Monday, July 09, 2018

Series on John continues, plus article acceptance

If you follow my public content on Facebook, this will not be news to you: I am pleased to announce that I have had an article on the topic of undesigned coincidences accepted for publication in Erkenntnis, a highly ranked analytic philosophy journal. The title is "Undesigned Coincidences and Coherence for an Hypothesis." I received word of acceptance from the editors yesterday. The review process was long and arduous. It went first to two reviewers, who delivered a split verdict (one in favor of publication and one against). From there it went to a tie-breaker. In the end there were two in favor of publication and one against. At that point, the editors looked at it themselves and decided to go with the positive verdict. The entire process, including a "revise and resubmit" component, took about ten months.

The article does not use biblical examples of undesigned coincidences but rather uses hypothetical secular examples. I apply results I have proven in earlier articles on the value of varied evidence and the probabilistic meaning of coherence to the value of undesigned coincidences. The goal of the article is a probabilistic explanation of the epistemic force of undesigned coincidences, and the piece is quite analytic and technical, as are the earlier articles on which it is based. (See my CV here and a summary of some of those pieces here.)

It is worth pointing out here that undesigned coincidences are by no means some special "apologetics thing" nor even an especially "Christian thing." Rather, the concept can apply to multiple reports or testimonies in any context--criminal, historical, or casual. By giving an extensive analysis of example cases, I show how and why the strength of undesigned coincidences arises from their combination of overlap and diversity. At the same time, the force of an alleged UC in any given case will come back to the actual empirical evidence in that case. An abstract analysis can never take the place of the facts on the ground. But an abstract analysis of examples can show that the idea in question has its place in our toolbox for evaluating allegedly testimonial evidence.

I imagine it will be some time before the article actually appears in print, and I will announce when it is fully "out." At this time it can be listed as "accepted and forthcoming."

Meanwhile, my series on the Gospel of John continues with a sub-series on the voice of Jesus in John. Is it really true that Jesus in John talks like John himself but does not talk like Jesus in the synoptic Gospels? I argue that this is an exaggeration, at best, and that the differences of emphasis are well explained by the hypothesis that John himself came to talk like Jesus and that John thematically selects certain scenes and sayings of Jesus that were not found in the synoptic Gospels. I give many examples in which the voice of Jesus is the same in the synoptic Gospels and in John, including language that is thought to be distinctive to one or the other.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Endorsement from Paul Nelson

I'm very pleased to announce that Paul Nelson, philosopher of biology and Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, has endorsed my work on literary device theories.

You can find his public endorsement here, with embarrassing analogies to Wonder Woman and fencing. It's good to see the word getting out. The arguments are the thing--always the ideas and the arguments.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Only one Jesus: a series on John and the synoptics

I'm doing a series on the gospel of John and the synoptic gospels. I've made a new Gospel of John tag at W4. The posts there include all of those about my debate with Craig Evans but also all of those that I regard as falling into this series, in which I intend to lay out positive evidence for the historicity of John and for the unity of the character of Jesus throughout the four gospels. This is meant to answer the incorrect claim that the portrait of Jesus is very different in John and in the synoptic gospels. Watch for more posts in the series. Here is the latest post in it.

I also wanted to mention that I have been posting somewhat more public content on Facebook and have enabled the feature allowing people to follow my public content. Here is my Facebook page.

While I'm mentioning that, I want to stress this: Please do not take it at all personally if you send me a Facebook "friend" request and if I don't accept it. I have dozens of FB "friend" requests languishing from people, many of whom are doubtless wonderful people. It's just that I accept relatively few FB "friend" requests for reasons of privacy. There is no doubt some arbitrariness involved in which requests I click "confirm" on, which requests I click "decline" on, and which I just leave un-responded-to (this last being the majority). Generally I prefer to accept requests from people with whom I have had some direct interaction, either by correspondence or elsewhere on Facebook or on blogs, etc., where that interaction has given me reason to believe that we would get along well as Facebook "friends" and would both profit from and enjoy the interaction.

My e-mail address is lydia[dot]mcgrew[at]gmail[dot]com, and I'm available for anyone to write and ask questions that way as well.

Meanwhile, the public content is there for anyone to read and follow, and I intend for a while now to use that public setting to share more of what I'm writing on New Testament, including the on-going series Only One Jesus.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

On credentials, Philosophy, and NT studies

I dislike credentialism intensely. On the very rare occasions when I point out that a particular credential of mine is relevant to a certain argument, I do it at most to induce the other person to listen closely to the argument and to take seriously the possibility that I might be right, even if it goes against some idea the other person might have. I attempt never to substitute a reference to my credentials for argument.

In my current work in NT studies, I ask people, even beg people, to consider the arguments and the information, first and foremost. There is my book, Hidden in Plain View, which argues from undesigned coincidences for the conclusion that the Gospels (and Acts) are normal reportage, close up to the facts. There is my 2017 series on the work of Michael Licona (see wrap-up post as a portal, here). There is my recent debate with Craig Evans on the Gospel of John. There are my webinars for Apologetics Academy (here and here). And there are many other posts on a variety of topics in New Testament studies. There is the recent lecture by my husband, Tim McGrew, criticizing the literary device views. That is where I want to direct people's attention.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that the arguments are what we should be looking at.

A recent meme (as one might call it) is that neither I nor Tim is qualified to address these issues of literary devices in the Gospels at all because we lack relevant credentials. For a while I have mostly ignored this meme in public, hoping to induce people to pay attention to the arguments by placing those arguments front and center and asking people to take them into account. I have also argued explicitly that the field of NT studies in particular is inbred, subject to perpetuating epistemic pathologies, and needs an outsider perspective. Moreover, the meme has been going about in venues that are difficult to address--rumors about what is being said behind closed doors, statements on Facebook, and so forth. Most of the explicit claims that we are unqualified or that I am unqualified are being made in public by the followers of prominent scholars rather than by the scholars themselves.

Michael Licona did once indicate clearly and in public that (in his opinion) I am unqualified, in an older version of what now appears as this post. At first he publicly invited me to see and presumably share the initial version, but he replaced it after a few days. In the deleted version (which I have) he made much of my mere PhD in English literature and its alleged entire irrelevance to New Testament studies. He characterized English as my field and talked a good deal about how my knowledge of that field would not transfer to New Testament studies. He stated that I had "no training in the relevant field" and expressed surprise at my daring to "walk confidently" into the field of New Testament studies. His surprise is surprising, since I had published a critically acclaimed book in that very field in that same year! A fact that, of course, he did not mention. Though I have that earlier version, the only public traces in the current version are the almost eerie absence of any reference to my lengthy and fairly prestigious publication record in philosophy (also absent from the first version) and the insertion of a reference to my PhD in English in parentheses.

In the old version of his response, he implied (by a reference to Norm Geisler) that I should opt to discuss these matters in an "academic setting" where we would engage in "gracious and respectful dialogue" and implicitly (by comparing my approach to that of Norman Geisler) characterized my work as "attack[ing] [him] on the Internet." My careful, detailed, scholarly blog series on his book was at that time in its early stages. When it was finished, his subsequent refusal to engage with my arguments even when we were offered space for dialogue in just such a venue--the philosophy of religion journal Philosophia Christi--and his manner of refusing, made it scarcely a huge leap to the conclusion that he considered that I was unqualified and undeserving of engagement, causing one reader to point out the contrary. But given the deletion of the earlier version of his post in September, until recently there was no publicly available statement from Licona to this effect.

It is only more recently that Licona has publicly made this insinuation once again, in a series of podcasts with Tim Stratton of Freethinking Ministries. At minute 2:29ff and 4:30ff (episode 14) and about 2:50ff (episode 15) he states, and even repeats several times within short periods of time, that his only critic(s) are not in the field of NT studies. Referring (obviously) to me he says (2:53, episode 15), "The most vocal is not a gospels expert or even a New Testament scholar." Credentialism is a notable emphasis in these podcasts, repeated whenever the subject of his current critics arises. It becomes almost amusing at one point, because (about minute 2:13, episode 15) the host asks Licona if he could briefly summarize the point of contention between himself and his critics. Licona literally does not answer the question. Instead he spends about half a minute merely saying again that there are not a lot of critics and reiterating the support of New Testament scholars for his work and the alleged lack of relevant credentials of any of his critics. When he stops and clearly doesn't intend to say anything more, Tim Stratton is forced to try to construct something to characterize the nature of the debate. ("What about the fear that you're saying that we can't take the Word of God literally?") He has to do something like that--make up some characterization of the disagreement--because Licona literally sidestepped the request for him to do so! Instead, Licona took that answer time to tout again his endorsements and to push credentialism to dismiss any critics, and me in particular.

Throughout the podcasts Licona and the hosts never name either Tim or me, but it would be the merest carping to try to say that we are not (or that I am not) the referent(s) at various points. At minute 2:50 (episode 15), he says, "There have been a few negative criticisms on the Internet." My lengthy, careful series, with arguments, hardly qualifies as merely a "few negative criticisms," and the use of "on the Internet" is purely dismissive, as though posting serious, substantive content on the Internet automatically renders it non-serious and unworthy of a response.

At minute 24  (episode 15) Licona says, "We should be willing to engage with our critics. Of course that doesn't mean that one is required to respond to every blogger on the Internet," with the none-too-subtle implication that I am unqualified because I am merely some "blogger on the Internet." Trying further to qualify the requirement to be willing to engage one's critics (since he has already said expressly in another venue that he will not engage my arguments), Licona hastens to say (24:16) that one should be willing to "engage scholars in the relevant fields" (both "in" and "relevant fields" being defined by himself) and then qualifies further "especially if they offer criticism in respected, peer-reviewed journals in the relevant fields." This seems to put a lot of hedges up and to provide a lot of excuses for not responding to any critic deemed not to be "in" a relevant field and whose criticisms have not been made in precisely the right type of journal (as adjudged by Licona) rather than "on the Internet." At minute 25:29 (episode 15) he stated that he took criticism by, e.g., Craig Blomberg or Darrell Bock seriously "because they are serious scholars in the field of New Testament studies." At minute 26 he says he feels obligated to respond if a "serious New Testament scholar or classicist, one who's respected in that field" offers criticism. There can be little doubt in the mind of anyone honestly following all of this that Licona's intent in all of these qualifiers is to explain by way of negation why he refuses to engage with my arguments.

So now the credentialist cat is out of the bag and can be publicly addressed.

Somewhat similarly, in my recent debate with Craig Evans (transcript here), Evans says,
Maybe she [Lydia] doesn't understand the views of most of us hold to: Markan priority, the existence of a collection of Jesus' sayings which Matthew and Luke independently of each other used and supplemented their Markan narrative in creating their own Gospels of Matthew and Luke. 
This out-of-the-blue suggestion that I have no knowledge of the theory of Markan priority and the two-source hypothesis concerning the synoptic Gospels is particularly gratuitous, since it serves no clear argumentative function in the debate. (The debate was about John.) It was quite unclear how this alleged lack of understanding on my part was supposed to explain or lie behind my differences of opinion with Evans, and Evans gave no good explanation. The statement seemed to be a rhetorical attempt to dismiss me on the grounds of surmised ignorance due to outsider status. I was glad, of course, of the opportunity to show Evans how wrong he was in suggesting my ignorance.

Given these recent, public credentialist implications by two prominent scholars with whom I am disagreeing, I've decided to address the issue head-on.

First, both Tim and I are analytic philosophers. Tim (who has recently publicly criticized literary device views) holds both a degree in that field and a teaching position and chairmanship in that field.  My PhD is in English, as Dr. Licona has been at pains to note. I do not in fact acknowledge the irrelevance of a degree in literature to the current disagreements, since much of what is being done by NT scholars (and apparently some classics scholars as well) is merely poor literary criticism. It reminds me of the way that humanities scholars are often captivated by a theory and cease to understand the burden of proof that they bear, which I saw a good deal of during my English PhD studies.

It also may be somewhat relevant to point out that my undergraduate degree is in Bible (from Baptist Bible College, now Summit University, in PA) and that I was something akin to a child prodigy in a Baptist household and was memorizing long Scripture passages from the time that I was less than two years old until I went to Bible college at the age of sixteen. A sheer knowledge of the contents of Scripture is often relevant in these matters, as it was for several of the blunders I caught Craig Evans making in our recent debate.

For this post, though, I'll be writing most about philosophy.

My credentials as an analytic philosopher, which I'll come back to in more detail below, are found in my extensive publication record, spanning two decades and including many articles and a technical book in epistemology. My CV is here. (To maintain the integrity of the reviewing process, it does not include my work that is currently under blind peer review at journals. No under-review articles are listed below, either.) Nor are anywhere near all of these publications co-written with Tim. As Tim will attest, I have been an extremely full philosophical partner in co-written publications, including (or especially) those that are highly technical. In recent years I have branched out and published alone in the sub-disciplines of analytic epistemology and probability.

Analytic philosophy in general and epistemology (theory of knowledge) in particular are well-suited to prepare one to investigate and even, upon investigation, correct problems in a more concrete field. Analytic philosophy trains one in logical and epistemic rigor, disambiguation of terms, the ability to evaluate arguments, the ability to keep a variety of lines of evidence in mind at once, and a focus on arguments rather than persons. Perhaps this is why, when William Lane Craig suggests that aspiring apologists get a credential, a degree in philosophy is one of his main suggestions.

Now for a bit of old history: Having already established ourselves in classical epistemology, Tim and I first came fully to the attention of the apologetics community after a friend asked us, about fourteen years ago, to respond to an argument in Warranted Christian Belief in which Alvin Plantinga took on Richard Swinburne and tried to claim that the historical evidentialist argument for Jesus' resurrection was subject to a devastating technical rebuttal. At a conference in 2004 where Tim presented the first version of the response (that version written by him, with input from me), Richard Swinburne was personally present and warmly, publicly endorsed the work. Eventually Philosophia Christi hosted an exchange between Tim and me (co-writing) and Plantinga in which we refuted his "argument from dwindling probabilities." Already very concerned with the empirical details, we argued that he had not done nearly enough work to support the lackluster, off-the-cuff probability estimates he made concerning the strength of the case for the resurrection. Beyond that, we showed (and repeated the point in our later article on the resurrection) that Plantinga had committed an elementary probabilistic blunder, mistaking the prior probability of theism and the resurrection for their posterior probability.

It was likely as a result of that symposium, published in 2006, that William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland asked us to contribute the argument on the resurrection to the Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, generously making a huge amount of space available in the volume for the article. (Draft version available here.) In no way did Craig or Moreland think that Tim and I were unqualified to write that piece because our work and previous publications were in philosophy rather than in biblical studies.

Let me emphasize here that the Blackwell article on the resurrection defies narrow disciplinary categories. We were expressly told at the time of writing that we were not simply supposed to analyze the form of the argument for the resurrection; we were supposed to make the argument for the resurrection. We certainly use probability theory and philosophy, but we use them in the service of modeling and making a particular, concrete, historical case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In the course of doing so, we make statements concerning the historicity of the New Testament and the content of the disciples' testimony. As I noted here after a quotation from that piece was recently brought to my attention, at that time we overestimated the extent of scholarly consensus with the facts we used, but a benefit of that one-sentence error was a stronger argument than we would have had if we had restricted ourselves to the consensus permitted by scholarly hyper-skepticism; we have since then done extensive work defending the facts we used in that article. In no way was the Blackwell article solely a philosophy article; if you considered us qualified to write that piece and have admired our work in apologetics since then, you are in no position now to say that you have merely admired our work "in our own field" (meaning philosophy as sharply distinct from New Testament). Indeed, it is of the very nature of apologetics and philosophy of religion that they are interdisciplinary, and the Blackwell article showed this quite well.

After the Blackwell article was published, Tim went on to develop a speaking ministry in apologetics, speaking in venues all over the country and making available extensive information on the authorship of the gospels, answers to alleged contradictions, the reliability of Acts, and more. (His two-part 2015 debate with Bart Ehrman on the Unbelievable show is here and here. My followup, directly concerning New Testament studies, is available here and here and gives additional information that didn't come out in the debate.) In 2014, Tim received a Templeton Grant for three years to study Special Divine Action. His extensive knowledge spans several centuries of arguments for Christianity, with a special emphasis on the New Testament and arguments for the resurrection, and the grant both recognized the learning he already possessed and gave him the opportunity to extend that learning. See the Library of Historical Apologetics, with many downloadable old books.

As a result of Tim's work and passionate desire to bring back from past generations what we have lost in the defense of the faith, I became aware of and fell in love with the argument for the reliability of the Gospels and Acts from undesigned coincidences. In 2017 I published Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, with a foreword by Craig Keener and 5 1/2 pages full of endorsements. Several of the New Testament scholars who endorsed the book were the same scholars whom Licona considers to be endorsers of his own work--these include Keener, Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, and even Craig A. Evans. I do not list these scholars to say at all that they agree with everything I wrote, much less everything I would say about the New Testament. The point is that they did not consider my book beneath notice or beneath endorsing because it is in the field of New Testament and my formal credentials are not.

At no time in this entire time period of over a decade did anyone evaluating our work, inviting Tim to speak, inviting us to conferences, asking us to write articles, or following our work in apologetics and the defense of Jesus' resurrection state that we were not qualified to do that work because we were merely philosophers rather than having degrees or publications in New Testament studies.

It is only now, when we have ventured to criticize New Testament scholars, though we have continued on the same trajectory that we have followed all along in our positive arguments, that those we have criticized and/or their followers suddenly insinuate that a philosopher is unqualified to speak on these matters and/or undeserving of an answer to concrete arguments. In my case, this insinuation is partly assisted by the fact that I do not have an academic teaching position, making it easier for Dr. Licona to "disappear" my hefty publication record--a record that many a tenured philosopher would be happy to have--and to imply quite falsely and insultingly that I am merely some "blogger on the Internet." Anyone who does not find my CV and who finds out that I am in fact a blogger and also a home schooling, stay-at-home mother, might be confused by his dismissiveness and his rhetoric. But since he has taken a stand on the need for a credential in one of a highly specific set of fields (emphatically not philosophy), his criticisms apply to Tim as well and indeed to anyone who ventures to take a stand, especially a controversial stand, on the subject of NT studies with "merely" credentials in analytic philosophy.

Having established the fact that philosophy has been and should continue to be considered a legitimate disciplinary background for this sort of work, I would like to list just some of my professional philosophy publications that are particularly relevant. This is not even close to a list of all of my philosophy publications; in particular, I'm not including here several publications related to the intersection of probability theory with Intelligent Design and/or the fine-tuning argument nor many of my publications in theory of knowledge generally, such as our book in metaepistemology. See my CV for the whole list of accepted publications to date. In addition to my own publications, listed on the CV, I have also reviewed professional articles for a variety of fairly prestigious journals, including Erkenntnis, Philosophy of Science, and Synthese.

Let me add that most journal publications in analytic philosophy, especially those in highly-ranked journals, have to run the gauntlet of an extremely rigorous and very slow process of double-blind peer review before they are accepted. Reviewers are often highly critical and even sometimes hostile, encouraged by journals to reject articles because of their overload of submissions. Very often two reviewers have to concur in acceptance, and an article can be rejected in the case of a tie, though some editors will send the article to a tie-breaking reviewer. It requires hard, patient, demanding, rigorous work, not to mention a thick skin, to publish in this field.


With Timothy McGrew:

“On the Historical Argument: A Rejoinder to Plantinga,” With Timothy McGrew, Philosophia Christi 8 (2006):23-38.

Discussed above.

“Foundationalism, Probability, and Mutual Support,” With Timothy McGrew, Erkenntnis 68 (2008):55-77.

This highly technical, complex article, published in a prestigious journal after the full process of blind peer review, takes some of the insights we gained through our response to Plantinga and applies them in epistemology more generally, showing how mutual support is properly modeled within a foundationalist schema. I can remember beginning work on the approach that would eventually develop into this article on an airplane on the way home from Biola in 2004, where Tim presented the initial version of the response to Plantinga. This approach to mutual support is relevant in many places, including the philosophy of religion, where many independent lines of evidence for the existence of God can be thought of as mutually supporting one another, though without violating the requirement for foundational bases.

“The Argument from Miracles: A Cumulative Case for the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), pp. 593-662. Preprint version (posted with publisher's permission) here.

Discussed above.

"The Reliability of Witnesses and Testimony to the Miraculous." With Timothy McGrew. In Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Jake Chandler and Victoria Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 46-63.

This article was the result of an invitation to both Tim and me to co-present at a conference on formal epistemology in the philosophy of religion in Leuven, Belgium, in 2009. In this article we map out a more nuanced way of understanding witness reliability than had been heretofore available in the literature. We use Bayes factors, arguing that these need to take into account the relationship of a witness to his surrounding circumstances as well as the nature of the subject matter. This further expounds upon and also uses the work we had done on witness testimony in our Blackwell article.

By Lydia McGrew, published alone:

"Historical Inquiry," In The Routledge Companion to Theism, ed. Victoria Harrison, Stewart Goetz, and Charles Taliaferro. (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 281-293.

This invited article addresses the relationship of historical inquiry to belief in the miraculous. In it I argue (contra New Testament scholar John Meier) that the conclusion that a miracle has occurred does not lie in some special realm outside of the purview of empirical disciplines like history and science, nor does it require (contra philosopher of science Elliott Sober) special knowledge of God's innermost thoughts.

"Tall Tales and Testimony to The Miraculous," European Journal of Analytic Philosophy. 8.2 (2012):39-55.

In this heavily peer-reviewed technical article (it had to go to a tie-breaking reviewer before acceptance), I argue against philosopher Robert Fogelin's attempt to revive a Humean objection to miracles based upon the analogy of a friend who tells tall tales. I used the concepts I was developing at this time concerning increasing dependence to show that Fogelin made a blunder when he tried to compare a friend who tells repeated tall tales to a single event (such as a miracle) that has a low prior probability.

"Probabilistic Issues Concerning Jesus of Nazareth and Messianic Death Prophecies," Philosophia Christi 15:3 (2013), pp. 311-28.

This article was written for a special issue of Phil. Christi on what the editors called "ramified natural theology," which includes not only traditional philosophical arguments of natural theology but also hands-on arguments involving more empirical matters. I argued for a high Bayes factor for the fulfillment of several messianic death prophecies in the passion and death of Jesus.

"On Not Counting the Cost: Ad Hocness and Disconfirmation," Acta Analytica 29 (2014):491-505.

This blind peer-reviewed article gives and argues for a unique definition of ad hocness, the subject of a very large philosophical literature. Ad hocness is particularly relevant in historical inquiry, biblical studies, and the arguments for miracles. My research in ad hocness has been quite helpful to me in my later work in New Testament studies.

“Evidential Diversity and the Negation of H: A Probabilistic Account of the Value of Varied Evidence,” Ergo 3:10 (2016), Open access. Available here.

This blind peer-reviewed article argues for a previously unknown theory on the well-trodden subject of the special value of diverse evidence. Philosophers of science have written a great deal on this subject. My work in this area has been especially important to me in my New Testament studies work, as I have found that NT scholars frequently make mistakes specifically about the subject of what makes for independent multiple attestation. That is precisely the subject of this professional research. 

“Accounting for Dependence: Relative Consilience as a Correction Factor in Cumulative Case Arguments,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 95:3 (2017), 560-572.

This blind peer-reviewed article, written around the same time as the previously listed piece but accepted and published later, develops a measure of coherence and its component parts that are used to evaluate the relevant kind of independence for increasing confirmation. The issue is particularly relevant for evaluating testimony and historical documents. The measure that I develop here can be used to model the force of undesigned coincidences.

“Bayes’ Theorem,” entry in Dictionary of Christianity and Science. Edited by Paul Copan and Trevor Longman III. Zondervan, 2017.

This invited short dictionary article shows a variety of way in which Bayesian inference is relevant in arguments for Christianity.

“Of Generic Gods and Generic Men: The Limits of Armchair Philosophy of Religion.” Accepted as of December 2017 in The Journal of Analytic Theism.

This blind peer-reviewed article, currently accepted and forthcoming, argues against Thomas Crisp, who attempted to revive something akin to Plantinga's Principle of Dwindling Probabilities against the historical argument for the resurrection.

I'll jump back in time to mention one other article, in this case "published on the Internet," whose status is therefore a little difficult to describe. "What Grandma Can't Know" was written for and presented at the previously mentioned 2004 conference at Biola. It criticizes Alvin Plantinga's entire approach to religious epistemology. I was told by Plantinga himself via e-mail in 2009 that he, so far from dismissing and ignoring a critique "published on the Internet" by someone without a formal credential in the field, actually had a group read and discuss the article from my web site. He said "last year we read and discussed," by which I assume he meant a class of his, but he might have meant a reading group. (Our 2006 book, published by Routledge, also focused on Plantinga's Reformed epistemology.) Once I realized that this article was probably getting more attention by being on the Internet and hence readily and freely available for Plantinga and others to use than by being published in a book or journal, I left it there and did not attempt to publish it in another venue.

None of this public work, nor the rest of it on the CV, shows the extensive correspondence on issues in apologetics, philosophy, probability theory, and New Testament studies, and the intersection of all of these, that I have been carrying on for years. Nor does it represent the younger philosophers, some of them Tim's students, whom I have mentored and helped with their technical work.

If anyone is well qualified to learn a second field by self-study and to demonstrate that new learning by way of high-quality content, wherever it happens to be published, it is an established, highly credentialed analytic philosopher who already learned that difficult field by personal hard work without formal training, who has proven herself in that field by many professional publications, and who has published extensively in closely related and interdisciplinary areas relevant to the second field. Having a husband who is one of the foremost scholars in the world on the history of ideas concerning miracles and the Bible and who loves to share his knowledge is also helpful, to say the least. My "pure" New Testament work speaks for itself, and the arguments I make deserve  to be considered on their merits, not on the basis of what degrees I have and do not have nor even on the basis of where they have been housed or published.

I have pointed out repeatedly the kinds of mistakes that New Testament scholars make that an analytic philosopher with a specialty in dependence and witness testimony is particularly well qualified to spot. My study of New Testament has allowed me to see these problems, many of which I have written about or spoken about in webinars. I can document instances of all of these. These include the following:

--Anti-inductive confusion in the use of the criteriological approach
--Outright mistakes concerning independence in alleging "multiple attestation."
--The fallacy of equivocation on multiple terms and a related refusal to make and maintain crucial distinctions; confusing term redefinition.
--Blatant violations of considerations of simplicity by leaping over simpler explanations common in our known experience to Byzantine explanations. (As Tim says in his lecture, when you see hoof prints, think horses, not zebras.)
--Acceptance of complex literary theories on the basis of no evidence besides the fact that a scholar thought of them. (Failure even to begin to satisfy burden of proof.)
--Probabilistic non sequitur: inability to see that a fact does not support a conclusion at all and/or supports it only extremely weakly
--Carelessness about basic relevant facts, asserted as evidence. (This was especially evident in my recent debate with Craig Evans.)

Indeed, the extreme problem that NT scholarship seems to have with credentialism itself (which is in my experience less of a problem in analytic philosophy) shows that some disciplines are more resistant than others to such anti-intellectual arguments from authority, more willing to stick to arguments and evidence. Popular fallacies do not cease to be fallacious when well-known scholars, from any discipline, engage in them.

At this point, it is appropriate for those who care about the truth of these matters to investigate them on the ground, including reading my work, rather than dismissing my work on the basis of credentialism. Please see the links at the beginning of this article for some places to start.

Thanks for your patience to anyone who reads this post and who is not pressing credentialism. I hope that readers of good will find the information here useful to counter those who are doing so.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Evans-McGrew debate--podcast and analysis

A week ago today the podcast came out of my debate with Craig A. Evans on the reliability of the portrait of Jesus in John's Gospel.

The debate podcast itself is here.

A helpful reader (thank you, Sean) has put up a transcript, here. (I have not yet read the transcript to check for typos or other errors, which are hopefully small.)

My three posts analyzing the debate are here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Full transcript of Craig A. Evans's 2012 comments on the ahistoricity of John

I have just published at What's Wrong With the World a transcript of Craig A. Evans's comments in 2012 concerning both the ahistoricity of the "I am" statements in John and of John's gospel more broadly. These are pertinent now for a couple of reasons. First, Evans has never simultaneously admitted what he said in 2012 and stated that he has changed his mind. Second, Mike Licona has made repeated statements, including in the podcasts recently with Tim Stratton, that indicate that he is inclined (though not fully decided) to adopt Evans's 2012 position concerning the ahistoricity of Jesus' unique claims to deity in the Gospel of John. Licona confusingly calls this a "paraphrase," but in fact the theory in question is a much more radical claim of ahistoricity concerning these sayings, including "I and the Father are one," as Licona's own arguments on their behalf makes clear. Third, the Unbelievable radio show will soon be releasing a podcast of a dialogue in April of this year between me and Dr. Evans on the historicity of John's Gospel, and this transcript provides background for that podcast.

I have provided not only a transcript but also time-stamped links to the video, which is available in full at Bart Ehrman's youtube channel. I strongly encourage anyone interested who has any doubts to please watch the context, as the context makes it utterly clear what Evans is saying.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bible difficulties, Matthew editing Mark, and witness testimony

The fact that Mark, in Mark 6, does not even purport to give Jesus' words but rather that the narrator expressly summarizes Jesus' instructions to his disciples when sending them out and that Matthew actually does give an appearance of direct quotation is some evidence that Matthew is not merely "editing Mark" at this point. The hypothesis of eyewitness testimony absolutely does make a difference to what possibilities are on the table. While it is not impossible that Matthew was merely putting into direct quotation what Mark puts in indirect quotation, we also need to get rid of rigid redaction-critical assumptions that, if an incident is both in Mark and Matthew, Matthew is merely getting his information from Mark. Again and again Matthew may well be adding information, based upon memory, that Mark did not have. In this case, a well-known Bible difficulty concerns the fact that Mark summarizes (in the voice of the narrator) that Jesus said not to take anything except a staff, whereas Matthew says not to "take," inter alia, a staff. 

But as has been noted by old-style inerrantists for a very long time, the Greek word in Matthew is "acquire." Since Matthew may actually have been a disciple, he may actually have remembered that Jesus said not to acquire these items rather than that they were to discard a staff they already had. Luke, who may at this point indeed have been dependent upon both Mark and Matthew, combines the two (using the appearance of direct quotation) by using the general word "take" from Mark and listing a staff, as in Matthew, as one of the things that they were not to "take." But Matthew's more precise use of "acquire" can help us to understand Luke's approximate quotation at this point better as well.

This is not to say that Matthew's quotation is absolutely verbatim, word-for-word, as a tape recorder, either. But it is to say that his use of "acquire" is helpful and may well indicate what an eyewitness remembered more specifically that Jesus said, especially since Mark does not even give the appearance of quoting Jesus directly.

We must take more seriously the hypothesis of eyewitness testimony giving us additional insight into actual events. Again and again, critical scholars ignore this hypothesis, to the detriment of our understanding of Jesus' words and actions. It is overly restrictive to be constantly insisting to the laity that in any such case they must simply accept that Matthew and Luke "edited Mark," as though the hypothesis of additional witness testimony is simply off the table as a useful explanation of what we have. While it is certainly true that witnesses do moderately paraphrase what they have heard and witnessed, that is not all that they do. They also remember additional information. The word "acquire" in Matthew is part of what we observe. The possibility of separate witness testimony to Jesus' use of such a term is a perfectly plausible explanation.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Undesigned Coincidences vs. Literary Device Theory on Bellator Christi

I had the privilege yesterday to be on the Bellator Christi podcast with Brian Chilton discussing the contrast between the view of the Gospels supported by undesigned coincidences and that of the "literary device" theorists.

The link to the podcast is here. It was great fun being on the show and bringing these various strands together. These really are very different views of what kind of documents the Gospels are. I say this not because I start from an unargued assumption that the Gospels are artless, historical reportage but rather because this is what I find the Gospels to be upon investigation. Undesigned coincidences are just one portion of that argument. Brian was an excellent host, and we had a great conversation.

The podcast is a good introduction generally to undesigned coincidences, and the first good-sized segment of the show is devoted to that positive argument.

Brian introduced the discussion by mentioning the fact that the apologetics community is divided concerning the merit of the literary device theories. Brian mentioned that Tim Stratton has recently hosted a series of conversations with Michael Licona about his (Dr. Licona's) views and suggested that listeners give both sides a hearing.

Naturally, this doesn't mean that I was giving a point-by-point response to what Dr. Licona said in those interviews. For my detailed response to Dr. Licona's actual views, which he has not rebutted or confronted, please see the wrap-up post here of my series and browse from there to posts as your interest and time allow.

One point that I did want to reply to, though, is a completely incorrect characterization that Dr. Licona has made of the views that I (and Esteemed Husband, see here) are criticizing--those of himself, Craig Evans, and Dan Wallace, for example. At minute 23 and following here, in one of the interviews with Tim Stratton, Dr. Licona states that none of these evangelical scholars "who have become targets" (as he puts it) are saying that Jesus did not say the things reported in the Gospels but rather only suggesting that Jesus may not have used those words. They are, he says, saying that some of the reports in the Gospels might be a "loose paraphrase."

This is just false, and even a quick look at my wrap-up post will give examples to the contrary. I do reply in part to that point in this interview with Rev. Chilton. Please listen to the entire podcast, but that portion begins at about minute 31 in the podcast, here. I would like to add here to what I said in the podcast that these examples are also not even "loose paraphrases." Jesus' saying, "I thirst" is not even a "loose paraphrase" of "My God, why have you forsaken me." And so forth.

Read the rest, cross-posted, at W4.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book giveaway for Hidden in Plain View

Enter to win by sharing a new lecture by Tim McGrew.

Tim has a new lecture called "Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?" delivered last month at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The video is now available.

Until April 30 we are holding no less than two book giveaway drawings, one for Facebook and on for Twitter, to promote shares of this new lecture by Tim, discussing alleged "literary devices" in the Gospels. By sharing or retweeting, you get the chance to enter a drawing for a free, signed copy of my book Hidden in Plain View. The link in question will also take people to a portal where they can click through to my post series on the same topic.

Here's what you do to enter: On Facebook, get this link and do a unique share of the link.

On Twitter, Retweet this link and follow to be entered.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Blessed Easter!

I Corinthians 15
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.
28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
29 Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
30 And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?
[snip]
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Luke 24
32 And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
33 And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,
34 Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.
35 And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.
36 And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
40 And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet.
41 And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat?
42 And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb.
43 And he took it, and did eat before them.

Easter post here on the importance of the historical, bodily resurrection at What's Wrong With the World.

Blessed Easter!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What if the Gospels are bio-pics?

The "literary device" theory that I have written so much about in the past year holds that it was culturally accepted for the gospel authors to alter facts for either literary or theological purposes. Suggestions to this effect range from altering who said what within a scene to changing the year in which the cleansing of the Temple occurred by a full three years to inventing entire incidents.

At times the debate on whether this is a problem can become mired in the ethics of it: Would it be morally wrong for the Gospel authors to do this?

My brief answer is "Yes, it certainly would be." But I'm concerned that another point, perhaps equally important, not be lost sight of.

Those advocating the "literary device" theory will attempt to deflect any ethical judgement against the Gospel authors on the grounds that this was socially accepted, so it was not morally wrong, since everyone sort of tacitly understood that at any given moment an author of a so-called "bios" might be doing such a thing. In this respect, they will say, the Gospels are like movies that are based on true events. Nobody thinks that it is morally wrong for someone to make a bio-pic or a partially fictional movie, because it's just understood that it might be partially fictionalized. The makers of Chariots of Fire are not lying because they crafted a scene in which Jennie, the sister of runner Eric Liddell, expresses concern that he is too devoted to his running and that this may be taking away from his commitment to God. I have heard that the real Jennie, who was still alive when the movie was made, was a little unhappy that she had been portrayed in this way, since no such conversation ever took place. But oh, well, many would say: We all ought to know better than to take everything in a movie to be non-fictional. In other words, non-naive people just know to put a question mark over most things in a dramatized, partially fictionalized bio-pic, and that's why its makers aren't doing something ethically wrong.

But there is now an epistemic problem. What if the only source we had about that period in the life of Eric Liddell were Chariots of Fire? What if we knew that it was partially fictionalized, that its makers had "taken liberties" with what happened, but we didn't know how far that had gone? What if we had no way to check out the specifics?

Perhaps the most we could then conclude would be that Eric Liddell existed, that he probably won some major Olympic victory (maybe a gold medal, though that might have been "transferred" from a silver medal--you never know), that he lived approximately in the period after WWI, that he was deeply religious, and that there may have been some kind of perceived conflict between his religious scruples and his athletic competition. In the movie it is that he would not run on Sunday. And in real life, we can check out the fact that that was true in real life. But suppose we couldn't check it out, but we knew that the movie was fictionalized. Then we'd have only a vague thought that maybe Liddell was asked to run at such a time or in such a way that he perceived it as conflicting with his religion. Or heck, maybe the conflict was something quite different (diet?).

It would be extremely difficult to be confident about anything much, and even in that previous paragraph I am, to no small extent, making up as I go along what we could be confident about and what we couldn't, and how qualified the whole thing would have to be. After all, bio-pics can vary pretty widely in how much liberty they take.

So if the Gospels were like bio-pics, this would mean that from a factual point of view they are not good sources for the life and teachings of Jesus. To no small extent we would be guessing as far as trying to figure out just how "big picture" we would have to go before getting to the far more minimal historical facts that we could glean from them. There would be a great deal we could not know, as the redactive fog descends.

Now, that would be a pretty big deal, especially since we're being asked (if we're Christians) to be ready to die for Jesus and to commit ourselves to a variety of creedal propositions, even if we just restrict ourselves to so-called "Mere Christianity."

The Gospels are our primary source documents for the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus. We don't have other sources in which we can look things up to separate fact from fiction if the Gospels are like bio-pics.

So it would be a pretty radical thing to decide that the Gospels are like bio-pics. I therefore propose that people try to examine the arguments that are given for this type of liberty that the Gospel authors supposedly had. Do those arguments hold up? I've argued at length that they do not.

Please do this instead of spending your time arguing that it wouldn't matter anyway. And please don't distract yourself into arguing that it wouldn't matter because it "wouldn't be unethical." Whether it would be unethical or not, since it would greatly reduce the amount that we can know with any degree of justification about Jesus, we need to figure out whether the Gospels are accurately characterized in this way.

It is astonishing to me, and somewhat disheartening, that it is this hard to get people even to look through the telescope. It seems to me that those spending endless amounts of energy (e.g., on Facebook) arguing that this would be no big deal are apparently determined to let go or let slide the thesis that this is what the Gospels are like. Hey, if it's no big deal, why should we bother finding out if it's true or not?

Wouldn't your time be better spent trying to find out if it's true or not? And at a minimum, wouldn't it be better epistemically if the Gospels, as historical sources, are not like bio-pics, are more reliable than that? So let's try to figure that out. Because there is no good reason to think that they are. See the series.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"I thirst"

As we go into Holy Week, this song is especially meaningful.

It strikes me that perhaps the last time I shared it I didn't even know that the historicity of Jesus' words "I thirst" had been called into question by so-called "evangelical" scholars. What a sad thing that is.

Our Lord not only suffered all of the agony of crucifixion but also expressed physical agony. And the great wonder of it all is that he, who was the king of creation, who made the rivers and the seas, suffered thirst for you and for me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"We Would See Jesus"

This was one of those hymns I kept passing up in the hymnal, thinking, "I don't know that one." Well, it was time to get to know it. It's beautiful, partly because of the Mendelssohn tune. The tune is "Songs Without Words" opus 30, #3.

The words...Well, they were written when hymn lyrics were hymn lyrics. Fun fact: Anna Bartlett Warner, who wrote these lyrics, also wrote the words to "Jesus Loves Me." More verses here. Performance here.

1. We would see Jesus, for the shadows lengthen
Across this little landscape of our life;
We would see Jesus, our weak faith to strengthen
For the last weariness, the final strife.

2. We would see Jesus, the great rock foundation
Whereon our feet were set with sov’reign grace;
Nor life nor death, with all their agitation,
Can thence remove us, if we see His face.

3. We would see Jesus: sense is all too binding,
And heaven appears too dim, too far away;
We would see Thee, Thyself our hearts reminding
What Thou hast suffered, our great debt to pay.

4. We would see Jesus: this is all we’re needing;
Strength, joy, and willingness come with the sight;
We would see Jesus, dying, risen, pleading;
Then welcome day, and farewell mortal night.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Transcript and commentary: The "I am" statements, again

Regular readers will remember the dust-up last fall in which I discussed the fact that ostensibly evangelical scholar Craig A. Evans had agreed with skeptic Bart Ehrman, strongly implying that Jesus never uttered the "I am" statements or "I and the Father are one" in an historically recognizable fashion. Instead, he said, these were "he is" declarations of the "Johannine community."

At that time, NT scholar Michael Licona rather surprisingly jumped to Evans's defense, going on at some length to bolster and stand up for his views. When I (quite understandably) concluded that Licona shared those views, Licona accused me of misrepresentation, claiming that he, personally, is agnostic on the historicity of these sayings in John and merely was explaining what "many scholars" think on the subject. However, it was apparently sufficiently important to explain and defend what these "many scholars" think that he did so repeatedly and at some length, adding a great deal to what Evans had said. Exchanges on the topic from that time can be followed here and here.

On February 21, 2018, Dr. Licona debated Bart Ehrman on the question of the reliability of the Gospels. There is much that I could say about this debate, the most notable point of which is that, frankly, Dr. Licona didn't really defend the reliability of the Gospels. One of the more painful portions is the place beginning around 1:46 and in the minutes following where Licona insists that Luke knowingly, and contrary to fact, places the first meeting between Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem, even though it really took place in Galilee (minute 1:47), but that this is nonetheless "accurate" because Licona dubs Luke's deliberate fictionalization on this factual point a "compositional device." Ehrman is (predictably) merciless. Ehrman: "The appearance was in Galilee but Luke says it was in Jerusalem, and you think that that's accurate?"

If that's the case, one wonders what becomes of Doubting Thomas? (Recall that Licona casts some doubt on the historicity of the Doubting Thomas sequence in the book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?, p. 178, but doesn't quite conclude there that it is ahistorical.) Given Licona's relative confidence now (according to his statements in this debate) that the first meeting between Jesus and his disciples really took place in Galilee, where does that leave the Thomas sequence? Did the other disciples send a message from Galilee down to Thomas, who was still hanging around dubiously in Jerusalem, that they had seen Jesus? What happened next? Moreover, since the meeting that Licona is now saying is the true first meeting, as recorded in Matthew 28:16ff, uses the phrase "the eleven" for the number of central male disciples present, and since Licona has already insisted in his book that this must be a counting noun rather than a generic term for the group, this would also (on Licona's interpretation that this was the first meeting) seem once again to contradict the Doubting Thomas sequence. One wonders if Licona has thought of this, or if it is a matter of any concern to him.

In this post I chiefly want to transcribe and discuss Licona's answer to Ehrman's argument from silence concerning Jesus' comparatively more explicit claims to deity (such as "Before Abraham was, I am" and "I and the Father are one") in the Gospel of John. In his usual bullying fashion, Ehrman goes on about this at some length around from 1:14 and following, trying to make it sound like John is in opposition to the synoptics concerning the deity of Christ and as though it is just too incredible that Jesus could have made these statements historically without their being mentioned in the synoptic Gospels. It is sheer sleight of hand and should be called out as such, but it is difficult for most people just to stand up to Ehrman when he does this kind of thing.

A questioner in the Q & A reminds Licona of that portion of Ehrman's discussion. Licona thanks the questioner for reminding him, since he had not responded to it in his first rebuttal. He then goes on a tour of alleged places in the Gospel of Mark that imply Jesus' deity by Jesus' actions. Some of them are solid, such as the claim to the divine prerogative to forgive sins in Mark 2. Others are highly dubious as claims to deity. These include Jesus' claim in Mark 3:27 to be able to bind Satan, which isn't a claim to deity at all. It is of course a claim to represent the one true God, who is stronger than Satan. But the archangel Michael can bind and cast down Satan, per the Book of Revelation, though he is a created being.

Anyway, there is nothing at all wrong with challenging Bart's implication that the synoptics don't give the faintest hint that Jesus is God. That is Bart's typical exaggeration, and it's fine to call it out.

But Licona, who is getting set up to call the historicity of Jesus' unique claims in John "irrelevant" (!), exaggerates the strength of the case for Jesus' deity from the Gospel of Mark alone. He continues by calling into question the historicity of the unique statements in John:
2:08:15

So what Mark does is he gives us a literary portrait of Jesus, of Jesus claiming to be God through his deeds. Whereas what I think in John’s gospel, and virtually every single Johannine scholar will say, that John is giving us a paraphrase. He’s taking Jesus’ stuff and he’s restating it in Johannine idiom. And many will say that John takes what Jesus would have said and done implicitly and he restates it in an explicit manner. So did Jesus actually make some of these divine claims explicitly, word-for-word, like he does in John? Who knows? But whether he did or not is irrelevant. He still made claims through his actions and the things that he did that came to the same thing.
The first point I want to note here is the increasing difficulty Licona should have in plausibly denying that he is expressing his own view that the statements in John are not recognizably historical. Here he actually says, "Whereas what I think in John's gospel..." then shifts mid-sentence to "virtually every single Johannine scholar," then to "many will say" and finally to "Who knows?" But he started out with "Whereas what I think in John's gospel..." in contrast to the apparently historical events just recounted from Mark.

If this is what he thinks, then this is what he thinks, and he should be willing to admit it rather than being unclear.

Next, the apparent implication that "virtually every single Johannine scholar" denies the literal, recognizable historicity of the unique deity sayings in John is fairly hyperbolic and dubious. It is certainly false if we include the "democracy of the dead." It is questionable even if applied to evangelical scholars living today.

But perhaps Mike meant to do what he does elsewhere, which is to make some extremely strong statement such as "virtually every Johannine scholar says" that John "adapted Jesus' sayings"--a statement so vague as to be nearly contentless--and then to use that broad claim as a jumping-off point for some more specific claim concerning ahistoricity in the Gospel of John. Thus "virtually every Johannine scholar" ends up being an unwitting endorser of some specific claim concerning John's allegedly altering facts. He does this, in fact, with the very point at issue (the historicity of the unique deity claims in John) in this post. There, he moves from a statement by Craig Keener that all "Johannine scholars acknowledge Johannine adaptation of the Jesus tradition" to John's alleged "adaptation" in the form of completely making up the more explicit claims to deity in John in contrast to this, a conclusion (wrongly) inferred from the synoptics: "Jesus spoke of His identity implicitly, even in terms that were somewhat cryptic" rather than anything "nearly as overt as we find in John."

We don't actually know that virtually every Johannine scholar, much less "all" such scholars, believe that John did that. Even if they did, of course, this is a fairly blatant argument from authority in the worst of senses and a poor argument. Popularity, especially popularity among the living alone, has always been a terrible test of truth. And the same applies to "many scholars," with which Licona continues.

The next point I want to note is the abuse of the term "paraphrase." If, as discussed by Licona elsewhere, all that Jesus said and did concerning his deity is the kind of implication that we find in the synoptic Gospels, if the scenes surrounding John 8:58 and John 10:31 and the shocking statements by Jesus in those verses never took place in any recognizable form, and if John wrote the scenes as they occur in his Gospel anyway, knowing that they never took place historically in a recognizable fashion, this is not paraphrase. It is not remotely like paraphrase. It is fiction, pure and simple. It might or might not be fiction based on theological truth as taught by Jesus in some other fashion. But that does not make it a paraphrase. To use "paraphrase" in this way is the sheerest word kidnapping, and it needs to be called out sharply and unequivocally.

The next point to which I want to draw attention is the straw man technique of suddenly talking about whether or not Jesus uttered these sayings "word-for-word." That is not the question, and Licona must know that it is not the question. If Jesus said, "I and the Father are a unity" rather than "I and the Father are one," or if he spoke in Aramaic and we have a good translation into Greek, or if he said, "Before Abraham was living in Canaan, I am," etc., and if the dialogue and the attempted stoning took place recognizably as recounted in John, that would still be a direct denial of what Ehrman is saying--that the events did not take place historically. Those who disagree with Ehrman on this point and who are willing to take him on head-to-head, rather than conceding his denial of historicity, do not have to hold that Jesus' words and the dialogue leading up to them is precisely, exactly, word-for-word as we have it. That is a blatant straw man representation of anyone on the "conservative" side who would not concede what Licona is conceding. It is meant to make it sound as though Licona (and/or the "many scholars" whose view he is putting forward) are not actually denying historicity in any important sense that deserves scrutiny, when in fact they are.

Finally, there is the blatantly false statement that the historicity of these fairly explicit statements in John is "irrelevant" and that the claims Licona has laid out from Mark "come to the same thing." This is completely incorrect from an epistemic point of view. You simply cannot make implicit claims equivalent to explicit claims, or even nearly explicit claims. The latter are always going to have epistemic vectors that the former don't have. It can never be epistemically irrelevant whether or not Jesus claimed, so clearly that he was nearly stoned, to be the "I am" of the Old Testament and whether he said (again, so clearly that the Jews tried to stone him) that he was one with Yahweh. To try to get away with brushing off the importance of the question, as Licona does, is just breathtaking. I have no doubt that Dr. Licona has convinced himself of what he says about the "irrelevance" of the historicity of these statements in John, but it is certainly untrue, and Christians need to reject it decisively. I fear that the reason some are not doing so is, quite simply, that they are afraid that they cannot defend the historicity of John.

Making false epistemic claims merely gives us false comfort. Let us, as knowledgeable and informed Christians, instead admit the importance of John's Gospel and then defend it vigorously, with reasons and evidence. But it appears that we will have to do so without the help of Dr. Evans and Dr. Licona and perhaps others. If so, be it so. Greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world, Bart Ehrman included. (I John 4:4)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why do I write in response to Dr. Licona's ideas?

There is a strange talking point that I'm seeing amongst Dr. Licona's supporters, and I have a little trouble getting a handle on it. But it amounts more or less to saying that they cannot understand why I am writing so much in response to his book, because "his ideas" were already advocated by other evangelical scholars previously, so why am I focusing on his work in particular? See also here.

It seems like there may be some hint in all of this, though usually unstated, that I must have some personal vendetta against Dr. Licona or else I wouldn't write so much about his work.

This meme comes up so often that I gather that somewhere folks sit around and say it to one another over and over again, until they think it is some kind of deep point, and then it comes out in public forums.

This really puzzles me. To begin with, if someone is a fan of Licona's work, presumably he thinks that work is doing something. If someone values his work, then he must think it is serving some function. Licona wrote a fairly recent book and, rumor has it, he is working on new projects. (One would expect a scholar to be doing so.) Meanwhile he gives speeches and debates in which he heavily promotes the ideas from his book. His ideas are popular; they are getting a lot of buzz in the evangelical community. If you agree with his ideas, presumably you think this is having some effect. His supporters presumably don't want to say, "Nah, never mind reading Licona's work. There's nothing new there at all. Evangelicals and their leading scholars knew all of this before. It's completely redundant." I'm sure that isn't what they think.

But in that case, if one disagrees with the ideas (as I do), and if one thinks they are seriously harmful to our view of the Gospels, then presumably one thinks it is not a good thing that they are being popularized and promoted so heavily in the wake of Licona's book and that they are becoming so widely accepted. Right? So then presumably one thinks it is worthwhile to write and argue against them.

Even if various scholars have said some of the same things Licona is saying now (I'll return to that below), it is sociologically unusual to have a book by an evangelical scholar that so consistently and systematically promotes fictionalization in the Gospels and that attempts to popularize the concept within relatively conservative Christian circles. So someone who takes my perspective on the ideas thinks that this relatively recent sociological movement within conservative Christian circles, going out to an increasingly wide audience in the apologetics community, seminaries, etc., needs to be spoken out against.

Moreover, given that I'm almost the only person doing so, it takes quite a bit of work to try to cover the bases and get the word out that there is a contrary view of the matter.

Another point: Licona’s book is also unusual in that it makes a claim to be based on specialized, original research into the culture of the time when the Gospels were written. He claims to have brought new, objective, historical research to the table. Because most people (including scholars) are not going to go and check up on this claim, it will tend to nail in place the legitimacy of fictionalization devices in the Gospels in people's minds. The idea will be that this has just been discovered, that we just know this now about the cultural background of the Gospels. Again, presumably that is the effect Licona himself is aiming for. Why wouldn't it be? That's what he sincerely believes. In his book (p. 201) he tells people that they need to take on his view like "new glasses" and get used to it despite "initial discomfort."

That, too, needs to be answered, and once again, I'm pretty much the only person doing that. I don't know of a single other person who has gone back and looked up as many of Licona's putative Plutarch examples and other examples from Roman history, nor who has written about such examples at length, showing that they do not stand up to scrutiny. (By the way, it takes so long to write up Plutarch examples that I could fit only a few into that post. If you have a specific example that you are interested in, feel free to write me personally at lydiamcgrew [at] gmail.com and ask about it.) Once again, you can't have it both ways: You can't claim that Licona is doing special, new, helpful scholarship on the Gospels based on Greco-Roman literature but then tell someone who disagrees with him that they shouldn't be writing about him in particular, because Licona is just repeating things that others have previously said anyway.

Now, about this idea that "other people" have agreed with Licona's ideas. This takes a variety of different forms, and they need to be distinguished.

1) There is confusion about different uses of terms like "compression" and "telescoping." See my first bad habit of New Testament scholars in my talk, here. Not every scholar who says that a Gospel author "telescoped" is talking about a fictionalizing device. Licona is unusual in that he is fairly consistently promoting an unequivocally fictionalizing set of concepts that go by such names ("telescoping" or "compression" or "not narrating chronologically"), though he occasionally speaks unclearly as well. So some scholars who might be said to be "saying the same thing" are not actually saying the same thing.

2) There is promotion of Licona's work, with or without careful examination of all its details. But if another scholar (such as William Lane Craig, for example) has been influenced by Licona's work and has made endorsing remarks in the past several years, then that makes it all the more relevant to go back to the influencing source and to show that it doesn't stand up to examination.

3) There are a handful of fairly popular fictionalizations that have worked their way into the evangelical community and have become standardized. I probably don't have a complete list, but they at least include the allegation that John moved the Temple cleansing and that Luke tried to make it look like Jesus ascended on Easter Day. These are badly wrong, and their popularity is highly unfortunate. I am by no means unaware of their popularity, including their endorsement by authors such as Dr. Keener (Temple cleansing movement) and Dr. Craig (both of these examples) whom I respect, and if anyone thinks I was unaware, please take this for a clear, public acknowledgement. I would love to have a chance to convince them otherwise. (I'm glad to be able to add that someone like Dr. Craig has so much other incredibly valuable work that his endorsement of these views of these passages is not central to his work, as of course it is to Licona's.)

Licona's work places these unfortunate lapses by evangelical scholars into an alleged historical context that will (to repeat) make it even harder for people (both the other scholars and those who learn these ideas from them) to realize that they are incorrect. His work also promotes and systematizes a mindset according to which fictionalizations on the part of Gospel authors were frequent and expected. Nobody else who falls into his perceived ideological niche is doing that right now. He also goes much farther than these few popular and accepted fictionalizations, and I strongly suspect that some who have promoted his work do not know about all of his ideas and would not endorse all of them by any means if they knew of all of them that are out there. My post series shows how he does so. His work will therefore take these few popular examples and use them as a wedge that will cause many to think that they should accept a much, much longer list, including even more radical examples, of frequent, broad fictionalizations by the Gospel authors.

The evangelical community needs to go back and reconsider those popular examples. Licona's work attempts to move them in exactly the wrong direction into even more acceptance of fictionalization than is already popular, and this is yet another reason why it is highly relevant to respond to it.

It is simply sloppy thinking to use a phrase like "Other people have said these same things" without specifying which same things and how many of the same things. That is an illicit attempt to use well-known and respected names to bolster Licona's views. We need to make distinctions.

4) Behind closed doors at various scholarly meetings, particularly the SBL and also to some degree the ETS, the "guild" of evangelical scholars, especially those who view themselves in a congratulatory fashion as less "rigid" than the old-style inerrantists, do tend to affirm one another in views that include Licona's among them as not (yet) the most radical. This is why Licona could rhetorically position himself as somewhat of a moderate when Craig A. Evans agreed with Bart Ehrman that Jesus probably never uttered the "I am" statements (or "I and the Father are one") in an historically recognizable form. Licona said that he "wouldn't go as far as" Evans did, though he declared himself agnostic on the matter and spent quite a number of pixels in various places giving arguments for Evans's views! ("This is why scholars think..." "By no means would this mean that the Gospels are unreliable..." Etc.)

This interaction of the guild is also borne out in the fact that a couple of Licona's more...interesting theories in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? were not original with him but rather came from Dan B. Wallace. It was, according to Licona (which I have verified) Wallace who originally suggested that Jesus never literally said either "I thirst" or "It is finished" but that these were John's "redactions" of prima facie completely different historical sayings.

So it is true that Licona is being influenced here by other people as well as influencing them. Obviously, groups of scholars influence each other. But here, too, Licona's recent work is unusual in that it is more open, more publicly promoted, more systematic, and more popular than the work of these other people. Indeed, it is quite difficult to get hold of a copy of Dan Wallace's paper in which he promoted those views about the words from the cross. I have a copy, sent to me upon request by Wallace himself, but only with the caveat that I must not publish the paper on "social media." I can state that he does take the positions Licona attributes to him, but this is just because Licona had already published that fact in his own book (pp. 165-166), so I'm not telling anybody anything that wasn't already out there. As can be imagined, there is more in Wallace's paper. It isn't just about those two sayings. But Wallace is refusing to publish it.

Similarly, a lot of people had not even seen the video clip of Craig Evans agreeing with Bart Ehrman about the "I am" statements. So Licona is promoting a certain view of and attitude toward the Gospels to an extent that these other scholars are not and to an audience that they are not reaching.

Moreover, as a round table like this one shows, Licona is a part of the whole mix and is promoting his ideas to other scholars as well as to pastors and laymen. So he is a kind of bridge between the two worlds--the "inner circles" of evangelical scholarship and the popular apologists and laymen. Within the evangelical scholarly world, he continues to press on those like Craig Blomberg and Darrell Bock and others, who have (in some ways) better instincts than he does about interpreting Scripture, to try to get them to agree with his views.

All that being said, I absolutely do not shy away for a moment from criticizing a wide swathe of evangelical New Testament scholars for their views when I think they are wrong. I am puzzled and to some extent frustrated by the "meme" to which I'm responding in this post, because of all the people writing in these areas right now, I'm one of the few who is saying most emphatically that the entire discipline, including its evangelical wing, has (in my view) major problems and needs to make a course correction.

There was a pretty large kerfuffle about what Craig A. Evans said about the "I am" statements last fall, both on Facebook (on the wall of Jonathan McLatchie) and on my blog. Originally attention was focused on Evans. He was the one sitting on a stage agreeing with Bart Ehrman about the "I am" statements. I was rather surprised when Licona decided to defend Evans. What more am I (or is anyone else) supposed to do? Pronounce unpleasant ritualistic curses on other scholars in order to prove to Licona's supporters that we realize that he is not alone in his misguided ideas? Would that do? Believe me, I know it well. He does quite deliberately put so many misguided things all in one place, though, that responding to him is, ipso facto, often responding to others as well.

I don't know whether this weird complaint should even be replied to or not. Scholarship is scholarship. When you write a book, you should expect to receive disagreement as well as agreement. Nobody who supports your book should be out there asking, "Why are you criticizing him?" Because he wrote a currently influential book, and because I think it's badly wrong, and because nobody else is writing a systematic critique. It's scholarship, and scholars answer scholars. That's what we do. I certainly hope no one would ever defend Hidden in Plain View, or me, in such a bizarre way. If some other scholar decides to go systematically through Hidden in Plain View and try to say that it's all badly misguided, I would of course disagree with him, but I hope that no one who supports me would be out there telling him that he shouldn't do it because I'm not the only person in the world ever to promote undesigned coincidences. That would just be strange. I bill myself as doing new and exciting scholarship, so of course I should expect that someone who thinks it is all wrong would focus on me. Why wouldn't they?

This all seems so obvious that it should not need to be said. But if you happen to run in apologetics circles and see this meme going around, feel free to link to this post or use its arguments as they seem most relevant. And for those promoting the meme, please consider how silly it looks. Try instead grappling directly with my arguments on the substantive issues.