On Chicago’s Muddy Waters

 In Blog


Mike Licona (June 2, 2014)


Many of us have had the driving experience of moving along peacefully when we become startled by the sudden appearance of flashing blue lights in our rear-view mirror. We pulled over to the side of the road and waited for the police officer to approach our car and inform us what law we had just broken. We wondered, “How much is this ticket going to cost me? Am I going to get any points on my driving record that will result in a higher auto insurance premium?”

Of recent, some having an overly wooden view of what an inerrant Bible should look like have been posting articles on the Internet and writing books. Several of the books are by Norman Geisler and are self-published, suggesting he could not find an interested publisher. These are attacking several evangelicals such as myself, Craig Blomberg (Denver Seminary), Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Michael Bird (Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry), William Lane Craig (Houston Baptist University), Craig Evans (Acadia Divinity School), Craig Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary), Kevin Vanhoozer (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Dan Wallace (Dallas Theological Seminary), and Robert Yarborough (Covenant Theological Seminary). The attitudes and attacks by Geisler & Co. have led a friend to label them as the “New Fundamentalists” in a forthcoming paper.

The attackers, led by Norman Geisler, are charging us with undermining confidence in the Bible because we use the historical critical method. Of course, those of us charged have pled “not guilty” to undermining confidence in the Bible but unashamedly confess to our use of a historical critical method, which is the application of the tools of historians to see what we can confirm in the Gospels apart from faith. The grounds for the charges are that we’ve violated the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), which is one of the most conservative attempts to define the doctrine that the Bible contains no errors.

I offer a few thoughts: First: CSBI and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy are not the same. CSBI is neither Scripture nor is it the product of a Church council. It is not authoritative. And with the exception of the faculty members at a few seminaries, evangelicals are not bound by it. One can hold to the inerrancy of Scripture without embracing CSBI. In fact, it’s worth observing that it may very well be the case that more evangelicals worldwide define biblical inerrancy as it’s articulated in the Lausanne Covenant than by CSBI. John Stott and Billy Graham are prominent examples of those subscribing to the Lausanne Covenant. David Dockery, a prominent leader in the Southern Baptist Convention has offered another definition of biblical inerrancy worthy of consideration. And there are others. Moreover, outside the U.S., the large majority of Christians do not use the term “inerrant” but prefer “infallible” and “authoritative” to describe their view of Scripture.

Second: It is only a few who, in practice, regard CSBI as the only proper definition of biblical inerrancy and have appointed themselves to police the evangelical community for transgressors of CSBI, issuing citations and posting them on the Internet while refusing to discuss the matter within academic forums.[1] Their operating procedures are inconsistent, however, and this observation makes one question the motives of some of those leading the charge. Here’s an example:

One of those who penned CSBI is J. I. Packer. Packer says Genesis 1 in its entirety is a “prose poem,” a “quasi-liturgical celebration of the fact of creation” and by no means describes what we would have seen had we been hovering above the chaos of creation. He goes on to say he does not know whether Eve actually spoke to a serpent or whether there actually was a Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. And he says it does not matter because poets of the period who wrote outside of the Bible used trees in a metaphorical sense in their literature.[2] Of course, this approach has the potential to impact how one interprets the fall in the Garden and the doctrine of original sin. Where are the CSBI police now? Can you hear their sirens, even in the distance? Why is Packer’s photo conspicuously absent on the board of the CSBI police’s “Most Wanted” where the photos of several evangelical scholars are posted?

To date, no one at the CSBI police station will offer comment related to Packer’s position. Even police chief Norman Geisler has likewise refused to comment. The reason is clear: If those of us on their “Most Wanted” list are guilty of transgressing CSBI, Packer is even more so. But one cannot accuse Packer of violating the CSBI definition of biblical inerrancy, given his interpretation of Genesis 1, since he was one of those who wrote the definition. Until Geisler adequately addresses this inconsistency in his policing, we ought to ignore his flashing yellow lights in our rear view mirrors.

Third, the truth of Christianity is grounded in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection rather than the inerrancy of the Bible. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity would still be true even if it were the case that some things in the Bible are not. In fact, because Jesus rose, Christianity was true in the period before any of the New Testament literature was written. So, how could an error in the Gospels nullify the truth of Christianity? This is not to say the Bible contains errors. It is to say that, since the truth of the Christian gospel does not hang on every word in the Bible being correct, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is, at the very most, a secondary doctrine.

This position is only an echo of that articulated in 1893 by B. B. Warfield, regarded as the father of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy:

Let it not be said that thus we found the whole Christian system on the doctrine of plenary inspiration. . . . Were there no such thing as inspiration, Christianity would be true, and all its essential doctrines would be credibly witnessed to, as in the generally trustworthy reports of the teaching of our Lord and of His authoritative agents in founding the Church, preserved in the writings of the apostles and their first followers, and in the historical witness of the living Church. Inspiration is not the most fundamental of Christian doctrines, nor even the first thing we prove about the Scriptures. It is the last and crowning fact as to the Scriptures. These we first prove authentic, historically credible, generally trustworthy, before we prove them inspired. And the proof of their authenticity, credibility, and general trustworthiness would give us a firm basis for Christianity, prior to any knowledge on our part of their inspiration, and apart, indeed, from the existence of inspiration. The present writer, in order to prevent all misunderstanding, desires to repeat here what he has said on every proper occasion. . . . Without any inspiration we could have had Christianity; yea, and men could still have heard the truth, and through it been awakened, and justified, and sanctified, and glorified.[3]

Since (1) CSBI is only one of several definitions of what it means for the Bible to be without error, (2) the motives of some of the CSBI police officers leading the charge are questionable, given their inconsistent treatment related to Packer and (3) the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is a secondary or tertiary doctrine, how much attention should evangelicals give to the CSBI police?

The [lack of] responses by those of us on the “Most Wanted” list

I’ve been in the crosshairs of Norman Geisler since the fall of 2011. But I’m not the first. Geisler led his attacks against the prominent and highly respected New Testament scholar Robert Gundry until Gundry was asked to leave the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in 1983. Geisler has continuously boasted of his victory, since the members of ETS voted to oust Gundry by an “overwhelming majority.” Using similar words, David Farnell of The Master’s Seminary asserts that Gundry’s views “alarmed the vast majority (74%) of evangelicals in the Evangelical Theological Society.”[4]

What Geisler and the New Fundamentalists do not publicize is that Geisler was politicizing the issue, inviting those who did not regularly attend the conference to come vote and circulating a flyer to conference attendees titled, “Why We Must Vote Now on Gundry’s Membership, and Why We Must Vote No on Gundry’s Membership.” Still, when the vote was taken, less than 10 percent of the members present were concerned enough about Gundry’s position to participate. So much for the “vast majority” of ETS membership feeling “alarmed” by Gundry. But those who came to vote made the difference. The motion to ask Gundry to leave was passed 119 to 36 (nearly 77%).[5] But in reality, only around 6 or 7% of the entire ETS membership present voted to ask Gundry to leave. So much for an “overwhelming majority.”[6]

Realizing I was now in Geisler’s crosshairs, I knew it was going to be a long journey. When he started his crusade against me, most of the elite in evangelical scholarship signed a public statement supporting me. Geisler enlisted a few to stand with him. However, even after nearly 3 years, he has not been able to match support for his position with anything close to the number of high-caliber scholars who came out in support of me. He turned to contacting several seminary presidents, asking them to come out publicly against me. This is something Geisler has recently denied.[7] However, one seminary president informed me personally that Geisler had contacted him and requested, virtually demanded, that he speak out. And faculty members at another seminary told me their president informed them of Geisler’s contacting him.

Several leading evangelical scholars who have known Geisler for years counseled me to ignore his endless online pontifications. For they had witnessed occasions when a one paragraph reply to Geisler’s criticisms would always seem to elicit a reply from Geisler of 20 pages or more as he would go on and on and on ad norminem.[8] Moreover, I was turned off when reading his initial online letters in which he cites references in the Early Church Fathers to support his view. For when I looked up these references, many of them did not say what he had claimed.[9] And Geisler has miscommunicated my actual positions to others, often taking my words out of context or exaggerating what I had said out of proportion. To engage in lengthy dialogue with such a man would be to fall into a trap similar to what Br’er Rabbit faced with the tar baby.

The bottom line appears to be that Geisler and the New Fundamentalists do not like the historical-critical approach I employ and that is employed by the majority of today’s leading evangelical biblical scholars. He and those in his camp do not grasp the different tasks of theologians and biblical historians. Conservative theologians can approach the biblical texts with their presuppositions and conclude that such-and-such events occurred. So, Geisler, who is a philosopher and theologian, can come to the Gospels and say (a) The Bible is God’s Word. (b) The Bible says these events occurred. (c) Therefore, these events occurred. Case closed.

Historians of the Bible do not have such a luxury. Historical investigation does not allow us to presuppose the inerrancy of the Bible in the course of a historical investigation. Otherwise, historians would just use the above argument, close shop and go home. The doctrines of the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the Gospels are faith doctrines that cannot be proven. That does not mean they are false. It means they cannot be proven. In order to prove the Gospels are inerrant, one would have to start by proving there are no errors (this means adequately resolving all discrepancies), and then corroborating everything reported in the Gosples as being true. Good luck with that task! But one can still believe the Gospels are divinely inspired and without error just as they can believe Jesus’s death can atone for one’s sins. Neither can be proven and both must be accepted on faith. However, when approaching the Gospels historically and making no theological assumptions pertaining to whether they are divinely inspired or inerrant, historians can apply the tools of historical investigation in order to see if a reported event can be confirmed.History and theology are not contradictory practices. But they are different.

I’m glad I followed the advice to ignore Geisler. Despite my lack of replies, he has now written more than 20 Internet articles criticizing me (with more certain to come after he reads this) while declining an invitation from the Southeastern Theological Review to discuss his doctrinal differences within a forum of scholars. In Geisler’s mind, there is no need for discussion in an academic forum because he apparently thinks he already knows the correct answers; all of them. So, you either fall in line behind him or face the consequences. I’ve chosen to ignore his flashing yellow lights in my rear view mirror and have continued to enjoy fruitful ministry and complete a ton of eye-opening research pertaining to the Gospels.

Undermining confidence in the Bible

All of us being charged by the CSBI police believe Christianity is true and many of us spend time on the front lines defending the truth of the Christian faith. So, I find myself in agreement with the Australian New Testament scholar Michael Bird when he writes, “I’m trying to fight the good fight of the faith against people who deny that God even speaks in Scripture and who advocate that Scripture is not and should not be our authority. So when I look at the American evangelical scene, where people want to divide denominations over ‘infallible’ versus ‘inerrancy,’ the whole thing looks kind of piddly and pathetic in comparison. It’s like I’m fighting the barbarians at the gate while some of you guys back in your mega-seminary sanctuaries are engaging in a ferocious fratricide over the proper length of church candles.”[10]

Iconoclasts like Bart Ehrman are now responsible for the shipwrecked faith of many. For them, if the Bible is not absolutely true in every detail, we should reject it. (This is a good spot to remind ourselves that if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true even if it were the case that some things in the Bible are not.) Ehrman has a polished routine in which he articulates a list of Gospel differences. Was Jairus’ daughter dead or alive when Jairus asked Jesus to heal her? It depends which Gospel you read. Was Jesus crucified on the day after the Passover meal or the day before the Passover meal? It depends which Gospel you read. Did the temple veil split before or after Jesus’ death? It depends which Gospel you read. Was there one or were there two angels at the empty tomb? It depends which Gospel you read. How many women went to the tomb? It depends which Gospel you read. And so on. Ehrman says the Gospels disagree on more matters than those on which they agree. And by the time he’s through, many evangelicals are saying, “Say it ain’t so!” I know of several believers and even a pastor who have walked away from their faith as a result of Ehrman’s lectures and books. And they are rendered easy prey for Ehrman by the approach fostered by Geisler. Consider Geisler’s comments on the doctrinal importance of inerrancy:

[I]nerrancy is based on the character of God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2).  For it affirms that the Bible is “inerrant” because (note the word “therefore”) it is the Word of God.  This makes a direct logical connection between inerrancy and the truthfulness of God. . . . [I]nerrancy is fundamental to all other essential Christian doctrines. It is granted that some other doctrines (like the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ) are more essential to salvation. However, all soteriological (salvation-related) doctrines derive their divine authority from the divinely authoritative Word of God. So, in an epistemological (knowledge-related) sense, the doctrine of the divine authority and inerrancy of Scripture is the fundamental of all the fundamentals. And if the fundamental of fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental? Fundamentally nothing![11]

These words can be summed up with the following syllogism used by Geisler elsewhere:[12]

  1. God cannot err.
  2. The Bible is God’s Word.
  3. Therefore, the Bible cannot err.

Of course, this suggests that if the Bible were to contain so much as a single error, it could not be God’s Word and all doctrines would, therefore, be suspect. Geisler’s position is certainly not that of Warfield’s.

Let’s take a closer look and assume the first two premises of the syllogism are correct. I certainly believe they are. We may still ask what it means to say, “The Bible is God’s Word.” Does it mean God must always speak with legal precision and describe events with photographic accuracy rather than within the bounds of the various genres in which the biblical literature is written? Would it be possible for God to ensure that certain messages He regarded as having great importance were preserved accurately while He allowed the biblical authors freedom to write in their own words and style, even tolerating a lapse of memory on their part, their need to fill in the blanks, or even a deliberate altering of data for theological reasons resulting in a portrayal of events in ways not reflective of what we would have seen had we been there?

Consider the following: 1 Kings 4:26 reports that Solomon had 40,000 stalls for chariot horses and 12,000 horsemen, whereas 2 Chronicles 9:25 reports he had 4,000 stalls for chariot horses and 12,000 horsemen.[13] How is this difference to be explained?

A few major options are available: (a) one or both authors were mistaken, (b) at least one author altered the actual known number as part of a literary device, such as exaggeration or using a number symbolically, (c) the actual number was unknown and the authors took educated guesses, (d) one of the authors preserves the correct number while the manuscripts have been corrupted for the other and no longer preserve the correct figure.

In their book When Critics Ask, Geisler and Howe opt for (d):

This is undoubtedly a copyist error. The ratio of 4,000 horses to 1,400 chariots, as found in the 2 Chronicles passage, is much more reasonable than a ratio of 40,000 to 1,400 found in the 1 Kings text. In the Hebrew language, the visual difference between the two numbers is very slight. The consonants for the number 40 are rbym,í while the consonants for the number 4 are rbh (the vowels were not written in the text). The manuscripts from which the scribe worked may have been smudged or damaged and have given the appearance of being forty thousand rather than four thousand.[14]

Geisler and Howe may be correct. Unfortunately, the manuscript evidence supporting the reading of 4,000 is too weak for certainty. The challenge for Geisler, Howe and other members of the New Fundamentalists is that almost all modern English translations follow the best manuscripts and maintain the reading of 40,000.[15] Of course, Geisler would agree with most evangelical scholars that biblical inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts. So, when a person asks them whether the English Bible they are holding in their hand is the inerrant Word of God, Geisler and Howe, if honest, must answer “no.” In this case, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy has limited value. Who then is guilty of undermining confidence in the Bible for the person in the pew?  Of course, Geisler and Howe may reply, “This poses no problem for inerrancy, because we know where these errors are.” But the people in the pew can reply, “So, we have to be a scholar in order to know where all of the errors are in our English translations? How do we know you have caught them all? Since no manuscripts with the correct reading exist, how do we know you have provided us with the correct explanations? And if God was so concerned with an inerrant text as you assert, why didn’t He bother to preserve it?” 

A view of inerrancy that is less rigid than the one held by Geisler and other members of the New Fundamentalists would also allow options (b) and (c). Yet, those like myself, Blomberg, Bock, Bird, Craig, Evans, Keener, Vanhoozer, Wallace, and Yarborough get our pictures posted on the CSBI “Most Wanted” wall for suggesting these options. An even more flexible definition of biblical inerrancy, such as the possibility of how God inspired the biblical authors mentioned above would even allow (a): The Bible is inerrant in all that it teaches. I’m not at all suggesting this is how God delivered inspired Scripture to us. The truth is no one knows how He did it, because the Bible does not tell us.[16]

When we look carefully through the Gospels, we find their authors compressing stories, displacing them from their original context and transplanting them in others, transferring words spoken by one person and representing them as spoken by others, simplifying their representation of a historical scene in order to avoid complicating the portrait they are painting of Jesus, converting Jesus’ direct teaching into a dialogue, and so on. And these are the very compositional devices we observe other ancient biographers employing. For numerous examples of where the Gospel authors employ some of these devices, see my video “Why there are differences in the Gospels.”

Let’s look at an example of Matthew deliberately changing his material. This is called “redaction,” which simply means “to edit.” For decades, most scholars have recognized redactions in the biblical text. Many of them would go overboard and imagine redactions that went much further than the evidence can bear. For this reason, “redaction” is like a four-letter word among the New Fundamentalists. However, that some have abused a principle does not justify abandoning its use, especially when it is undeniable that the Gospel authors often redacted their sources and even Jesus’ words.

Matthew includes a genealogy of Jesus that he summarizes in 1:17. He says there are 14 generations between Abraham and David; 14 generations between David and the Deportation to Babylon and 14 generations between the Deportation and Jesus. In all, there are 3 sets of 14 generations from Abraham to Jesus.

Most scholars agree that the biblical authors rarely intended for their genealogies to be exhaustive. But Matthew’s 3 sets of 14 generations appear to go further and grab our attention. In the third set, there are only 13 generations. So, in order to get 14, Matthew reused the name Jechoniah, which also appeared at the end of the second set. Is Matthew being sloppy or even deceptive or is something else going on here? What’s so special about the number 14?

About 20 years ago, Geisler and Thomas Howe attempted to explain Matthew’s math:

Jeconiah is counted in both lists, since he lived both before and after the captivity. So, there are literally 14 names listed “from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ,” just as Matthew says. There are also literally 14 names listed between David and the captivity, just as Matthew claims (Matt. 1:6–12). There is no error in the text at all.[17]

According to Geisler and Howe, Matthew’s numerical presentation is factually correct because Jechoniah lived before and after Judah’s deportation to Babylon, allowing Jechoniah’s name to appear in both lists. However, that does not change the fact that it is the same man and not a different generation. And a closer reading of the biblical texts presents a further challenge to Geisler and Howe. According to 2 Kings 25:27-30 and Jeremiah 52:31-3, Jechoniah remained with the king in Babylon for the remainder of his life and probably died prior to the end of Judah’s exile, which occurred in 538 BC when Babylon fell to Persia.[18] Since the year of Jechoniah’s death is unknown, we do not know whether he was alive to see Judah’s freedom. He would have been in his late 70s. But if he had died after 538, why would he have remained in Babylon after it had fallen to Persia?

More recently, a number of prominent scholars, including some highly respected conservatives,[19] have suggested Matthew is employing a literary device called gematria, in which numerical values are assigned to Hebrew consonants. It is of interest that the consonants in David’s name add up to the number 14 [(D(4) + V(6) + D(4) = 14]. Moreover, Matthew has omitted some generations mentioned in the Old Testament. Thus, Matthew may have taken some liberties when writing his genealogy in order to arrange it in an artistic manner, not to invent, but to emphasize Jesus’ Davidic ancestry: Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah. This shows Matthew was willing to redact his sources by altering details and sacrificing legal precision in the process in order to make his theological point more clearly. This may not be how the New Fundamentalists think the Gospels should have been written. But it is how they were written.

Ancient authors redacted texts in order to make their points clearer, to make theological points, and because they were exercising the compositional devices standard of biographers in their day. Let’s look at another example: Jesus’ teaching on divorce. The accounts in Mark and Matthew both involve the Pharisees asking Jesus whether divorce is lawful. So, this is probably the same occasion. Let’s compare Jesus’ reply in Mark and Matthew:

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her,and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
(Mark 10:11-12 ESV; cf. Luke 16:18)

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.(Matthew 19:9 ESV; cf. 5:32)

The original readers of Mark would have heard that divorce is not permissible under any circumstances. But Jesus was probably speaking in hyperbolic language to make His point stronger and more memorable as He does elsewhere and where Matthew again redacts for clarification (Luke 14:26//Matthew 10:37). Therefore, Matthew clarifies Jesus’ teaching on divorce by adding an exception clause by which divorce is permissible: adultery. And even Matthew’s redaction does not include all exceptions. For Paul provides another: If a believer is married to an unbeliever who wants to leave, divorce is permissible (1 Cor. 7:12-15).

So, we must ask what constitutes an error? Is Matthew guilty of an error when redacting his genealogy of Jesus or for paraphrasing Jesus’ words by addition for clarification? Is one of the Gospels in error when Matthew (9:18) says Jairus’ daughter was dead when he approached Jesus while Mark (5:23) and Luke (8:42) say she was alive or when Matthew (8:5-13) portrays the centurion making his request in person while Luke (7:1-10) describes the event with the centurion never appearing before Jesus or when Matthew (26:2-16) and Mark (14:1-11) describe a woman who anointed Jesus two days before Passover whereas John (12:1-8) says it was six days before Passover or where Matthew, Mark and Luke report that Jesus was crucified on the day after the Passover meal whereas John says it was on the day of or after the Passover meal? When we read these stories in a sense requiring a wooden literalism, there are undeniable contradictions. But when we read them in light of their biographical nature and recognize the authors were employing literary devices at home in that genre, the tensions melt away.

Those of us whose pictures appear on the “Most Wanted” board of the New Fundamentalists make sincere efforts to understand what’s going on behind the Gospels in order to better understand them and why they often differ rather than creating ad hoc explanations in order to sure-up one’s pre-conceived idea of what the Gospels must read like: 21st century literature that ignored the rules of writing used in the 1st century. If we truly have a high view of the Bible, we must submit ourselves to the Gospels as God has designed them and has given them to us rather than squeeze the Gospels to fit within a view of how God should have written them.

It is also worth noting that Geisler is fond of criticizing others who wrestle with the texts but often fails to suggest a solution. For example, he was fit to be tied over my agreement with Craig Keener that John may have changed the day and time of Jesus’ crucifixion in order to make a theological point,[20] a biographical device known as displacement that is likewise employed by Plutarch who wrote within only a few years of John and in the same language. However, to my knowledge Geisler has never offered his own solution to the problem of John’s different report. Instead, he only appeals to CSBI, a text he helped create.

How should “inerrancy” be properly defined?

So, we may ask whether “inerrancy” is still the most appropriate term for how some evangelicals should describe the Bible? Biblical inerrancy was the theme of the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. During a panel discussion on the topic and featuring the contributors to the new book Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, the panelists were asked whether it was still important to use the term “inerrant” to describe the Bible. Vanhoozer was absent. Al Mohler answered yes, while each of the other three stated they thought the term “inerrant” was useful but that it needed to take on a more nuanced meaning.

In their new book The Lost World of Scripture, biblical scholars John Walton and Brent Sandy discuss ancient literary culture, its focus on orality, and biblical authority. Both authors teach at Wheaton College where all faculty members must affirm the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It’s a wonderful book worth reading in its entirety. Consider the following statements made by Walton and Sandy:

Common definitions of inerrancy do not fit scenarios understood in light of orality (though some responsible constructive theological accounts come close). Yet orality was the way God chose, which must mean it was the right way. Evidently, we need to adjust our understanding of inerrancy to the evidence we find in Scripture.[21]

The point of this book is not to deconstruct inerrancy but to put it on surer footing by carefully accounting for the worldview of the biblical world, which is different from the worldview of modern Western culture. If Christians conceive of inerrancy from the vantage point of print culture and expect sacrosanct wording for the transmission of truth, then they may rightly conclude that understanding orality threatens inerrancy. The alternative is to recognize that inerrancy needs to be redefined in light of the literary culture of the Bible. Hopefully, this book is a step in the right direction.[22]

Some evangelical scholars will continue to debate over whether “inerrant,” “infallible,” or “authoritative” is the most appropriate term to be used to describe the Bible. And those who elect to stay with “inerrant” will require further debate pertaining to which definition of the term is most appropriate. Many evangelical scholars who like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI), including many of its original signers, do not agree with how Geisler and others interpret it. It will be up to them to determine whether Geisler has highjacked CSBI, whether others are free to interpret CSBI differently, or whether CSBI should be abandoned in favor of a different definition or even a new one that can bring greater clarity and is based on the most current research of evangelical biblical scholars.[23] After all, if Geisler believed the Lausanne Covenant could be improved, why must CSBI be the final word for the American evangelical church? I’ll let them stand on the banks of Chicago’s muddy waters and duke it out without me. I’ll be with Michael Bird at the gate fighting the barbarians.

[1] Norman Geisler was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion on the question of how Matthew intended for us to interpret the saints raised at Jesus’ death in Matthew 27:52-53. Unfortunately, Geisler declined. The discussion was published in the Southeastern Theological Review (Summer 2012) and may be viewed for free at https://www.risenjesus.com/roundtable-discussion.

[2]See http://sydneyanglicans.net/media/audio/creation_evolution_problems/. Packer’s relevant comments begin at 20:00 and go through 49:00.

[3] B. B. Warfield, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” Presbyterian and Reformed Review (April, 1893). I am grateful to Timothy McGrew for alerting me to this quote.

[4] F. David Farnell, “Contemporary 21st Century Evangelical NT Criticism: Those Who Do Not Learn From the Lessons of History” at http://defendinginerrancy.com/learn-lessons-history/.

[5]Leslie R. Keylock, “Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew” in Christianity Today (Nov 1, 2003).

[6] For more on the Gundry debate, see Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014), 165-68. Blomberg likewise blasted Geisler for his crusade against me on pages 174-76. To be expected, Geisler has now turned his sights on Blomberg, accusing him of rejecting the inerrancy of the Bible, something Blomberg denies. Moreover, when Gary Habermas and Paul Copan (then president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society) came out publicly in support of me, they were dismissed from the adjunct faculty by Joseph Holden, president of the Veritas Seminary founded by Geisler on the grounds that they denied the inerrancy of the Bible on account of their failure to condemn the interpretation of Matthew’s raised saints I offered in my book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 546-53.

[7]http://defendinginerrancy.com/should-we-break-fellowship-over-this-issue-inerrancy/. It needs to be noted that Geisler is here involved in some fancy footwork. Whereas I’ve said he was calling seminary presidents to encourage them to come out against me publicly, he denies that he “made contacts with seminary leaders in an attempt to get him kicked out of his positions on their staff. The truth is that I made no such contacts for no such purposes.” The truth is Geisler is denying actions of which I never accused him.

[8] This term coined by Guy Bearman.

[9] After I posted this article, Geisler attempted to defend his use of the Early Church Fathers in an article titled “The Early Fathers and the Resurrection of the Saints” (http://defendinginerrancy.com/early-fathers-resurrection-saints/). Although he was a little more careful in this article than previously, it was still filled with blunders that would not have been made by a careful scholar familiar with the literature. For numerous examples, see the article by Nick Peters: Fathers Know Best: http://deeperwaters.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/fathers-know-best/.

[10] Michael F. Bird in Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, J. Merrick, S. M. Garrett, eds. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 68 note 52.


[12] This syllogism appears in The Jesus Quest: The Danger from Within by N. L. Geisler and F. D. Farnell (self-published through Xulon Press, 2014), Loc. 577, 777 (Kindle) and N. L. Geisler and W. C. Roach, Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), Loc. 2496 (Kindle).

[13]A similar numerical discrepancy exists between 2 Samuel 10:18 and 1 Chronicles 19:18.

[14]Geisler and Howe, 180.

[15]The NIV reads 4,000.

[16] The very closest we come is 2 Peter 1:21. But this is referring to prophecy.

[17]Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe. When Critics ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992), 326.

[18] Jeconiah is referred to as Jehoiachin in these texts. However, he is referred to as Jeconiah in Jer. 24:1; 27:20; 28:4; 29:2; 1 Chr. 3:16–17; Esth. 2:6.

[19] Craig Blomberg, Craig Keener, Robert Gundry, and even the HCSB Study Bible published by the Southern Baptist Convention.

[20] Craig S. Keener. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume Two (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 1129-1131.

[21] John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 196.

[22] Ibid., 303.

[23] For more on the topic of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and its proper standing within the life of the believer, see chapter 4 in Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? and J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation (2014). Available on Kindle. For an informed and respectful discussion on biblical inerrancy featuring five positions in dialogue with R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Peter Enns, Michael F. Bird, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and John R. Franke, see J. Merrick and Stephen M. Garrett, eds. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).

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