The issue of whether or not the Bible has factual errors has been debated for quite some time. In the last two months, the issue has grown again, this time a controversy has risen suddenly and tremendously, involving many well-known scholars and three or four seminaries. The issue does not appear that it will go silently into the night, but rather could become another rift in evangelicalism.
First some background. Starting about 1900, some seminaries began to teach what has been labeled Higher Criticism, which doubted the authorship of the Bible and raised several questions about its truthfulness. The issues took various forms, ultimately resulting in a council of conservative scholars being gathered to make a statement on inerrancy. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) issued what is commonly called The Chicago Statement in 1978. Since then, conservatives have viewed this statement as a clear dividing line, with various church and seminary doctrinal statements referring to it. If a church said they believed in inerrancy, everyone knew what that meant. After the Chicago Statement, churches that claimed that the Bible contains infallible truths were distinguished from those who believed that the Bible is inerrant, with the former believing that there could be spiritual truths but factual errors, while the inerrantists holding that both spiritual and factual truths are correct. The two camps did not agree, but everyone knew this, and all was calm and peaceful, especially within the inerrancy camp.
Then came the publication of Michael Licona’s book titled The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Licona’s main thrust was to defend the resurrection, but in doing so a controversy arose. Licona uses a method that draws parallels from secular literature from the first century, the time the New Testament was written. Licona maintains that it was common for writers of New Testament times to embellish a story to draw a point or emphasize importance. He refers to this as apocalyptic.
Licona claims that it is possible that some specifics of the gospel accounts could be intended by the author to not be literally true. Examples are the general rising of the dead in Matthew 27:52-53 and the falling down of the guard in John 18:6. The idea is that it is possible that these details could be literary devices used by the authors to draw attention to the larger point in the passage, namely that Jesus rose from the dead and is God.
Senior Christian apologist Norman Geisler took issue with Licona’s approach and emailed Licona, who waited a month, then responded that he was busy with work and did not plan a timely response. Geisler then began publishing a series of open letters on his website, claiming that Licona violated the spirit of the Chicago Statement, of which Geisler was a framer. Geisler accused Licona of violating inerrancy, a very serious charge.
The controversy erupted. A flurry of statements and accusations began, which ultimately resulted in Licona being removed from his teaching position at one seminary, action from a second seminary apparently aimed at preventing the apocalyptic view from being taught, and a third seminary disinviting prominent apologists from a speaking engagement. By the most recent Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting, Geisler and Licona had lined up scholars on each side, with each man making critical claims against each other. To date, it has involved such prominent scholars and Christian leaders as Daniel Wallace, William Craig, Al Mohler, J. I. Packer, Gary Habermas, Paul Copan, Craig Blomberg, and involved quotes from people such as B. B. Warfield and N. T. Wright. I will not repeat the claims and counter claims here; you can find the details on the websites of these two men. Some of the claims have gotten rather ugly.
That sets the stage. The next blog post will attempt to explain the significance and implications of the issue.