Friday, June 05, 2020

Apparent contradictions in the Gospels

From Lydia McGrew, who encourages sharing the following:

Dr. Michael Licona today released the first somewhat contentful video in his 8-part series (counting the introduction released on Monday) supposedly refuting my book, The Mirror or the Mask. Link below. My inclination right now (though I could change my mind) is to wait to see the entire series, to be released throughout June, before writing any detailed rebuttals and/or recording video rebuttals. (Right now I am planning to do both.) For the last two years Dr. Licona has *explicitly* refused to engage personally with my work on the alleged grounds of my lack of qualifications. It’s obviously legitimate and even important now for me to take at least some weeks to hear what he has to say, see what he addresses, and compose responses.

The Mirror or the Mask (TMOM) is available in both print and Kindle forms. (See link below.) Chapter V is on the topic of Greco-Roman biographies and the Gospels. I encourage those who are interested to read it and see how I respond to Richard Burridge’s arguments on this topic.

In the meanwhile, while not “stealing the thunder” of my more detailed replies, I will post some points and content to ponder here on my public Facebook profile. Here are just a couple concerning today’s video:

Licona considers both the term “fictionalizing literary devices” and “fact-changing literary devices” to be loaded and says that their use tacitly assumes that the Gospel authors agreed with my standards of truthfulness. This is a complaint that he and his followers have made before, no matter how often or how patiently I refute it. The statement that these terms are loaded and assume my position to be correct is simply inaccurate. As I make explicit in TMOM and have said again and again, these are *descriptive* phrases, which I define carefully and neutrally. We have to have some way of *describing* what we are talking about and disagreeing about before we can get to “first base” in deciding who is right and who is wrong. The phrases “compositional devices” or “literary devices” without further qualifier are simply uninformative. They say nothing about what *sort* of devices I am disagreeing with Licona and others about. But the phrases I use do not mean that I *assume* by the use of that term that the Gospel authors didn’t use these devices or wouldn’t use them. The terms and their definitions just try to describe clearly what we’re disagreeing about in the first place.

In fact, even nowadays we have genres that involve factual change and partial fictionalization, such as biopic movies. So it’s perfectly possible to use such *descriptive* terms, carefully defined, while not assuming that such devices didn’t exist or that the Gospel authors didn’t use them. In his book The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, p. 189, Craig Blomberg uses the phrase “the theory of fictitious doubling” to refer to a certain theory about so-called “doublets” in the Gospels. He is not begging the question by using that term, though in fact he does not think that such fictious “doublets” occur in the Gospels. But his term “fictitious” is merely descriptive--the doublets would, if they existed, involve creating fictitious narratives to make it look like Jesus did something twice when in reality he did it only once. Just as Blomberg uses the term “fictitious doubling” for descriptive purposes, I use the terms “fictionalizing literary devices” and “fact-changing literary devices” for descriptive purposes, and I make this clear by defining them first (on pp. 10-11 of TMOM, which is Chapter I, section 3) and then going on to *investigate* throughout the book the supposed evidence that they existed and that the Gospel authors use them. It is simply not legitimate to declare every informative, non-euphemistic, descriptive term that I try to use for the devices at issue to be “loaded.” To do so puts us in a ridiculous place where I am either supposed to adopt a euphemism that begs the question against *myself* (must I call them “the literary conventions of their day,” perhaps, even though I think they weren’t the literary conventions of their day?), or to use an ambiguous and unhelpful phrase (like “compositional devices” with no indication of what kind), or perhaps even to invent a meaningless jargon word or sound, which would be of no value. (In passing, I put in the comments below a link to the full review of Dr. Licona’s book by Craig Blomberg in the Christian Research Journal, of which Licona in this video quotes only a brief portion. It is partially critical, and their later short exchange in the same journal continues to make it clear that Blomberg had important reservations about certain portions of Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels. Dr. Blomberg endorsed The Mirror or the Mask as well. In that blurb, which you can find in full on the first page of TMOM, he notes that the literary devices to which I am objecting are not common at least among inerrantist biblical scholars.)

In this video Dr. Licona introduces the idea that the Gospel authors used these supposed “conventions of their day” (such as changing the date of an event, transferring words or actions from one person to another, and many more) because they were being assisted by more educated scribes. He notes, correctly, that I do not address this suggestion in TMOM. The reason for this is simple: The suggestion that some of the evangelists adopted such factual changes by the help of Greek-educated assistants, or that they permitted assistants to make such alterations in reporting with or without their explicit consent, is extremely far-fetched and ad hoc, and at the time that I wrote TMOM I knew of *no one*, including Licona, who had suggested such a thing in public. In fact, in Licona’s writings he has always referred to Matthew, John, or Mark as making such changes. In one video-taped lecture he even stated that Matthew would have been taught from exercise books like the Greek Progymnasmata to do things like creating dialogue in his Gospel. So it would have been irresponsible and uncharitable to attribute such a view to anyone, much less to Licona, and pointless to make TMOM even longer to address so strange and implausible a view merely “on spec.” Now that Licona has suggested this idea publicly, I plan to address it both in video and in writing. To put it mildly, its problems are numerous. Indeed, it is quite a classic instance of ad hoc reasoning for purposes of appearing to “save” a theory from a counterargument. To say that the Gospel authors may have had amanuenses to help them write is a far cry from what would be involved to “help” them to make their work conform to the sort of “literary conventions” that Licona alleges.

I will address in the more detailed content later the strange complaint that I have misunderstood or misrepresented what Colin Hemer wrote about genre in my longer response. Licona seems not to have understood the point of my argument there. For now I refer to pp. 87-89 of TMOM. For those of you using the Kindle edition, these are the first several pages of Chapter VI. For the quotation from Licona to which I allude there, see p. 69, at the end of Chapter V, section 1. That’s all for now!

"How to Approach Apparent Contradictions in the Gospels: A Response to Michael Licona" (Craig Blomberg)

"How to Approach Apparent Contradictions in the Gospels: Response" (Craig Blomberg)

1 comment:

  1. The way that Licona frames the concept of literary devices has essentially nothing to do with *actual* use of literary techniques. I find it intensely irritating because it tarnishes the idea of literary analysis of biblical texts in seeking after a robust interpretation of God's word for us. Licona's notion of "literary devices" profoundly undermines the actual purpose of their use. Implicit throughout his writing is the idea that symbolic and theological meaning in texts comes through the author's "molding" (read: fudging) an historical event so as to reinvent the story in such a way that communicates what he wants to communicate. In reality, the biblical authors richly crafted their texts because of the richness of the creation and history described by these texts. It is not the evangelist who "molds" the feeding of the 5,000 to call our attention to the gathering of the twelve-tribed Israel through twelve leftover baskets of bread.

    It is God through Christ who ordered all things to manifest His divine purpose in the real world. There is absolutely no disjunction at all between the world of divine purpose and ordering and the concrete historical plane. Licona is simply a poor reader of scripture.