THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER AND THE EVANGELICAL BETRAYAL OF THE BIBLE: Exposing the Major Weapons Levied Against the Trustworthiness of the Bible (Part 2)

Yet Licona’s ideas are defended by other evangelical scholars who see such bleat as consistent with “inerrancy.”

Dr. Daniel Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, also has an outré view of inerrancy, as he explains when interviewed by Lee Strobel:1

Now, finish this sentence, I said. When Christians say the Bible is inerrant, they mean …
“They mean a number of things. For some, it’s almost a magic-wand approach, where the Bible is treated like a modern scientific and historical textbook that’s letter perfect. Some Christians would say, for example, that the words of Jesus are in red letters because that’s exactly what he said.”

It is typical of this sort of evangelical scholar to mock the view of inerrancy that takes it mean “having no errors,” but whether Wallace likes it or not, that is what inerrancy means. So this is not a “magic-wand approach”; it is the only approach consistent with the actual meaning of inerrancy.

“Well, if you compare the same incident in different Gospels, you’ll notice some differences in wording. That’s fine as long as we’re not thinking in terms of quotations being nailed exactly, like a tape recorder. They didn’t even have quotation marks in Greek. In ancient historiography, they were concerned with correctly getting the gist of what was said.”

We have already seen Farnell’s devasting response to this approach. The Bible is not like other works of ancient historiography, because it is “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16).

The other view of inerrancy, on the other end of the spectrum, is to say the Bible is true in what it teaches. So we can’t treat it like a scientific book or a twenty-first-century historical document.”

According to this view, the Bible can contain errors in matters of science and history – which means that this is not “the other view of inerrancy” at all; it is the view of “errancy.” We are supposed to believe, however, that the Bible is infallible on matters of faith and practice. This is a remarkably stupid view, for, if we cannot trust the Bible on those things we can verify, why would we trust it on those things we can’t verify?

“My definition of infallibility is the Bible is true in what it teaches. My definition of inerrancy is that the Bible is true in what it touches. So infallibility is a more foundational doctrine, which says the Bible is true with reference to faith and practice. Inerrancy is built on that doctrine and it says that the Bible is also true when it comes to dealing with historical issues, but we still have to look at it in light of first-century historical practices.”

Wallace has it completely backwards; inerrancy is the more foundational doctrine, for, as we’ve said, if the Bible is not trustworthy on historical issues, it cannot be trusted “with reference to faith and practice.” So infallibility is built on inerrancy, not vice versa. Nor should we “look at [the Gospel books] in light of first-century historical practices” that allow for errors, inasmuch as the Bible is God-breathed, which is not a standard “first-century historical practice.”

“I don’t start by saying, ‘If the Bible has a few mistakes, I have to throw it all out.’ That’s not a logical position. We don’t take that attitude toward Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, or any other ancient historian’s writings. For instance, does the first-century Jewish historian Josephus need to be inerrant before we can affirm that he got anything right?”

Of course not. But Josephus, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and “any other ancient historian” were not divinely enabled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was, however, so it is in a completely different category from “any other ancient historian’s writings.” In contrast, it seems very clear that Wallace is treating the Bible like simply any other book. Period.

You obviously have a high view of scripture, I observed. Why?

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

How do you know?I asked.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said. “And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative. When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”’

Wow. Just … wow. Could Wallace make it any plainer that the truth of what the Bible asserts is not determined by the fact that it is “God-breathed,” but that scholars sit in judgment over its assertions, proclaiming what is or is not authentic in it based on how it conforms to standards invented by liberal scholars? Let’s go over this point by point.

You obviously have a high view of scripture, I observed. Why?

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

Yet unlike evangelical scholars Jesus treated everything in the Bible as accurate because it is the words of God. He did not allow for historical or scientific errors in it. The view that treats the Bible like “any other ancient historian’s writings” and suggests it may err in matters of history and science is not a “high view of scripture” nor does it accord with Jesus’ view.

You obviously have a high view of scripture, I observed. Why?

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

How do you know? I asked.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’”

How does the ridiculous criterion of “dissimilarity” show that Jesus had a high view of Scripture? Oh, that’s right; it doesn’t. This is a non sequitur. Wallace did not answer Strobel’s question but simply jumped to another topic.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said.

So according to these scholars, if a 1st-century Jew says something that sounds like what we’d expect a 1st-century Jew to say, that indicates it’s not authentic, and if the founder of Christianity said things that Christians believe, then that indicates it’s not authentic. Authenticity is determined by dissimilarity! Only a madman or a Biblical scholar could assert such arrant nonsense as this with a straight face, for it is more than obvious that Christians, as followers of Jesus, would base their beliefs on what He said, so of course it would sound similar, and that 1st-century Jews said things that sounded like what 1st-century Jews said – because they were 1st-century Jews.

Not surprisingly, the criterion of “dissimilarity” was invented by liberal scholars to remove unquestionably authentic content from the Gospel books. That any evangelical scholar could take the criterion of “dissimilarity” seriously is stunning.

“And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative.

No, He criticized them for following their tradition instead of following Scripture. Even the Pharisees did not dare add to the Scripture, though some evangelical scholars seem to have no difficulty averring that the Gospel writers themselves did that very thing – adding their own non-historical “traditions” to the Gospel books, and even putting them into the mouth of Jesus Himself.

One should also think carefully about the fact that if Jesus was “constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative,” how will He treat liberal scholars for overruling Scripture with their liberal paradigm assumptions and not treating Scripture “as ultimately and finally authoritative”? How will He treat those evangelicals who blithely follow the liberal lead in these matters?

“The Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it’s a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it.”

See? Just “like any other book.” Period.

“That doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. It’s still trustworthy.”

Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy, as there’s no way to know what in the Bible is true and what isn’t. As we’ve seen, Gundry’s suggestion that non-historical additions in the Gospel According to Matthew would not be a problem because his readers would know what was historical from the Gospel According to Mark and from Q is patently a non-starter. Furthermore, if Matthew could add non-historical material, so could Mark have done, so that Matthew’s readers (and we) could not assume that everything in the Gospel According to Mark was historical. In fact, how could they assume that any of it was historical?

And, of course, Q is a figment of liberal imagination. But even if it weren’t, how could the readers of Q know whether any of it was historical? If Matthew and Mark could make up non-historical material, why could not the writer of Q? I have not yet found even one evangelical scholar who can answer this question.

“When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”

In the context of that assertion in John 10:35, Jesus is saying that everything in Scripture, even passages that seem very difficult to accept, are nevertheless still true and must be accepted. That disallows non-historical additions.

Do you think this idea of inerrancy has been elevated out of proportion to its genuine importance? I asked.
“At times…. Belief in inerrancy shouldn’t be used as an excuse not to engage seriously with history….”

Is this meant to imply that “engage[ing] seriously with history” will necessarily lead to the conclusion that there are errors in the Bible? In fact, inerrantists certainly do “engage seriously with history,” but they use already established facts as part of their analysis – much like, once it has been established that the Earth is round, that fact is used in all further geographic analysis. Now, since the Gospel writers were empowered by the Holy Spirit to remember Jesus’ words, and inasmuch as Scripture is God breathed, the historical information in the Bible is superior to that in any other source and stands in judgment of it.

All too often, what passes for “engag[ing] seriously with history” by evangelical scholars is the opposite; whenever a secular source makes a claim that disagrees with a claim in the Bible, it is assumed by default that the Bible is wrong,2 and therefore efforts have to be made to massage the Biblical testimony to fit – or we are simply to accept that the Bible is wrong.

“As one British scholar said, ‘We should treat the Bible like any other book in order to show it’s not like any other book.’”

We have already seen why this approach is inappropriate.

“That’s better than the opposite position that has become an evangelical mantra: ‘Hands off the Bible — we don’t want people to find any mistakes in it, because we hold to inerrancy.’”

The implication seems to be that inerrantists do not want to examine the Bible too carefully, because, as these wise evangelical scholars know, there are indeed errors, and so inerrantists want to ignore facts in order to hold to their doctrine of inerrancy. This is a ridiculous implication.3

In sum, then, it seems clear that whatever Wallace offers as “inerrancy” it is not the belief that there are absolutely no errors in the Bible, that the Bible is completely free of mistakes of any kind. On the contrary, he dismisses the idea of treating the Bible “like a modern scientific and historical textbook that’s letter perfect,” deriding this as being “almost a magic-wand approach.”4 So he certainly seems not to believe that the Bible is “letter perfect” and so seems to be leaving room for errors in matters of science and history.

Finally, let us consider James Patrick Holding, founder and president of the on-line Tekton Education and Apologetic Ministries.5 He is of interest because he is a frequent “go-to guy” for both Creation Ministries International6 and Christian Research Institute,7 which means he is reaching a sizeable audience. Holding has taken it upon himself to challenge Norman Geisler’s8 defence of inerrancy, and not only online; he and co-author Nick Peters self-published an e-book, Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, in which he and Peters attack Geisler’s Defending Inerrancy. In this e-book the authors aver that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable.”

Do note that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is that it means “no errors” i.e. the Bible is completely free of all errors, including historical and scientific errors. This is the “perception” that Holding and Peters consider dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist and not defensible or respectable.”

As we examine Holding’s pontifications about Geisler’s defence of inerrancy, however, we see that they are frankly ludicrous.9 He takes exception to Geisler’s attack on Gundry’s claim that portions of the Gospel According to Matthew are non-historical additions, describing Geisler’s arguments at various points as “exceptionally outlandish,” “patently obscurantist,” “rational argumentation … sorely lacking,” “‘absurd’ … there are frankly no better words for such a nonsensical argument,” and other such comments. Occasionally, Holding crosses into outright hypocrisy. For example, he writes,

In the 1981 volume Inerrancy, of which Geisler was the editor, Walter Kaiser issued a strong warning against the notion that Biblical words might take on new and different meanings unknown to the language as it was used in the first century. Kaiser’s warning is a well founded one; yet Geisler’s special plea for a potential “new genre” contains an opposing sentiment … While one may be talking about genre and the other about language, the principle remains the same, and it is hard to see how Geisler’s special plea does not open the door Kaiser warns against.

Yet in the very next paragraph, Holding writes,

To make matters worse, [Defending Inerrancy] goes on to confuse the issue by giving as an alleged analogy the way liberal scholars have denied Paul the Pastoral epistles based on “style and vocabulary.” What this is supposed to have to do with matters of genre is not explained …. Genre and vocabulary/writing style are two entirely different discussions, and it is exemplary of Geisler’s lack of serious scholarship in this area that he thinks he has made an appropriate analogy.

So when it suits Holding’s purposes, using an analogy between genre and words is appropriate as “the principle remains the same,” but when Geisler draws the same sort of analogy [Note to Holding: “vocabulary” is the set of “words” used], then it is inappropriate and “exemplary” of a “lack of serious scholarship.” Does Holding not realize how completely he has thus stultified himself?

And, speaking of “serious scholarship,” Holding complains about what he styles “some closing words of condescension from Geisler offered as advice to scholars,” and says, “The absurdity of Geisler presuming to offer such advice is manifest. Geisler is not qualified to assess serious exegetical, interpretive or historical scholarship; neither his training nor his experience gives him any place to address those with better and greater knowledge in these areas.”

Fascinating. We are to believe that Geisler, who holds a B.A. from Wheaton College, an M.A. in theology from Wheaton Graduate School, a Th.B. from William Tyndale College, and a Ph.D in philosophy from Loyola University and who has authored or edited 91 books on Biblical topics is “not qualified to assess serious exegetical, interpretive or historical scholarship,” but James Patrick Holding, who describes his qualifications thus – “I have a Masters’ Degree in Library Science. What the [sic] runs down to is, I’m trained in looking things up and answering questions10is supposedly “qualified to assess serious exegetical, interpretive or historical scholarship”! Again, does Holding not realize how fatuous he is here?

Responding to the question “Where did you, Holding, and Max all receive your NT degrees from?” Holding retorted, “Ask instead, where did my sources get their degrees from.Then pick up your self-esteem and try again.”11 Unfortunately for Holding, this answer doesn’t work. He claims that Geisler is “not qualified to assess serious exegetical, interpretive or historical scholarship,” though Geisler’s training is certainly adequate to equip him to do that, whereas Holding, by his own admission, is “trained in looking things up and answering questions” – but has no stated training in assessing what he looks up. There is no reason to think he has a tithe of the ability Geisler has to assess the claims of Biblical scholarship. In fact, there is no reason to think Holding has any better ability to assess what his “sources” say about Biblical subjects than had the rats to assess the structure and theory of the music being played by the Pied Piper – which is probably why he so easily falls prey to the nonsense being peddled by Licona.

Holding and his co-author Nick Peters also both pile onto Dr. Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who agrees with Geisler about Licona’s teachings. Holding tells us that Patterson is “as oblivious as [Geisler] is as to what Mike Licona was up to” and “obviously has no idea what Licona actually argued about Matthew 27.” Holding objects to Patterson’s “Neanderthalish views on women.” To link this to the current debate, Holding opines that “there can be little doubt that Patterson never read Licona’s book or even the relevant pages (and I have serious doubts, given his reckless scholarship on the role of women, that he would even understand any of it, either),”12 and then for good measure adds that “given Patterson’s uncritical evaluation of the situation, if they do erect a bronze statue of him…it appears that they won’t have to cast his head.”

Holding’s co-author, Nick Peters, who, interestingly, is married to Mike Licona’s daughter,13 also piles on,14 but he, too, clearly stultifies himself. He details Patterson’s qualifications, including the following – “A graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Patterson also completed Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees in theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary” – but then asserts that “While these accomplishments can be all well and good, there is a striking omission from it. There is absolutely nothing here about being trained in NT scholarship and exegesis. Being a competent and even skilled theologian and/or philosopher does not make one an expert on NT scholarship and/or biblical exegesis.”

One wonders whether Peters has any idea about the sort of courses one takes in Master’s and Doctoral programs in seminary; in case he doesn’t, he should find out that it certainly includes courses in “NT scholarship and exegesis.” It seems rather strange that Peters suggests that Patterson’s training is inadequate, when Peters himself holds only a Bachelor of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College, and is currently working on a Master’s degree – in philosophy.15

Academic qualifications, of course, do not determine how well one can understand the Bible or apologetics, but it is Holding and Peters who choose to focus on that, claiming that Geisler and Patterson are not qualified to assess Licona’s teachings. It seems clear, however, that on that basis Geisler and Patterson are individually each better qualified to assess NT scholarship than Holding and Peters put together.

PAGE 2 of 4, Please go to the end of this page to go to the third page


[1] The following is taken from Strobel, Real Jesus, pp.74-80 (Bolding added.) Quotations from the book are indented to distinguish them from my comments. Strobel’s quoted questions are in italics to distinguish them from Wallace’s quoted responses.

[2] We shall see an example of this when we examine the evangelical response to the putative error about Quirinius in Luke 2:2.

[3] Here ends the annotated excerpts of the Wallace interview from Strobel, Real Jesus, pp.74-80.

[4] In Strobel, Real Jesus, p.74

[5] http://www.tektonics.org/

[6] http://creation.com/

[7] http://www.equip.org/

[8] At http://www.tektonics.org/TK-G.php, Holding describes Geisler as “Apologist, but behind the times and causing harm.”

[9] The following discussion is based on Holding’s article series in response to Geisler’s book, posted online at http://tektonticker.blogspot.ca/search/label/Norman%20Geisler%3B%20inerrancy%3B%20Defending%20Inerrancy. All quotations are taken from this series. (Bolding, italics, and underlining added unless otherwise noted.)

[10] “About James Patrick Holding” at http://www.tektonics.org/JP-Holding.html

[11] https://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/paige-patterson-is-on-the-wrong-page/

[12] Holding does not tell us exactly what he finds “reckless” or “Neanderthalish” about Patterson’s views on women’s roles. However, given that Patterson openly teaches the Biblical truths of male headship in the church and home (See, e.g., Tomin, Gregory. “Patterson: Women are treasured by God, have high calling.” Baptist Press, October 25, 2004, at http://www.bpnews.net/19402), it is likely that it is those truths Holding finds objectionable. If so, it simply provides another reason that he should not be taken seriously as a Christian teacher. (See Tors, John. “Women and Church Leadership: An Inquiry and a Response to Pastor Keith A. Smith’s “Can Christian Women be Pastors and Preachers?” at http://www.truthinmydays.com/women-and-church-leadership-an-inquiry-and-a-response-to-pastor-keith-a-smiths-can-christian-women-be-pastors-and-preachers/

[13] “Nick Peters and his Princess” at http://www.perissosonline.org/services/portraits-of-god/nick-peters-and-his-princess/.

[14] Peters, Nick. “Paige Patterson is on the wrong page” at https://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2012/01/10/paige-patterson-is-on-the-wrong-page/

[15] “Nick Peters and his Princess,” op.cit.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *