphrase. It is fiction, pure and simple. It might or might not be fiction based on theological truth as taught by Jesus in some other fashion. But that does not make it a paraphrase. To use "paraphrase" in this way is the sheerest word kidnapping, and it needs to be called out sharply and unequivocally.

The next point to which I want to draw attention is the straw man technique of suddenly talking about whether or not Jesus uttered these sayings "word-for-word." That is not the question, and Licona must know that it is not the question. If Jesus said, "I and the Father are a unity" rather than "I and the Father are one," or if he spoke in Aramaic and we have a good translation into Greek, or if he said, "Before Abraham was living in Canaan, I am," etc., and if the dialogue and the attempted stoning took place recognizably as recounted in John, that would still be a direct denial of what Ehrman is saying--that the events did not take place historically. Those who disagree with Ehrman on this point and who are willing to take him on head-to-head, rather than conceding his denial of historicity, do not have to hold that Jesus' words and the dialogue leading up to them is precisely, exactly, word-for-word as we have it. That is a blatant straw man representation of anyone on the "conservative" side who would not concede what Licona is conceding. It is meant to make it sound as though Licona (and/or the "many scholars" whose view he is putting forward) are not actually denying historicity in any important sense that deserves scrutiny, when in fact they are.

Finally, there is the blatantly false statement that the historicity of these fairly explicit statements in John is "irrelevant" and that the claims Licona has laid out from Mark "come to the same thing." This is completely incorrect from an epistemic point of view. You simply cannot make implicit claims equivalent to explicit claims, or even nearly explicit claims. The latter are always going to have epistemic vectors that the former don't have. It can never be epistemically irrelevant whether or not Jesus claimed, so clearly that he was nearly stoned, to be the "I am" of the Old Testament and whether he said (again, so clearly that the Jews tried to stone him) that he was one with Yahweh. To try to get away with brushing off the importance of the question, as Licona does, is just breathtaking. I have no doubt that Dr. Licona has convinced himself of what he says about the "irrelevance" of the historicity of these statements in John, but it is certainly untrue, and Christians need to reject it decisively. I fear that the reason some are not doing so is, quite simply, that they are afraid that they cannot defend the historicity of John.

Making false epistemic claims merely gives us false comfort. Let us, as knowledgeable and informed Christians, instead admit the importance of John's Gospel and then defend it vigorously, with reasons and evidence. But it appears that we will have to do so without the help of Dr. Evans and Dr. Licona and perhaps others. If so, be it so. Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world, Bart Ehrman included. (I John 4:4)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why do I write in response to Dr. Licona's ideas?

There is a strange talking point that I'm seeing amongst Dr. Licona's supporters, and I have a little trouble getting a handle on it. But it amounts more or less to saying that they cannot understand why I am writing so much in response to his book, because "his ideas" were already advocated by other evangelical scholars previously, so why am I focusing on his work in particular? See also here.

It seems like there may be some hint in all of this, though usually unstated, that I must have some personal vendetta against Dr. Licona or else I wouldn't write so much about his work.

This meme comes up so often that I gather that somewhere folks sit around and say it to one another over and over again, until they think it is some kind of deep point, and then it comes out in public forums.

This really puzzles me. To begin with, if someone is a fan of Licona's work, presumably he thinks that work is doing something. If someone values his work, then he must think it is serving some function. Licona wrote a fairly recent book and, rumor has it, he is working on new projects. (One would expect a scholar to be doing so.) Meanwhile he gives speeches and debates in which he heavily promotes the ideas from his book. His ideas are popular; they are getting a lot of buzz in the evangelical community. If you agree with his ideas, presumably you think this is having some effect. His supporters presumably don't want to say, "Nah, never mind reading Licona's work. There's nothing new there at all. Evangelicals and their leading scholars knew all of this before. It's completely redundant." I'm sure that isn't what they think.

But in that case, if one disagrees with the ideas (as I do), and if one thinks they are seriously harmful to our view of the Gospels, then presumably one thinks it is not a good thing that they are being popularized and promoted so heavily in the wake of Licona's book and that they are becoming so widely accepted. Right? So then presumably one thinks it is worthwhile to write and argue against them.

Even if various scholars have said some of the same things Licona is saying now (I'll return to that below), it is sociologically unusual to have a book by an evangelical scholar that so consistently and systematically promotes fictionalization in the Gospels and that attempts to popularize the concept within relatively conservative Christian circles. So someone who takes my perspective on the ideas thinks that this relatively recent sociological movement within conservative Christian circles, going out to an increasingly wide audience in the apologetics community, seminaries, etc., needs to be spoken out against.

Moreover, given that I'm almost the only person doing so, it takes quite a bit of work to try to cover the bases and get the word out that there is a contrary view of the matter.

Another point: Licona’s book is also unusual in that it makes a claim to be based on specialized, original research into the culture of the time when the Gospels were written. He claims to have brought new, objective, historical research to the table. Because most people (including scholars) are not going to go and check up on this claim, it will tend to nail in place the legitimacy of fictionalization devices in the Gospels in people's minds. The idea will be that this has just been discovered, that we just know this now about the cultural background of the Gospels. Again, presumably that is the effect Licona himself is aiming for. Why wouldn't it be? That's what he sincerely believes. In his book (p. 201) he tells people that they need to take on his view like "new glasses" and get used to it despite "initial discomfort."

That, too, needs to be answered, and once again, I'm pretty much the only person doing that. I don't know of a single other person who has gone back and looked up as many of Licona's putative Plutarch examples and other examples from Roman history, nor who has written about such examples at length, showing that they do not stand up to scrutiny. (By the way, it takes so long to write up Plutarch examples that I could fit only a few into that post. If you have a specific example that you are interested in, feel free to write me personally at lydiamcgrew [at] gmail.com and ask about it.) Once again, you can't have it both ways: You can't claim that Licona is doing special, new, helpful scholarship on the Gospels based on Greco-Roman literature but then tell someone who disagrees with him that they shouldn't be writing about him in particular, because Licona is just repeating things that others have previously said anyway.

Now, about this idea that "other people" have agreed with Licona's ideas. This takes a variety of different forms, and they need to be distinguished.

1) There is confusion about different uses of terms like "compression" and "telescoping." See my first bad habit of New Testament scholars in my talk, here. Not every scholar who says that a Gospel author "telescoped" is talking about a fictionalizing device. Licona is unusual in that he is fairly consistently promoting an unequivocally fictionalizing set of concepts that go by such names ("telescoping" or "compression" or "not narrating chronologically"), though he occasionally speaks unclearly as well. So some scholars who might be said to be "saying the same thing" are not actually saying the same thing.

2) There is promotion of Licona's work, with or without careful examination of all its details. But if another scholar (such as William Lane Craig, for example) has been influenced by Licona's work and has made endorsing remarks in the past several years, then that makes it all the more relevant to go back to the influencing source and to show that it doesn't stand up to examination.

3) There are a handful of fairly popular fictionalizations that have worked their way into the evangelical community and have become standardized. I probably don't have a complete list, but they at least include the allegation that John moved the Temple cleansing and that Luke tried to make it look like Jesus ascended on Easter Day. These are badly wrong, and their popularity is highly unfortunate. I am by no means unaware of their popularity, including their endorsement by authors such as Dr. Keener (Temple cleansing movement) and Dr. Craig (both of these examples) whom I respect, and if anyone thinks I was unaware, please take this for a clear, public acknowledgement. I would love to have a chance to convince them otherwise. (I'm glad to be able to add that someone like Dr. Craig has so much other incredibly valuable work that his endorsement of these views of these passages is not central to his work, as of course it is to Licona's.)

Licona's work places these unfortunate lapses by evangelical scholars into an alleged historical context that will (to repeat) make it even harder for people (both the other scholars and those who learn these ideas from them) to realize that they are incorrect. His work also promotes and systematizes a mindset according to which fictionalizations on the part of Gospel authors were frequent and expected. Nobody else who falls into his perceived ideological niche is doing that right now. He also goes much farther than these few popular and accepted fictionalizations, and I strongly suspect that some who have promoted his work do not know about all of his ideas and would not endorse all of them by any means if they knew of all of them that are out there. My post series shows how he does so. His work will therefore take these few popular examples and use them as a wedge that will cause many to think that they should accept a much, much longer list, including even more radical examples, of frequent, broad fictionalizations by the Gospel authors.

The evangelical community needs to go back and reconsider those popular examples. Licona's work attempts to move them in exactly the wrong direction into even more acceptance of fictionalization than is already popular, and this is yet another reason why it is highly relevant to respond to it.

It is simply sloppy thinking to use a phrase like "Other people have said these same things" without specifying which same things and how many of the same things. That is an illicit attempt to use well-known and respected names to bolster Licona's views. We need to make distinctions.

4) Behind closed doors at various scholarly meetings, particularly the SBL and also to some degree the ETS, the "guild" of evangelical scholars, especially those who view themselves in a congratulatory fashion as less "rigid" than the old-style inerrantists, do tend to affirm one another in views that include Licona's among them as not (yet) the most radical. This is why Licona could rhetorically position himself as somewhat of a moderate when Craig A. Evans agreed with Bart Ehrman that Jesus probably never uttered the "I am" statements (or "I and the Father are one") in an historically recognizable form. Licona said that he "wouldn't go as far as" Evans did, though he declared himself agnostic on the matter and spent quite a number of pixels in various places giving arguments for Evans's views! ("This is why scholars think..." "By no means would this mean that the Gospels are unreliable..." Etc.)

This interaction of the guild is also borne out in the fact that a couple of Licona's more...interesting theories in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? were not original with him but rather came from Dan B. Wallace. It was, according to Licona (which I have verified) Wallace who originally suggested that Jesus never literally said either "I thirst" or "It is finished" but that these were John's "redactions" of prima facie completely different historical sayings.

So it is true that Licona is being influenced here by other people as well as influencing them. Obviously, groups of scholars influence each other. But here, too, Licona's recent work is unusual in that it is more open, more publicly promoted, more systematic, and more popular than the work of these other people. Indeed, it is quite difficult to get hold of a copy of Dan Wallace's paper in which he promoted those views about the words from the cross. I have a copy, sent to me upon request by Wallace himself, but only with the caveat that I must not publish the paper on "social media." I can state that he does take the positions Licona attributes to him, but this is just because Licona had already published that fact in his own book (pp. 165-166), so I'm not telling anybody anything that wasn't already out there. As can be imagined, there is more in Wallace's paper. It isn't just about those two sayings. But Wallace is refusing to publish it.

Similarly, a lot of people had not even seen the video clip of Craig Evans agreeing with Bart Ehrman about the "I am" statements. So Licona is promoting a certain view of and attitude toward the Gospels to an extent that these other scholars are not and to an audience that they are not reaching.

Moreover, as a round table like this one shows, Licona is a part of the whole mix and is promoting his ideas to other scholars as well as to pastors and laymen. So he is a kind of bridge between the two worlds--the "inner circles" of evangelical scholarship and the popular apologists and laymen. Within the evangelical scholarly world, he continues to press on those like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock and others, who have (in some ways) better instincts than he does about interpreting Scripture, to try to get them to agree with his views.

All that being said, I absolutely do not shy away for a moment from criticizing a wide swathe of evangelical New Testament scholars for their views when I think they are wrong. I am puzzled and to some extent frustrated by the "meme" to which I'm responding in this post, because of all the people writing in these areas right now, I'm one of the few who is saying most emphatically that the entire discipline, including its evangelical wing, has (in my view) major problems and needs to make a course correction.

There was a pretty large kerfuffle about what Craig A. Evans said about the "I am" statements last fall, both on Facebook (on the wall of Jonathan McLatchie) and on my blog. Originally attention was focused on Evans. He was the one sitting on a stage agreeing with Bart Ehrman about the "I am" statements. I was rather surprised when Licona decided to defend Evans. What more am I (or is anyone else) supposed to do? Pronounce unpleasant ritualistic curses on other scholars in order to prove to Licona's supporters that we realize that he is not alone in his misguided ideas? Would that do? Believe me, I know it well. He does quite deliberately put so many misguided things all in one place, though, that responding to him is, ipso facto, often responding to others as well.

I don't know whether this weird complaint should even be replied to or not. Scholarship is scholarship. When you write a book, you should expect to receive disagreement as well as agreement. Nobody who supports your book should be out there asking, "Why are you criticizing him?" Because he wrote a currently influential book, and because I think it's badly wrong, and because nobody else is writing a systematic critique. It's scholarship, and scholars answer scholars. That's what we do. I certainly hope no one would ever defend Hidden in Plain View, or me, in such a bizarre way. If some other scholar decides to go systematically through Hidden in Plain View and try to say that it's all badly misguided, I would of course disagree with him, but I hope that no one who supports me would be out there telling him that he shouldn't do it because I'm not the only person in the world ever to promote undesigned coincidences. That would just be strange. I bill myself as doing new and exciting scholarship, so of course I should expect that someone who thinks it is all wrong would focus on me. Why wouldn't they?

This all seems so obvious that it should not need to be said. But if you happen to run in apologetics circles and see this meme going around, feel free to link to this post or use its arguments as they seem most relevant. And for those promoting the meme, please consider how silly it looks. Try instead grappling directly with my arguments on the substantive issues.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

J. P. Moreland endorses my critique of Michael Licona

I'm grateful to renowned evangelical scholar J. P. Moreland for his endorsement of my recent work on Mike Licona as well as for his endorsement of Hidden in Plain View. This post went up on his official blog today. See his post for all relevant links.

I have just read Lydia McGrew's stunning, refreshing, rigorous, and powerful 2017 book, Hidden in Plain View. Lydia, a deeply committed Christian and known for her work in analytic philosophy, resurrects and further develops an argument for the historicity of the Gospels and Acts that has long been neglected.  It is must reading.
However, just as or, perhaps, more importantly is her work in providing a first-rate, rigorous, thorough and amiable presentation and critique of an approach to NT historicity--especially in the Gospels and Acts--that sees various literary devices in the text that, whether intentionally or not, tends to undermine the historicity of the Gospels and Acts and eschews sophisticated harmonization attempts based on certain historical and legal forms of reasoning.
McGrew is the only first-rate scholar who has argued these points, quite successfully in my view, and I happily endorse her presentation, "Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)," for the Apologetics Academy's YouTube Channel and at her blog where she critiques Mike Licona's arguments. I urge you to read and view her arguments and pass all of this along to as many people as you can, including on social media.

A tweet linking to this blog post by Moreland also appears on his Twitter account as and can be retweeted. Or one could Tweet

J. P. Moreland endorses Lydia McGrew's critique of Mike Licona. bit.ly/2FmR8io

putting the endorsement of the critique front and center.

I think this is quite important. My strong sense is that too many evangelicals endorsed Mike's work without having read it in detail and that this is part of why it is not getting the scrutiny it should. Also, too many people still say, "Oh, that was all about the Matthew 27 raising of the saints passage, right?" Someone said to me recently, "That was the only passage I ever heard about." But we're way, way beyond that now, with many more passages, invisible fictionalizations galore, and even the invention of entire incidents. See here for a portal summarizing all the posts in my 2017 series on Licona's work. So I think it will be good if various people (Licona included) take note of the extensive problems with this approach. I'm hopeful that Moreland's endorsement will open up such a discussion.