Summer Academic Series: Defending the Accuracy of the Gospels
[Chip Bennett]: Good evening to everybody. How are you? Are you excited to be here? So am I. Well, I want to welcome everybody to another academic series. My name is Dr. Chip Bennett and I am the pastor of Grace Community Church, the church that is hosting this event. I’m also a professor at Southeastern University and I also teach for Knox Theological Seminary. I am joined tonight by Dr. Michael Licona. If we could give him a big hand.
Mike is one of the foremost scholars on apologetics, specifically in regards to the resurrection and the accuracy of the Gospels. He’s a frequent speaker at multiple events and conferences and he’s a noted debater on all things apologetics. And he’s a professor at Houston Baptist University. So, on behalf of both of us and Grace Community Church, we welcome everybody and we’re glad that you have joined us. So, if we could, why don’t we start with a word of prayer. If you would, would you bow with me and we’ll start with a word of prayer?
Dear Lord, I come to You this evening asking that You would bless our time together. I’m sure that tonight, Lord, we have a huge cross section of people in attendance. Some are here to simply learn. Some are here probably hoping that questions might be answered to help their struggling faith. Some may be here with no faith at all and are searching. Some may be here just wanting to quickly get to the Q&A so that they can ask questions that maybe they feel there are no answers to at all.
And Lord, whatever reason that we’ve come here tonight, whatever brings us here this evening, I pray that You would come and be a part of this evening with us. Help us, Lord, to see and experience You this evening in a real and tangible way. With all of this in mind, my prayer is that tonight would be fun, that all here would realize that there really is no other agenda than trying to show that our faith is a reasonable faith. I ultimately pray that everyone here would feel and experience Your love. We give this evening to You for Your glory. In Christ’s name we pray, and everyone said, “amen.”
The Academic Series here at Grace has been successful over the last few summers. It’s hard to fail when you get guys to come and speak with the talent and expertise of Michael Licona. Right? But, thank you for being here and supporting education in the local church. This is the second of three evenings that we will be doing this summer, and I promise you that the next one will be worth coming out for as well.
The original vision behind the Academic Series was to bring academic scholarship at the highest level to the local church. And we’re doing this and we plan to continue to do this. These are informative evenings and, therefore, educational in nature. We want people of faith, we want people in the community and even non-believers to be able to interact with real academic issues and we hope that you will continue to come and support these evenings by your attendance.
So, with that in mind, let’s get to learning. At the outset, the goal of this evening is two-fold. One, we want to make sure that you have a genuine learning experience. Secondly, we want everybody to be able to wrestle with one of the perennial issues in scholarship, which is: What do we do with the Gospels? Why do they seem to contradict at places? What type of literature are they? Do they really record any actual history? Aren’t they just really an embellishment of a much later Jesus that the Church created?
Questions like these are good questions and I hope that these types of questions and more will somewhat be confronted tonight and given real answers. We’ve entitled tonight’s lecture “The Accuracy of the Gospels,” and that’s what we want to discuss. I think tonight we’re going to learn a lot about the Gospels themselves. We may find that rather than being some strange genre, some amalgamation between fiction and faith, that they really do have a lot of truth to tell.
It’s easier to see this when some other literary parallels and antiquities are looked at in comparison with the Gospels. Sometimes having a different set of lenses or a different set of glasses helps us to read a little bit more clearly. It’s in finding that lens, so to speak, that we start to clearly see what we’re reading. And doing that may answer some of the questions that we ask. We may find that some of the questions that we bring a priori to the text before we even read it might not even be the questions anyone was asking in antiquity at all, nor did it even matter to them.
So, there may be a good way this evening – hopefully we can go back and get some first century lenses and reclaim some of the contemporaneous literature that gives us a new lens to answer some old questions. In fact, I think tonight we’ll realize that there is some literature that we can read that will shine some light upon this subject. And to educate us on this, I brought in someone far more competent than myself to instruct us. Dr. Michael Licona, as I mentioned before, is a renowned scholar on all of these issues. He has written voluminous literature on this subject and led the academic world in discussing these issues. He is funny, he’s witty and he knows karate. So, watch out.
What I’m really saying is this: He’s not only educated, but he’s competent to discuss the accuracy of the Gospels with us. On your seat, on the way in, or you can get one if you don’t have on, you have a 3x5 card. On that 3x5 card, you can write down questions that you may have during the evening. We will collect them a little later and we will do a Q&A at the end of this session. So, with no further delay, I want to turn everything over to Dr. Mike Licona. Mike, thank you for being here and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.
[Michael Licona]: Thanks, brother. Well, thanks. Thanks. I appreciate. Thanks. I appreciate that. It’s wonderful to be here in Sarasota. This is my first time and this is just an absolutely – as you know, and nobody needs to tell you – beautiful city. This is just great. I’m in Atlanta and it’s a fun place to live. It’s a good place to live. But, we don’t have anything like you guys do here with the beach. It’s just wonderful.
Anyways, let’s just jump in. Let’s see, the pastor introduced me. So, what got me interested in this topic is I had spent years investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. I’d been a Christian since age 10, but, by my nature, I’m just a second guesser. I second guess everything. Listen, my wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary this year. I have to admit – I mean, I married a great, great woman. But, for decades I doubted whether I married the right woman. And it wasn’t anything – she knows this. You know? It wasn’t anything about her. You know? It’s not you; it’s me. It was just that I just second guess everything. I mean, I could buy a watch and it’s like, “I should’ve gotten the other one.”
You know? How many of you are that way? So, anyway, if I’m going to question those kinds of things, then of course when it comes to something like my worldview that can involve eternity, I’m going to second guess. The way for me is kind of like this: If someone put a six-foot plank on the stage and said, “Walk across this, but don’t walk outside of that plank,” I mean, I could do it easily. I could probably do it with my eyes closed. I could do it backward. I could run backward. No problem. But, take that six-foot plank and stretch it across two skyscrapers and say, “Walk across it,” and now I’m going to be worried. It’s going to worry me. Right?
You say, “Well, but you know you can do it.”
Yeah. But, what if? It’s like, alright, I look at all the evidence for Christianity and I think there’s some really good evidence for God’s existence and for the resurrection of Jesus, but what haunts me sometimes is what if I’m wrong? I’ve looked at evidence for Islam. I’ve looked at it for these other religions; for atheism. I’m convinced that Christianity is true based on the evidence. But, what if? That’s an emotional kind of doubt. It’s not based on any lack of evidence. But, that’s just a personality thing.
So, anyway, that led me into apologetics, because I wanted to know if Christianity was true. And then, even after being in apologetics for a while, it’s like I would just study this to confirm what I already believed. Well, no wonder I believed it. That’s what I wanted to believe. But, if this is really eternity, then I really need to give this a serious look. So, I did something I never thought I would do. I got involved in a PhD program. You have to understand – you know, when I was a student, I was a gifted student. When they gave me a C, it was a gift. My dad told me I have an average IQ. I’d share the number with you, but I forgot it. Later on, I learned I have a learning disability, ADD, which means Attention Deficit Squirrel!
And I really do. All of that stuff’s true. So, it was really hard for me to concentrate. And then, in my 40’s, I realized there’s medication for this stuff. You know? And it’s like, cool.
Anyway, I ended up not only doing doctoral research on the resurrection, but in grad school doing a 20-page, double-spaced paper with a few footnotes was a nightmare for me. My doctoral dissertation ended up being over 500 pages single-spaced with more than 2,000 footnotes. And then my supervisor had to say, “Mike, it’s time to start wrapping this up,” because it was already over 3 times the size of an average dissertation.
During that time, I was engaged in debates with some of the leading non-believers in the world. You know? I couldn’t even spell MIT when I got accepted into college. And here I was. I was debating people who were teaching at Ivy League schools – and winning. And it wasn’t because I’m brilliant. It’s because the evidence for the resurrection is that good. And if you don’t believe me, you can go on, type in my name, “Mike Licona,” in the search engine or go to YouTube and type in my name and “debates” and you can watch most of my debates and you can decide for yourself who you thought won. Okay? But, I think the evidence, the more I’ve defeated on the resurrection of Jesus, the more convinced I become of it because they don’t have anything in terms of arguments against it.
Well, at one of those debates against Bart Ehrman, he came against the Gospels. That led me into, “Look, if the resurrection is true, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Period.”
So, when you bring up these things, “Well, how do we know who wrote the Gospels? The Gospels have all these contradictions in them.”
Look: If the resurrection occurred, Christianity is true even if it were to be the case that some things in the Bible aren’t. Let me repeat that, because I think it’s really important. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and the authority and the divine inspiration of the Bible. However, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true if the Bible is not inerrant. And that’s something we need to remember and not get off on these rabbit trails and our faith get shaken for every alleged contradiction or error in the Bible. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Period.
But, nevertheless, I still wanted to study the stuff on the Gospels. So, I got into an eight-year study I did on why there are differences in the Gospels and just came out with a book in December on it. I think I’ve got 17 copies. So, there’s not enough for all of you. It’ll be on sale. And you the knowledge and I need the money. Okay? So, 17 of you need to buy it.
So, I’m on this thing and I ended up debating Bart Ehrman in a written debate last year on the historical reliability of the Gospels. And I thought it just went really well. That’s coming out in a book later this year. But, then I started really putting some things together. My next full-length book is going to be on this topic. So, I have this lecture I’ve started to do – and you’re getting an abbreviated version of it tonight – on “Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?”
So, here we go. And there is no sound. There you go.
Are the Gospels historically reliable? Let’s talk about this. Now, as we get into this, the first order of business is we have to define what is it exactly we mean by the term “historically reliable?”
Does it mean inspired? Infallible? Inerrant? Authoritative? Nope. It doesn’t mean that. Take the Psalms for example. Let me ask you a question: How many of you think the Psalms are historically reliable? It’s not a trick question. Some of you are kind of like this, right? How can the Psalms be historically reliable? They’re not historical documents. Are the parables of Jesus historically reliable? No. They’re not meant to record history. They’re parables. Right?
Proverbs. Are they historically reliable? No. It’s not historical literature. It’s not an appropriate question to ask are the Proverbs or are the Psalms historically reliable. Divinely inspired? Yes. Authoritative? Yes. Historically reliable? N/A. It’s not applicable. It’s like asking “what’s the square root of chicken?” You can’t answer “are the Psalms historically reliable.” It doesn’t make sense.
Now, what about when we come to Tacitus’ Annals of Rome? Tacitus is regarded as one of the finest Roman historians. One of the most accurate and finest Roman historians. His Annals of Rome. Are they historically reliable? Yes. Are they inerrant? No. Are they divinely inspired? No. So, you can have something that is historically reliable, but not inspired. You can have something like the Psalms that are inspired, but not historically reliable. And then you can have something which, at least in principle, like the Gospels, can be both divinely inspired and historically reliable.
But, what I want to say to you tonight is we’re not asking “are the Gospels divinely inspired.” We’re not asking if they’re inerrant. We’re not asking if they’re authoritative. We’re asking, “Are they historically reliable?”
Are you with me? Okay. So, let’s define what we mean by “historically reliable.” In order to get at that definition, however we define “historically reliable,” it has to apply to all ancient literature that’s written of a historical genre. Okay? In other words, we can’t just say, “Let’s look at the Gospels and see what they are and let’s just say they’re historically reliable and make up a definition that will at least fit the Gospels and then we’ll apply it to all other ancient literature.”
That wouldn’t be fair. Right? We’ve got to look and say, “Alright. Well, let’s see why you would regard Tacitus’ Annals of Rome to be historically reliable, or Sallust’s War with Catiline. Some of these others, Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars, and let’s see why would we regard these as historically reliable and apply this to the Gospels and ask the question, “Do they meet this criteria?”
Then we have to take into consideration the matter of genre or literary type. Okay? Now, ancient history writing differed, somewhat, from its modern counterpoint. We have different rules and literary conventions for writing history and biography today than they had in antiquity, and we want to make sure we’re judging them according to their rules and not ours. Because, otherwise, you could have maybe the practice of history 1,000 years from now and historians will have different rules than we have today and they’ll say that we’re not writing in a historically reliable manner. And that wouldn’t be fair. You’ve got to judge us according to the literary conventions of our day, right?
So, we have to find out what those conventions are. And when they did the ancient history writing, there was a little more elasticity or flexibility in the way you could report things. The way I like to talk about it is there’s the guy version of a story and there’s the girl version of the story. How many of you are married and you know what I’m talking about? You know, girls – now, of course I’m generalizing. But, the girl version of the story, they like details. Lots of details. They want to know what happened, when it happened, why it happened, how it happened, who was there, what they were wearing, what they were thinking, how they were feeling. And then they want to know how you feel about it now that you know the story. Right?
One time, my son Zach come home and he talked about something that happened at work. I mean, he just had a really bad day. And my wife said to him, “Well, how does that make you feel?”
And he just looked at her like she was an alien.
“Feel? Feel? Men don’t feel. We don’t care about feelings.”
Now, guys? We don’t care about all of these details. We want bullet points. Just get to the bottom line. The game’s coming on in five minutes. Right? We don’t care about all of these details. So, there’s the guy version of the story. It’s not bad. It’s just a different way of telling the story. Generally speaking, when we read the Gospels, Mark gives us a girl version of the story. He gives us lots of details. Matthew, he cuts to the chase, he abbreviates things, and I can see Mark saying to him, “Now, Matty. You know it didn’t happen that way.”
And Matthew says, “Back off, Mark. You remind me of my wife.”
You know? So, I mean, it’s just a different way of telling the story. And because Matthew abbreviates things and gives us the guy version, he’s able to tell more stories. Because Mark got bogged down on all these girly details, he could tell a limited number of stories and Matthew tells more stories because he’s just getting in.
Anyway, both are valid ways of telling history. I’m glad Matthew told us the guy story. Because, if he didn’t, then there’d be some stories about Jesus we didn’t know or we’d never heard about.
Alright. So, we have to look at genre. Now, how does this change things when we look at history? How many of you saw the move “Apollo 13?” I’m going to be 56 next week and I remember when it really happened. It was April of 1970 I believe it was. I was really into NASA and going to the Moon and all of this. I remember my mom saying, “Mike, we’ve got to pray for those astronauts. They’re in trouble.”
Most people didn’t know. I mean, they only were given a 10% chance of returning. They weren’t telling the public that, but a 10% chance they thought they’d get them back. Well, they made the movie out of it. Ron Howard was praised for the accuracy of the movie. If you remember, Ed Harris played the flight director and he had that famous line in the move: “Failure is not an option.”
Do you remember that? Well, what most people don’t know is that Gene Kranz never uttered that statement. Now, don’t let that ruin the movie for you, because here’s what happened: Remember, they’re taking a story that happened over a nine-month period and they’re condensing it down to about two hours. So, sometimes you take an artistic license not to change the truth, but you may play with the details a little bit in order to express the truth or get the point across clearly. It’s true, but not necessarily in a precise sense.
So, what they did was they interviewed Kranz, they interviewed the flight control team who worked on solving the problem, and in order to express or epitomize the attitude and approach that they had, they came up with that statement and they put it on Gene Kranz’s lips. Failure is not an option. In order to show the kind of attitude that they had because they only had a limited amount of time they could do it.
So, is it true? Yes. But, not in a precise sense. It is true enough. And that’s the kind of stuff ancient historians and biographers would do. So, it’s like don’t get hung up on all these details. They’re trying to express truth, but not necessarily in a precise sense. In some ways, you could say they’re telling the guy version of the story. They’re willing to play with the details a little.
Alright. So, we’re going to define “historically reliable” in this way: Something is historically reliable when, at minimum, it communicates an accurate gist of what occurred. It gives us a true representation of what occurred even if not in every detail. It is essentially true. It is true enough.
And I like the true enough term. That comes from Christopher Pelling. He retired from Oxford two years ago. The leading Plutarch scholar in the world. He says, “Plutarch is true enough.”
That’s at minimum. That’s not saying the Gospels are at that minimum if we decide they’re historically reliable. That’s the minimum we’re talking. Okay? Now, let’s move on from there.
What we’re going to do – well, I have this lengthy lecture called “The Three C’s of the Historical Reliability of the Gospels,” and we’re only going to be able to look at one part of one of those C’s tonight. So, we’re looking at five criteria. The second C is criteria. Let’s look at the five. I’m going to name the five criteria.
First: Are there good reasons to believe that the author intended to write accurate history? Are there good reasons to believe the author intended to write accurate history? Second: Are there good reasons to think he author used good judgment in their choice and use of sources? Are there good reasons to think that the author used good judgment in their choice and use of sources? Third: Do we have reasons to believe that the author was capable of reporting accurate history? Do we have reasons to believe that the author was capable of reporting accurate history? Fourth: Can we verify numerous reports in this literature written as being true? Fifth: We want it so that no more than just a very small percentage of what’s being reported is false.
You’re bound to find some errors in Tacitus’ Annals of Rome or Josephus’ Jewish War. Okay? You’re going to find some errors here and there. But, we want to make sure that the errors are in the peripheral – the small, minor details – and there’s not many errors like that in order to say something is historically reliable.
Alright. Now, I don’t have time to go through all five of those, so we’re going to just focus on the third one. Was the author or their sources capable of recalling the stories accurately. Now, in looking at this I want to talk about conjecturing. Now, Plutarch – I’m not talking about the guy in Hunger Games. There was a guy named Plutarch who was born around the year 40 and he died just after the year 120. And a lot of what we know about the ancient world comes from Plutarch. He was a great writer, too. When he’s writing about people, the biographies of Julius Caesar, Cicero, Brutus, Antony, Crassus, Sertorius, Lucullus, Cato the Younger and people like that. He’s writing about 140 years or more after these people lived.
So, he’s got documents written by eye witnesses. We’re only a few generations removed from these events, so there’s oral tradition that has come down. People know the stories. Just like we know the stories today of the Civil War, right? The American Civil War. These things have been passed down. So, it was within a relatively brief period of time. There’s still a lot of documents and reports around. So, Plutarch has really good sources at his hands. But, when he goes on to write about the Theseus, the legendary founder of Athens, and Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, he’s writing about 800-1000 years after these people allegedly existed.
So, Plutarch says, “There’s large scale conjecture here.”
Let me give you his own words:
“Now that I’ve traversed those periods of time...” – he’s talking about Caesar and Cicero; written within 140 years – “...which are accessible to probable reasoning and which afford basis for a history dealing with facts, I might well say, of the earlier periods of which I’m about to write, what lies beyond is full of marvels and unreality; a land of poets and fabulists, of doubt and obscurity. May I, therefore, succeed in purifying fable, making her submit to reason and take on the semblance of history?”
What Plutarch is saying is, “Look, I’m dealing with people and events who lived relatively recently. We’ve got plenty of great sources and information at our fingertips that we can use. But, now that I’m going to go back to Romulus and Theseus, 800-100 years ago, I don’t have much. History wasn’t written back then in a good way. All I have are what was written about them by poets and what’s in legend and myths. So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to take these and I’m going to craft them in such a way where it’s going to read like history. It’s going to read like things really happened. But, don’t be under any delusion that this is historically reliable.”
Are you following me? So, he had to be involved in large scale conjecture when it went back that far. The Gospel authors didn’t have to go back that far. They’re writing within 35-65 years of the events of Jesus. Large scale conjecturing was not necessary. So, when we ask, “Were they capable of reporting accurate history?”
That would be one thing to say yes. But, we can go further than that. Memory. Now, there have been studies recently that have called the accuracy of memory into question. One thing they bring up about the Challenger disaster. Remember when that happened back in, what was it, 1986 I think it was? I remember when that happened because I was still interested in space. I remember where I was at when they were playing replays of it and I learned that happened.
Well, they asked a bunch of students right after it happened to recall where they were and what they saw and they wrote this down. Then, six months later they came back to the same people and they said, “What do you remember about the Challenger disaster?”
“Oh, well this happened. Blah, blah, blah.”
They said, “Do you know that you contradicted what you said here?”
“Oh, well I must’ve been wrong then. I’m right now.”
So, they’d say memory gets corrupted. So, they said, “Look: Even eyewitness testimony, we can’t trust it because we can’t remember things.”
Now, I agree that sometimes our memories, they’re not perfect for sure. But, I really think that’s a lousy way of showing that memory is not trustworthy. Maybe those students don’t remember where they were at because, I mean, come on. The space shuttle back then, unless you were into that stuff, it wasn’t of much interest. We weren’t going to the Moon. They were having these space shuttles going up all the time. It’s like, “Well, what are they doing? Who cares. A few space walks.”
Nobody was really interested in it. But, I can guarantee you that the spouses of those seven astronauts who died remember exactly where they were. Alright? Take for example – my wife and I, we love everything World War II. And I remember being in a doctor’s office a few years ago and I saw the doctor and I came out and I’m walking through the waiting room and there are all these patients. And there was this one guy, old guy. Probably in his late 80’s. He was wearing a blue baseball cap with a B29 Super Fortress embroidered on it. And I thought, “Man, he must’ve flown one of those.”
And I smiled when I walked out of the office. And then my curiosity got to me and I had to go back in. I walked up and I said, “Sir, did you, by any chance, fly on a B29 in World War II?”
He said, “I sure did, son.”
I said, “Man, you must have some fascinating stories.”
He said, “Yeah. I was in the Pacific Theater.”
I mean, they were men back then. You know?
“I was in the Pacific Theater and I’ll never forget. We were on this island and the native women had a horrible odor to them.”
And here he was remembering this like 65-70 years later, what these women on the island smelled like. You know? It was amazing. How many of you were old enough to remember 9/11? A lot of you wouldn’t be now, you know? How many of you remember where you were and what you were doing exactly? Of course. How many of you remember what the weather was like?
What was it? Sunny. Yep. That was almost 16 years ago, right? And you remember what the weather was like. You remember what you were doing in the morning right before noon on that day. Let me ask you a question: What was the weather like on September 11th last year? You don’t remember it. Isn’t that interesting? You remember the weather almost 16 years ago, but not less than a year ago. It’s because something big happened that day and it burned it into your memory. Right? Because, this was personal. This was something that had an impact on you. And those things tend to leave those kind of memories.
Like I remember my first kiss. It was awesome. It was awesome. I was in 10th grade. I remember where I was, who it was. I remember that kiss. Just the other day, Sunday, was July 9th. And I remember 46 years ago, July 9th, 1971, I attended my first Major League Baseball game. My grandfather took me. I lived in Baltimore. It was the Orioles against the Cleveland Indians. We won 4-1. Jim Palmer was pitching for us. Mark Belanger, our short stop, caught the last pop fly to win the game. There’s was one home run hit by the Indians. That’s the only score. My grandfather and I sat up in the mezzanine on the first base side and I remember saying to him, “Pop pop? See that guy in the French blue shirt over there sitting right next to the Orioles dugout on the third base side?”
“Can we sit there next time?”
It was great. Why do I remember that? Because, it was really meaningful to me. You know? We can remember those kinds of things. Now, how many of you remember the movie “We Were Soldiers” with Mel Gibson and Sam Elliot? A true story about Lt. General Hal Moore who just died a few months ago. This was about four days in the Drang River Valley in Vietnam. It was the very first major engagement of American forces with the North Vietnamese Army. Four days of harrowing stuff that was going. We were greatly outnumbered.
We ended up winning that battle and we lost, I think, 251 American soldiers and then another 245, I believe it was, were injured. I mean, it was just – if you saw the movie “We Were Soldiers,” it was really amazing. A lot of stuff happened. Well, in that movie there was a guy named Joe Galloway. Well, that was the real guy. I forgot who played his part. But, he was the combat reporter. It was he and Hal Moore, the Lt. General, who actually got together and they wrote the book. I think it was called “Once We Were Soldiers” or something like that. That was before the movie and the background for the movie.
Well, about two years ago, my wife and I saw Vietnam in HD. In the very first episode, they interviewed Joe Galloway – the real one – and there were times where he just got emotional remembering decades before. Well, there is one part. It was a one-minute segment I want you to see, because it’s pretty neat where he’s talking about the war. Here it is.
I left that [garbled] battlefield knowing that young Americans had laid down their lives so that I might live. They had sacrificed themselves for me and their buddies. What I was learning was that there’s some events that are so overwhelming that you can’t simply be a witness. You can’t be above it. You can’t be neutral. You can’t be untouched by it. It’s as simple as that. You see it, you live it, you experience it and it will be with you all of your days.
Let me ask you. Let’s just say that you had traveled with Jesus and you were one of His disciples and you saw Him give sight to the blind, you saw Him heal the lame, the deaf, you saw Him walk on water, you saw Him raise the dead, you saw Him confront the Jewish leaders and be involved in these amazing dialogues, you saw Him brutally scourged and crucified before your eyes. And then, three days later, the very worst thing turns into the best thing. You see Jesus. He’s alive and He shows Himself to you in perfect health; risen from the dead.
Now, if you had actually seen those things – let’s say those things had actually happened and you actually saw that – do you think that they would leave an impression on you as deep and lasting as those four days of battle left on Joe Galloway? You bet. And you know what? It’s not only the deeds of Jesus that would have been memorable, but also His teachings. I don’t suspect that Jesus had a new sermon for every town and village He entered. I’ll bet you He had somewhere between 12-20 lectures as an itinerant speaker. He could preach the same thing from one town to the next, right?
So, the disciples going around with Him and traveling from one and a half to three years. They would have heard Him teach the same messages over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over – and over and over and over and over – and over and over and over. And then, you’ve heard it, if you want to learn something and master it, you’ve got to teach it. So, they’ve heard Jesus and they’ve probably taken some notes. They go out by twos so they can correct each other. And they teach the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.
And then they come back and they debrief and Jesus says, “Hey, great job,” and they ask Him some questions and He clarifies some things.
Like, “Hey, Jesus. We went in this one town. Can we adapt this parable that you taught in a little bit of a way to make it more appropriate?”
“Yeah. Yeah. You can do that. Good thinking about that.”
And they’d discuss it. And then they hear Jesus and they watch Him teaching the same things again over and over and over and over and over. And then He’s dead and then He rises from the dead. He commissions them to go preach the Gospel and to make disciples of all people. And now, for the next three decades and longer, thousands of times they preach those same things over and over – and you get the idea, right?
And, on top of that, Jesus taught in such a way where you have these literary devices to help you remember. We were talking about chiasms. So, Chip can tell you a lot about those. And then there are kreya, these pithy sayings. Jesus has some of those things.
“Let he that is without sin cast the first stone.”
Things like that.
Or, “If your eye makes you sin, rip it out and throw it from you.”
All of these kinds of things. Pithy sayings that people remember. They’re meant to have shock value. They’re meant to encapsulate certain things in these pithy sayings. And then you’ve got parallelism and you’ve got parables. All of these things are very easy for memorization, because it was pretty much an illiterate culture. So, they had to come up with these kind of devices that would make it easy to remember.
So, a lot of teachings of Jesus are like this. They’re designed in such a way to help you facilitate in remembering these. So, the thing I’m pointing out here is all these things that we’re talking about all facilitate, of course. The authors of the Gospels were in a fantastic situation where they could have accurate recall of the things that Jesus had said and did.
So, pretty profound stuff. Our five criteria. Let me wrap this thing up now. We could go on for a long time. Our five criteria: Do we have reasons to believe that the authors intended to write good, accurate history? Do we have reasons to believe they used good judgment in their use and choice of sources? Were they capable of reporting accurate history? Yes. Does that mean they reported accurate history? No. It does not mean that they did. There are other things that we can look at for that. But, we can certainly see that they were capable of reporting accurate history. They were in a position and everything would’ve worked their way. If these things actually happened and Jesus actually taught these things, they were certainly capable of reporting accurate history.
Fourth. We haven’t discussed this. But, we can verify numerous reports in the Gospels as being true. Finally, no more than a very small percentage of things are suspect of being false. And there is a handful of things in the Gospels that scholars cite to say, “Well, maybe these things are false. Maybe these are errors.”
They can’t prove that they’re errors. Some of the things we can’t prove that they’re not errors. Okay? So, there are a handful of candidates that are possible errors. Like, I’ll just give you one. In Mark 2, Jesus is talking about when Abiathar was the high priest David and his men went in and ate bread from the tabernacle, which is not usually lawful to eat.
Well, if you go to the Old Testament, it wasn’t Abiathar, it was Ahimelech. So, is that a mistake that Mark made? Is it a mistake Jesus made? Is this a possible mistake? It’s a possible mistake. Can it be explained? Some people try to explain it. It’s possible. That’s all we can say.
Another one is in Luke’s Gospel, and it talks about when Jesus was born there was a census. Caesar Augustus had a census taken throughout the land when Quirinius was the governor of Syria or the proconsul of Syria. Scholars say, “Well, that could be an error.”
It doesn’t mean that it is, but there’s a handful of things like that. They’re very, very minor. I asked a few scholars. I said, “Tell me. What do you think, in all of your readings, what do you think are possible errors in the Gospels?”
Again, there’s only like half of a dozen of these things. And they’re all minor, just like that. Wait, we’re talking about four full biographies of Jesus and that’s all you can come up with? Small, minor things like that that are possibly errors? Even if we grant that they were all errors, the Gospels still could be historically reliable. That doesn’t discredit it. We can easily find that many things in Tacitus and Suetonius and the rest of them. So, I mean, that’s no big deal – for historical reliability, that is. And that’s what we’re asking here. Are the Gospels historically reliable?
So, those are the five things.
Just to finish up here. So, if you want more information that’s my website. You can go there. You can watch a number of the debates in which I’ve been engaged. We have a number of lectures that I’ve done that you can view there. Let’s see. Lectures, debates, some articles and things like that. So, you can get more information at our website. I’m also on Facebook and I’m on Twitter. I have two Facebook pages, okay? I don’t know why I did that. This thing. But, it’s Michael.R.Licona. I’ve got two Facebook pages. One’s a personal and the other is public figure.
Look, I only accept people for the personal one that I know. Okay? And I don’t know you guys. So, go to my public figure page and like it and you can follow me. Okay? If I don’t know you, I don’t accept your friend request on Facebook. But, if you go to the public figure page, almost everything I put on the personal one I put on the public figure. And I put stuff on the public figure that I don’t put on the personal. The kind of stuff that you guys want, you’ll want to go to the public figure page. Alright?
Alright. Well, that’s what I have and I would love to entertain your questions and have a discussion period. This will be fun.
[Chip Bennett]: Very good. Well I hope your appetites got whetted a little bit here. When we talk about something being historically reliable, I think you’ve got a pretty good idea of what that means in the literary world and the world of literature. When you take those basic structures and you look at them compared to the Gospels, there’s no reason to believe that the Gospels aren’t historically reliable. I also want to make sure – and I remember doing this at Easter. One of the things I think it’s important for all of us to remember – and I think Mike did a great job of reminding us of that – is Christianity didn’t happen because, like most figures, when they die, the people get together and they go, “Hey, let’s put together some stuff to remember these people.”
That’s just sort of what they do. Well, when Jesus died, everything died with Him. All of their hopes were in Him being the one that would restore the Kingdom of Israel. They had a messianic understanding of Jesus and that He was going to overthrow Rome and do all of these great things. When He died, they didn’t get together and go, “Let’s relive the dream.”
They went and hid because they thought that they were going to die having been followers of Jesus. The only reason the Gospels even exist to begin with is because something happened so dramatic to these people that they wanted to figure out how to write about it. They would’ve never thought to relive the dream when Jesus died, because it wouldn’t have been something worth reliving. They would’ve started looking for someone else. So, when we talk about the Gospels and we interact with them, I think it’s important for us to understand that when we bring these categories to them, oftentimes the categories that we bring are sort of artificial. Because, really, everything – no pun intended – rises and falls on the resurrection. Everything. Everything we believe is that if Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, then it’s game over, period, end of story. Jesus is who He was.
So, when we go to the Gospels and skeptics or other people will go, “Hey, there’s a contradiction. Were there angels or men or whatever else?”
The reality is I think we have to start asking the question “are we bringing some ideas to these texts that nobody in the ancient world would’ve brought to these texts?” Are we being unrealistic? Because, if I were to ask you all to recount tonight and we took each of you to a room, the stories that you tell might not sound anything like the story that’s going on in another room. And would that make that inaccurate?
So, think about that when we’re talking about these things. I hope that you’ll get some questions together. We really want to engage those things. So, if you have some questions, some concerns or whatever, please start writing those down, because that’s important. But, can we give Dr. Licona a big hand for what he’s done?
And we’re not done. We’re not done for the evening. We also have Dr. Braxton Hunter with us. He’s another great apologist and we’re going to bring him up here on stage in just a minute. We’re going to move the tables out and we’re going to do a great Q&A. But, before that what I’d like to do is ask the ushers to come. I’d like to take up an offering for Mike and his ministry. Give liberally, especially if you’re a believer. Mike really makes a difference in the Christian community and the world for what he does. And we need 17 people to give far more than 35 dollars for books on the way out as well.
But, that being said, as the ushers come they’re just going to collect an offering. Go ahead and pass it and do that. Then, if you would, if you have some questions, this would be a good time. Go ahead, ushers. You can start passing everything. Good.
If you would, if you’ve got some questions that you’ve written out, just put your hands in the air and some of the guys will come by and pick them up and we’ll get them up here. And then if I could get a few guys to get us a few chairs and my chair, that would be awesome. We’ll get to doing a Q&A here right away. Sound fair? Good.
Alright. Here we go. Here’s a question:
“How do you respond to the one who asks about the historical reliability of the longer ending of Mark 9-20 and what do you do with the historical reliability of John 7:53-8:11.”
[Michael Licona]: That’s a good question. Gotcha. Let’s do Mark first. If you look in your Bibles, Mark 16, after verse 8 where Jesus is risen and the women go to the tomb and see an angel and he says, “He’s not here. He’s risen, as He said. Now, go. Tell the disciples and Peter that He’s gone ahead of them into Galilee. They are to go there and they will see Him just as He said.” And there he’s referring back to Mark 14:28 where Jesus says it.
It says, “The women fled and, out of fear and trembling, said nothing to no one.”
Now, that’s how Mark 16:8 ends. And then in your New Testament you’ll see there are brackets around Mark 16:9-20 and a little footnote that says “these verses are not found in our best and oldest manuscripts.” And that’s the one where it talks about picking up snakes and drinking poison. You know, pastors in the hills of West Virginia, they go by those verses.
[Chip Bennett]: Thanks for not using Kentucky.
[Michael Licona]: But, most scholars look at that – almost all scholars look at that and say, “That’s not part of the originals. It doesn’t really fit. There’s a different kind of vocabulary and grammatical structure that is used throughout those verses. It ends up repeating certain things.”
So, the majority of scholars – the overwhelming majority of scholars; 99% – would say that those verses were not part of the original Mark. So, where does that leave us? Why does it stop there that Jesus has been raised from the dead, the women run and say nothing to no one and it ends there? Well, there are a couple of options. Either, number one, our original ending has been lost – it was there, but it’s been lost – or Mark did not intend to end it there, but he got sick or he died and he was unable to complete the Gospel. So, in other words, verse 8 would not have been the intended ending. It was either lost or Mark was unable to complete it.
The other option is Mark did intend to complete it there. But, why would he complete it where they’re running away and saying nothing to no one? It’s like, well, how do we know about it if they said nothing to no one? Right? How do we know about it and why would they do that? Why would you end it like that? That’s really weird? And there’s a number of – this is one of those things that, you know, where you have three scholars in the room you have five opinions. There’s no agreement. Nobody agrees on why it would’ve ended. Some say, “Well, it’s in vogue now to say that Mark was constructed as an oral performance. And, in that case, the one who would be given the performance would memorize the Gospel of Mark and then would put his or her ending there about their encounter with the risen Jesus.”
That’s a possibility. Another thing you could point out is that in Mark 1:44, Jesus heals, I think it was, a leper. And He says, “Go back and show yourself. Say nothing to no one and show to the priests what the Lord has done for you.”
So, what did it mean? Why go and say nothing to no one? What it really meant – same grammatical structure there – is like, “Don’t stop along the way and talk to anyone. Go directly.”
So, that’s probably what it means. Not that you don’t tell anyone. Anyway, there’s a number of different reasons that scholars give. I tend to think that either the ending was lost or Mark was unable to complete it. But, anyway, I would say that it ends at verse 8 and that verses 9-20 are spurious. They weren’t in the originals.
In terms of John 7:53-8:11, most scholars today think that that was not part of the original. But, a lot of them do think that it’s an authentic story of Jesus. You remember at the end of the Gospel of John it says, “Many other things Jesus said and did that aren’t reported here.”
It could be – look, I’ll tell you one thing I’m open to is there was a second addition to the Gospel of John. It could easily happen. You know? He could’ve given out the Gospel of John and, all of a sudden, “You know what? There’s this story and I’d like to include it in there,” and it got included later on at a later time.”
Or maybe one of John’s disciples later on put it in there. He knew it was an authentic story that had been communicated, but he put it in there. He said, “Well, wait. How does that work in with divine inspiration if we don’t know who the author is?”
Well, you know about a third of the Psalms we don’t know who the author is? What about in the Pentateuch when it talks about Moses’ death and he was buried? Well, who wrote the Pentateuch? They say Moses did, right? The first five books of the Bible. Well, how could Moses be writing about his death and burial? We don’t know who the author was, but that doesn’t mean divine inspiration. Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Well, origin said only God knows who wrote the book of Hebrews. You know? In the early third century they said that. So, we don’t need to necessarily know who the author was for these things.
But, anyway, these are tough passages. I have a friend who did his doctoral dissertation on that text in John. He wanted to prove that it was authentic and he ended up saying, “I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.”
So, those are tough ones. There are not too many of those in the Gospels.
[Chip Bennett]: You know, I think – have you got something you want to say?
[Braxton Hunter]: Yeah. I was just going to say I can’t add anything to what Dr. Licona just said except to say that when I first became aware of these kind of things, it’s shocking at first, I think, to a lot of Christians who’ve grown up in church and have such a high view of Scripture. And we ought to have a high view of Scripture. It’s kind of a knee jerk reaction when we hear things like that and we learn about passages that conservative evangelical scholars would say what Mike has just said. But, here’s the thing about it: When we talk to skeptics – and there may be some skeptics here tonight. For me, I think one of the great things that we use apologetics for is to express the faith in a way that it answers and helps to people get over those intellectual roadblocks so that they can come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What people like Dr. Licona are doing – and other scholars who help us understand these things – is to gently help us to become aware of things that, yeah, they may cause a little bit of a knee jerk reaction, but your skeptical friend, coworker or loved one may well be aware that a lot of conservative scholars are willing to grant this. And they may have educated themselves on these things. So, I think it’s good for church folks to be aware. And this is why I think it’s so great that Dr. Bennett would put something like this on. We need to be okay understanding this and hearing these things and being ready to respond when skeptics bring these up.
You know? We can say, “Well, yeah. That’s something that scholars are aware of and we have scholarly notations in most of our Bibles for these things.”
So, I think it’s helpful in terms of our evangelism because, honestly, that and building up the faith of those who are already saved and struggle with second guessing, like Mike had talked about, on occasion, that’s where the heart issues come in that I think sometimes things might seem cold, clinical and academic to us, but these things have real world applications for our evangelism and for reaching people with the message of the Gospel.
[Chip Bennett]: I’d like to interject something here from just a pastoral perspective. One of the things that we do in the church – and I think this is a great moment for all of us here to understand this – is your Christianity does not rise and fall on how you view the Scripture. It rises and falls on whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. And this is a big, big, big issue. Because, we put more faith in the book sometimes than the one that the book talks about. And this is so huge for us to get as Christians, especially here at Grace. Because, you know how I am as a pastor. I mean, I absolutely, 100% believe that the Scripture is God-breathed. That’s what Paul says to Timothy. He uses a compound word; “theopneustos.”
I believe that with all of my heart. But, don’t confuse that with what makes you a Christian. The early Christians, for hundreds of years, would’ve never even in a million years argued about the categories we argue about. There was no such thing as John Calvin when Peter was talking on Acts 2. Jacobus Arminius didn’t exist. Nobody argued about that. You know? They didn’t have these categories of, “Well, was John 7:53-8:11 around?” because they didn’t have John.
So, what made them a Christian? What made them have an experience in their life? Was it because they read a book and they argued about the book and they fought for the book? No. What made them a Christian was they believed that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and they put their faith in that. So, don’t let when somebody comes along and goes, “Well, John 7:53-8:11,” I personally am more inclined to – these guys would probably tell you that it’s not. I’m more inclined to think that it might actually be part of John, because I do a lot of Chiastic work and I think it needs to be there and I’m hoping, one day, that the scholars find the ancient Gospel of John and it’s in there and everybody goes, “Oops.”
But, that being said, that doesn’t make me right and them wrong or them right and me wrong. It doesn’t mean any of that. It just means that we’re trying to give you the honest answers because, as Christians, we don’t have anything to fear. If the truth is the truth, we don’t have anything to fear at all. So, don’t fear these problem texts like Acts 8:37 or 1 John 5:7. Does it say there’s three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? That’s not found in some of the manuscripts. Don’t get bogged down on that.
The reality is Jesus tells us in John 5 what it’s all about. He says, “You guys are searching the Scriptures, for you think that in them you have life.”
There’s so many Christians that believe their life is found in the book. Jesus says, “The book testifies about me, but you won’t come to me to have life.”
Life is found in Jesus. And when we get that right, some of the other things fall away. Right?
[Michael Licona]: Let me throw one other thing in here, too. For several centuries, the Christians debated over which books and letters to include in the New Testament, right?
[Chip Bennett]: That’s exactly right. Absolutely. Yep.
[Michael Licona]: So, isn’t it cool that we can’t even talk about this and say, “Hey, we can debate over whether these texts belonged in the original,” and it’s like, “Alright, well we’re open to that.”
“Alright. Let’s include the Gospel of John. Let’s not include the Gospel of Peter.”
So, today we can say, “Hey, let’s include the Gospel of Mark. But, you know what? It’s probably true that Mark 16:9-20 weren’t in the original,” and we keep that in mind. It’s like, “Hey, I’m fine with that.”
Let’s be honest about it. Let’s debate. We don’t lose anything. I mean, we’ve got the resurrection narratives in the other three Gospels and we’ve got Paul before any of the Gospels were written who talks about the resurrection. You know, the woman caught in adultery, even if that were not authentic, you still have Jesus forgiving sinners. The thief on the cross. So, we don’t lose anything with these if they were not authentic.
[Chip Bennett]: That’s right. I agree. Next question is, “Why does it go from no facial hair to a little bit and then to a lot?”
No, I’m just kidding. It doesn’t say that. Nobody asked that. I’m just kidding. It’s just a joke. Calm down.
[Braxton Hunter]: I guess that one was for me.
[Chip Bennett]: No, no. I do want to say that some of you all have written in tongues, and I don’t have the gift to read it.
“Would you please briefly discuss...” – this is all you here, man – “Dr. Ehrman’s contention that the Gospels contain thousands of contradictions and discrepancies based on textual evidence?”
[Michael Licona]: Oh. So, well, that’s talking about variances in the manuscripts. And we do. There’s probably half of a million differences in the manuscripts. But, Dan Wallace, who is an expert on this, talks about are they viable differences and are they meaningful differences. So, viable would mean you look and you say, “Alright. We’ve got so many manuscripts. We’ve got an embarrassing richness of manuscripts.”
I mean, I’m studying stuff right now. When you take all the Ancient Latin literature, like Cicero’s Letters and Tacitus’ Annals of Rome and all these things, and you put them together, you’ve got right at about 1,700 manuscripts, total, for all of them. Whereas these guys are writing in first century BC– first century and second century. Those 1,700 manuscript are generally from the ninth through the sixteenth centuries.
With the New Testament, we have 5,843 Greek manuscripts, not including all the other ancient translations of it, not including the early church fathers who quote them on over a million occasions. Forget all that stuff and we still have 5,843. And we have somewhere between 9-15 of them that are dated within 150 years of the autographs. Within the first 1,000 years, we’ve got about 600 manuscripts. I mean, it’s just unbelievable what we have compared to this other stuff.
But, with all of these manuscripts comes variants. So, a lot of those are down to paraphrasing – the early church fathers paraphrasing or a slip of memory. Things like that. Sometimes the scribes made really egregious errors, ridiculous errors. Sometimes they would try to correct another’s grammar or maybe they thought Mark was wrong in his grammar and they had a copy of it so they tried to correct it or smooth it out and things like this. Sometimes they make spelling mistakes. In Ancient Greek, there were no spaces between words. There were no punctuation marks. It was just all run-on. I don’t know how they read that way.
But, you could see how that could be misinterpreted. Or maybe they just spelt something different or maybe someone was reading it and it’s like – I remember when I first came down to Georgia, I was talking to a secretary where I worked and she said “own,” but it was “on.” On.
I said, “Well, how do you say “o-w-n?”
You know? So, you probably had some things like this in Ancient Greek. I mean, there were diphthongs like an “ei” and an “ai.” They were pronounced the same way. So, you could have all kinds of mistakes like this.
Anyway, viable would mean the manuscript evidence, the pedigree of those manuscripts is very good. And then meaningful means does it change the meaning of it. So, for example, 1 John 1:4.
“We are writing these things in order that our joy may be full.”
In other manuscripts which are equally as good, it says, “I’m writing these things so that your joy may be full.”
Well, which one is it? There’s only one different in the Greek letter. Well, the pedigree of the manuscripts, we don’t really know which one was the original. Our or your? So, it is a viable difference and it’s meaningful because it changes the meaning, although it doesn’t change any doctrine. I mean, it doesn’t change anything, really, in terms of practical application. But, it does change the meaning.
So, when we’re talking about something like, there’s no Gospel essential that’s compromised at all. Ehrman himself acknowledges that. No major doctrine compromised by a variation.
Anyway, Dan Wallace, one of the leading textual critics in the world, says when you’re looking at things that are viable and meaningful, not just a word order or spelling, but viable and meaningful, only one tenth of one percent of all the differences are viable and meaningful, and none of them change any essential doctrine of the Christian faith. So, no big deal.
[Chip Bennett]: Everybody knows Howard Stern. I mean, he’s like a shock jock. You know? So, when you say there’s all these variables, it sounds great when you’re on a college campus and people aren’t aware of what’s going on. But, when you have the knowledge of what’s going on – I mean, probably a good half of those deals is because Greek is a morphological language. It’s not linear like English where you go “the ball hit the boy.”
You can move all kinds of things around in Greek and it’s the same thing. And a lot of those variants are just moving things around. And he’s not going to just come out and tell you. When he says, “Hey, there’s all these errors,” he’s not going to also go, “Oh, but about half of them though are just this.”
He’s not there to do that. He’s there to create the shock. What it does is when you’re uninformed, the shock is big to Christians. You don’t need to be shocked. There’s nothing to be shocked about.
Let’s continue on here. Let’s see here.
[Michael Licona]: And Ehrman himself – Again I want to say that Ehrman himself acknowledges. I mean, he talks about all of these things about copies of copies. And if he really believes that, he’s got to throw out all of ancient literature, because he even acknowledges the New Testament is the best attested literature in antiquity in terms of the manuscript evidence. He even says in his books that scholars today are convinced that we have, essentially, what the authors wrote, although possibly not 100%. That’s what he says. That’s almost a direct quote.
So, he says these other things because it sells.
[Chip Bennett]: And if you’re watching, Bart, we love you.
[Michael Licona]: We do. I love you, man!
[Chip Bennett]: Yeah. That’s right. My suspicious is Bart had something happen in his life that really hurt him with his relationship with God. Oftentimes we get sort of frustrated. Didn’t he go through a divorce or something? There was something. He was a conservative evangelical. I’ve done that. I got mad at God and quit for a while. I know none of you all have ever done that, because you all are saints. But, as a pastor, I just share the way it is. I’ve had plenty of those doubts with God.
What happens is when you do that you start going down some dark roads. You even start, after your 30th anniversary, wondering if it’s the right woman. You know? Things like that.
[Braxton Hunter]: Hey, can I say something about this? I know you want to stay on a time crunch here. But, Mike, you know his story better than me. So, correct me – really, correct me if I say anything that’s not right here. But, this kind of ties in really well with what we’re discussing, because my understanding is that originally what had happened with Bart Ehrman is that he found what he thought was a contradiction in Scripture, right? And for him, that led to a house of cards falling down. So, he doubted all of Christianity because he found what he thought to be a contradiction in Scripture. Is that right?
[Michael Licona]: That began that question.
[Braxton Hunter]: Yeah. That began a chain reaction and all of that. But, you know, I affirm inerrancy. For sure, I affirm inerrancy. I mean, really, I’m a loud mouth, leather lung, red-faced Southern preacher. So, I affirm inerrancy and I love to get up and preach hard. “Thus saith the Lord” and all of that. But, here’s the thing: When you go about it that way, when you have that view that if one thing in the Bible were to be contradictory – and I don’t believe there are any contradictions in the Bible. But, if you have that view and then you find what appears to be that way, and that is closer to the center of, let’s say, your web of beliefs than the resurrection, then when it goes, the resurrection goes and perhaps a lot of other things go.
I think he’s agnostic, maybe. Maybe God goes. But, if on the other hand you say, “Well, no. I affirm inerrancy and I don’t think there are any contradictions in Scripture, but that is further out, so to speak, in my web of beliefs than my belief in God and the resurrection of Jesus and a lot of other things that are taught by Jesus,” well then, if you ever were to think you found a contradiction in Scripture, the whole thing wouldn’t come crumbling down and you would have more time, maybe, to confidently study this out. I’m sure Bart Ehrman did study this. I’m confident. I know he did. But, you would be able to search those things out with confidence.
And I hear preachers say this a lot. They’ll say things like, “If one thing in the Bible is false, then all of it’s false,” or, “If one thing in the Bible is not true, then none of it’s true.”
Well, that doesn’t even follow logically, does it? If you found out that one thing in the Bible was not true, it would not mean that everything else in the Bible is false. That just doesn’t work logically. So, while we affirm inerrancy, we need to make sure that we understand, as your pastor said so eloquently just a while ago, that the resurrection is the centerpiece, historically, of the Christian faith. Now, thank God I think there’s good reasons to believe that He gave us the Word of God as inerrant. But, I just think it’s important to keep these things all in mind, not only because, like I said before, our skeptical friends are going to challenge us with this, but also because I think that what I know of Bart Ehrman’s testimony testifies to this fact.
[Chip Bennett]: I guess this is what I would say: As Christians, let’s make sure that we do a better job of framing the question. Is this an interpretive issue? Is this a hermeneutical issue? Like, do you read Genesis 1 as a 24-hour, 7-day period or do you read it that it might be a little poetic or whatever? Those are hermeneutical issues. Those are not “Scripture isn’t the Bible” issues at all. They’re not even close to that. But, that’s what happens.
We do the, “Do you take the Bible literally?” What that really means is “do you read it the way I do?” That’s what we’re really asking. You know? And if you don’t believe the Bible’s got a literal 24-hour, 7-days, then everything else falls. There’s people that write books that say that. That’s ridiculous. That’s crazy talk. Let’s make sure that we don’t miss frame the issue. There are interpretive differences in the way we read Scripture, and scholars will interpret different passages differently. That is not an inerrancy issue. That is an interpretive issue.
And we hold onto those things because, man, it’s like white-knuckle. We want to believe. The question is did He get up from the grave? If He did, that means this world’s not all that there is. That means that He rose from the grave, which means sins can be forgiven. That’s the issue that we need to go die on a hill for, not for whether or not John 7:53-8:11 is in Scripture or if in Genesis 6 the Sons of God are the righteous line of Seth or if they’re some angels or whatever else. We need to stop all that crazy stuff and arguing about that and get down to the essential thing that Jesus Christ came and rose from the dead and He can change your life.
Instead of trying to make everybody believe in the Scripture, you know?
Alright. I’m going to answer this one for you, because I think this is sort of loaded. Well, I do. It’s an unfair thing. I’m going to go out – I don’t usually put my foot down on something, but I am going to put my foot down on something. A Christian person attacked Mike on some things and just couldn’t be more wrong and it’s aggravating to have to field these questions. I don’t think this question here is necessarily loaded, but it does come with some baggage, unfortunately.
The story of the graves opening after the crucifixion. The prophet’s walking around the city. Is that a small or large historical issue? Mike took a little bit of flack because he interpreted it differently than someone else and then someone said, “You don’t believe the Bible.”
The reality is I don’t think that there’s any historical issue with that particular thing. I think it’s just the way we read it in what we see. Do you have anything you want to add to that?
[Michael Licona]: Yeah. So, briefly, you have Matthew, Mark and Luke reporting a number of phenomena that happened at Jesus’ death. The temple veil splitting and that there was darkness that occurred. But, Matthew adds that there was an earthquake, the rocks split, the tombs were opened, many of the dead saints were raised and, after Jesus’ resurrection, they came out and walked into the holy city and were seen by many.
So, when I was doing my doctoral research, there were some skeptics who were saying, “This is the clearest example of myth making in the New Testament. It’s just myth. Therefore, Jesus’ resurrection is just more of the same.”
Well, I’d been reading through the Greco-Roman literature and the Jewish literature and I started to notice some things. There seemed to be some linguistic idioms. Kind of like we might say today, “9/11 involved earthshaking events.”
Well, a thousand years from now, what if a historian said, “Wow. They said 9/11 had some earthshaking events. Let’s check their seismic graphs here to see if there were any major earthquakes that were going around the world. No? Well, I guess 9/11 never happened.”
You know? It’s like, “No, no, no. That’s a linguistic idiom or a figure of speech that they were using. So, I started to see some things like when great kings died or when Julius Caesar was assassinated, there were things like eclipses of the Sun, comets, pale phantoms were seen walking around at sunset. That’s kind of interesting, huh? Streams stopped flowing. Black intestines were seen outside of animals. The temple doors – no, that’s another one. Just before the temple was destroyed, Josephus says that fighting was seen in the heavens, just like they said when Caesar died. Fighting was seen in the heavens. The doors for the temple in Jerusalem, which took more than 20 men to open, opened by themselves. A cow gave birth to a lamb. All kinds of things like that.
When Caesar went into Egypt, Cassius Dio reports that voices were heard and ghosts were seen, that a woman, whose head was filled with snakes, went around the city and terrified people. An eclipse of the Sun. There was a comet. The doors to the temple of Jupiter, which took many men to open, opened by themselves. Do you start to see some things here? Some common things? And you say, “Wow. Maybe they’re talking in phenomenological language like we would say 9/11 was an earthshaking event.”
And they’re saying this because, wow, you’re talking about not the death of Julius Caesar, but you’re talking about the death of the Son of God. So, they have this phenomenological language that’s going on here. If that is what’s happening here, then it would be false to say this is myth making. You’re missing the linguistic idioms here. So, that’s what I propose I thought was probably happening. We see Peter doing it on the Pentecost when he says, “Hey, you think we’re drunk with new wine? No way. This is too early in the morning.”
He actually says this. Like, “Hey, wait. Three o’clock and happy hour is coming. Check us out then. But, no. He says, “It’s too early in the morning.”
What you’re seeing is the fulfillment of what Joel the Prophet said, that young men will have visions, old men will have dreams. You go back to Joel 2 and it says, “Young men will have visions. Old men will have dreams. The Sun will go dark. The stars will fall in the sky. The moon will turn into blood. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Well, then he finishes his sermon and says, “Call on the name of the Lord and be saved.”
So, Peter thinks that Joel 2 has been fulfilled in their presence, yet the Sun didn’t go dark, the moon didn’t turn to blood. You know what I’m saying here? And then I looked in the ancient literature and I found there are places where we can confirm that in the Ancient Greco-Roman literature and Jewish literature where it mentions a comet, we can confirm that the comet was actually there. Hale-Bopp Comet. Haley’s Comet. Something like that. Or it’s multiply attested in the Chinese literature, which they would’ve had no contact with the Romans or the Greeks.
NASA has a website where you can go and enter a year and click on a geographic region and it will tell you if there was an eclipse of the Sun visible within the region that year. And there are some cases where we can confirm that there was a comet visible, but there was no visible eclipse of the Sun, which means that they could commingle historical details like that and they’d add some for dramatic impact. So, you wonder, “Is this what Matthew was doing?”
So, some were saying, “You’re denying inerrancy! You’re denying the Bible! You’re saying it’s wrong!”
No. I’m saying that it could be that your interpretation is wrong.