Breaking My Internet Silence on Mike Licona and Inerrancy

Until now, I have deliberately not directly weighed in anywhere on the internet regarding the row over Mike Licona’s views and the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. The continued barrage of views in various blog posts and on FB (some by people I know and others not) has compelled me to give my 1.5 cents worth. I do not flatter myself to think that anyone would care what my views are in this matter; at least, not as far as being relevant in settling things. There might be some, however, who know me (and perhaps have studied under me) who might be interested in what I think about this debate, if only in as much as it departs from their own thinking.

Here I am only interested in offering some observations and conclusions and will save most of my arguments for perhaps another post or venue. My views are in no way motivated by any animosity for Mike. I consider him a friend and I have not heard from him that he has changed his mind towards me—this after we discussed our respective views over lunch.

First, two related but distinct issues are confused by some of those who have weighed in. On the one hand, there is the issue as to whether a given passage (for example, the Mt. 27 passage that started this public discussion) should be interpreted as A or B (or any number of other options). On the other hand, there is the issue as to whether interpretation B is consistent with the doctrine of inerrancy. Of these two, the latter seems to me to be the most crucial.

Second, it is clear to me that if it is possible that the New Testament has legends or embellishments or that a New Testament writer has changed the facts of a story for a theological agenda (all of which Mike says are possible), then necessarily inerrancy is not true. The mere possibility of the former precludes the possibility of the latter.

Third, one has the prerogative to hold whatever view of inerrancy one choses. I regret that some so hurriedly dismiss the work of the ad hoc consortium of pan-denominational Christian theologians and philosophers whose ten-year work yielded eight volumes dealing with (among other things) the philosophical, theological, and historical dimensions of inerrancy; the seventh volume of which was a nearly 1,000 page treatment of inerrancy and hermeneutics. I am not directing this criticism at those who think that we on this side of the issue have misunderstood the doctrine of inerrancy and ICBI (the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy). (For example, Mike and perhaps many on his side of this debate affirm inerrancy and charge our side of either not understanding it or not applying it properly or consistently.) Rather, I am directing this criticism to those who sound the refrain “Why should ICBI be the standard of orthodoxy?” The argument is not whether ICBI is the standard of orthodoxy but whether ICBI is the standard for the doctrine of inerrancy. Anyone who thinks he can do a better job than ICBI is welcome to try. I am not suggesting that nothing in the work of ICBI needs correcting. I am suggesting that such matters require (and deserve) a very careful, thoughtful, and thorough treatment. A one-liner that emotionally appeals to the theological individualism characteristic of many (Protestant) Evangelicals is not enough.

I have been collecting material from both on and off the internet expressing various views on this important discussion. The numerous misunderstandings I have seen of the debate itself have prompted me to offer these observations. It is my hope that soon there can be a public format where sincere participants can come together for a concentrated airing of viewpoints.


32 comments on “Breaking My Internet Silence on Mike Licona and Inerrancy

  1. Richard, thanks for your comments. I had read about Licona’s book in the latest issue of Christianity Today, so I was interested in knowing more.

  2. Ian Hegger says:

    Hi Dr. Howe. Please don’t take this at all as a challenge, because it is not meant to be one–more of a request for direction to pursue the inquiry further on my own. But I am just curious about the claim that Licona says that “it is possible that the New Testament has legends or embellishments or that a New Testament writer has changed the facts of a story for a theological agenda.” I have two questions about it:

    (1) I know that he affirms the possibility of apocalyptic imagery, is this what you are referring to with respect to legends and embellishments? Or is there something else he affirms more directly? If the first, I don’t see why it is problematic, but if there is something more I’d like to check it out.

    (2) Also, I am wondering where he says that facts can be “changed.” I totally agree that this would seem to imply a clear denial of inerrancy, but I’d still like to see the context; it just seems like too easy a takedown if this is true.

    Thanks! Hope all is well with you!

    • Ian,
      Thanks for the comments. Hope things are going well with you. Here’s a couple of quotes from Mike’s book.

      “It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes. We may also be reading poetic language of legend at certain points, such as Matthew’s report of the raising of some dead saints at Jesus’ death (Mt 27:51-54) and the angels at the tomb (Mk 16:5-7; Mt. 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-14) [pp. 185-186]

      “A possible candidate for embellishment is Jn 18:4-6” [p. 306, note 114)

      In his debate with Bart Erhman at SES, Mike said (regarding the day of the week that Jesus was crucified): “I think that John probably altered the day in order for a theological – to make a theological point there. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified.”

      As for the latter, granted John changing the day doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified, but it does mean that the text is not inerrant.

      • Ian Hegger says:

        Thanks for the reply Dr. Howe!

        As I see it, the statement from the debate certainly seems to be problematic for maintaining inerrancy. And depending on what he means by “possibly mixed with legend” (e.g. is he talking strictly as a historical researcher or as a committed theologian), that may be problematic too (if speaking as a theologian and not merely as a theorizing historian), but its not necessarily so. Finally, at least generally speaking, embellishment doesn’t seem to be necessarily problematic either (I mean, John did say the world could be over-filled with books filled with Jesus’ teachings).

        Would you agree?

      • I’m glad at least you agree that John probably altering the day of the crucifixion is “problematic for maintaining” (or, as I would say: incompatible with) inerrancy. As for what Mike means regarding legend, I’ll leave it to you for the time being to consider his comments and arguments in the broader context of his book. I have no doubt that he means that, nested within historical narrative, there are elements that are historically untrue. As for him speaking as X or as Y, Mike gives a very helpful example from the sinking of the Titanic. Reportedly some eyewitness survivors said that the Titanic broke in half before it finally sank while others said that it did not. Mike rightfully observes that just because the eyewitnesses conflict (or contradict) each other, this does not mean we can’t be certain (not necessarily his word) that the Titanic sank. By analogy, even if the NT writers have conflicting testimony regarding the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus, it does not follow that we can’t be assured that Jesus rose from the dead. In this I think Mike is exactly right. Every apologist I know of would use such formulations in arguing with the skeptic. However, the question in this debate is not whether this is a legitimate way of arguing. The question is not whether we can be assured of the historical veracity of the resurrection in the face of conflicting NT eyewitness testimony. The question is: if there is conflicting NT eyewitness testimony, can the Bible still be inerrant? Clearly not. If the testimonies conflict, one is untrue. Further, if the Bible is not inerrant, then is it not inspired. Now, granted, some Christians deny inerrancy altogether, or deny inerrancy as defined by ICBI, or have a view of inspiration that allows for errors in the text. But our debate is a much more narrow one raging among evangelicals. Is legend and embellishment and changing the facts compatible with ICBI’s definition of inerrancy? Frankly it is breathtaking to me that some would argue that it is. As for embellishment, all I can say is that if you can’t see that embellishment is mutually exclusive with an inerrant text, then either I am missing something with the term (e.g., it is being used in an eccentric way) or you are. I take it (again, considering the context within which Mike says what he does in his book) that an embellishment of a story means that the teller of the story has taken liberties with the story itself and has added things that are not historically factual. Indeed, this is exactly what Mike says characterizes the type of literary genre of which he says the Gospels are a sub-set. He says, “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography … [which] offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches … and they often included legend. Because [it] was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins.” (p. 34)

  3. Thank you Dr. Howe for sharing your thoughts on this. As a former student of yours I have been hoping you would interject. I’ve been a bit amazed and surprised how the work of the ICBI has been so minimally addressed by Licona and his supporters.

  4. Chris Morrison says:

    Hey Dr. Howe,

    I hope all is well with you. I’ve not been following the debate, so I was unaware about Licona’s comments concerning embellishment, John changing the date of the crucifixion, etc. I can’t imagine how such positions are compatible with inerrancy, either.

    Now, I do not have a problem with the possibility of apocalyptic language being consistent with inerrancy–at least, no one has given me a firm language why it isn’t. So regarding Matt 27 specifically, and again, I’ve not followed the debate here, I’m fine with the suggestion that the material about the dead rising in Jerusalem is apocalyptic. I don’t adhere to it, but it doesn’t strike me that that interpretation is necessarily opposed to inerrancy.

    The rest of his position, however, as you describe it, clearly is. You say in your post that he thinks his critics have misunderstood the ICBI. Can you provide a link where I can read his own arguments without having to work my way through the book itself? I’m sure Google could tell me, too, but you’ve obviously been following it. 😉

    In Him,


    • Chris,
      Thanks for the comments. I think there is another area of confusion in this debate with the use of the term ‘apocalyptic’ in expressions such as ‘apocalyptic language,’ ‘apocalyptic literature,’ or ‘apocalyptic use.’ In fact, as I see it, almost the entire debate boils down to this fine point. In my experience with this term, ‘apocalyptic’ would refer to the (often) symbolic expressions describing events surrounding the consummation of history in general, or of a particular historical era, or the end of world. An example would be Rev 12:3-4 in its description of the “fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads” whose tail “drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” When one encounters such a description, one has to decide whether he believes the dragon is a literal dragon who literally uses his literal tail to draw literal stars of heaven and literally throw them to the literal earth or whether these (some or all) are symbolic. But the critical point of disagreement between Mike’s take on apocalyptic and his critics’ take on apocalyptic (at least my and some of my colleagues’ take) is this: Even if we take this description as symbolic, we take it as symbolic OF SOME REALITY. In other words, to take something as symbolic still acknowledges a reality which the symbol represents. It has a referent that is itself real. In contrast, Mike allows for the possibility that such language is not representative of any reality. Let us, then, turn to the more talked about passage from Mt 27. Mike’s contention is that it is possible that when “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many,” this event is neither literal NOR symbolic of something real. Instead, it is a “special effect” emphasizing the gravity and significance of the event in the broader narrative. It is clear to me that he confuses the distinction between taking a phrase as symbolic on the one hand and apocalyptic on the other. He see no difference between (to change the illustration) taking the stars falling from heaven in Mt 24:29 as symbolic of some reality (perhaps the dissolution of the political system or powers) verses taking the stars falling as “special effects” that have no referent at all (symbolic or literal) to some reality. In this case, it seems to me, it is misleading to call such use of language “apocalyptic.” I believe that when many of his readers see that he is claiming only to be acknowledging “apocalyptic” literature, this strikes them as completely within the bounds not only of orthodoxy, but of inerrancy as well—well it should strike them. But clearly there is a difference between saying that the event of the bodies being raised is a real event even if (contra some interpretations) the event as described is symbolic of that real event. Whether a given phrase or description is symbolic may well indeed be a hermeneutical dispute. To say that a section of historical narrative has no referent to reality at all (literal or symbolic) calls into question the historical accuracy of that very narrative. This is why this dispute is one of inerrancy and NOT merely a dispute of hermeneutics.

      • Bryan Appley says:

        Thanks for your weighing in on this Dr. Howe. I have a couple of questions though.
        Your response to Chris is puzzling. Let me reconstruct your argument:
        (1)Mike says x is apocalyptic literature.
        (2)x cannot be plausibly interpreted as apocalyptic literature.
        (3) Therefore Mike holds that x is just false history.

        It certainly seems to me that the way you just gave reasons shows that the argument is over whether this can reasonably be interpreted as apocalyptic literature and not inerrancy. Unless the assumption is that Mike, given this argument that it cannot be apocalyptic literature, would simply abandon inerrancy instead of revising his view (even though he has said that he’s become less sure of his position on that text anyway since then).

        Regarding your response to Ian, I have a question for you. Do you think that the Leviathan really breathed fire? If not do you think that you believe in inerrancy?

        Anyway, sorry for the (admittedly) terse responses. gotta get back to the studies.

      • Brian,
        The argument you have set forth is not mine. I am not ultimately arguing whether passage is apocalyptic (given the fact that there might not even be a consensus as to exactly what ‘apocalyptic’ literature is). I was taking my cue from a rather standard definition of ‘apocalyptic.’ If someone wants to insist that ‘apocalyptic’ can include the types of passages that Mike is suggesting, then all the worse for apocalyptic vis-à-vis inerrancy. Be that as it may, I would prefer the discussion not dissolve into a dispute over cataloging. Instead, I would prefer to focus the discussion on the real issue, to wit: is it consistent with inerrancy to regard a section of historical narrative as having no referent to reality (whether the section is symbolic or not)? The passage is either referring to something real or not. If is referring to something real, it is either referring to it symbolically or literally. If is not referring to something real, then, if it purports to be historical, then is it false (since, according to the correspondence theory of truth, for a proposition to fail to correspond to reality means the proposition is false). If the passage is false, then the text is not inerrant. In fact, if the text is inerrant, then it is not possible that the passage is false. (I add this further qualification to show that it is not enough for someone to say that he is undecided whether a particular passage is a “special effect.” The fact that it is possibly not referring to anything real is ipso facto a denial of inerrancy.) But if the passage is as Mike says, then it does not refer to anything real. It follows, therefore, that what Mike says is inconsistent with inerrancy. (Raising the specter of “What about parables?” is useless. Mike could not possibly mean that this passage is a parable, otherwise, his entire appeal to the contemporary literature to make his case as he does (arguing that the gospels are a sub-set of Greco-Roman biography) would be meaningless.)

        Regarding your question, I might very well believe that Leviathan really breathed fire. (After all, there are insects that emit chemical sprays resulting in a violent exothermic chemical reaction.) But let us suppose that I do not. You seem to imply that somehow this would mean that I deny inerrancy. Not at all. If the Leviathan’s breathing fire REPRESENTS (or, if you will, symbolizes) something real about the Leviathan (as, for example, a figure of speech might do), then this is completely consistent with inerrancy. I hope you are not suggesting that this parallels the dispute with Mike. It does not. To take X as symbolic of Y is not the same as taking X as not symbolic (nor literal) at all.

        Last, if I may, I urge you to consider Tom Howe’s analysis of various aspects of this debate, including authorial intent as element of interpretation and the Matthew passage in light of the OT (Sinai and Theophanies and Daniel) here.

      • Chris says:

        (Silly WordPess – I can’t put the reply in the right place. This is in reply to your comments to Bryan on Dec. 28)

        I want to reply to this comment in particular: “Instead, I would prefer to focus the discussion on the real issue, to wit: is it consistent with inerrancy to regard a section of historical narrative as having no referent to reality (whether the section is symbolic or not)?”

        With all due respect–and there is, of course, quite a bit due!–this was precisely the issue I addressed, and you punted. To restate my position, it ought to be a given that for some genres of “symbolic” literature (i.e., parables), it is NOT true that every aspect must have a “referent to reality.” What must have a referent is the piece as a whole–not necessarily each of its components.

        Again, the above would only be true for certain kinds of literature: apocalyptic and parabolic, to use our examples. Now, I thought what you said in your initial article was extremely important: “On the one hand, there is the issue as to whether a given passage (for example, the Mt. 27 passage that started this public discussion) should be interpreted as A or B (or any number of other options). On the other hand, there is the issue as to whether interpretation B is consistent with the doctrine of inerrancy. Of these two, the latter seems to me to be the most crucial.” If we can agree that for some pieces of literature can have individual components that have no one-to-one correspondence with reality but can all the same be considered inerrant (as we do in parables), then the question is whether or not that same “liberty” can be applied to any given category of literature–in this case, to apocalyptic literature

        We just need to decide whether or not the “liberties” we grant one genre (parabolic) can be granted to another (apocalyptic).

        My own view is that we can, and that, hermeneutically speaking, we must. As such, I don’t think Licona is breaking inerrancy in his discussion of this passage. I do think that the other quotations you raised are seriously concerning and make for much better candidates on which to try the good doctor. Finally, I don’t think Matthew 27 is apocalyptic. I do think it refers to a completely historical account. But, again, following your initial distinction, whether or not we ought to interpret the passage historically or apocalypticly is one question; whether or not the latter interpretation denies inerrancy is quite another. As to that second question, I don’t think it does–at least, not based on what I’ve read so far. I’m always open to correction.

        God bless!

      • Chris,
        Thanks for the (undeserved) respect! Indeed, I did not punt. The short version is this: what type of literary genre a given passage is, IS NOT a matter of interpretation, strictly speaking. To repeat: The difference between a parable and historical narrative (for example) IS NOT, strictly speaking, a matter of interpretation. Why? Because one would have to know what the text means (i.e., one would have to interpret the text) in order to discover what type of literary genre it is. I defy you to take a block of hieroglyphics (assuming for the sake of my illustration that you cannot read hieroglyphics) and tell me what literary genre these hieroglyphics are (e.g., historical narrative, poetry, etc). Thus, if you have to understand the text in order to discover what type of literary genre it is, then the literary genre is not the means by which you understand the text. This is why the dispute over whether a particular passage is “apocalyptic” or not IS NOT an issue of hermeneutics, strictly speaking. Too often the argument goes like this: We know that this passage (e.g., Matt. 27:51ff) is not historical because it is “apocalyptic.” But how do we know that it is “apocalyptic”? We know that it is “apocalyptic” because it is the same literary genre that we find in Greco-Roman biographies, of which the New Testament Gospels are a sub-set. How do we know that the New Testament Gospels are a sub-set of this literary genre? Because Matt. 27:51ff has these “special effects” (i.e., non-historical) elements in it and that is the characteristic of this literary genre. The argument is circular. I encourage you to read my brother Tom’s article “Does Genre Determine Meaning?” here.

        Further, too often, an appeal is made to Matthew’s “intention” in arguing how the text (for example, “the graves were opened …”) should be interpreted. But there is no way to know what Matthew’s intention is except only AFTER we have understood what he wrote. Suppose (contra my point) that we needed to know what Matthew intended in order to understand what he meant (as some say, “Matthew never intended us to take this historically.”) How are we to discover what Matthew’s intention was in writing this passage? Even if Matthew were here and told us directly what his intention was when he wrote this passage (oral text) or even if Matthew were to have written for us what his intention was when he wrote this passage (written text), we would then have to know what Matthew’s intention was in telling us what his intention was (again, IF the intention of the author was necessary for understanding an oral or written passage). If the intention of the author was necessary for understanding an oral or written passage, then EVERY TIME the author told us his intention, there would always be an antecedent intention that we would need to know to understand what he said or wrote. This would entail the absurd conclusion that we could never understand what anyone ever said or wrote. So, by reduction ad absurdum, the intention of the author is not necessary for understanding spoken or written text. I encourage you to read my brother Tom’s article “Authorial Intention” here and then read his Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation (available here).

      • Chris Morrison says:

        Hmm . . . question. Must every element in apocalyptic language correspond–be symbolic of–some specific reality? When Jesus speaks in Matt 24 of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light (and elsewhere of it being turned to blood), and of the stars falling from the sky, does that mean each one of those pictures need to find some _individually_ corresponding reality?

        I’ve always taken such language the way I do parables. Perhaps I’m mistaken in that, but it seemed to me that just as parables have a single point, and as such it is a grave hermeneutic mistake to try to find a one-to-one correspondence between every element in the story and in its interpretation, so the same with apocalyptic language. Hermeneutically, how could we hope to come to any meaningful interpretation if we have to worry about such details? I mean, does Jesus really intend for us to figure out what the moon turning to blood represents? Because it seems simpler–and, I think, in line with inerrancy–to recognize the language _taken as a whole_ to be symbolic of the end of the age, of an era, etc.

        Again, I’m not saying I think that Matt 27 ought to be taken as apocalyptic. I don’t think it should. But I’m not convinced (yet) that interpretation, in particular, necessarily violates inerrancy. The other quotes you mentioned are rather serious and seem–to me–to make a stronger case that Licona has gotten away from his conservative moorings, at least in this one area.

        So where have I gotten off track? I’d rather not lose my own grounding, too! 😉

        (For no reason, I’ll just add that you have me curious now what Dr. Henderson’s take on it is . . . :p )

      • Chris, I would invite you to read what my brother, Tom, has written on the matter here.

  5. BJ says:

    There are many who I consider friends that have offered their thoughts on the topic of the Geisler-Licona debate. I must admit that I too have been irritated by several aspects of this debate. Of course I expect some to frame the Geisler-Licona debate in a way where it makes it appear Christianity is in some way not credible because of disagreements like this. As we know, because there is disagreement it doesn’t follow that no one is right (there was lots of disagreement with Arius too- of whom it is said was a very nice guy). However, what is most troubling to me is those who should know better presenting harsh and illogical rhetoric (disguised as arguments) against Geisler and the failure to take seriously his arguments and the work of the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy).
    For those that not familiar here are a sampling of some of the posts on this and the obvious problems with them:
    1) Norm Geisler has “lost his mind.” – Ad Hominem
    2) Norm Geisler is on a witch hunt to ruin Mike Licona. From what I read it is Dr. Licona’s beliefs and statements that are inconsistent with the ICBI statement on inerrancy for which actions against Dr. Licona are taken. The “Mike would be burned at the stake if this were a different era” rhetoric simply poisons the wells and doesn’t help matters.
    3) Mike is such a gentleman and a good friend. –Irrelevant, many in false religions are too (not suggesting Mike is in a false religion, but this is a bad argument.)
    4) Geisler and Mohler are more in danger of violating Sola Scriptura than Licona is of violating inerrancy. –Question Begging- This would only be the case if Scripture did NOT support G & M’s view of inerrancy OR Licona’s view of the text doesn’t allow for errors (the case under consideration). It may also be argued that this shows a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura.
    5) There is no grace by Geisler in this conversation as he “should have written 20 letters of commendation and praise before thinking about an open letter of criticism.”- This was taken from an open letter of criticism against Geisler absent the author of the letter having written 20 letters of commendation and praise for Geisler (I know, I know- Tu Quoque at best). However, the Biblical model established by Jesus and Paul is to openly and publicly oppose those that publicly teach false doctrine (especially if it is one as serious as inerrancy as the matter seems to be).
    6) Geisler is NOT a NT scholar and Mike Licona is. NT scholars side with Licona, only philosophers side with Geisler.—Genetic Fallacy- Regardless of the source of the truth, one has to address the arguments on both sides. If one wanted to apply this reasoning to Licona they may simply say he is not an expert on inerrancy or this section of Matthew 27. He simply is an expert on the resurrection of Jesus, so anything he says in regards to inerrancy and this section of Matthew 27 can be disregarded. Of course this is absurd and we can see the reductio, but that is the very reason one should disregard these lines of argument against Geisler as well. Geisler is a well-respect Christian apologist, philosopher, and theologian that has spent more time in the trenches defending the faith than most of us have been alive. His arguments should at least be considered and not simply dismissed without consideration.
    7) Geisler doesn’t take the days in Genesis to be a 24 hour period and admits that metaphoric, figurative, or apocalyptic language is often used in other parts of Scripture. He is doing the same thing as Mike Licona and so he is equally guilty of violating the ICBI statement.—False analogy- The problem with this is regardless of what type of language is being used, the Bible is describing reality. It may be using metaphors or other figures of speech, but regardless of the earth’s age both sides (including Geisler) believe the creation account literally happened. However, what seems to be the case is that Mike Licona says some things in the Bible that are recorded as history did NOT literally happen (and this is the debate at hand). So, if it is true that Licona agrees with the necessity to dehistoricize the text as there may be embellishments (as it appears to be from the available information) than it is different from what Geisler, Mohler, & Co. believe and the argument provides a false analogy.
    8) Geiser and Mohler are simply practicing inerrancy of interpretation and not the text. They have falsely conflated hermeneutical differences with issues of Biblical authority. –Again, there are several problems with this as well. First, it assumes that different hermeneutical approaches are equally legitimate to upholding Biblical authority. However, hermeneutical approaches that rob the Bible of its objective meaning and reality-describing nature undermine Biblical authority and diminish the message God is trying to communicate through His revelation. Second, the “That’s just your interpretation” objection assumes 1) that there is no objective interpretation and 2) that hermeneutical approaches are neutral to Biblical inerrancy. However, as the ICBI has argued, NOT all approaches are consonant with inerrancy. Unless the arguments and explanations of ICBI are rebutted and another proposal offered, one cannot simply dismiss the voluminous amount of work done on this issue.
    In Dr. Geisler’s second open letter to Mike Licona (Aug. 21,2011) he deals with many of the criticisms that have been recently raised by those defending Mike. It is unfortunate that these brothers raise objections that were anticipated and answered by Dr. Geisler months prior to these posts. Among those objections are the charge of the ICBI being or ETS as having the final word on inerrancy or functioning as a magisterium, the use of figurative language in the text, and that other people who hold to inerrancy believe that Licona’s view is orthodox.
    I hope that all who are involved will approach this situation in a loving way. I pray that Mike Licona and his family will experience the love of Christ’s body though this ordeal. I also hope that those involved with the discussion will reason clearly about the matters under consideration. It is sad that there are so many that fail to see the very distinctions you’ve made about the relationship between inerrancy and hermeneutics. Many on both sides are saying we should weigh the arguments and whether Mike Licona’s position is consonant with the ICBI statement, and whether the ICBI statement is accurate about the nature of inerrancy. I completely agree.

    • BJ says:

      For some reason my 8th point inserted a smiley face instead of the number 8 when I submitted it. I just wanted to make everyone aware that in the previous post the smiley face should be a number 8 and what follows it is another argument. These 8 are repeated Ad Nauseam around the web.

  6. Mike Gantt says:

    When one has poured enormous effort into something like the ICBI, it is hard to step back from it and acknowledge that Christ supersedes it in importance. “But,” some will protest, “the whole purpose of ICBI is to promote Christ!” That may be, but it is not the same as Christ and it must give way to Christ. Otherwise we are like the British Colonel who tried to preserve the bridge on the River Kwai.

    • Thanks for the comment. However, I do not see the connection to the issues at hand. I know of no one in this context who is finding it “hard to step back from it [ICBI] and acknowledg[ing] that Christ supersedes it [ICBI] in importance.” Further, I cannot imagine that any of the people with whom I am familiar who are associated with ICBI would confuse ICBI with Christ Himself. Your comment reminds me of the Monty Python skit where the pilots, during a flight, make the announcement to the passengers that “there is absolutely no cause for alarm” thus causing them to wonder exactly what it is about which there is no cause to be alarmed. I am wondering whether you have anyone in mind who is finding it hard to “step back” and are in danger of regarding ICBI as the “same as Christ.” Last, exactly what does it mean for ICBI to “give way to Christ.” What would this look like?

      • Mike Gantt says:

        You’d attempt to defend Mike Licona from the harm Norman Geisler is bringing to him.

      • Similar to your earlier comment, this has little to do with anything I wrote. If you had read my original blog entry carefully, you would have noticed that I never mentioned Geisler. To bring Geisler up (instead of Geisler’s arguments) is a classic ad hominem fallacy and diversionary tactic. Since you cannot deal with the arguments themselves, you have to sling insults around. If you want to participate in the conversation, I would suggest you try to become acquainted with the issues. As for Mike, he is a personal friend of mine. I would do nothing to bring harm to him or to defend anyone who is. I deliberately have not weighed in on the personal aspects of this controversy precisely because that is what too many people are distracted by when they think they are contributing to the theological and philosophical issues that are raised. To be sure, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about HOW people say what they say (as opposed to WHAT they say). The problem is, regarding much of what I have read on the internet, too many are seemingly either unwilling or unable (or both) to distinguish the personal aspect of this conversation (which is, of course, not unimportant) from the objective issues of inerrancy, hermeneutics, literary genre, etc. It is just too easy for some (and you strike as one example) to want to collapse the latter into the former. Banking on the fact that your seeming personal defense of Mike will generate sympathy and agreement (after all, who in their right Christian mind would want to inflict harm on a Christian brother?) you hope that you can be counted among those who have actually contributed substantively to the theological and philosophical aspects of this conversation. That, you have not done here. You are, however, invited to do so, even if you disagree with me.

      • Mike Gantt says:

        I took your challenge and went back and re-read your original post, as well as your two replies to my comments. You are Col. Nicholson for sure.

        In case it’s not apparent, in my analogy winning the war is analogous to upholding Christ and the bride is analogous to the doctrine of inerrancy.

        You also misunderstood my use of Geisler’s name. I was not insulting him or attacking him or making an ad hominem argument. Rather, I was using his name merely to identify the source of the criticism directed at Licona about which I was speaking.

        Even if Licona’s critics (whether you and Geisler are among them or not) are correct in saying that Licona’s view does not meet the standard of inerrancy as defined by the ICBI, they are wrong – presuming their greatest goal is to exalt Christ – to fan this issue when Licona believes in good conscience that he is holding to inerrancy. Such critics are focused on jots and tittles while ignoring the weightier issue at hand: which is that Christ is raised from the dead, which ought to be our rallying cry. To Him be the obedience. (Gen 49:10).

      • You have misunderstood my comments to you in this blog. Your ad hominem fallacy was not that you somehow insulted or attacked Geisler. I assume that your comment to the effect “You’d attempt to defend Mike Licona from the harm Norman Geisler is bringing to him.” was your answer to my antecedent question of what would “giv[ing] way to Christ” look like? (It is hard to tell exactly which question of mine you are answering since I asked you several in my comments.)

        Let me try one more time. There are a number of issues before us. One is the personal matter regarding whether there are any “attacks” on Mike and whether, if so, there is any harm being done to Mike (together with what exactly is the nature of that harm). This (as I have characterized) personal issue was only obliquely referenced by me in my blog; mainly to the point of how people have confused this (understandably emotional) matter with the objective truth of the larger issue of Mike’s views vis-à-vis inerrancy. As such, I will not be baited (at this point) into debating this personal matter mainly because most of what I have been reading on the internet (and hearing in personal conversations) focuses almost entirely on this dimension to the neglect of the objective dimension. This is not to say that this personal issue is unimportant. It certainly can be. However, much, if not most, of what I have read, is confusing the two.

        What is worse, in venting their contempt for Geisler (or at least, for his tactics), some are mistaking their venting for substantive participation in discussion of the objective issues. Since nothing I have written here can in any way be construed as an illicit “attack” on Mike, for you to come onto my blog and say what you have said is an insult. What I am “attacking” (to continue the pugilistic or wartime metaphor) are Mike’s views and arguments; not Mike himself. Perhaps I expect too much from my readers that they would be able to tell the difference. (I should not be too discouraged, as everyone one else who has weighed in here has understood the difference. You are the only one so far who does not get it.) Thus, to misrepresent what I have said as if I was somehow neglecting any duty to “defend Mike” is an ad hominem fallacy against me.

        Now, on to weightier matters. I regret that you apparently do not understand the doctrine of inerrancy or how crucial that doctrine is to sound thinking about God. Your comments remind me of some of the sentiments I encountered the last time this debate came around. To try to drive a wedge between the inerrancy of the Scriptures and “Christ” was a tactic not uncommon among inerrancy deniers in the ’70s and ’80s. (I am thinking here of Russell H. Dilday, Jr., in his work The Doctrine of Biblical Authority (Nashville: Convention Press, 1982), 16, where he says “Debates about the Bible may divert attention of Southern Baptists from winning the world and thereby become an effective tool of Satan.”) You can almost hear the hiss of the serpent in these words. One of the very first things that Satan did was to try to cast aspersions upon the Word of God. Now the refrain is “Let us not bicker and argue about whether the Word of God has errors in it. Rather, let us ‘acknowledge that Christ supersedes’ and stop ‘attacking’ one another!”

        As a preemptive strike against another misunderstanding on your part about what I mean, let me make some things explicit. I am not suggesting that Mike Licona (or even Russell Dilday, for that matter) is deliberately siding with Satan against the Scriptures. Mike is unambiguous in his affirmation of inspiration and inerrancy of holy writ. The point that some of his critics are making is that, perhaps inadvertently, Mike’s views are indeed inconsistent with inerrancy. To point this out and to marshal arguments to that effect is not personal attack per se. Rather, it is to defend the integrity of God Himself who cannot err. Since He cannot, then, if the Scriptures are His word, they cannot err. If they err, then either they are not His word (in some sense) or God can err (in some sense). To be sure, there is a lot to dispute and discuss here. Mike argues that what he has written is not an ascription of error to the Scriptures. His critics say it is. Further, there have been Christians who have tried to qualify the sense in which the Scriptures are God’s Word (e.g., neo-orthodoxy; though this does not seem to be Mike’s position). There is also the issue of the nature of truth itself (correspondence or something else?). Again, I do not think this explains the current debate.

        The current conversation involves the issues of how hermeneutics interacts with inerrancy, the broader issue of literary genre, including how to characterize the verses in question (e.g., apocalyptic or not), how literary genre plays into matters of interpretation, the differences between meaning and significance, the nature of symbolism and metaphor (and their relationship to inerrancy), and whether the Gospels are indeed a sub-set of Greco-Roman biography or whether their context is the Old Testament. (For a significant contribution to this discussion, I invite you and others to visit my brother’s blog at “howe random” specifically “Matthew and Daniel” and “The Real Issue”) The scholars need to be allowed to have these discussions and arguments without others hovering over them whining about “attacking” a brother. Having and expressing emotions during the debate is fine. It is when these emotions serve as surrogates for sound reason that they become illicit. The discussion is complicated enough without it being bogged down by irrelevant and distracting pseudo-contributions like “Christ supersed[ing] it.” Of course Christ is supreme. Nothing my part as ever hinted at anything different.

      • Mike Gantt says:

        Thanks for letting me speak. And thanks for interacting with me. I appreciate hearing details about your view of the matter. I can’t think of anything else I want or need to say. May God’s will be done.

      • Thank you for weighing in. Please feel free to revisit this blog anytime.

  7. Devin Pellew says:

    Dr. Howe,

    Great job bringing clarity to this issue. It is frustrating that people can not discern between personally attacking a person and challenging one theological view.

    You have done a masterful job explaining what inerrancy is and why it is important. Keep up the great work and see you next semester !

  8. […] some standard, he often concludes that such departure is a threat to Christian orthodoxy (whether or not said standard is said to be the standard for Christian orthodoxy per se). The result of this equivocation is confusion on both sides of the debate, for (as all sides […]

    • Paul K. says:

      Doug, I have read a good portion of your post and the context of your paragraph above. I am really tired now and maybe I missed something, but what equivocation are you talking about (I’ve been sick)? What is the confusion related to the present issue? Maybe Richard can answer as well because, as noted above, he believes that the ICBI statement is great when it comes to defining inerrancy (I like it myself). Furthermore, although I don’t want to put words into Dr. Geisler’s mouth, I think Dr. Geisler uses the document partly because Dr. Licona has signed on to that statement at the ETS (if I recall correctly) and he has defended his position as being in alignment with ICBI. So, do you think it is fair to bring up the ICBI document when Licona himself defends his position as in alignment with said document? What is Geisler confused about or Licona for that matter?

      Thank you for your time.

  9. humblesmith says:

    Hey Doc: What is the official title of the 8-volume inerrancy publication you mention?


    • The eight volumes (in order of publication) are:

      Boice, James Montgomery, ed. The Foundation of Biblical Authority. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978.

      Radmacher, Earl D., ed. Can We Trust the Bible? Leading Theologians Speak Out on Biblical Inerrancy. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1979.

      Geisler, Norman L., ed. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979.

      Geisler, Norman L., ed. Biblical Errancy: An Analysis of Its Philosophical Roots. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981.

      Lewis, Gordon and Bruce Demarest, eds. Challenges to Inerrancy: A Theological Response. Chicago: Moody, 1984.

      Hanna, John, ed. Inerrancy and the Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.

      Radmacher, Earl D. and Robert D. Preus, eds. Hermeneutics, Inerrancy & the Bible: Papers from ICBI Summit II. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, Academie, 1984.

      Kantzer, Kenneth, ed. Applying the Scripture: Papers from ICBI Summit III. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, Academie, 1987.

  10. Hi Dr. Howe!

    I am taking an online Critical Issues in Theology class at Toccoa Falls. Our first assignment is on inerrancy. Your blog is so helpful and I have referenced your essays quite a lot this year! Thank you so much!!
    -Miana Huneycutt

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