Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Geisler responds to Licona

Norman Geisler has responded to Licona:

I’ll make a few observations:

i) Appealing to the ETS action against Gundry is a weak reed to lean on. Gundry was ousted in 1983. That’s over a generation ago. There’s been tremendous turnover in the composition of the ETS since then.

ii) More recently, the late Roger Nicole, who was one of the founding fathers of the ETS (and the drafter of the ETS statement of faith) valiantly tried and failed to have the open theists ousted because their views implicitly contradicted inerrancy. That already indicates a leftward shift in the ETS membership.

iii) The basic problem with Geisler is that he’s trying to use a definition of inerrancy to do the work of a creed. I don’t think there’s a simple general rule of thumb that’s going to preemptively adjudicate these specific debates.

Ultimately, Christian institutions have to take some specific positions on some specific issues.

iv) Geisler says:

Licona reveals the basis of his own problem when he admits that his view on Matthew 27 "is based upon my [his] analysis of the genre of the text" and that this was based on a comparison with "similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general."  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).

Geisler is giving us very idiosyncratic definition of the grammatico-historical method. Certainly the grammatico-historical method considers the potential relevance of extrabiblical background material in ascertaining what a Bible writer had in mind.

v) Geisler says:

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, Licona would deny that he’s trying to “superimpose” anything on the text. Rather, he’d claim that he’s trying to hear the text the way it would be heard by the original audience.

vi) Geisler says:

By this same kind of fallacious hermeneutic one can also conclude that other biblical stories, like the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ, are just legends too, along with the creation record in Genesis 1-2.

a) That’s certainly a valid concern. It’s also the case that “hermeneutics” can become a ruse for denying inerrancy without saying so.

b) However, you can’t use a definition of inerrancy to rule out certain interpretations. You have to counter bad exegesis with better exegesis. There’s no shortcut for exegesis.

c) And this is another example of Geisler trying to use an abstract definition of inerrancy as a substitute for creeds. But that’s too generic.

If you want to guard against demythologizing the Resurrection, the virgin birth, or the creation account, there’s a straightforward way of doing that: the Christian institution in question includes that in its statement of faith. Address the issue directly.

To a great extent, that’s what a creed is: a creed codifies a particular interpretation of Scripture on some particular teaching of Scripture.

The creed also functions as a criterion for membership or ordination. It specifies the terms of admission–as well as excommunication.

d) To my knowledge, many or most founders of the ETS were old-earth creationists. Yet young-earth creationists think that disregards “authorial intent” by “superimposing” a concordist agenda on Scripture.

vii) Geisler says:

For once we begin to neglect the "authorial intent" (to use a phrase from Licona's "Open Letter") of the ETS and ICBI statements, and replace it with what we think it should mean, then "inerrancy" is a wax nose that can be formed into almost anything we want it to mean.

That depends. There’s a difference between what the framers meant, and whether what they meant is binding on all subsequent generations. The meaning is, indeed, tied to original intent. What the framers intended.

However, that doesn’t mean subsequent generations are honor-bound to uphold the intentions of the framers. The older generation doesn’t have that authority over the younger generation. The dead can’t command the allegiance of the living. This isn’t ancestor worship. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have the Reformation.

If the older generation was right, then that’s right for the younger generation. But what matters is where the truth lies–not venerating past opinion. In principle, a document can be revised.

BTW, I don’t say this to criticize the ETS or ICBI positions. I don’t have a problem with that. But Geisler is giving us a Catholicism-lite, where you simply default to tradition. I demur. Those documents rise or fall on the merits.

I appreciate Geisler’s concerns. But he’s trying to win on the cheap. 


  1. Geisler took a serious credibility dive in my eyes by the way he handled the Ergun Caner debacle.

    Although I own a few works of his that I would describe as useful, in particular his book "A General Introduction to the Bibel" co-authored with William Nix, I don't have much use for him after observing his "discernment" in action when attempting to defend Caner's lies; not to mention his obvious hatred for the Doctrines of Grace.

    In Christ,

  2. Steve,
    In your estimation is there a reason to be concerned about Licona's view of said passage in Matthew 27 that differs from Geisler's argument?

  3. I already discussed my differences with Licona's view in a separate, detailed post.