Saturday, September 17, 2011

James Randi's Companion Accused Of Identity Theft

See here and here for a couple of stories about the alleged identity theft committed by a man Randi has been living with for two decades. Randi's level of involvement in the case is unknown at this point. We'll see how the story develops from here. It may reflect poor judgment on Randi's part, if not something worse. It should be noted that Randi's companion didn't just have a personal relationship with him. He also assisted Randi in some of his debunking work. D.J. Grothe, the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, commented:

We at the James Randi Educational Foundation are shocked by the sudden arrest of James Randi's beloved longtime partner, Jose Alvarez. Many of us have known Jose for years, both as a friend and as an ally to our cause who has traveled around the world to promote skepticism and critical thinking. Our thoughts are with Jose and Randi in this difficult time, and we hope they will be quickly reunited. (source)

We've written about some other problems with Randi elsewhere, like on pages 142-143 of The Infidel Delusion and here.


Pick it up at a bargain basement price!

Of course, even today, is the Number One Christopher Hitchens destination on the web.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lumpkins disposable morals

What remains entirely regrettable is, while one could predict--and even understand--they would support The Gospel Coalition, it hardly follows that thinking men would also support The Gospel Coalition’s premature, public hanging of Emergent misfit, Rob Bell, condemning him for theological heresy, heresy they claim he apparently holds in his soon-to-be-released book, Love Wins.
There is a problem--none of his critics have read the book.
I've got to say, from my standpoint, Southern Baptist educators have no business prematurely entering into knee-jerk assessments of doctrinal pieces no matter how severe the error. Southern seminary could have done what academic institutions do and should do thorough and as exhaustively as necessary--wait to properly, soberly, and definitively offer a response to Rob Bell’s alleged heresy in their journal as well as their own writing ministries once the materials to be criticized are actually published and officially available.

Instead, he argues (especially in his book)...Mike Licona has opened pandora’s hermeneutical box, however, by boldly claiming one may hold inerrancy while denying a biblical text’s prima facie historicity, a denial apparently based solely upon extra-biblical literary argumentation.

So why do I quote these two statements back-to-back? Well, if Lumpkins had actually read Licona’s book, he’d know that Licona doesn’t deny this historicity of this incident “based solely upon extra-biblical literary argumentation.”

To the contrary, on pp550-551, Licona also appeals to biblical literary argumentation from OT prophecy. And, on p552, he appeals to the chronological implications of the Matthean syntax (as he construes it).

Lumpkins also says:

Finally, it’s interesting how Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary got pulled into this fiasco, and it bears worth watching how Danny Akin is going to handle an issue which could split the Southern Baptist Convention. One wonders as well if Akin’s professors will judge President Mohler, along with Norm Geisler, to be both “unpersuasive and misguided.”

So this is no longer about the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, this is now about the inerrancy of Albert Mohler and Norman Geisler. Lumpkins has amended the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy to include St. Mohler and St. Geisler.

That may, indeed, split the SBC–between traditional Baptists who affirm sola Scriptura and Baptists like Lumpkins who substitute Mohler and Geisler as their rule of faith.  

The Doctrine of Inspiration and the World of the Ancient Near East

Shortchanged on hope and change

Reinventing Calvin

"An Inconsistent Argument Against Inerrancy"

"Inspired myth"

Defenders of Peter Enns sometimes invoke the category of “inspired myths.” They justify this category as a divine accommodation to historical horizon of ANE readers. A scientifically accurate account would be unintelligible to ancient readers.

And it is, of course, true, that a creation account written in modern technical jargon would be unintelligible to ancient readers. However, assuming (arguendo) that Darwinism is true, it would be possible to express evolutionary ideas in popular language or picturesque descriptions.

If Gen 2 can describe the creation of the woman from the man, then the narrator could describe the creation of human beings from lower animals. The narrator could use the same basic imagery or process. God creates animals, then God uses that raw material to make the first man and woman (or the first men and women). If Gen 2 can depict God making a woman from the body of a man, then the narrator could also depict God making a man from the body of an animal. That would be theistic evolution, cast in terms understandable to ANE readers.

So “inspired myth” is a solution to a pseudoproblem. It operates on a false assumption regarding what was communicable to ancient readers.  Assuming (arguendo) that theistic evolution is actually the way that God made mankind, it would be possible to express that idea in idiomatic terms already available to the narrator (e.g. animation, mediate creation, the imago Dei). It could go something like this:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon a beast of the earth, and while it slept took one of its ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the beast he made into a man. Then the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became the image of God.

So the fact that Gen 1-2 doesn’t give us an evolutionary creation account, even though that would be easy to do, invalidates the argument for revealed mythology. 

Odds and Enns

I wonder if the specter of Peter Enns isn’t hovering in the background of the current flap over Mike Licona. Enns also used hermeneutics and comparative literature to justify his position. And that’s a legitimate concern.

The Enns affair operated on basically two levels. At one level this was an internal affair involving WTS. At that level, the issue wasn’t so much whether Enns was right or wrong, but whether his vision was compatible with the vision of the institution that employed him. It was a question of institutional identity, integrity and discipline. Did he share the same aims of the faculty, administration, board, and alumni. He was supported by the OT dept., but many felt that was the source of the problem.

So at that level it wasn’t a question of proving him wrong, but whether he fit into the WTS culture.

But, of course, there was also the substantive issue. Is he right?

As a result, that issue was mainly taken up and prosecuted by outsiders. Even if, say, his position was an odds with the traditions of Westminster seminary or what have you, that doesn’t settle the substantive question of whether or not he was right. And at the end of the day, that’s what counts.

Enns argued for his position. That needed to be argued down. And that was done by scholars like G.K. Beale, D. A. Carson, John Currid, John Frame, and Bruce Waltke.

There was more than could have been said by way of rebuttal. Once he was fired, his scholarly opponents moved on to their own projects, and bloggers took up the rear.

But he needed to be challenged on his own grounds. It would be inadequate just to quote ETS or ICBI documents.  

Ethnic cleansing and exobiology

As a starting point, it is helpful to think of ETI as trying to maximize some sort of value function.2 Specifically, they are trying to maximize intrinsic value, which is something that is valuable for its own sake.  Intrinsic value contrasts with extrinsic value, in particular instrumental value, which is valuable because it causes additional value.  One can place intrinsic value on many different things, such as life, ecosystems, happiness, knowledge, or beauty. Human ethics is often anthropocentric in the sense that it places intrinsic value only on human phenomena, such as human life, human happiness, or other human factors.  Such anthropocentrism is selfish on a civilizational scale because it involves humans only placing intrinsic value on the interests of their own civilization.
We see two types of scenarios in which ETI might intentionally harm us.  The first scenario involves hostile, selfish ETI that attack us so as to maximize their own success.  This scenario suggests a standard fight-to-win conflict: a war of the worlds.  The second scenario involves ETI that are in no way selfish but instead follow some sort of universalist ethical framework.  ETI might attack us not out of selfishness but instead out of a universalist desire to make the galaxy a better place.
Just because an ETI civilization holds universalist ethics does not mean that it would never seek our harm.  This is because ETI may be quite different from us and could conclude that harming us would help maximize whatever they value intrinsically [34]. For example, if ETI place intrinsic value on lives, then perhaps they could bring about more lives by destroying us and using our resources more efficiently for other lives.  Other forms of intrinsic value may cause universalist ETI to seek our harm or destruction as long as more value is produced without us than with us.  Novelist Douglas Adams captures this scenario vividly in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where ETI place intrinsic value on civic infrastructure (or, more likely, on some consequence of its use) and destroy Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass.  At the heart of these scenarios is the possibility that intrinsic value may be more efficiently produced in our absence.
An interesting and important case of universalist ethics in this context is when civilization itself holds intrinsic value.  ETI that support this ethical framework would seek to maximize the total number of civilizations, the diversity of civilizations, or some other property of civilizations.  All else equal, such ETI would specifically wish for our civilization to remain intact.  But all else may not be equal.  It is plausible that such ETI might try to harm or even destroy us in order to maximize the number/diversity/etc. of civilizations.  This could occur if our resources could be used to more efficiently to generate or retain other civilizations, though this possibility seems highly remote given how efficiently tuned humanity is to its environment.  Alternatively, such ETI could seek our harm if they believe that we are a threat to other civilizations...if ETI doubt that our course can be changed, then they may seek to preemptively destroy our civilization in order to protect other civilizations from us.  A preemptive strike would be particularly likely in the early phases of our expansion because a civilization may become increasingly difficult to destroy as it continues to expand.
Another recommendation is that humanity should avoid giving off the appearance of being a rapidly expansive civilization.  If an ETI perceives humanity as such, then it may be inclined to attempt a preemptive strike against us so as to prevent us from growing into a threat to the ETI or others in the galaxy.  Similarly, ecosystem-valuing universalist ETI may observe humanity’s ecological destructive tendencies and wipe humanity out in order to preserve the Earth system as a whole.

This “scenario analysis” was greeted with much derision when it became public. However, I’d like to examine the analysis from a different angle.

You have infidels like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens who inveigh against the “genocidal” passages of the OT. Loaded words like “ethnic cleansing” are also used. You also have wolfish sheep like Thom Stark and Randal Rauser who copycat the same objections. They assure us that the “genocidal” passages conflict with our fundamental moral intuitions.

However, the “scenario analysis” I just quoted was written by card-carrying secular scientists. They share the same worldview as Hitchens, Dawkins, et al.

And they’re discussing human rights from an exobiological standpoint. Hostile aliens have no moral compunction about committing “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” against the human species. They don’t share our moral intuition about human rights. And that’s because they aren’t human. Our moral intuitions are anthropocentric or speciesistic. Human rights is anthropocentric or speciesistic.

Put another way, a superior alien species has a godlike view of lower animals like human beings. They view us the way we view chickens.

On this analogy, the Israelites were simply making Canaan a better place. It was a preemptive strike to protect the Israel from her enemies. Moreover, the Israelites were making more ecofriendly use of the natural resources, viz. crop rotation. 

Early Christian And Non-Christian Interpretations Of The Matthew 27 Phenomena

Matthew and the other Synoptic gospels suggest that some unusual phenomena mentioned in the narratives of Jesus' death, including the raising of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53, are connected to each other. If the accounts of the darkness, earthquake, etc. are meant to be taken as historical, then the account of the raising of the saints probably is as well. It can't be isolated from the others. Michael Licona suggests such a connection of the phenomena in his book, where he argued for the non-historicity of the saints' resurrection.

Below are some examples of how the early Christians interpreted these passages. These early Christians discuss details not mentioned by Matthew, suggesting that they weren't depending only on what he wrote, and they cite corroboration from non-Christian sources. Therefore, some of the passages below reflect not only how early Christians viewed these phenomena, but how early non-Christians viewed them as well.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

After the flood

I wonder how receptive Darwinians would be to this scenario if it had been developed by a flood geologist to explain the way crocodiles got to remote locations after the flood. Seems to me Darwinians are very receptive to speculation as long as it happens to be evolutionary speculation.

Why Dawkins won't debate William Lane Craig?

Justin Brierley:
Tell me, what do you think ultimately is stopping Dawkins from coming forward?...The premiere atheist in the world. Here you are, coming to his hometown. Why won't he step up and debate you, Bill?

William Lane Craig:
I have been told by a person who is in a position to know, that the reason Dawkins won't debate me really has nothing to do with me. It has to do with the fact that he was really smarting after John Lennox took him to the woodshed in their debates, and he was frankly embarrassed by his performance. He didn't like the way it went with Lennox and basically determined at that time that he's not going to do these sorts of debates anymore because it's simply too humiliating.
(Source - begins at the 8:00 mark)

Personally, I'm quite glad that Dick Dawk has been evading Dr. Craig with all his might - a debate between them would be approximately as competitive as was the Craig-Hitchens debate, or the Craig-Atkins debate, each of which were massacres in Craig's favor.
I'm also glad that Polly Toynbee canceled out. Not because of her; I don't know much about her. I will say that generally speaking, what I've heard from female British atheists has not impressed me. However, the fact that Stephen Law is stepping in to the debate pleases me greatly. Though ultimately reduced to incoherency by SyeTenB in their recent conversation (which began around this post and following), at this time I have more respect for Stephen Law among the ranks of popular (and popularising) atheists than anyone else.

Dying well

HT: Patrick Chan

The Arminian oracle

Roger Olson is God's gift to Calvinism. If he didn't exist, we'd have to invent him:

Defining Myth

Steve Hays has touched on the issue of how we define myth with respect to Genesis. As he suggested, there are a variety of possible definitions. Consider J. W. Rogerson:

How to define the word "myths" is a relatively easy matter...How to define "myth" is another matter altogether. While most, if not all, biblical scholars would agree that the word myth may denote what produces myths, or may mean the understanding of the world which is contained in them, agreement would end as soon as these generalizations were made more specific. Some would argue that myths are produced by a naïve, pre-scientific outlook and that the world-view contained in myths must retreat as science advances. Others would regard myths as the product of a way of knowing different science, expressing truths independently of the knowledge, or lack of it, of scientific causes. There are probably two main reasons for such differences of opinion, the one historical, the other theoretical...The modern period of study of myth begins, however, with the Enlightenment. What made this period different from the periods that preceded it was that new myths were discovered from many parts of the world...Myths were clearly to be seen as a universal phenomenon among mankind, and further impetus was given to discovering what lay behind them.

...what produces myths and what they mean, is the outcome of the length of time that they have been studied and the complex questions about man and culture which are implied. To restrict the question of myth to its meaning in relation to the Bible is to court disaster. Time and again, myth (however understood) has been taken into biblical studies from other disciplines, and it is only by appreciating the wider study of myth that we shall avoid the "slipperiness" of the word, and the confusion this inevitably brings...


(a) Myth as a Lack of Rationality

This can be described as the Enlightenment theory of myth. Myth is a defective understanding of scientific causes, but because man finds it necessary to explain phenomena, theories are put forward in the absence of scientific knowledge. One result is the personification of natural forces...The process of explanation can also go beyond natural forces. The absence of a body of scientific laws makes belief in what Enlightenment man would call miracle all too easy. This in turn assists belief in the constant intervention of the gods or supernatural powers in the affairs of men, and we are brought close to myth as the opposite of history...On this view, myth is a passing phase in the development of mankind, similar to the childhood of an adult...

(b) Myth as an Aspect of Creative Imagination

In opposition to the Enlightenment view, the Romantic movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries regarded myths as an expression of the deepest creative potentialities of man. Myths were a constant source of inspiration to dramatists, poets and painters; they expressed profound truths about human existence, and therefore were not to be regarded merely as a relic of man's childhood. Indeed, the very simplicity of man in his earliest stages of development would enable him to be open to intuitions of truth that would not be available to later, sophisticated ages. Myths were therefore not to be explained away as inadequate science, but to be interpreted symbolically.


(c) The Social Role of Myth

...myths have been seen as products of society, embodying common values and ideals, and expressing them in activities such as worship. In OT study, this view has been used positively as something present in the religion of the OT, and negatively used as something found among ancient Israel's neighbours but rejected by the OT.


(d) Myth in Relation to History

...According to Thielicke, "There are myths which are pictorial explanations of certain facts of history," and as an example, he cites the virgin birth, which is "the symbol of the historical fact that Jesus was the Son of God." What is being said here, and also in OT studies, is that if God is believed to be at work in the historical process, it will be necessary to present history in mythical ways. There will be a deliberate or unconscious use of images and symbols in order to bring out the divine purpose believed to be behind the events."


The four approaches to myth outlined above show something of the complexity and range of meaning of the word, without any means being exhaustive. The approaches have been deliberately separated out. That it is possible for the use of myth by one writer to be a complex blend of several different understandings of the word will now be illustrated from Bultmann's contributions to Kerygma and Myth I.



To summarize, Bultmann deploys three views of myth in order to maintain his position. The "History of Religions" view is in fact a foil for the NT to allow for the uniqueness of the latter, because it brings the redeemer into the historical process. The Enlightenment view precludes any allowance for transcendence or truth about the world; theses are part of the obsolete world view. In turn, this supports Bultmann's attempt, based on the existential view of myth, to do away entirely with the objective content of NT cosmology so that faith may be evoked by hearing of the word alone.

"Slippery Words: Myth," Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth, ed. Alan Dundes (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 63-71.

While myth is often employed as a term of abuse, a nuanced and meaningful discussion of Genesis "as myth" will require a qualified definition of the term.

Licona responds to Mohler

Because I am leaving the country today and must attend to last minute preparations, brevity is required. I am grateful to Dr. Mohler for his kind remarks pertaining to both me and my book, which has recently raised quite a bit of controversy in certain evangelical circles. Although I disagree with much of what he has asserted pertaining to my treatment of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53, one should not doubt my respect for him and gratitude for the contributions he has made for the cause of Christ and to the Southern Baptist Convention.
An accurate interpretation of a particular biblical text is assisted by an accurate understanding of the cultural milieu in which it was written. It is unfortunate that this does not appear to be a practice of my detractors Drs. Mohler and Geisler. Their judgment that an incompatibility exists between the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and interpreting Matthew’s raised saints at Jesus’ -death as apocalyptic symbols—or even to consider this interpretation as a viable way of understanding what Matthew was communicating (which is my present position)—without engaging in a thorough and sophisticated discussion of the milieu in which Matthew wrote is quite premature.
Dr. Mohler asks, “What could one possibly find in the Greco-Roman literature that would either validate or invalidate the status of this report as historical fact?” This is the wrong question. For it presupposes that Matthew intends the report of the raised saints to be understood as a historical event. So, the first question one should ask is how Matthew intended for his readers to understand this text. If he intended for us to regard the raised saints as apocalyptic symbols, then Drs. Mohler and Geisler are mistaken when regarding them as “historical fact.” It is only IF one can determine after an exhaustive study that Matthew intended for us to regard the raised saints as an event that occurred in space-time that Dr. Mohler could legitimately claim that the Greco-Roman literature offers nothing to assist us toward a correct interpretation of the text. Instead, Drs. Mohler and Geisler have pre-determined what the text means. But it is Scripture that is inerrant. Thus, we must be careful not to canonize our interpretation of Scripture so that we come to believe that it, too, is inerrant.
Article XX of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics states,
“We affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else.WE FURTHER AFFIRM THAT IN SOME CASES EXTRABIBLICAL DATA HAVE VALUE FOR CLARIFYING WHAT SCRIPTURE TEACHES, AND FOR PROMPTING CORRECTION OF FAULTY INTERPRETATIONS [emphasis mine]. We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.”
Thus, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics asserts that extrabiblical data can assist us in clarifying what Matthew is teaching and correct faulty interpretations.
We find a similar statement in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:
“We affirm that canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, GOD UTILIZED THE CULTURE AND CONVENTIONS OF HIS PENMAN’S MILIEU, A MILIEU THAT GOD CONTROLS IN HIS SOVERIGN PROVIDENCE; IT IS MISINTERPRETATION TO IMAGINE OTHERWISE [emphasis mine].
“So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LITERARY CONVENTIONS IN BIBLE TIMES AND IN OURS MUST ALSO BE OBSERVED” [emphasis mine].
Thus, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy asserts that an inattention to the culture and literary conventions in Bible times could lead to a misinterpretation of the biblical text.
Examples in the extrabiblical literature of phenomena similar to the raised saints in Matthew 27 may provide insights pertaining to how Matthew intended for us to interpret his raised saints. When we study the literary conventions in Bible times, we identify specific language in the Greco-Roman (Virgil, Dio Cassius, Plutarch), Jewish (Josephus) and biblical (Matthew 24, Acts 2) literature that may be employed to accent an event believed to have cosmic or even divine significance. Thus, when I noticed what might be similar language in Matthew 27:52-53, the interpretive possibility I proposed in my book emerged. Couldn’t the same be said 2,000 years from now pertaining to a proper interpretation of a text in which it was asserted that “the events of 9/11 were earth-shaking” while others may wrongly interpret the statement “Hell will freeze over before Ahmadinejad converts to Christianity” as a prophecy of two events rather than as a statement of enormous improbability?
The charge that I have “dehistoricized” the text is also problematic, since it likewise presupposes that Matthew intended the raised saints to be understood as historical. But what if he intended for them to be understood as apocalyptic symbols? It would then be misguided to “historicize” them. This would be little different than regarding as historical the seven-headed great red dragon in Revelation 12:3-4 whose tail sweeps up a third of the stars and casts them to earth. I regard this description as entirely symbolic and that to regard it as a real space monster would be to “historicize” the text.
The text in Matthew 27:52-53 has puzzled many New Testament scholars for years and will continue to do so. I remain puzzled but continue to seek a better understanding of what Matthew intended to communicate here. The calls of Drs. Geisler and Mohler for me to retract my opinion that it is possible Matthew intended for his readers to understand the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 as apocalyptic symbols is not helpful. Instead, such premature calls stifle scholarship and authentic quests for truth. I will be happy to retract my opinion once I am convinced that Matthew’s authorial intent was to communicate that the raised saints are to be understood as an event that occurred in space-time. So far, I have found the arguments offered by Drs. Geisler and Mohler to be unpersuasive and misguided.
I am grateful to the Southeastern Theological Review for their invitation to participate in a roundtable discussion on the meaning of this text and whether the solution I proposed in my recent book is compatible with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It is their desire to publish that discussion within the next 60 days. I will reserve my defense and further criticisms for that discussion and want to express my gratitude to the many who have sent words of support and to those who have written in my defense on the web. It is sad—and perhaps telling—that they have been ignored by Drs. Mohler and Geisler, since some of their arguments are quite good.

Herd immunity

Just in the Nick of time

Father Church

The controversy over Licona’s interpretation of Mt 27:52-53 continues to widen with Mohler jumping into the fray. I don’t know if this controversy will get bigger before it gets smaller, so I’ll have another go at it.

Because infidels like cite this passage to ridicule the Bible, I’ve often defended the historicity of this passage. (So has Jason Engwer.) However, I’ve always taken the position that it’s not enough to be right. You need to be right for the right reasons. To be right for the wrong reasons leaves you with a very unstable faith.

Unfortunately, Mohler and Geisler are using bad arguments to support their position. Now, I don’t even like it when bad arguments are used to defend bad positions. That’s because bad arguments sometimes have a specious plausibility which makes a bad position seem more convincing.  We see that all the time in the political realm.

But there’s a sense in which a bad argument for a good position is even worse. A bad argument for a good position will ultimately betray a good position. Truth is ill-served by falsehood.

Bad arguments have a low melting point. For instance, the wings and fuselage of an airplane are generally made of aluminum because that’s a light, strong, weldable metal. But it wouldn’t be very smart to make the jet engine out of aluminum. That’s because aluminum has a low melting point. If you ride a jet with aluminum engines, you’re in for a real letdown (pun intended). Let’s not put Christians on a passenger plane with aluminum engines.

Moving along:

Professional airhead Peter Lumpkins entitles a new post “Al Mohler vindicates Norm Geisler.”

Well that’s inept. How does the phenomenon of two men merely agreeing with each other “vindicate” either one? It’s not as if Mohler brings any new facts to the table. He hasn’t really done anything to advance Geisler’s original argument.

If Christopher Hitchens wrote an article on which he agreed with Richard Dawkins on Christianity, would Lumpkins do a post entitled “Christopher Hitchens vindicates Richard Dawkins”? Is that the quality of reasoning we’re going to be treated to in this debate?

And what about Mohler? Take this exclamation:

What could one possibly find in the Greco-Roman literature that would either validate or invalidate the status of this report as historical fact?

I’m sorry, but that’s just obtuse. Licona explains in his book why he thinks that’s germane. For instance, Licona says:

Given the presence of phenomenological language used in a symbolic manner in both Jewish and Roman literature related to a major event such as the death of an emperor or the end of a reigning king or even a kingdom…it seems to me that an understanding of the language of Matthew 27:52-53 as “special effects” with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible (552).

For Mohler to ask how that’s relevant when, in fact, Licona does just that is intellectually lazy. I don’t agree with Licona’s interpretation. But that’s something which needs to be argued down. Licona gave an argument, which demands a counterargument. Not just acting aghast.

Moreover, Licona doesn’t limit himself to Greco-Roman literature. He also bolsters his argument by citing OT literature.

I realize Mohler is a busy guy, and he dashes off these reaction pieces in a hurry. Mohler’s a popularizer, and that’s useful. But don’t wade into the issue at all unless you’re prepared to invest the time necessary to do it right.

Mohler also accuses Licona of “dehistoricizing” the pericope, thereby violating the Chicago Statement on inerrancy. But the problem with that accusation is that it begs the question. If Matthew intended that pericope to describe a real event, then denying the historicity of the pericope simultaneously denies the inerrancy of Matthew. And I happen to agree with Mohler on the historicity of Mt 27:52-53.

Problem is: since Licona has argued that Matthew never meant this pericope to describe a real event, Licona isn’t contradicting the terms of the Chicago statement. You can only “dehistoricize” the pericope of it was meant to be historical in the first place.

So just quoting the Chicago Statement doesn’t get Mohler where he needs to go. Like Geisler, he’s taking too many intellectual shortcuts.

Let’s go back to Geisler. There are several problems with Geisler’s latest response to Licona.

1. Logical fallacies

Both Mohler and Geisler try to infer a particular interpretation from the ETS/ICBI definition of inerrancy. But an abstract definition of inerrancy doesn’t predict for a particular interpretation. The conclusion is more specific than the premise. So it’s logically invalid to draw that conclusion.

2. Argument from authority

Geisler makes statements like:

The ETS and ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Licona has clearly stepped over it.

Notice the strategic shift. Instead of debating the authority of Scripture, Geisler is debating the authority of the ETS and ICBI framers. Is that what we should be debating? Should we be exegeting the ICBI documents, or should we be exegeting Mt 27:52-53?

Geisler sounds like an old man who’s trying to secure his legacy. Like a father who wants to pass on the family business to his son. Only his son doesn’t want to relive his father’s life.

So his dad uses sentimental appeals: “Make your old man proud!” When that doesn’t work, his dad tries to guilt-trip the son: “Are you ashamed of me?” When that doesn’t work, his dad resorts to threats. “I’ll cut you out of the will!”

Why should the younger generation care where the older generation drew a line in the sand? You have to give the younger generation a reason to care.


Geisler keeps appealing to the “ICBI view on inerrancy.” But, frankly, there is no monolithic ICBI “view” on inerrancy. The ICBI isn’t reducible to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. The ICBI consisted of three summits, to which numerous participants contributed numerous essays. And their essays reflect a variety of viewpoints.

For instance, take:

Hermeneutics, inerrancy, and the Bible
[papers from ICBI Summit II]
edited by Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus.

That alone is 921 pp. long.

Within that volume, take chapter 2:

Historical Grammatical Problems
Bruce K. Waltke
Response  Kenneth L. Barker
Response  Allan A. MacRae

This represents three different viewpoints on the implications of inerrancy. Read Waltke’s essay, then ask yourself if Licona has departed from Waltke’s view on inerrancy.

And that’s not all. Consider the diversity of views represented in other chapters, such as:

3. Genre Criticism-Sensus Literalis
Grant R. Osborne
Response  Ronald B. Allen
Response  David P. Scaer

4. Problems of Normativeness in Scripture: Cultural Versus Permanent

J. Robertson McQuilkin
Response  George W. Knight
Response  Alan F. Johnson

5. The Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science 
Walter L. Bradley, Roger Olsen
Response  Gleason L. Archer
Response 0 Henry M. Morris

7. Author’s Intention and Biblical Interpretation
Elliott E. Johnson
Response Earl D. Radmacher
Response Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Moving along:

4. The grammatico-historical method

In his response to Licona, Geisler says:

But this is clearly not the way to interpret a biblical text which should be understood by the “historical-grammatical” method (as ICBI held) of (a) looking at a text in its context and (b) by comparing other biblical texts, affirming that  “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (as ICBI mandated). The proper meaning is certainly not found by superimposing some external pagan idea on the text in order to determine what the text means.

But according to “The Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics,” which is one of the ICBI documents:

We further affirm that in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations (Article XX).

So Geisler invokes ICBI only to contradict ICBI.

5. Geisler denies inerrancy!

Let’s compare two different statements by Geisler:

But this is clearly not the way to interpret a biblical text which should be understood by the “historical-grammatical” method (as ICBI held) of (a) looking at a text in its context and (b) by comparing other biblical texts, affirming that  “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (as ICBI mandated). The proper meaning is certainly not found by superimposing some external pagan idea on the text in order to determine what the text means.

Of course, there are many Creationists who argue for an old earth. Biblically, this position that the word for day is used for more than twenty-four hours even in Genesis 2:4, the events of the sixth day surely took more than twenty-four hours, and Hebrews 4:4-5 implies that God is still in His seventh-day rest. If the seventh day can be long, then the others could too. Scientifically, this view does not require any novel theories to explain the evidence. One of the biggest problems for the young earth view is in astronomy. We can see light from stars that took 15 billion years to get here. To say that God created them with the appearance of age does not satisfy the question of how their light reached us. We have watched star explosions that happened billions of years ago, but if the universe is not billions of years old, then we are seeing light from stars that never existed because they would have died before Creation. Why would God deceive us with the evidence? The old earth view seems to fit the evidence better and causes no problem with the Bible. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (Baker Books 1990), 230.

But the proper meaning of Gen 1 is certainly not found by superimposing some external scientific idea on the text in order to determine what the text means.

In fact, this is worse for Geisler. Licona justifies his interpretation based on comparative literature from the same general period (i.e. Josephus as well as Greco-Roman biographies). He also justifies his interpretation based on OT prophecy (i.e. the use of stock apocalyptic imagery). That’s standard grammatico-historical methodology. One may disagree with the conclusions he draws (I, for one, disagree), but his basic methodology is perfectly respectable.

By contrast, Geisler is allowing distinctively modern beliefs (i.e. modern astronomy) to influence his interpretation. That’s the polar opposite of grammatico-historical methodology. That’s obviously anachronistic. Using background information which wasn’t available to the original writer or his target audience.

So when we measure Geisler by his own yardstick, Geisler comes up short. The ICBI framers have drawn a line in the sand, and Geisler has clearly stepped over it.  Geisler’s interpretation reveals that he is not signing the doctrinal statement in good conscience according to intention expressed by the framers. Only a clear recantation will reverse the matter and, unfortunately, Geisler has not done this.

6. The future of evangelicalism

One of my underlying concerns with this reaction is the way it fosters an anti-intellectual climate in seminaries. Bad arguments have a way of driving out good arguments.

What if a non-tenured seminary prof. wanted to defend the historicity of this pericope, but in the course of which he also took issue with the sloppy arguments of Mohler and Geisler. Suppose he said Geisler is using the wrong method to derive the right conclusion while Licona is using the right method to derive the wrong conclusion. Can you still disagree with Mohler or Geisler without raising suspicions about your own orthodoxy?

Even if you disagreed with them in order to offer stronger, better arguments for the historicity of this pericope, the way that Mohler/Geisler are framing the debate makes that hazardous to your career.

I hope evangelicalism isn’t going to replace Mother Church with Father Church.