ICBI Framers Unanimously Opposed to Licona’s Dehistoricizing of the Bible

From on May 27, 2014

ICBI Framers Unanimously Opposed to Licona’s Dehistoricizing of the Bible

When the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy framers composed the inerrancy statements, Mike Licona, Craig Blomberg, and Michael Bird, and others had not spoken to the issue of the compatibility of genre criticism and inerrancy—widely held as compatible by New Testament Scholars.  The primary focus at the time of the ICBI summits was Robert Gundry who used the Jewish midrash genre to deny the historicity of sections of Matthew like the story of the Magi (Wise Men) recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.  Gundry was asked to step down from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for his view by an overwhelming 74% of the voting membership in 1983.

However, it is clear to all living framers of the ICBI that their prohibition against “dehistoricizing” parts of the Gospels (CSBI, Article XVIII) applies to the contemporary view of Mike Licona, Craig Blomberg, and others.  Licona wrote:

There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).  Bioi offered the ancient biographers great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…. They often included legend.  Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 34).

Thus, Licona originally categorized the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-52 as legend, as wells as the angels at the tomb (ibid., 185-186), and possibly the crowd falling backward at Jesus’ claim to be “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (ibid, 306).  Later, in a debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary (Spring, 2009), Licona went so far as to assert that there is a contradiction in the Gospels on which day Jesus was crucified, namely Thursday or Friday.

Craig Blomberg agreed with Licona, affirming that both Gundry and Licona were right.  He defended Robert Gundry’s Jewish midrashic approach to the Gospels in the following terms:

“Is it possible, even inherently probable, that the NT writers at least in part never intended to have their miracle stories taken as historical or factual and that their original audiences probably recognized this? If this sounds like the identical reasoning that enabled Robert Gundry to adopt his midrashic interpretation of Matthew while still affirming inerrancy, that is because it is the same. . . . [H]ow should evangelicals react? Dismissing the sociological view on the grounds that the NT miracles present themselves as historical gets us nowhere. So do almost all the other miracle stories of antiquity.  Are we to believe them all?” (Blomberg, “New Testament Miracles and Higher Criticism” in JETS 27/4, 436, emphasis added).

In response to these claims by Mike Licona, and in an indirect sense by many present-day evangelicals, all three living framers of the ICBI have made written statements.

R. C. Sproul

“As the former and only President of ICBI during its tenure and as the original framer of the Affirmations and Denials of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, I can say categorically that Mr. Licona’s views are not even remotely compatible with the unified Statement of ICBI.  You can use this comment by me however you wish” (Letter, May 22, 2012).

J.I. Packer

“I offer you the following which you may use any way you wish.… As a framer of the ICBI statement on biblical inerrancy who once studied Greco-Roman literature at advanced level, I judge Mike Licona’s view that, because the Gospels are semi-biographical, details of their narratives may be regarded as legendary and factually erroneous, to be both academically and theologically unsound” (Letter, May 8, 2014).

Norman L. Geisler

“As a framer of the ICBI Statements and as General Editor of the ICBI books, I concur with my colleges that Licona’s views, like those of Gundry are contrary to inerrancy as held by the framers of the ICBI Statements and as expressed in the following ICBI Articles:”

“We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claim to authorship” (CSBI, Article XVIII).

“We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts” (CSBH, Article VI).

“We deny that generic categories which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual” (CSBH, Article XIII).  I can further affirm that, as a member of the framing committee, Robert Gundry’s view were in mind as we wrote these statements.”

In so far as Craig Blomberg and many other evangelical scholars approve of Licona’s views, those of Robert Gundry, and others like them, they too are incompatible with the ICBI framer’s view on inerrancy.   Indeed, insofar as it was reported by two eye witnesses that about one-third of the ETS members present at a Fall ETS meeting in 2013, expressed their audible desire to have Gundry rejoin ETS.  This view is in direct contradiction to that of the ICBI.

Hence, whatever other merits it may have, the genre view which denies parts of the Gospel narrative as historical, such as the view of Gundry, Licona, Blomberg, or others, is not consistent with the historic view on inerrancy (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, Moody, 1984) as held by ICBI. Thus, in all honesty they should not claim their beliefs are compatible with the historic ICBI belief in inerrancy.