Sunday, August 14, 2016

Licona on verbal inspiration

Muslim propagandist Yahya Snow has been posting some edited videos of Michael Licona. Normally, Snow isn't even on my radar. I only become aware of his stuff when someone else draws my attention to it. That said, I'll comment on two videos.

1. I'd like to begin with a general comment. To judge by three videos I've seen, Licona isn't good at answering off-the-cuff questions. He stumbles and flails around when ad libbing answers. 

By itself, that's not a personal criticism. However, Licona is a well-known Christian apologist. As a public spokesman for the Christian faith, he has a responsibility to carefully articulate the Christian faith. It does a disservice to the cause of Christianity when he gives these half-baked answers. He should desist from answering questions in this forum. That's not his strong suit. It's a poor representation of the Christian faith. To judge by his performance on these occasions, he should confine himself to prepared answers. 

Note: I'm not faulting him for his lack of improvisational skills. Rather, I'm faulting him for putting himself in that situation to begin with. He blunders through these questions. Since he's not good at winging it, he shouldn't even try. 

2. Regarding the Trinity:

i) We need to draw an elementary distinction between what's essential to be a Christian and what's essential to Christianity. Christian theology is based on many revealed truths and redemptive events. For Christianity to be true, it's necessary that these things be the case. 

However, you don't have to be a systematic theologian to have saving faith. Take Christian parents of a grown child with Down Syndrome. Someone with Down Syndrome can have saving faith in Jesus, even though their theological grasp is rudimentary, at best.

ii) There's a difference between having an inchoate understanding of the Trinity and consciously rejecting the Trinity.   

3. Regarding inerrancy:

i) Licona rejects the verbal inspiration of Scripture. He classifies that as "rigid" inerrancy. God wasn't concerned with "peripheral details". 

He suggests that God merely put concepts in the minds of prophets and Bible writers–who then convey these inspired ideas in uninspired words. 

But that completely disregards the Biblical distinction between true and false prophets. True prophets speak "words" which God gave them, not merely "ideas" which God gave them.

ii) Licona talks as though he never had any thorough grounding in systematic theology. He rightly rejects the dictation theory, but he seems to equate the dictation theory with verbal inspiration, as if that's the only possible mechanism for verbal inspiration.

Evidently, it doesn't occur to him that God can inspire people at a subliminal level. A prophet or Bible writer needn't be conscious of divine inspiration. In Scripture, there are many examples of God working behind-the-scenes to cause a person to say or do something. The person himself is unaware of that ulterior dynamic.

By the same token, exponents of verbal inspiration like Warfield operate with an "organic" theory of inspiration, which includes divine providence. 

iii) Licona attacks the distinction between inspired autographa and uninspired copies. In fairness, he's responding to Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. But that's a poor frame of reference. 

iv) Is the Bible I'm holding in my hands the inerrant word of God? It's inerrant insofar as the critical editions of the Greek and Hebrew preserve the original readings. Most of the text of Scripture is not in serous doubt. 

v) Not only is there a factual distinction between originals and copies, but an inerrant original is important even if it no longer exists. To take a comparison, a doctor writes a prescription which a pharmacist fills. Sometimes a pharmacist misreads the prescription. He may give the customer the wrong dosage or the wrong medication. But imagine if a pharmacist didn't even have the doctor's prescription to guide him. 

Likewise, suppose a pharmacist inputs the prescription into his computer. Suppose he then discards the paper copy. Although the original no longer exists, the computer entry is based on the original. It's not something the pharmacist make up whole cloth. 

vi) I think some puzzling numbers in Scripture are the result of scribal error. Indeed, it's pretty inevitable that scribes will sometimes miscopy numbers. It's easier to miscopy numbers than words or sentences, because numbers aren't meaningful in the same way that words and sentences are meaningful. If you inadvertently use the wrong word in a sentence, you can usually tell that something went wrong, because the sentence won't make sense. But a sentence will often make sense even if the wrong number is used.

vii) However, I don't think all or most of the puzzling numbers in Scripture are the result of scribal error. I think this is often based on idioms or numerology, and modern scholars sometimes lack the background knowledge to decode it. Consider some modern idioms:

half a mind

cut both ways

zero in

one step ahead

one-horse town

all in one

back to square one

one of these days

on the one hand

one for the road

not one iota

two's company, three's a crowd

two strikes

two minds

two bricks shy of a load

two cent's worth

stand on two feet

put two and two together

play second fiddle

think twice

the third degree

three cheers

three sheets to the wind

fifth wheel

deep six

six degrees of separation

six feet under

six of one, half a dozen of another

roll a hard six

at six and sevens

seventh heaven

nine-day wonder

a stitch in time saves nine

on cloud nine

nine times out of ten

cat has nine lives

at the eleventh hour

a dime a dozen

forty winks

hundred to one shot

a thousand times

bat a thousand

never in a million years

feel/look like a million bucks

million-dollar question

a million miles away

one in a million

I think we should make allowance for the possibility that when we run across puzzling figures in Scripture, they may be idiomatic. It's like a foreigner who's bewildered by the idiomatic expressions of another language. They make perfect sense to a native speaker, but a foreign speaker lacks the original context.

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