These are my few thoughts about the controversy surrounding Mike Licona and Norm Geisler, two very competent Christian scholars. A dispute has arisen over whether or not Licona’s view of Matthew 27 amounts to a denial of inerrancy. I’m not convinced it does, even if he is dead wrong about his interpretation. Consider the following:
Inerrancy is true if and only if for any proposition, fact, truth, or event P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false.
Inerrancy is false in the case that for any P that the Bible affirms, P is false and not true.
Any agent X believes in inerrancy in general just in the case X believes for any P that the Bible affirms, P is true and not false.
Any X believes in inerrancy specifically just in the case X believes the Bible has affirmed P, and X believes P is true and not false.
X’s belief about P entails inerrancy’s falsehood in the case the Bible affirms P and X believes not-P.
First, we should note that one can affirm inerrancy even in the case that he believes something contrary to what the text actually teaches. For the text means what it means independently of our understanding of it, so that if P is actually true, but we teach not-P, we may nonetheless affirm inerrancy if we believe the Bible teaches not-P in the first place. This means Licona may be well within the bounds of orthodoxy in terms of whether or not he is an inerrantist.
Next, notice the final proposition means that, if X’s belief about P is true and it opposes what the Bible actually teaches, then inerrancy is false. Note what it does not teach: that X believes the Bible is not inerrant. Further, we should see that this would make anyone who held an interpretation of a text that we found to be incorrect one who denies inerrancy (that is, if the final proposition means one is not an inerrantist [which I submit it does not]).
Third, I believe we may formulate a brief argument against the final proposition’s conclusion. The Bible is inerrant. If the Bible affirms X, and A teaches not-X, then A is incorrect. The Bible affirms X and A teaches not-X. Therefore, A is incorrect. Or keep the first two premises and add in: A is correct. Therefore, it is not the case that the Bible affirms X and A teaches not-X. One of the two is false. Inerrancy is thus safe from human error.
Finally, I realize that the above may be constituted by some as a “safe haven” to question the Bible everywhere. But in relation to inerrancy, this is just not so. For if they actually believe the Bible teaches one thing, but they say another, they are guilty of denying inerrancy. Now what of those people we think are wrong about major interpretive issues? We take it up with them on those grounds. Those grounds that are biblical truth are sufficient to correct an error. People can be inerrantists and have poor interpretations. Some people have taken just this track to Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27, which can be made independently of the charge of denying inerrancy.
As it so happens, I think Licona is incorrect regarding his original assessment of Matthew 27 (which he may end up revising, anyway). I dealt with the issue briefly in a Q & A on this blog. Atheists and skeptics often get quite the laugh at our expense in these issues, and the people on the sidelines shake their heads. Let’s get charitable. Argue, debate, and correct: but there’s no need to try to drag someone through the mud.
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