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The Three-Headed Monster and the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible - Part 1

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Exposing the Major Weapons Levied against the Trustworthiness of the Bible

NOTE: This is a companion article to our article “CREATION MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL AND THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER: Why the Monster Wins”

The Rise of the Three-Headed Monster

The historical era misnamed The Enlightenment, which began in the seventeenth century, was characterized by the exaltation of human reason as the only valid means to determine truth, with the concomitant denigration of the concept of divine revelation. In particular, the credibility of the Bible came under sustained attack by Enlightenment scholars and philosophers. Under the patina of scientific objectivity, these men actually began with the presupposition [1] that the supernatural was impossible, which meant that the Bible could not be the word of God; instead, it was recast as nothing more than the product of mere human thinking from ancient cultures.

This sustained attack on the Bible flowered in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and utilized three main weapons:

  • Historical Criticism – the study of who wrote the Bible and when and how

  • Textual Criticism – the comparison of the extant manuscripts of the Bible to determine the text of the original autographs

  • Darwinism – the theory that all life on earth descended from an original simple ancestor through natural selection acting on random variation

DARWINISM is a theory that was designed to account for the origin and existence of life purely by random natural processes, thus dispensing completely with the need for God; even the absentee creator of Deism was no longer required. Inasmuch as Darwinism flatly contradicts the Genesis account of creation, it is an open attack on the credibility of the Bible [2].

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong in principle with HISTORICAL CRITICISM. Valuable information can be gleaned by carefully studying the available historical evidence pertinent to the question of the origins of the Gospel books and the other books of the Bible. However, that is not what these Enlightenment scholars did. What they did was to begin with the presupposition that anything supernatural was impossible, and so the actual evidence was ignored as these scholars sought to explain how the Bible originated and attained their current form through purely human actions.

Claims that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead naturally had to be dismissed out of hand – which meant that it was essential to deny that the Gospel books were eyewitness testimony and instead to spin alternate and completely naturalistic explanations for the NT accounts of Jesus. In time, elaborate theories were concocted, based on numerous postulates that were presented as “the assured results of critical scholarship.”

For example, since according to liberal scholarship Jesus was only a man and not God incarnate, he could not have claimed deity or performed miracles,[3] nor would his earliest believers teach such things. Therefore, they reasoned, it must have taken a very long time for high Christology to develop and for miracles to be attributed to Jesus. This required that the Gospel books be anonymous (and certainly not written by eyewitnesses), and temporally removed from the actual events by many decades [4]. (Of course, such claims were spun almost completely out of whole cloth, and were not based on actual evidence. On the contrary, they necessitated ignoring the actual pertinent evidence [5].)

This late dating of the Gospel books was one of the unproven (and untenable) axioms that became part of scholarly orthodoxy. Other axioms designed to work together to discredit the Gospel books were the extreme late dating of Gospel According to John, which was pushed into the 80s or 90s; the claim that the Synoptic Gospel writers [6] copied one from another instead of simply writing their own eyewitness testimony (“literary dependence”); the claim that the Gospel According to Mark was the earliest of the Gospel books written (“Markan priority”); the claim that Matthew and Luke based their Gospel books on the Gospel According to Mark and on other, earlier sources (the “two-source hypothesis, which was later expanded into the four-source hypothesis); and the claim that the most important of these other sources was a “sayings source” dubbed Q, which had no miracles or resurrection account (the Q hypothesis). It is worth noting that all of the actual evidence weighs against every one of these presuppositions.

Regarding the Dates of Composition of the Gospel Books

John A.T. Robinson, a well known liberal scholar who had accepted late dating without any hesitation, wrote a landmark book in 1976, in which he examined the evidence pertaining to the dating of the Gospel books and found that Matthew may date as early as AD 40, Mark as early as AD 45, and Luke as early as AD 57. He placed the Gospel According to John in the AD 40-65 range [7]. Evangelical scholar John Wenham also examined the evidence for the synoptic Gospel books minutely, and concluded that Matthew dates to c. AD 40, Mark to c. AD 45, and Luke to c. AD 54 [8]. Eusebius in his Chronicon tells us that Matthew was written in the third year of Caligula (AD 39-40) and Mark in the third year of Claudius (AD 43-44). Furthermore, ancient colophons found in about 150 f³⁵ NT manuscripts record that the Gospel According to Matthew was written eight years after the Ascension of Christ, Mark ten years after the Ascension, Luke fifteen, and John thirty-two, which yields dates of AD 40-41 for Matthew, AD 42-43 for Mark, AD 47-48 for Luke, and AD 64-65 for John [9].

In light of these various lines of evidence, these are the dates that should be accepted for the Gospel books. This means they are very early, and that Matthew and Mark certainly, and Luke almost certainly, predate even the earliest letter of Paul and are our earliest sources of information about Jesus and His resurrection.

Regarding Literary Dependence

The unanimous testimony of the early Church Fathers [10] was that the Gospel books were each written independently by the authors, with no “copying [11].” Although the synoptic Gospel books share a great similarity in wording in many places, this was not seen as problematic; as Charles Dyer rightly said, this was due to the “supernatural work of the Holy Spirit which would enable the disciples to recall all of Christ’s words [12].” Similarly, as Geisler and Roach affirm, the Gospel authors were “eyewitnesses … of Christ, who promised them supernaturally activated memories (John 14:26) to recall his words [13].”

This approach, naturally, will not do for liberal scholars. To explain the verbal similarities, theories that the Synoptic Gospel authors depended on shared “oral tradition in composing their books were floated as early as the 1790s by Johann Gottfried von Herder, followed in the early 1800s by Johann Carl Ludwig Gieseler [14]. To view the Gospel books as being based on a chain of “broken-telephone” oral tradition across decades was far more palatable to them than to see the Gospel books as the direct eyewitness testimony of the apostles Matthew, John, and Peter (as recorded by his co-worker Mark), as well as testimony straight from eyewitnesses to Luke (Luke 1:2).

But they could do still better. Theories or shared “oral tradition” were supplanted in the 20th century by theories of literary dependence [15] (i.e. that one Gospel writer copied the work of another), which are dominant today. Such theories naturally dispense with the need for divine inspiration, and so they are tailor-made for liberal scholars. Henry Alford pointedly observed that

I do not see how any theory of mutual interdependence will leave to our three Evangelists their credit as able or trustworthy writers, or even as honest men [16].

This, of course, occasions no difficulty for liberal scholars, but rather is welcomed by them. The fact that the verbal differences among the synoptic Gospel books (some 5,000 between Mark and Luke in their common material, and some 8,000 between Matthew and Mark in their common material [17]) puts paid to any legitimacy to theories of literary dependence bothers them not one whit.

Regarding Markan Priority

The idea that the Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel book written is now so widespread that one might think this was a well known fact from the beginning. On the contrary; the patristic evidence for Matthean priority is so overwhelming [18] that for a long time not even the most radical liberal scholar challenged it. But this eventually – and suddenly – changed:

During the latter half of the nineteenth century, however, a new hypothesis took center stage. Renewed textual examinationsreached the conclusion of Marcan prioritytext-critical arguments … establish that Matthew has secondary readings and Mark has original readings [19].

And what exactly were these “renewed textual examinations”? Two ancient New Testament manuscripts came to light that were missing the last twelve verses of the Gospel According to Mark. Liberal scholars smelled the opportunity to debunk the resurrection entirely, but that required Mark’s Gospel book to be the earliest one. Instantly, the claim that the Gospel According to Mark was the first one written became widely advanced and soon became scholarly orthodoxy. The fact that the actual evidence overwhelmingly showed that the Gospel According to Matthew was undeniably the first one written was simply ignored.

Regarding the Q Hypothesis

Once literary dependence and Markan priority had been declared to be facts, the next obvious step was to proclaim that Matthew and Luke had both used the Gospel According to Mark as a “source” (i.e. they had copied from his book) for their own Gospel books. But there is some material that is found in both Matthew’s book and Luke’s book but not in Mark’s book; from where did that come? Liberal scholars conjured up a second source that was alleged used by Matthew and Luke as the source of their common but non-Markan material, a source they dubbed “Q” (the first letter of the German word Quelle, which means “source”).

The fact that, while 5,795 manuscripts of the NT have been found but not one of Q; the fact that there are over 86,000 quotations from the NT in the Patristic [20] writings but not one from Q; the fact that the Church Fathers discuss the origins of the Gospel books at length but never mention a supposed Q gospel; and the fact that the church fathers were unanimous that the Gospel writers were recording direct eyewitness testimony was as nothing compared to the fiat pronouncements of liberal scholars, and so Q was magically produced [21]. The fact that there was no actual Q was actually advantageous to liberal scholars, as their imaginary friend could be anything they wanted it to be – including, naturally, the earliest Gospel book and one that had no miracle or resurrection accounts, since, according to these scholars, the earliest Christians did not believe such things and were not interested in such things.

Acceptance of Markan priority and the Q hypothesis seamlessly led to the “two-source” hypothesis, according to which the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Luke were based on the Gospel According to Mark and the Q gospel. This was expanded into the “four-source hypothesis,” with added two more sources, “M” (from which Matthew obtained the material unique to his Gospel book, and “L” (from which Luke obtained the material unique to his Gospel book [22]).

In sum, then, the liberal paradigm assumptions of Historical Criticism of the New Testament include the late dating of the Gospel books, extreme late dating of Gospel According to John, literary dependence, Markan priority, and the Q hypothesis (the latter three of which have been melded into the Four-Source hypothesis). They are all designed to undermine the credibility of the Gospel books and to spin a naturalistic explanation for them, and they can all be maintained only through a determined refusal to consider fairly the actual evidence that bears upon these claims.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM, meanwhile, is supposed to be the art and science of recovering the original text of the New Testament [23]. The New Testament was written about fourteen centuries before the printing press was invented in the West, and so for all that time it could only be reproduced through copying by hand. No scribe is perfect, and so every handwritten manuscript contains its own errors, or “variants.” Textual critics, then, compare the variants in the different manuscripts in order to ascertain which was the original reading in each case, and thus to reconstruct the original text of the New Testament.

This is actually not difficult to do, in light of the large number of extant manuscripts. A simple application of statistical analysis should yield the original text. However, that is not what liberal scholars actually wanted to do. As with historical criticism, their goal was to discredit the Bible, so instead of using actual scientific tools to reconstruct the original text, they created by fiat a set of rules (“the canons of textual criticism”) to adjudicate between variants, rules that were designed to ensure that variants that introduce errors into the text would be selected as the “original” reading in as many cases as possible. In doing so, the concept of inerrancy would be forever destroyed.

So while evangelicals think that textual criticism is “The science of determining, as far as possible, the original text of the New Testament, and attempting to understand the reasons for changes [24],” what it is in reality is “The practice of using the variants in the NT manuscripts as a pretext for inserting as many errors as possible into the ‘original text’ of the New Testament, and persuading evangelical scholars to accept and champion an ‘original text’ that can no longer be considered inerrant” – which also leads to the touting of the very worst NT manuscripts as “the most reliable.” The fact that every one of the canons of textual criticism was either immediately obviously wrong or shown to be wrong by subsequent studies is serenely ignored by liberal scholars.




The Three-Headed Monster in Action

The three heads of the monster do not operate in vacuums. In particular, the first two heads, historical criticism and textual criticism, are frequently used together to undermine the case for Christianity. And with these liberal paradigm assumptions in place, it becomes very easy to do that. For if these assumptions are accepted as true, then it follows that

  • The earliest Gospel book, Q, written around AD 40-50, does not have a resurrection of Jesus.

  • The next earliest Gospel book, Mark’s, written around AD 66-70 [25], also does not have a resurrection of Jesus.

  • Not until the 80s, a half century or more after the death of Jesus, do claims appear that Jesus rose from the dead [26]. Clearly these are late additions [27].

  • If there is no resurrection, then Jesus was not the Son of God who can save us from our sins, and Christianity collapses (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

This is diagrammed below:

This is the conclusion for which liberal scholarship has long been angling, and it is now the party line of such scholars, widely disseminated to an unwary general public.

One example of an opponent of Christianity who uses these liberal paradigm assumptions very skillfully to undermine the Gospel is Muslim scholar and debater Dr. Shabir Ally, president of the Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto. In his presentations, he begins with the liberal paradigm assumption of late dating of the Gospel books, dating Mark’s to AD 75, Matthew’s to AD 85, and Luke’s and Acts to AD 90, and John’s later still.

Next, in accordance with the liberal paradigm assumption of Markan priority and the four-source hypothesis, he posits that Matthew copied the chronology and events of Jesus’ ministry from Mark (while adding sayings from Q). However, Matthew did not simply copy Mark slavishly; he freely altered Mark’s material, specifically to elevate the portrait of Jesus to a higher Christology. He details eight ways in which Matthew changed what he found in Mark’s Gospel book in order to raise the status of Jesus. Luke’s Christology is then similar to Matthew’s, and John’s, which is the latest, is higher still. (This was done because of the influence of the letters of Paul, the real inventor of Christianity, whose non-historical view of Jesus came to dominate after AD 70, when Jesus’ original followers were killed in the Jewish war with the Romans.)

So the picture of Jesus in the Gospel books, says Ally, is like a “snowball” that keeps getting larger as it rolls on. It is possible to trace the trajectory of this elevation in Christology from the Gospel According to Mark in AD 75 to that in John in the late 90s, and then one can extrapolate back to the original Jesus in AD 33 and find a picture, lower than the one in Mark’s Gospel, a picture that matches the Jesus of the Qur’an [28].

One can see how difficult it would be to contradict the claims of people such as Shabir Ally if one accepts the same liberal paradigm assumptions. And that brings us to the next section.

The Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible

Liberal scholarship developed in Europe, most notably in Germany, England, and France, spearheaded by such men as Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza (1632-1677), Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694-1768), Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860), K.H. Graf (1815-69), David Friedrich Strauss (1808-1874), and Ernest Renan (1823-1892), who with ever increasing success destroyed trust in the Bible.

This “higher criticism” of the Bible reached North America in the nineteenth century, but for a time it was restricted to scholarly discussions in academic journals. It did not explode into public consciousness until 1891, when one Charles Augustus Briggs was appointed first professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary. Briggs, who had studied in Germany and had been won over to an acceptance of historical criticism, announced in his inaugural address such indelicacies that the Bible is filled with errors, that the doctrine of inerrancy was nothing more than a bogey man to frighten children, and that theology should be rebuilt by rationalism.

Belatedly, Bible-believing evangelicals joined the fray, fighting a rearguard action against the rapid spread of historical criticism (though textual criticism found far fewer opponents) [29]. This led to the publication of The Fundamentals between 1910 and 1915, a set of twelve volumes designed to defend Biblical Christianity, and leading to what came to be called “the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy,” as the Bible believers sought to prevent the takeover of the institutions of higher learning (especially the seminaries) by liberal scholars. With the fall of Princeton Seminary to the liberals in 1929, the battle was over, and the majority of Fundamentalists simply withdrew from academia, leaving the field to liberals for decades.

This began to change in 1948, with the rise of the so-called New Evangelical” movement. Fundamentalists were eager to rejoin the academic discussion:

Many young fundamentalist scholars became resentful of the fact that they were not viewed with respect by fellow scholars in their special disciplines. Because they were fundamentalists, they were viewed as deficient intellectually, and their work was not recognized by the scholarly world as a whole [30].

The price for reentering academia was, of course, to accept the liberal paradigm assumptions; academia was now controlled by liberal scholars, and it was very much “their house, their rules.” Added to this was the fact that many who began as fundamentalists had already accepted these presuppositions:

Many young fundamentalist scholars in the 1940s, 1950, and 1960s enrolled in liberal institutions in this country and abroad in order to pursue graduate education … they were greatly influenced in the many of their positions by the unbelievers under whom they studied [31].

And, of course, this became a juggernaut. Even if one studied under believers, those believers had also accepted the liberal paradigm assumptions because they themselves had studied under unbelievers, or under other believers who had studied under unbelievers, or under believers who had studied under believers who had studied under unbelievers. Like rats following the Pied Piper, evangelical scholars en masse came to accept the liberal paradigm assumptions that undermine the Bible, in most cases not even realizing that they were following the liberal lead at all! But that is exactly what they were doing.

Nor was it only the liberal paradigm assumptions of historical criticism that were accepted. New Evangelicalism proclaimed “a friendly attitude toward secular science [32] and embraced a variety of ways to reconcile the Bible with an old (i.e. billions of year old) earth and Darwinism. And when it came to Griesbachian textual criticism, there was a nearly total capitulation, save for a few brave souls such as Dean John Burgon, Edward Miller, Edward F. Hills, and, much later, Zane Hodges, Wilbur Pickering, and Maurice Robinson.

In sum, then, the three-headed monster was ushered into the church by sometimes well meaning but unaware evangelicals; there it now sits, all three heads devouring the credibility of the Bible in the eyes of not only the world but of Christians themselves. This is obvious, as we shall see when we consider how things currently stand in the world of evangelical scholarship.

Historical Criticism

Regarding Late Dating of the Gospel Books

Virtually all evangelicals accept the late dating of the Gospel books, putting the first one to the mid-50s at the earliest, and putting the last synoptic Gospel as late as AD 80 [33]. When reasons are offered, they are mainly a rehashing of liberal talking points. John Wenham is one evangelical scholar who reasons carefully and independently in arriving at much earlier dates [34].

Extreme Late Dating of the Gospel According to John

There seems to be an all but universal agreement among evangelicals that this Gospel book should be dated to the AD 80s or 90s [34], which is much too late [36]. Now, the Gospel According to John is the one Gospel book that was specifically written as an evangelistic tome for unbelievers (John 20:30-31) [37] and so contains the most fully orbed account of who Jesus actually is, the Son of God incarnate; naturally, therefore, this was the Gospel book most attacked by liberal scholars and rationalists, who pushed the date as late as possible [38]. It is tragic that so many evangelicals go along with this false claim [39]. (John MacArthur, for example, glibly asserts that “John wrote his gospel ca. A.D, 80-90, about 50 years after he witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry [40].”)

Regarding Literary Dependence (Two-/Four-Source Hypothesis)

The view that creation of the Synoptic Gospel books came about by the two later writers copying from the earliest has now been overwhelmingly accepted by evangelical scholars [41].

Regarding Markan Priority

The claim that the Gospel According to Mark was the first one written, although the evidence for Matthean priority is overwhelming and Markan priority was concocted only to discredit the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, is accepted almost universally by evangelical scholars [42]. As Howard in his “Introduction to the Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible: Gospel and Acts” says:

Each of our authors holds to Markan priority, the theory that says the Gospel of Mark was written first, and that Matthew and Luke both made extensive use of Mark’s text when composing their own accounts. Evidence for Markan priority is briefly discussed in the introductions to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but mostly our authors assume rather than argue for Markan priority. In this they stand with the clear and longstanding consensus in Gospels scholarship [43].

Just so; the claims of “clear and longstanding consensus” are “assumed” and are not carefully examined. The result is that liberal paradigm assumptions become integral to evangelical scholarship.

Regarding the Q Hypothesis

Both elements of the Q hypothesis, that it was used along with the Gospel According to Mark by Matthew and Luke, and that it is a “sayings” source with no miracle or resurrection account, are widely accepted by evangelical scholars [44], though not as universally as the other liberal paradigm assumptions. Bock, for example, allows that Q may have been “a group of traditions that in some cases are oral … it is best to understand Q to be a fluid pool of traditions from which both Luke and Matthew drew [45]” – which does not change the fact that Matthew and Luke are not recording direct eyewitness testimony but copying and editing “traditions” long after the fact.


Of the three heads of the monster, Darwinism is the clearest challenge to the truth of Bible, and there were Christians who opposed it from the beginning [46]. But as the 20th century wore on, most Christian scholars came to accept an old earth and some sort of accommodation with the theory of evolution. This accelerated with the rise of the New Evangelical movement, spearheaded by the American Scientific Affiliation and the popular apologist Bernard Ramm, who obviously found it acceptable to denigrate the fact of six-day young earth creationism and the flood of Noah’s time [47], which are clearly taught in the Bible and were affirmed by Jesus Himself [48].

In 1961, by which time virtually all Christians had abandoned six-day young earth creationism and “flood geology,” John Whitcomb and Henry Morris published The Genesis Flood [49], which defended young-earth creationism and flood geology from a Biblical and scientific perspective. Although it was savaged by New Evangelical critics, it launched the start of the modern creation science movement. Today there are a number of evangelical ministries, including the Creation Research Society and the Institute for Creation Research, Creation Ministries International, and Answers in Genesis, that are doing excellent work in defending the Biblical view of creation.

Nevertheless, there are many professing evangelical individuals and organizations (such as Biologos [50] and Hugh Ross’s “Reasons to Believe” [51]) who continue to attempt to reconcile the Bible with theories of evolution. (Generally it seems that the more academic training in theology one has, without a commensurate understanding of science, the more he eschews Biblical creationism.) It is probable that the majority – and, in fact, the large majority – of evangelical scholars reject six-day young-earth creationism.

Textual Criticism

Of the three heads of the monster, the most subtle is textual criticism [52] – and, for two reasons, it is perhaps the most dangerous. First, evangelicals have been lulled into believing that this field is purely a scientific endeavour, with no room for theological biases (though why this should be the case, when Griesbach’s rules were clearly designed by fiat to place errors into what is to be considered the original text of the Bible, is passing strange). This means they are completely off their guard and capitulate fully as the inerrant Bible becomes infected with errors [53]. Not surprisingly, virtually all evangelicals have accepted and use without question the current iteration of the Griesbachian/Westcott-Hort text, which is the joint text of Nestle-Aland (the 28th edition has recently been released) and the United Bible Societies (the 5th edition has recently been released). Every major modern Bible translation in English, except for the New King James Version, is based on these Greek texts.

Second, historical criticism and Darwinism both claim that what the Bible says is wrong – and these claims can be accepted or rejected. On the other hand, textual criticism alters the very text itself, so it is no longer a matter of accepting or rejecting external claims that the Bible is wrong, for the errors are embedded in what is supposed to be the original “God-breathed” text itself. (Wilbur Pickering discusses some of these errors in The Identity of the New Testament Text II [54]). Some evangelical scholars may create imaginative gambits to try to explain some of these obvious errors, but the cumulative weight of them can lead only to the erosion of belief in inerrancy.

The Effect of the Three-Headed Monster

It is not surprising that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible has fallen on hard times among evangelical scholars. Many, perhaps most, evangelical scholars have abandoned the belief or redefined it so that “inerrant” no longer means “without error.” They have not trumpeted this fact openly, and many of them are sincerely motivated, trying to hold on to belief in the Bible in spite of the errors they have been led to believe are within its pages – but for so many of them, what they hold to cannot fairly be described as any doctrine of inerrancy [55].

The advice given by evangelical scholars became this:

We should treat the Bible like any other book in order to show it’s not like any other book [56].

This is problematic for two reasons.

First, logically it is lunacy, for if treating the Bible like any other book leads to the conclusion that it’s not like any other book, that means the initial working presupposition that it is like any other book is wrong and inapplicable and therefore invalidates any conclusion reached when using that presupposition.

Second, and more important, evangelical scholars did nottreat the Bible like any other book in order to show it’s not like any other book”; they treated the Bible like any other book – period. Apologetics became a matter of scholarly opinions, with pronouncements about supposed cultural context, about human memory, ancient practices, and probabilities in being the focus, while the fact that the Bible is “God-breathed” was out of bounds for academic discussion. They “answered fools according to their folly, and became like them.” (Proverbs 26:4).

A few examples:

According to Dr. Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, who likens the Gospel books to the historical works of such ancient pagan writers as Thucydides,

[T]he Greek standard of reporting speeches required a concern for accuracy in reporting the gist of what has been said, even if the exact words were not remembered or recorded. The ancients also recognized an author’s right to summarize and bring out the contemporary force of a speaker’s remarks … This tradition became a standard for Greco-Roman history … This procedure sounds much like that cited by Luke in 1:1-4. The Evangelists were able to search out what Jesus said and did because they had access to people and communities who had been exposed to Jesus or his intimate followers [57].

F. David Farnell summarizes it thus:

For Bock, “The Gospels give us the true gist of his teaching and central thrust of his message” because they are patterned after such ancient historiography [58].”

Here, indeed, we see the Bible being treated “like any other book. Ancient historians were not able to get the exact words of their subjects, so we should not expect the Gospel writers to do so either. The Gospel books are to be measured by the standards of “Greco-Roman history”; the fact that they are “God-breathed” does not seem to enter into the picture at all. Why would we adopt this approach – unless, of course, we believe there are errors in the Bible?

Farnell rightly objects, saying about “the similarities among the Synoptic Gospels” that

the sources were eyewitnesses who, in many cases, reproduced the exact wording of dialogues with and sermons by Jesus. Of ultimate importance in this connection is that their memories received stimulation through the Holy Spirit’s guidance in accord with Jesus’ promises to the disciples: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” and “But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 14:26; 16:13 NASB). The factuality and accuracy of the Gospels stem from their uniqueness as divinely inspired documents–as God-breathed as well as God-guided documents No other documents in ancient historiography share this characteristic, making the Synoptics qualitatively different from any other document. They thus enjoy an exclusive position. The divine factor so overshadowed the human factor that the accuracy of the Gospels is ensuredAttempts to draw parallels to the Gospels from other ancient historiography are tenuous and ignore the unique position of the Gospels as divinely inspired [59].

Farnell is completely correct about this, and it is refreshing to see at least one evangelical scholar who openly champions the role of divine inspiration in accounting for Biblical inerrancy. However, his view is held by a vanishingly small minority of evangelical scholars. Many will pay lip service to the concept of divine inspiration, but it is conspicuously absent when they get down to the actual study of the Gospel books. Appealing to divine inspiration in academic study would be just so unscholarly and gauche, it seems.

Farnell rightly takes Bock to task, pointing out the obvious fact that

Bock’s position, citing Thucydides as a pattern for the Gospels, is precarious. The Gospel writers claim Spirit-energized memories; Thucydides did not. Although Thucydides may have forgotten and was summarizing, the Gospel writers were supernaturally assisted in a way different from anyone else. Their writings are thus in a qualitatively different class … in a pattern different from any other in the ancient world [60].

This should be axiomatic for evangelicals, yet the idiotic practice of pretending that the Gospel books are just like other ancient writings and using that as a gambit to excuse away putative errors is stock in trade for most evangelical scholars. The most frequent way in which this is done seems to be to suggest that it is unreasonable to hold the Bible to modern standards of accuracy (as if we moderns were more accurate than God!) but only to the standards of non-inspired writings of ancient days. In other words, we are asked to believe that it’s not an error if everyone else in those days was making the same sort of error!

For example, Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, in a display of word usage and logic that is reminiscent of President Clinton’s infamous, “It all depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” asserts that

What complicates matters is not the meaning of inerrancy but the debate over what constitutes an error … we frequently impose modern standards of accuracy on ancient texts in hopelessly anachronistic fashion [61].

Allow me to help the professor out:

  • If a writer says that something happened that did not actually happen, that’s an error.

  • If a writer says something happened in a certain way when it did not, that’s an error.

  • If a writer says someone said something when in fact he did not say it, that’s an error.

  • If other people make the same error, it does not cease to be an error; it’s still an error.

Even a child can understand this; it seems to take a postgraduate education to lose the ability to understand something so straightforward.

Yet Blomberg tells us that

Genesis 1 can be and has been interpreted by inerrantists as referring to a young earth, an old earth, progressive creation, theistic evolution, a literary framework for asserting God as the creator of all things irrespective of his methods, and a series of days when God took up residence in his cosmic temple for the sake of newly created humanity in his image [62].

With all due respective, however, this makes a hash of the word “inerrantist. There is absolutely no question but that the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world, and the animals according to their kind, across six 24-hour days [63], and adding up the chronogenealogies in Genesis yields a maximum possible age for the earth of 7,680 years [64].

There is, in fact, nothing in the Bible to lend any aid or comfort to acolytes of an old earth, progressive creation, theistic evolution, or any other of Blomberg’s alternatives to six-day young earth creationism [65]. There does not seem to be anything other than a mistaken belief that there is irrefutable scientific evidence that the earth is 4.6 billion years old and that evolution happened that could induce anyone to try to hybridize such theories with the Bible, and each hybrid contradicts the plain testimony of Scripture – which means that if any such view were true, the Bible would be in error. So, pace Blomberg, those who hold to such views are notinerrantists,” as long as that word has any real meaning.

Blomberg goes on to claim that a belief in inerrancy does not mean one has to believe that Adam and Eve actually existed [66]! Yet on the same page, Blomberg, who has no discernible training in any field of science, says that

the question that remains for all interpreters, except for those who deny almost the entire fossil record that suggests humanlike creatures have existed for millions of years, is how Homo sapiens got to be this way.

By this mindset, the Bible need not be treated as inerrant, but the pronouncements of secular evolutionists should be treated as such! Even a little bit of research will surface how profoundly idiotic this statement of Blomberg’s is [67].

Blomberg then avers, inter alia, that Job may not have been historical (to Blomberg, “it almost defies imagination that one person should suffer such extreme loss [68]”); that, while we should accept that Jonah existed, we do not have to accept the “seemingly outlandish, grotesque, and perhaps unnecessary miracle” about Jonah being swallowed by a great fish [69] and that there is “a sane middle ground between viewing the book as pure history and claiming it to be pure fiction [70].

Now, we must not miss the fact that if, as Blomberg says, there is a “middle ground between viewing the book as pure history and claiming it to be pure fiction” and that this “middle ground” is “sane,” this strongly implies that viewing it as “pure history” is insane. Yet Jesus clearly viewed the book as pure history, including the part about the “seemingly outlandish, grotesque, and perhaps unnecessary miracle” about Jonah being swallowed by a great fish (Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32). By the standards Blomberg is advocating, then, Jesus must be considered insane. This is what evangelical scholarship has come to, folks. No doubt not one of them would say (or think) that Jesus was insane, but somehow they cannot seem to connect the dots between their approach to the Bible and what it does to the case for Christianity.

Blomberg goes on to assert that parts of the Gospel According to Matthew that seem to be straightforward historical narrative are “unhistorical elaboration that Matthew added [71].” Blomberg tries to square the latter with inerrancy by claiming that Matthew’s original readers would have known that these were unhistorical elaborations – as if an error is not an error as long as the original reader knew it was an error!

It should be noted that this idea was previously floated by Dr. Robert Gundry, who surmised that Matthew’s original readers would already have been familiar with the story of Jesus in the Gospel According to Mark and in Q, and so would have recognized Matthew’s additions as non-historical [72].

Really? Are we to assume that anything Matthew included that is not in Mark and in Q is necessarily non-historical [73]? Are we to assume that the apostle Matthew had no historical facts to add to what Mark included in his Gospel book? That does not seem to be a reasonable assumption. But if Matthew did add historical facts, how did his readers distinguish between his historical additions and his putative non-historical additions? Clearly, Gundry’s suggestion that they could know material was non-historical if it was not in the Gospel According to Mark or in Q does not work [74]. For that matter, if Matthew did add historical facts, how did his readers know that any of it was non-historical?

We must also ask why an apostle, who presumably wanted people to believe the Gospel, would add non-historical material that could have been debunked and thus discredited the apostolic preaching. Did he do it just for fun? And, most importantly, did the Spirit of truth, who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13) breath non-historical material – which looks historical – into the Gospel According to Matthew? To ask that is to answer it, for any genuine evangelical.

We should also not overlook the fact that this whole mess is, as can be seen, a product of that witch’s brew of Markan priority, the Q hypothesis, and literary dependence, along with a redefinition of “inerrancy.This, folks, is “evangelical scholarship” today.

We see the same sort of nonsense from Dr. Michael R. Licona, Associate Professor in Theology at Houston Baptist Seminary and author of popular apologetics books such as The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, co-authored with Gary Habermas. In The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach [75], Licona asserts that fact is mixed with fiction in the Gospel According to Matthew. According to Matthew 27:51-53,

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and 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.

According to Licona, however, this is “poetic” or “legend, and so, apparently, are the angel(s) at the tomb [76]. Licona also questions the account of the troops and officers falling to the ground when Jesus said “I Am,” as recorded in John 18:1-6 [77]. In fact, as Geisler notes, Licona “undermines the general reliability of the historicity of the Gospels by claiming that ‘there is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).’ Then he goes on to say that ‘Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches, … and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins’ (34, emphasis added) [78].“

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 [79]:

“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 devastating 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 notthe 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 cannot 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 have 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 is not. As we have 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 were not, 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 [80], 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 [81].

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 [82].” 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 [83]. He is of interest because he is a frequent “go-to guy” for both Creation Ministries International [84] and Christian Research Institute [85], which means he is reaching a sizeable audience. Holding has taken it upon himself to challenge Norman Geisler’s [86] 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 [87]. 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 questions [88]” – is 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 [89].

Unfortunately for Holding, this answer does not 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) [90],” 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 [91], also piles on [92], 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 does not, 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’s of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College, and is currently working on a Master’s degree – in philosophy [93].

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.

Now, let us move on to the substance of Licona’s claims, and assess whether they are compatible with any meaningful definition of inerrancy. They are not at all difficult to understand. In sum:

  • The Gospel books are of the same genre as Greco-Roman bios.

  • The genre of bios was flexible, mixing truth and legendary material.

  • In Greco-Roman bios, the death of important men was often described as being accompanied by such things as darkness, earthquakes, opened tombs, and resurrected bodies. Such things described in these bios didn’t actually happen; the descriptions of them are merely poetic devices to emphasize the importance of the man who died.

  • The description of the resurrection of OT saints in Matthew 27:51-53 is an example of such poetic language associated with the death of the great man Jesus.

  • The readers of the Gospel According to Matthew would no doubt have understood that the events of Matthew 27:51-53 never actually happened, but were simply poetic devices.

That is Licona’s case; it is not difficult to understand, and there is no reason to lend any credence to Holding’s repeatedly made charge that Geisler fails to grasp it. If anyone shows a lack of comprehension of the issue, it is Holding, who asserts that Geisler “himself failed to grasp the very simple point that you can’t dehistoricize a text not meant to be taken as historical.” Holding seems to miss the fact that the very point under debate is whether, in fact, Matthew intended 27:52-53 to be taken as historical or not. One cannot simply assume that this is true in order to confute Geisler.

Now, in regard to Licona’s case, the fact is that every one of his points is problematic or plainly wrong.

First, he asserts that the Gospel books are of the same genre as Greco-Roman bios. Now, many scholars have indeed argued this, adducing a number of characteristics shared by the Gospel books and Greco-Roman bios [94]:

  • Opening with a prologue by the author or directly with the subject’s name or ancestry

  • The central focus being the chronological sequence of the subject’s life

  • The imbalance between the description of the early years and the final days

  • Being written as a continuous prose narrative

  • The combination of stories and sayings

  • Displaying the subject’s character through what he says and does, rather than through plain statements by the author

But on the other hand, other scholars have shown significant differences between the Gospel books and Greco-Roman bios. Classics scholar Matthew Ferguson [95] points out the following [96]:

  • Discussion of Methodology and Sources: Ancient historical works at their beginning (or somewhere else within the body of the narrative) are often prefaced with statements from the author about the period they will be investigating, the methodology they will be using, and the types of sources they will be discussing. None of the Gospels, with the exception of a very brief statement at the beginning of Luke, even come close to following this convention.

  • Internally Addressed and Analyzed Contradictions among Traditions

  • Authorial Presence in the Narrative:” In Greco-Roman bios, authors often “have active roles in the narrative as historians who are interjecting to discuss their sources and relation to events … Even among ancient historical works in which the author does not specifically give his name in the narrative, historians very frequently discuss the relation they have to the events they are analyzing.

  • Education Level of the Audience: … As scholar Pheme Perkins (Oxford Annotated Bible, pg. 1743) explains, ‘Greco-Roman biographies were addressed to a social and literary elite, which may explain why the Gospels, addressed to a much broader audience, do not match them very closely.’

  • Hagiography versus Biography: Rather than read as the unmitigated praise of a saint who can do no wrong, ancient historical works and historical biographies were far more critical of their subjects, whom they analyzed less one-dimensionally and more as complete persons.

  • Signposts about Authorial Speculation:” The authors of Greco-Roman bios often had to speculate about the “exact words spoken by individuals in famous speeches or the exact order in which things had taken place in past events. In order to provide elegant rhetorical prose, however, creative liberties had to be taken on the part of the author to retell these dialogues as they plausibly could have taken place” and when the authors of Greco-Roman bios were speculating, they indicated that they were doing so [97].

  • Independence versus Interdependence: One thing that amazes me as a Classicist is just how interdependent the Gospels are upon each other. Matthew borrows from much as 80% of Mark’s material, and Luke borrows from 65% of the material of the earliest gospel … The same is not true for ancient historical works. Consider just the four most extensive sources that we have for the life of the emperor Tiberius: Paterculus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio. All four authors obtain their material from a broad range of sources rather than simply copy from each other, they write in a far more diverse range of styles, and yet they independently corroborate each other’s claims [98].

  • Miracles at the Fringe versus the Core of the Narrative

  • Important Characters and Events Do Not Disappear from the Narrative:” Ferguson cites the case of the Roman prefect Sejanus, who allegedly plotted against Tiberius, supposedly with “many allies in the Roman senate,” and was executed in AD 31. Ferguson suggests that it would have been illogical if “there was no aftermath or followup and the narrative merely moved on to another subject … Instead, both Tacitus (book 6) and Dio (book 58) spend a considerable amount of narrative space discussing the senators who were accused and condemned for being co-conspirators with Sejanus.” He then cavils that “in the Gospels earth-shaking events take place that then receive no followup and strangely disappear once they have played their symbolic [sic] role in the narrative.

  • These include the rising of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53, about which Ferguson complains that “there is no followup in the Gospels or Acts of how the city was affected by this,” and the charge that the disciples stole the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:11-15), about which Ferguson complains that “there is no followup prosecution of the disciples for this charge, even when they are brought to court on other issues.

  • Ferguson also complains that there is no mention of Joseph of Arimathea being questioned about the empty tomb, and that there is no mention of any investigation into the matter by Pontius Pilate, who, says Ferguson, “is so worried that Jesus’ tomb will be found empty, lest people believe a miracle had occurred (as if all of the saints’ resurrections weren’t convincing enough), that he has guards stationed at the tomb … Pilate had gone to great lengths to ensure that Jesus’ body did not go missing [99].

Now, this is all very interesting, because Licona’s case rests fundamentally on the claim that the Gospel books are of the Greco-Roman bios genre. If that is not so, Licona’s case collapses. Holding and Peters obviously accept the claim without any question, but even a little bit of actual investigation shows that the claim is unsustainable. There is, as we have seen, good countervailing evidence against it. In fact, if anything, the case against the Gospels being a form of Greco-Roman bios is stronger than the case for it.

In light of this, it is not even necessary to go through all of the points underlying Licona’s case. However, we do want to highlight the worthlessness of Licona’s insistence that, even though Matthew 27:52-53 is a non-historical addition, the account of the resurrection of Jesus is historical. He himself claims that

Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins

Indeed, Licona thinks that history may end and legend begin at John 18:3 – but only until John 18:7, when the narrative reverts to history, so then how exactly can we know that the account of the resurrection of Jesus is history and not legend?

Oh, well, there are ways to know, Licona tells us; we can know that Matthew 27:52-53 is legend, not history, because these verses employ “phenomenological language [that is] used in a symbolic manner in both Jewish and Roman literature related to a major event such as death of an emperor.” And just what is this defining “phenomenological language”?

In 2011, Licona “clarified” his view on this issue, stating that Matthew’s language in 27:52 was apocalyptic,” not “poetic [100].” He is not the only scholar to claim that, and

these scholars argue that Matthew uses four common apocalyptic symbols including (1) darkness, (2) earthquakes, (3) opening of tombs, and (4) resurrected bodies [101].

Unfortunately for Licona, as James Rochford helpfully points out,

all of these supposed apocalyptic signifiers are also associated with Jesus’ death and resurrection. For instance, (1) darkness accompanied Jesus’ death (Mt. 27:45), (2) an earthquake accompanied his resurrection (Mt. 28:2), (3) angels opened Jesus’ tomb (Mt. 27:60, 28:8), and (4) Jesus rose physically from the dead (Mt. 28:7). If we take the resurrection of the OT saints as non-historical events, then the same hermeneutical case could be made for denying Jesus’ resurrection as historical [102].

(Rochford also draws attention to the fact that Matthew 27:52-53 is only one sentence in the original Greek, and suggests that the idea that Matthew changed genre from historical to apocalyptic for one sentence and then reverted to historical is absurd [103].)

Licona is checkmated here. If he insists that the “phenomenological language” in Matthew 27:52-53 indicates that the events described therein are non-historical (it is immaterial whether they are “poetic” or “apocalyptic,” for these are equally non-historical), then he cannot insist that the account of the resurrection of Jesus, which uses the same phenomenological language, is historical. Of course, Licona could assert that this language is “used in a symbolic manner” in Matthew 27:52-53 but literally in Matthew 28, but what objective reason could he give to support this? He would no doubt go to other evidences for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, but in that case – if Matthew uses this “apocalyptic language” to describe an actual, historical resurrection in the case of Jesus – Licona would only prove that Matthew does use this sort of language literally to describe actual events, which would mean that there is no reason to take the resurrection of the OT saints in Matthew 27:52-53 as non-historical. It seems that the desire to “treat the Bible like any other book” has overridden logic and common sense.

Now, according to Garwood Anderson,

It is noteworthy that, in writing this book, Licona seems to be trying to put forth a case that can engage liberal scholars, so he includes only “what could count as historical ‘bedrock,’ a datum which is at once beyond serious dispute and for which any serious historical hypothesis must account … ‘bedrock’ is established by two criteria – strong historical evidence and a nearly universal acceptance among contemporary scholarship [104]

For this reason, it should be noted, Licona devotes only “one paragraph, though with numerous mentions [105]” to the fact that at the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the majority of five hundred eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6). Inasmuch as this is one of the weightiest evidences for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, one would think that it would feature prominently in a book defending the resurrection. That is not the case, however, since

the last thing Licona wants to do is to reprise an argument which inspires the choir to sing while leaving skeptics amused by its naiveté. He repeatedly invites critics onto a single playing field of methodological neutrality to adjudicate the same evidence where there is no home court advantage [106].

This approach highlights one of the most pernicious causes of the problem: the desire to be taken seriously by liberal scholars [107]. It may be well-intentioned, as a way to convince such scholars of the truth of the Gospel, but it is a fool’s errand. It may gain one admission to the cool academic theological societies and publication in the cool academic journals and invitations to the cool parties, but I have yet to hear of even one liberal scholar who came to Christ through this attenuated apologetic.

Liberal scholars as a group know all of the evidence but are nevertheless committed to their naturalistic reinterpretations of the Gospel accounts; that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Accordingly, they will only allow such “bedrock” facts as do not require an admission that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, Licona and those who claim his view is compatible with inerrancy – including Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, Gary R. Habermas, Craig S. Keener, Douglas J. Moo, J. P. Moreland, Daniel B. Wallace, and Edwin M. Yamauchi [108] – seem to unable to think two moves ahead, and so become mice in the paws of the liberal cats.

Unsurprisingly, liberal scholars are quite happy to discuss these matters with Licona et al. as long as the liberals are the gatekeepers of what is allowed in the discussion and what is off limits – which is what Licona’s approach sets the stage for – and smile in their faces while waiting for this new view of “errant inerrancy” to become widespread among evangelical scholars.

No doubt they are confident this view will spread, and why would not they be? They have already seen the late dating of the Gospel books, Markan priority, literary dependence, the Q hypothesis, acceptance of the Griesbachian/Westcott-Hort text as the original text of the NT, and the denunciation of Mark 16:9-20 as inauthentic become, against all of the actual evidence, the dominant views among evangelical scholars. So why not the view that the Gospel books may have “legendary” material that is difficult to tell apart from actual historical material?

What will happen then? Based on the liberal paradigm assumptions that evangelical scholars have swallowed so far, liberal scholars paint a picture wherein

  • The earliest Gospel book, Q, has no resurrection

  • Neither does the next Gospel book, the Gospel According to Mark, which dates to somewhere around AD 55-75, and ends at 16:8.

  • Matthew and Luke, written later, in the 70s or 80s, used Mark and Q as their sources.

But since neither Mark nor Q has a resurrection account, where did Matthew and Luke get such an account? Inquiring liberal minds wanted to know. Now they have the answer: Matthew was not really including a resurrection account at all; it was just apocalyptic language meant to show how significant the death of the great man Jesus was. Just look at the apocalyptic imagery associated with the resurrection account of Jesus – darkness, an earthquake, an opened tomb, a bodily resurrection – and it becomes obvious. So it’s all a matter of genre analysis, you see; Matthew never intended you to think that the resurrection of Jesus was historical! You really should spot the clues in the apocalyptic language, you know. After all, they are the same clues that Licona uses to argue that the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52-53 is non-historical.

In fact, even Licona himself admits that

If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same [109].

And the defence he gives for historicity is exceedingly weak, viz. that neither the early Christians nor their opponents treated the claim of Jesus’ resurrection as being anything other than the claim that Jesus rose bodily from the dead as an actual historical event.

Now, even if that were a valid argument (and it is not, as we shall see), it would necessarily mean that the New Testament is not sufficient by itself for our faith and practice (since we cannot know which parts of it are meant to be taken as actual history if we do not have a knowledge of ancient history and conventions). More to the point, it is not a valid argument. On the contrary, it is worthless.

What comes next is crucial, folks.

  • Licona tells us that the apocalyptic language in Matthew 27:52-53 means that that passage is not historical but simply poetic.

  • The same sort of apocalyptic language is used by Matthew in his resurrection account, so the only logical conclusion is that, by Licona’s standards, we must also accept that the resurrection account of Jesus is not historical but simply poetic.

  • The only argument Licona can give for avoiding this obvious conclusion is the fact that the early Christians and their opponents viewed the claim that Jesus had risen as being a claim about an actual historical event.

And here is where Licona’s case blows up in his face: the early Christians and their opponents also viewed the claim in Matthew 27:52-53 that the OT saints had risen as being a claim about an actual historical event. Ignatius, writing about AD 107, stated the following:

By those in heaven I mean such as are possessed of incorporeal natures; by those on earth, the Jews and Romans, and such persons as were present at that time when the Lord was crucified; and by those under the earth, the multitude that arose along with the Lord. For says the Scripture, “Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,” their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude. (Epistle to the Trallians 9)

Irenaeus, around AD 180, wrote,

He suffered who can lead those souls aloft that follow His ascension. This event was also an indication of the fact, that when the holy soul of Christ descended [to Hades], many souls ascended and were seen in their bodies. (Fragments 28)

Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd or early 3rd century wrote,

the Gospel says, that many bodies of those that slept arose — plainly as having been translated to a better state. There took place, then, a universal movement and translation through the economy of the Saviour. (Stromata 6.6)

These and other early Christian writers affirmed the historicity of the resurrection of the OT saints in Matthew 27:52-53, though they were undoubtedly far more familiar with Greco-Roman bios than is Licona. There is an overweening arrogance in a 21st-century scholar who thinks he knows better about such matters than these early Christians.

Be that as it may, the main issue is that Licona claims on the basis of supposed apocalyptic language that the resurrection of the OT saints in Matthew 27:52-53 is non-historical – even though the early Christians never viewed it as anything other than historical. This means that Licona cannot out of the other side of his mouth claim that we can see the account of the resurrection of Jesus, with the same sort of apocalyptic language, as historical because early Christians never viewed it as anything else.

Again, if the early Christians’ view cannot trump the apocalyptic language in Matthew 27:52-53 to prove that it is historical, then neither can it be used to trump the apocalyptic language in the resurrection account of Jesus to prove that it is historical. Licona has cut himself off at the knees – while destroying the historicity of the resurrection account in Matthew. Congratulations, Licona.

So evangelical scholarship falls deeper into the snare set by liberal scholars – and primed by evangelicals. Liberal scholars have long argued that Jesus’ original Jewish followers taught a very different view of Jesus from Paul’s Hellenized “god-man.” They contended that Jesus was only a human being who was accepted by His followers as the Messiah, until Paul came along and on the basis of nothing more than his own visions invented the divine Jesus, resurrection and all. This led to a power struggle that was eventually won by Paul’s followers after Jesus’ original Jewish followers were largely wiped out during the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 [110].

This picture, as you recall, was supported by the claim that the two earliest sources about the life of Jesus had no resurrection account:

Now, if Licona’s views are accepted, the resurrection account in the Gospel According to Matthew can easily be written off as mere poetry, and since there is no resurrection account in the Gospel According to Mark or Q, liberal scholars will insist that not one of the three earliest sources we have about the life of Jesus claim that He rose from the dead. In fact, the first one that has it is the Gospel According to Luke, a late source written by a Hellenistic Greek writer, not a Jew at all:

The obvious historiographical conclusion, they will crow, is that this fictitious idea of a resurrection was appended to the story of Jesus long after the fact.

What do evangelicals have to say? The following, by Creation Ministries International’s golden child Lita Cosner, is typical:

The accounts in the Gospels are neither the only nor the earliest evidence we have of Christian writing about the Resurrection. That honor goes to 1 Thessalonians; one of the earliest of Paul’s letters … which was written around AD 50. So we have evidence that about two decades after Christ’s death, there was a group of people who insisted He was raised from the dead, and had built a decent portion of their theology around that fact, which doesn’t happen overnight. But the Gospel accounts … [were] penned decades after the events they describe [111]

So the picture we are given here is that the earliest evidence we have for the resurrection of Jesus is that a group of people who were not eyewitnesses of the risen Jesus, living in a city in the Hellenic world “about two decades after Christ’s death,” believed (sorry, “insisted”) that Jesus was raised from the dead, because they had been told that by another man who was himself not an eyewitness of the risen Jesus. The Gospel books, meanwhile, came later. This view, of course, plays exactly into the liberal reconstruction that posits Paul as the real inventor of Christianity [112].

So Licona’s ill-conceived pontifications about Matthew 27:52-53 actually provide the final argument liberal scholars need to complete the discrediting of the resurrection of Jesus, and without the resurrection of Jesus that there is no Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14-19). Game, set, and match to the liberal skeptics, thanks to Licona and his peanut gallery of evangelical scholar supporters.

That is, if Licona is right. As we have seen, he is not.

If we look again at Licona’s argument [113], we see that it is quintessentially predicated upon his claim that the Gospel books are of the same literary genre as Greco-Roman bios. As we have already seen, this claim is unsustainable, and so Licona’s entire argument collapses. However, there are also other problems.

Even in the case of Greco-Roman bios, Licona tells us that sometimes they included these sorts of strange, supernatural events – but not always; sometimes they were straight history. So even if the Gospel books were of the same genre as Greco-Roman bios, why should we not take them as examples of straight historical ones? Licona reasonably believes that supernatural events in Greco-Roman bios are necessarily non-historical, but, given that he certainly acknowledges historical miracles in the Gospel books, why do any of them need to be seen as non-historical? Is the God of the Bible unable to perform such miracles as supernatural darkness, earthquakes on demand, the opening of tombs, and the raising of bodies? If so, why should such events as are chronicled in Matthew 27:52-53 be seen as non-historical?

Licona does show familiarity with at least some of the Patristic testimony. He admits that there is very early testimony by Ignatius that “even the prophets, who were his disciples in the Spirit … He for whom they rightly waited raised them from the dead when He came [114],” which is further evidence of the historicity of the resurrection of the OT saints. He admits that

the darkness reported in all three Synoptics is also apparently reported by the secular historian Thallus (ca. A.D. 52) [115].

He also admits that

destructive earthquakes were common in the region and can explain four of the six phenomena (tearing of the temple veil, earthquake, rocks splitting, tombs opened) [116].

Yet for some reason that is truly unfathomable Licona tries to downplay this evidence; clearly to Licona all actual evidence is trumped by “the presence of phenomenological language used in a symbolic manner in both Jewish and Roman literature related to a major event such as the death of an emperor or the end of a reigning king or even a kingdom [117].” Licona writes off Ignatius’ testimony due to “ambiguity[118] – he seems to overlook the fact that there is much more Patristic evidence than just Ignatius’ – and then he carps that

so very little can be known about Thallus’ comment on the darkness (including whether he was even referring to the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion or, if so, if he was merely speculating pertaining to a natural cause of the darkness claimed by the early Christians) [119].

Clearly, all evidence and logic must bow to Licona’s view of the “phenomenological language” in the passage, and he blithely informs us tha

it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as “special effects” with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible [120].

Why, in light of all that we have seen, it should be considered “most plausible” is neither explained nor explicable.

Furthermore, even if it is true that phenomenological language is used symbolically in Jewish and Roman literature that is not God-breathed, why should Matthew 27:52-53, which is God-breathed be taken as an example of such symbolic usage, instead of as straightforward history? And we must also ask, if Matthew had meant to write about these events as actually having happened, how would he have phrased it differently? To ask that is to answer it; there is no other way he could have worded it but in the simple, straightforward way he did, and there is nothing about it therefore that offers any sort of clue that it is meant to be taken as non-historical.

Licona nevertheless tries to buttress his case by asserting that there may be other examples in the Gospel books of non-historical embellishments that are mistakenly understood to be historical events. It is hard to believe that he can be serious here. Does he really think that he can support the idea that Matthew 27:52-53 is non-historical by simply saying that it may not be the only non-historical passage? Does he really not understand that this could only be an argument if he actually shows that there are other passages that are non-historical, rather than merely suggesting that there may be some such?

Finally, we must ask, if the bios genre was so flexible that “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins,” then how can we know that Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection was the former, not the latter? Given that the same sort of “apocalyptic” imagery is used in both this account and the allegedly non-historical resurrection of the OT saints, we cannot know, despite Licona’s insistence to the contrary.

Licona’s entire case, then, is an unmitigated disaster. Why anyone would take it seriously is exceedingly difficult to see. Why the peanut gallery of evangelical scholars leaps to defend Licona in this matter is more puzzling still. The fraternity of liberal scholars and skeptics must be laughing themselves to pieces.

If Not Bios, Then What?

Inasmuch as the attempt to classify the Gospel books as being of the genre of Greco-Roman bios is a signal failure, one may now ask of what genre are they. Geisler argues that

Making up-front genre decisions is a question-begging procedure. It is based on questionable, predetermined classification from other literature that is then applied to biblical literature. For all the genre categories are made from the study of extrabiblical sources. These categories are then applied to the piece of biblical literature in question to see which one it fits into. The method as such does not allow for the possibility that the Bible may offer a new genre of its own that does not fit any of these categories, for example, redemptive history or (in the New Testament) Gospel history. But once these biblical genre categories are tacitly rejected (by taking the possible genre categories from nonbiblical genre sources), then it begs the question to insist that biblical (redemptive) history must be forced into one of these nonbiblical genres [121].

Holding derides this suggestion, opining that

Words like “absurd” one might suppose to not be appropriate when addressing someone like Geisler, but there are frankly no better words for such a nonsensical argument … In a nutshell, genres like “redemptive history” or “history” are simply manufactured categories Geisler invents to save his views. They, and his suggestion of some new and unknown category, and [sic] [122] merely contrivances, and have no basis in fact whatsoever [123].

In this, Holding has surfaced the crux of this issue: Are the Gospels God-breathed books written by authors carried along by the Holy Spirit and supernaturally empowered by Him to remember the words of Jesus to them (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; John 14:26), or they just ancient historical writings like those of Thucydides, Tacitus, Suetonius, or Josephus? If they are the latter, then we can indeed treat them like any other book, analyzing them according to the same genres that are found in those other books.

But if the former, if the Gospel books are indeed God-breathed, then they are necessarily and certainly qualitatively different from all other books, whether ancient histories or not. They are absolutely unique, sui generis, and need to be treated as such – though it is not necessary to create a new genre to categorize them; “God-breathed” is quite adequate. Geisler, therefore, is completely correct here, and it is Holding who is “absurd” and whose arguments are “nonsensical.



[1] Note that a presupposition is something that is simply taken to be true from the outset, with no attempt at proof or the provision of supporting evidence.

[2] Nevertheless, under the mistaken belief that Darwinism was a scientific fact, many pastors and church leaders accepted it and tried to reconcile the Genesis account with this theory.

[3] Remember that miracles were presupposed to be impossible.

[4] Initially, liberal scholars dated the earliest Gospel book exactly and conveniently one hundred years after the assumed date of Jesus’ death. The subsequent discovery of a papyrus fragment from the Gospel According to John that dated to the early 2nd century forced them to concede that all of the Gospel books were written in the 1st century, but they still pushed them as late as possible, “decades after” Jesus’ time.

[5] See Linnemann, Eta. Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? Reflections of a Bultmannian Turned Evangelical. Translated by Robert W. Yarbrough. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990, for an excellent overview of how liberal scholarship operates. Note particularly pp. 130-134, a summary of Külling’s On the Dating of the ‘P’ Source in Genesis. See also Lüdemann, Gerd. What Jesus Didn’t Say. Salem, Oregon: Polebridge Press, 2011, p. x, for a frank admission from a leading liberal scholar that his analysis of the Gospel books is based on “presuppositions.”

[6] The Gospel According to Matthew, the Gospel According to Mark, and the Gospel According to Luke, because they are very similar to one another in terms of the events they cover and the way these events are described, are referred to as the “synoptic” (roughly translated as “with the same eye”) Gospel books.

[7] Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976.

[8] Wenham, John. Redating Matthew, Mark & Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

[9] Pickering, Wilbur N. The Greek New Testament According to Family 35. Lexington, KY, 2014, p. 56

[10] Leaders of the church in the first few centuries whose writings have come down to us

[11] Farnell, F. David. “The Case for the Independence View of Gospel Origins,” Chapter 3 in Thomas, Robert L. ed. Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2002, pp. 226-309

[12] Dyer, Charles H. “Do the Synoptics Depend on Each Other?” Bib.Sac. 138 (1981), pp. 242-243

[13] Geisler, Norman L. and William C. Roach. Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, p. 211

[14] Neville, David J. Mark’s Gospel – Prior or Posterior? A Reappraisal of the Phenomenon of Order. London and New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002, p. 18

[15] Wenham, op.cit., pp. 2-4

[16] Alford, Henry. The Greek Testament. 4 vols. 7th edition. Cambridge: Deighton Bell (1874), 1.6. Cited in ibid., p. 3

[17] Wenham, op.cit., pp. 19, 88

[18] See, for example, Farnell, David F. “The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: The Testimony to the Priority of Matthew’s Gospel.” TMSJ 10:1 (Spring 1999), pp. 53-86

[19] Williams, Matthew C. Two Gospels From One: A Comprehensive Text-Critical Analysis of the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications (2006), pp. 23, 215

[20] Of or having to do with the Church Fathers

[21] See Linnemann, Eta. “Is There a Gospel of Q?” Bible Review 11:4 (August 1995); Goodacre, Mark. The Case Against Q. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002.

[22] Liberal scholars may object that Matthew and Luke did not simply copy; they also “redacted” the material. This means that they copied the material but then freely edited it and altered it as their imagination pleased – which makes things worse, not better, for the credibility of the Gospel books.

[23] Textual criticism can be applied to any writing, but for our purposes we are considering the New Testament.

[24] McKnight, Scott. Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988, p. 47.

[25] This holds even if one boldly dates the Gospel According to Mark to the mid 50s.

[26] Appealing to Paul’s letters, which in this scheme predate the Gospel books, does not good since Paul was not an original eyewitness.

[27] It does no good to protest, as some evangelical scholars do when faced with this, that eyewitnesses were still alive in the 80s. There were far more eyewitnesses available in the 40s and 50s when there was no resurrection account; why was it not in the earliest material, at the time of far more eyewitnesses, if it was historically true?

[28] Posted on YouTube at is a lecture in which Shabir Ally presents his case. A summary is posted at

[29] For historical details on these events, see Cairns, Alan. Apostles of Error: An examination of Liberalism, Neo-Orthodoxy, and particularly New Evangelicalism, with special reference to their attitude to Scripture. Greenville, SC: Faith Free Presbyterian Church, 1989; and Pickering, Ernest D. The Tragedy of Compromise: The Origin and Impact of the New Evangelicalism. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994.

[30] Pickering, Ernest, pp. 8-9 (Bolding added.)

[31] ibid., p.9

[32] ibid., p.14

[33] See Craig Blomberg interview in Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998, p. 34; Dr. Craig Evans interview in Ankerberg, John & Dillon Burroughs. What’s the Big Deal About Jesus, Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007, p. 30); Bock, Darrell, in Howard, Jeremy Royal. ed. The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible: The Gospels and Acts. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2013, p. 323; Carson, D.A., Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992, pp. 79, 99, 116; MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville, London, Vancouver, and Melbourne: Word Publishing, 1997, pp. 1452, 1504; McDowell, Josh. Evidence for Christianity: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006, p. 79

[34] Wenham, op.cit.

[35] See Andreas Köstenberger in Howard, op.cit., p. 501; Carson et al, op.cit., p. 167, MacArthur, op.cit., p. 1569, McDowell, op.cit., p. 79

[36] Robinson, John A.T. Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976, pp. 256-284

[37] The Gospel According to Luke, on the other hand, was written to a believer (Luke 1:3-4), and the other two Synoptic Gospel books, because of their similarity to Luke’s, were presumably also written for believers. Certainly in the case of the Gospel According to Mark, this is supported by Patristic testimony (Clement of Alexandria, HE 6.14.6-7; Eusebius HE 2.15.1-2)

[38] The influential F.C. Baur (1792-1860) of the Tübingen School of Theology asserted without any genuine evidence in 1844 that the Gospel According to John could not have been written earlier than AD 160, but probably closer to AD 170. This “assured result of critical scholarship” reigned until the publication in 1936 of a study of an ancient papyrus fragment, P52, that was from the Gospel According to John, and could not be dated later than AD 125.

[39] To be sure, they have been led to believe that there is evidence for such late dating, viz. the Patristic testimony. But they have not checked carefully. While there is abundant Patristic testimony that John lived to an old age, there is very little saying that he wrote his Gospel book at an old age. As John A.T. Robinson points out, the earliest such claim is from Epiphanius (AD 315-403), who garbled all of his chronological facts, apparently believing that John died during the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54). There is not another such claim until the one by Georgius Hamartolus – in the 9th century! (See Robinson, op.cit., p. 257.)

[40] MacArthur, op.cit., p. 1569 (Bolding added.)

[41] e.g. Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. Revised Edition. Leicester, England: Apollos and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1990, pp. 1043-1044; Carson et al, op.cit., pp. 26-38; Matthew Wilkins, Craig Evans, Darrell Bock, and Andreas Köstenberger in Howard, op.cit., p. 2, Craig Blomberg interview in Strobel, Christ, p. 27; Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013, p. 166. John MacArthur is an exception (See MacArthur, op.cit., pp. 1453-1454.)

[42] e.g. Carson et al, op.cit., pp. 32-34; Craig Blomberg interview in Strobel, Christ, p. 31, 33; LaHaye, Tim. Why Believe in Jesus? Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2004, p. 45

[43] Howard, op.cit., p. 2 (Bolding and underlining added.)

[44] Carson et al, op.cit., pp. 34-36; Craig Blomberg interview in Strobel, Christ, p. 32; LaHaye, op.cit., p. 51; Darrell Bock in Howard, op.cit., p. 325

[45] Bock, ibid.

[46] Hartt, Rollin Lynde. “Down With Evolution!” World’s Work (October 1923), pp. 605-614

[47] For details on this era (written from an unsympathetic perspective), see Numbers, Ronald L. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

[48] e.g. Mark 10:6, Matthew 24:37-38/Luke 17:26-27

[49] Whitcomb, John C. and Henry M. Morris. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications. Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1961

[50] See, inter alia, UpChurch, John. “The Danger of BioLogos: Blurring the Line Between Creation and Evolution.” Posted on October 1, 2011. At

[51] See, inter alia, Faulkner, Danny. “The Dubious Apologetics of Hugh Ross.” Journal of Creation 13:2 (November 1999), pp. 52-60

[52] Again, there is nothing wrong with textual criticism per se. We are speaking of textual criticism as currently constituted, along the lines set forth by German rationalists, especially Griesbach, and their intellectual offspring Westcott and Hort.

[53] Indeed, in my experience evangelical scholars seem to take a strange pleasure in showing off their cleverness in explaining to laymen how later scribes changed the original errors.

[54] Pickering, Dr. Wilbur N. The Identity of the New Testament Text II. Third Edition. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003, pp. 170-179

[55] See Thomas, Robert L. and F. David Farnell. The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism into Evangelical Scholarship. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998; Geisler and Roach, op.cit.; Geisler, Norman L & F. David Farnell. eds. The Jesus Quest: The Danger From Within. Xulon Press, 2014; Beale, G.K. The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

[56] Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus. A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, p. 80

[57] Cited by F. David Farnell in Farnell, op.cit., p. 293. (Bolding added.)

[58] ibid.

[59] ibid., p. 292. (Bolding added.) Surely Farnell meant that the Gospel books are unique, not just the Synoptics. So too is Acts and all of the book of the Bible, which are all “God-breathed.” It is unfortunate, though, that Farnell is quoting from the NASB; as alert as he is about the errors of historical criticism, it seems he is unaware of the dangers posed by the errors of Griesbachian textual criticism.

[60] ibid., p. 293. (Bolding added.)

[61] Blomberg, Craig L. Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, p. 126. (Bolding added.)

[62] ibid., p. 126. (Bolding and underlining added.)

[63] See, e.g., “Professors: A day means a day!” Creation 16:3 (June 1994), p. 44; Sarfati, Jonathan. “Theologian: Genesis means what it says!” Creation 32:3 (July 2010), pp. 16-19

[64] Hardy, Chris and Robert Carter. “The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth.” Journal of Creation 28:2 (2014), pp. 89-96

[65] See our companion article, Tors, John. “Is a 4-6 Billion Year-Old Earth Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy? A Response to Norman Geisler” at

[66] Blomberg, op.cit., p. 152

[67] Start with Line, Peter. “Fossil evidence for alleged apemen – Part 1: The genus homo” and “Part 2: non-Homo hominids” Journal of Creation 19:1 (April 2005), pp. 22-42 and go from there.

[68] ibid., pp. 155-156. Quote from p. 155

[69] ibid., p. 158

[70] ibid., p. 159

[71] ibid., pp. 156-168. Quote from p. 166

[72] ibid., p. 166

[73] For the sake of exposing the nonsense of this argument, we are here accepting the presumptions of Markan priority and the Q hypothesis. In reality, both are false.

[74] Let us not overlook the fact that by Gundry’s “logic,” the readers who were familiar with Q should have considered anything in the Gospel According to Mark that was not in Q to be non-historical additions – after all, they were already familiar with Q.

[75] Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010.

[76] ibid., pp. 185-186. See “(Letter #1) An Open Letter to Mike Licona on his View of the Resurrected Saints in Matthew 27:52-53*” at

[77] Licona, ibid., p. 306

[78] Geisler, Norman L. “A Response to Christianity Today’s Article in Defense of Mike Licona.” Posted on November 8, 2011. At

[79] 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.

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

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

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




[86] At, Holding describes Geisler as “Apologist, but behind the times and causing harm.”

[87] The following discussion is based on Holding’s article series in response to Geisler’s book, posted online at All quotations are taken from this series. (Bolding, italics, and underlining added unless otherwise noted.)

[88] “About James Patrick Holding.” Posted at

[89] Peters, Nick. “Paige Patterson is on the wrong page.” Posted on January 10, 2012. At

[90] 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. Posted on October 25, 2004. At, 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

[91] “Nick Peters and his Princess” at

[92] Peters, “Paige Patterson is on the wrong page,” op.cit.

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

[94] The following list and quotes are taken from Jones, Ron. “The NT Gospels As Biographies.” Posted at “ is a ministry of Rev. Ron Jones and the Titus Institute.”

[95] “I am a Ph.D. graduate student in Classics at the University of California, Irvine. My research interests include ancient biography, Greek and Latin historiography, the New Testament, early Christianity, and the early Roman Empire … I completed my M.A. in Classics (emphasis in “Ancient History”) at the University of Arizona with a master’s thesis studying the use of ring composition in Suetonius’ De Vita Caesarum.” (“About Me.” Posted at and reposted at

[96] Ferguson, Matthew W. “Ancient Historical Writing Compared to the Gospels of the New Testament.” Posted on August 18, 2013. At and reposted at The quotes in the following list are from this source. (Bolding added.)

[97] It should be noted that Ferguson gives only one example, that of Thucydides.

[98] Actually, ancient historians do not always “independently corroborate each other’s claims.” See, for example, Campbell, Duncan B. “Alexander’s great cavalry battle: What really happened at the River Granicus?” Ancient Warfare 7:2 (2013)

[99] Ferguson really ought to read the Bible more carefully. Pontius Pilate had no fear whatsoever that “Jesus’ tomb will be found empty” nor did he for this reason have “guards stationed at the tomb” nor did he go “to great lengths to ensure that Jesus’ body did not go missing.” Pilate actually gave away the body of Jesus to the first man who asked for it, and he left the tomb unguarded. It was the Jewish authorities who some time later asked for a guard and Pilate then gave it to them to allay their concerns, not his own. Pilate understood that messianic pretenders, once they are dead, attract no more followers (Acts 5:35-38), and no one, not even Jesus’ closest followers, expected Him to rise from the dead – although this is what happened.

[100] Patton, C. Michael. “Press Release: Michael Licona Response to Norm Geisler.” Posted on September 8, 2011. At Herein he also allowed that “at present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative of the raised saints in Matthew 27 as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol. It may also be a report of a real event described partially in apocalyptic terms.”

[101] Rochford, James M. “Is Matthew 27:51-53 historical?” Posted at

[102] ibid. (Bolding and underlining added.)

[103] ibid.

[104] Anderson, Garwood P. “Review Essay: Bedrock Evidence Resurrected.” The Living Church (February 26, 2012), pp. 13-14. Available at (Bolding and underlining added.)

[105] ibid., p. 14 (Bolding added.)

[106] ibid. (Bolding and underlining added.) One hopes that Anderson is clumsily portraying liberal responses here, and does not himself think that the evidence of more than 250 living eyewitnesses at the time 1 Corinthians was written is a naïve argument.

[107] As we have already seen, “Many young fundamentalist scholars became resentful of the fact that they were not viewed with respect by fellow scholars in their special disciplines. Because they were fundamentalists, they were viewed as deficient intellectually, and their work was not recognized by the scholarly world as a whole.” (Pickering, Earnest, pp. 8-9)

[108] They all signed an affirmation of Licona’s 2011 press release, saying “Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary.” (Bolding added.)

[109] Licona, op.cit., p. 553

[110] See Wilson, Barrie. How Jesus Became Christian. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008, for one packaging of this view.

[111] Cosner, Lita. “The Resurrection and Genesis.” First posted on April 10, 2009, last updated April 5, 2015. At (Bolding and underlining added.) For good measure, Miss Cosner perpetuates the nonsense that the Gospel books “go back to early oral tradition.”

[112] None of this is true, of course. The Gospel According to Matthew, as we have seen, was eyewitness testimony published a mere eight years after the ascension of Jesus, the Gospel According to Mark two years after that, and the Gospel According to Luke five years after that. Contra Miss Cosner, then, it is these Gospel books that are the earliest evidence we have for the resurrection of Jesus, and not the “insistence” of a group of non-eyewitnesses that dates to at least two years after the publication of the last of these three Gospel books.

[113] Licona’s case is stated in Licona, op.cit., pp. 548-553

[114] Epistle to the Magnesians 9:2, written ca. AD 107-110

[115] Licona, op.cit., p. 551

[116] ibid. Does Licona think the Bible is more believable if we can find naturalistic explanations for events that certainly seem to be described as miraculous?

[117] ibid., p. 552 (Bolding added.)

[118] ibid.

[119] ibid. Actually, Thallus’ comment, which is preserved for us by Julius Africanus, seems rather clear: “On the whole world there pressed a fearful darkness, and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of histories, without reason it seems to me.”

[120] ibid.

[121] Geisler and Roach, op.cit., p.147

[122] Holding probably meant “are” here.

[123] From

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