A thorough and important 42-page review by Dr. Lydia McGrew of Dr. Michael Licona’s book Why are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press: 2016) was just published in the most recent volume of The Global Journal of Classical Theology.
Click McGrew’s Review to open it as a PDF file.
Michael Licona’s Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? purports to show that the Gospels have been influenced by literary devices allegedly used in Greco-Roman literature. The devices that Licona believes he has found in Greco-Roman biography involve altering chronology, fabricating details, and changing other facts. His attempts to apply these ideas to the Gospels do not succeed. Repeatedly, the claim that a biblical passage manifests a fact-altering “compositional device” fails to satisfy the significant burden of proof borne by such a complex claim. Licona often overlooks much simpler explanations or rejects them too hastily. Sometimes he (following other New Testament critics) conjectures factual change or invention by a Gospel author when there is not even any apparent discrepancy between accounts. Sometimes he conjectures the invention of entire scenes or incidents. These issues are important to Christians who are interested in whether or not we can know about Jesus in a reliable way from the Gospels. It is therefore necessary to look into Licona’s claims in detail rather than accepting them lightly. Since they cannot stand up under investigation, the traditional view of the Gospels—that their authors intended them as factually truthful reports—has not been undermined by his work.
Also note Lydia’s blog “On that (in)famous “saints rising” passage in Matthew 27.”
Lydia was totally upfront and transparent about focusing on the reliability of the gospels rather than on full biblical inerrancy. At this time she does not affirm full biblical inerrancy. John Warwick Montgomery, a staunch inerrantist who was one of the original signers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, carefully considered this fact before he published her review of this book, vetted it, and ensured that the contents of her review were in harmony with inerrancy . The Defending Inerrancy team also carefully considered it as we tried to decide whether we should recommend her review or not. Based on principle, we had some reservation at first. Actually, we still do. But her review was just too thorough, insightful, scholarly, compelling, and logical to ignore. It really is worthy of careful consideration. It’s one thing for an inerrantist to make a case that this type of genre criticism is at odds with the highest possible standards of biblical inerrancy. No surprise there. But it’s somehow quite another thing when someone who has no dog in the inerrancy fight presents a case that it is likewise a threat to an even more basic and fundamental standard of the historical reliability of the Gospels. That may be even more sobering. Moreover, her arguments harmonize very well with the type of warnings that both the ICBI and the DI team have been sounding. While we may not agree with her on everything, there is agreement in this focused area. Interestingly, even though Lydia at this time cannot in good conscience affirm every single article in the Chicago Statements on Biblical Inerrancy and The Chicago Statement on Hermeneutics, everything in her review happens to be consonant with four of the most contested articles of the Chicago Statements: Article XVII of the CSBI and Articles XII, XV, & XVI of the CSBH. (The best source for examining these articles is Explaining Biblical Inerrancy, which may be downloaded from here.) Meanwhile, many who self-identify vaguely as generic biblical inerrantists (and even a few who feign agreement with the CSBI) have been content to ignore these same articles. So, when it comes down to this specific type of issue—whether it is the use of genre criticism to make any part of the gospels seem less than historical, or to affirm and excuse contradictions or other factual errors in the gospels, based upon what seems like subjective speculations over possible parallels between pagan and apostolic writings, or based upon the blending of the imagined and unstated intentions of multiple authors—Lydia, who does not identify as a full inerrantist, ends up sounding here much more like an inerrantist than many who identify as inerrantists.