Monday, July 20, 2020

New Licona series: Methodological Missteps and Literary logical lacunae

This post responds chiefly to this video by Dr. Michael Licona, supposedly detailing Lydia McGrew's Methodological Missteps. My associated response video is here.

Dr. Licona's video is, like others in his series, a trove of targets for refutation, including some important misunderstandings of my own views. As always, the most relevant response is found in work I have already done in The Mirror or the Mask: Liberating the Gospels from Literary Devices. Please see also the next post for a discussion of Origen, the church fathers, and harmonization, which I've decided to post separately.

Reliability and literary device views

What sort of authors were the evangelists? What sort of books are the Gospels? Were the evangelists scrupulous historical authors who did their very best to tell us what happened accurately, or were they authors who considered themselves licensed to change or make up at least the details of their accounts, and sometimes more? In The Mirror or the Mask (aka TMOM), I’ve argued for the former as part of what I call the reportage model of the Gospels. Many people find it fairly obvious that these two views of the Gospels and their authors are in tension with each other and that evidence for one is evidence against the other.

It would be logically possible to make up an implausible type of author who writes one sentence with historical accuracy, carefully describing what he has good evidence for, and in the next sentence decides to invent a detail in the same story out of his own head. But is that probable? Shouldn’t we look for a more coherent type of author and type of document? Interestingly, in his video, Licona quotes me from TMOM about this problem of the psychologically incoherent author but has no refutation of the point.

In the video on my so-called Methodological Missteps, Dr. Licona attempts to reassure his viewers that they can affirm that the Gospel authors wrote in a genre where they felt free to change or make up at least the details of their accounts while also affirming that they are historically reliable in some important sense. This seems very odd. On the face of it, it looks like trying to have one's cake and eat it too.

As a probability theorist, I work constantly with questions of the relevance between different views. The intuition that Licona’s literary device view and the view of the Gospel authors as careful reporters are in tension can be given a fairly precise probabilistic modeling, but we can also see it in commonsense terms. Suppose that you were introduced to someone and told, by someone else whom you trusted, that your new acquaintance considered himself free to alter the dates when things happened, sometimes even by several years. How would that affect your confidence in his statements about when things happened? Obviously, it would make it much lower. And would you expect to find those statements confirmed elsewhere? Not really. He probably isn't making up all the dates, so some of them might be right and might be confirmed, but it would be somewhat of a surprise if you found them confirmed. And since you would have no way of knowing ahead of time when he would change dates and when he wouldn’t, just listening to him would give you very little information about when things happened. The view of this person as scrupulous about dates and the view of him as thinking he is licensed to change dates would be in severe tension.

As we’ve seen, the compositional device views that Licona has suggested as plausible candidates include changes of date, adding fabricated details, moving events geographically (which necessarily affects the events in other ways), making up whole sayings like “I thirst,” and even at times “crafting” entire scenes, such as Jesus’ meeting with Mary Magdalene in the Garden or a “doublet” incident of Jesus healing the blind. These are supposed to be illustrations of the freedom and flexibility the Gospel authors believed they had in their genre to shape their narratives. If the authors thought they had freedom to craft those, then those are the kinds of things we should take lightly. That, after all, is how we would act as informed audience members approaching a movie based on true events. We would take them with a grain of salt. We would know that some of them might be the same as the historical facts while some of them might be different, and we wouldn’t be able to tell which were which. So, we’d watch the movie more for entertainment than for information on those types of points, and we’d try to look it up elsewhere, in something that had a different genre, if we got interested in sorting out the literal details of the events.

Notice that this creates a dilemma for the literary device theorists. Their genre claim, which of course I contest, absolves the Gospel authors from the charge of being deceptive at the cost of making them unreliable. After all, there's a reason why we don't turn to movies based on true events for accurate information about those events. We don't treat them as original or highly reliable historical sources. This is precisely because we know, approaching them, that they could feel free to alter events in quite a few ways while presenting this realistically. That's why we are not deceived by them. If the original audience really did know that the Gospel authors could invisibly, unpredictably make such changes, then the way for them to avoid being deceived would be not to believe too much from the documents! In other words, they would need to lower their expectations appropriately in order to avoid believing too much, believing too many propositions that were not really accurate about what happened. But this just is, in practice, treating the Gospels as unreliable. The literary device theorists can try to absolve the authors of deception by a genre claim about literary flexibility or they can try to claim that the documents are highly reliable and accurate, but not both.

Undesigned coincidences and literary device views

Dr. Licona and others will say that we can still have historical confidence in “big picture” events in the Gospels even with the knowledge that these changes were probable. We may seriously question that, and I'll discuss that more in the next section. But suppose for the moment that we confine ourselves to supposed "details," such as when, where, and how some very broadly-described event happened. Details matter, and moreover, they are the foundation of the argument for Gospel reliability based upon undesigned coincidences.

Undesigned coincidences confirm specifics of stories (both in secular and in biblical stories) by a puzzle-like but apparently casual fitting between them.
Details are important. Details are an important part of how accounts are confirmed. What if one thought that the disciples did not actually bicker on the night of Jesus' betrayal and that Luke moved that event from an earlier time? Licona has suggested this change himself (Why Are There Differences, pp. 141-142). That would make a difference to how one spoke about the Last Supper. For example, Jesus' act of washing the disciples' feet could not then be related to that squabble on that night, though otherwise that is a very plausible idea. There are actually a couple of interesting undesigned coincidences connecting Jesus' acts and words on that night as reported in Luke historically with the foot washing. But as with the hypothetical new acquaintance I mentioned earlier, so here: Even if you "just" thought that the Gospel authors felt free to move around the timing of their events, quite deliberately trying to make it look like things happened when they did not happen, this would obviously make a big difference to how seriously one could take such indications of timing, even the most explicit, in the Gospels. It is condescending to tell Christians and pastors that they should not care about details in the Gospels, that they should just shrug them off and be willing to live without confidence in them as long as some generic "big picture" event happened. And it makes a significant evidential difference.

Licona suggests that I am motivated by “fear” that his compositional device views will undermine undesigned coincidences. He goes back and forth to some extent on the question of whether there is any grounds for seeing a tension. First he speaks as if I am just wrong to imply that there is a severe probabilistic tension between the literary device view of the Gospels and the view supported by undesigned coincidences, as if this is just my “black and white thinking,” a phrase of which he is quite fond. Then he suggests that I might be motivated by “fear” because I am so dedicated to undesigned coincidences. Then he develops a highly gerrymandered and arbitrary suggestion about how one undesigned coincidence allegedly still goes through despite the literary device views (a suggestion I’ll return to below). Hence, my alleged personal “fears” for my favorite argument are unfounded. But then he acknowledges that perhaps in some cases a belief in compositional devices would undermine one's acceptance of undesigned coincidences. Indeed, I have pointed out in TMOM, Chapter XI, several cases where Licona himself ignores undesigned coincidences in specific passages because he places a high prior probability on the fabrication or alteration of portions of the narrative. 

It's noteworthy that last August Licona did a podcast (beginning around minute 13) in which he said some very negative things about undesigned coincidences among the Synoptic Gospels, even implying that those who allege UCs between the Synoptics simply do not understand the Synoptic problem. I have pointed out in a previous post Licona's rigid thinking concerning literary dependence and factual dependence in the Synoptics, and in fact his concerns in the podcast were already anticipated in Hidden in Plain View, and the discussion of Synoptic issues in TMOM made it even clearer that the notion of a general conflict between a neutral two-source hypothesis and undesigned coincidences is just wrong. In any event, when explaining the Synoptic problem to his listeners last August, Licona dismissed all or virtually all UCs among the Synoptics, though he does not mention that in his more recent video.

All of this amounts to quite a hodge-podge when it comes to what Licona has to say about how his view intersects with undesigned coincidences. His overall rhetorical message in the video presently under consideration seems to be, "If you like your undesigned coincidences, you can keep your undesigned coincidences."

On my own part, this is certainly not a matter of fear but of probabilities, which are a specialty of mine. It is simply a fact that the proposition “The Gospel authors were highly reliable reporters and not the sort of authors who fabricated either stories or details in their documents” is probabilistically negatively relevant to the proposition, “The Gospel authors were writing their documents in a genre such that they considered themselves licensed to fabricate details.”

Probabilistically, both my husband Tim and I have provided over the years a cumulatively massive body of evidence for the first of these, which therefore greatly disconfirms the second. TMOM participates in that project, providing much positive evidence for the full reliability of the Gospels, including on details. Precisely because all of this evidence confirms the reportage model of the Gospels, it is the literary device model that is disconfirmed overall.

I do frequently point out the probabilistic tension between these models of the Gospels to those who would like to have it both ways, to pick and choose undesigned coincidences when they happen to feel attracted to them and then to switch over to an acceptance of Licona’s or Evans’s literary device views in some select group of cases when they happen to be attracted to those. While, of course, still claiming that they affirm the reliability of the Gospels! This is not a reasonable or probabilistically coherent position. Again, Licona never even deals with the sheer psychological implausibility of such a picture of the authors, who at one moment are scrupulous reporters and the next moment are playing fast and loose with, say, the year of the Temple cleansing, the location and context of Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples, how long Jesus was on earth after his resurrection (one day vs. forty), and many more.  

If you want to develop a rational, coherent, and probabilistically well-supported theory of the nature and reliability of the Gospels, you need to recognize what is negatively relevant to what. And if you think that the argument from undesigned coincidences is a strong one and works in a wide variety of cases across the Gospels, you should realize that that is negatively relevant to the literary device views and should look for other ways to deal with places where you don’t like harmonization. Or who knows? Perhaps you should even reconsider harmonizations you abandoned before. Maybe they aren’t so bad after all.

Here's just one example of many of how this tension plays out in Licona's own work: In an interview in 2019, Licona suggested that the evangelist might have added the green grass as a rhetorical flourish to make the reader feel like he was there in the scene. (He made a small error in thinking that John is the evangelist who mentions the color of the grass. In fact, it's Mark, but that is not my emphasis here.) In John, who doesn’t mention the green color of the grass, we find the information that the feeding took place around the time of Passover, when the grass would indeed have been green after the rains. This is evidence that Mark is reporting historically, probably based on the memories of Peter, not inserting an embellished detail. This is an undesigned coincidence between the time of year casually mentioned in John and the grass color casually mentioned in Mark. Licona's idea that it's plausible that Mark invented the green grass would lead us, of course, to expect it not to be confirmed, since that detail would not be correlated to reality. If it did end up being the right time of year for green grass, that would be just a pointless coincidence, not a coming-together as a result of the fact that both Mark and John are reporting reality. Yet, in fact, we do have this confirmation that the green grass comes from reality, not from the evangelist's imaginative embellishment as a bit of rhetorical flair. So the view of Mark's reportage that is confirmed by the UC is in direct tension with the literary device view. The confirmation of Mark's factual accuracy is disconfirmation of the suggestion that he felt free to add that detail without factual warrant to make the scene more vivid.

There is one undesigned coincidence that Licona likes. This one happens to be between John and Luke. In Luke, the religious leaders accuse Jesus of making himself a king, which would be regarded as a serious crime by the Romans. Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In Luke, Jesus does not deny it and even seems to be affirming it, but Pilate goes out and tells the crowd that he finds no cause of guilt in Jesus. This doesn’t seem to make sense until we look at John. In John’s Gospel, which gives more information about the conversation, Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. Pilate apparently finds it believable that Jesus is a harmless religious leader, and that’s why he says that he finds no guilt in Jesus.

Licona suggests in his video that one can keep this UC, which he endorses, by saying that John didn’t make up that part of the dialogue where Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. But Licona simultaneously indicates that the literary device views could cause us to "speculate" that John did make up the place in the same dialogue where Jesus says, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Licona hastens to say that he isn't definitely saying that John actually made this bit up, but he quite clearly gives it as an illustration of the kind of elaboration of the dialogue that could well arise from John's use of literary devices, aka the flexibility of his genre. Licona compares this saying to other places in John where Jesus says things like, “My sheep hear my voice” and suggests that John might have been adding that phrase because he believed it would be an "appropriate occasion" for "reminding his readers" of Jesus' other teaching. He says that this is a case where "there is not enough data for the historian to verify that Jesus uttered those words." But don't worry about the undesigned coincidence, because we can just say that John didn’t make up the part about how Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world! 

If that seems arbitrary to you, that’s because it is arbitrary. Just looking at John, both of these sayings of Jesus--"My kingdom is not of this world" and "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice"--are details of the dialogue. Both of them are aspects of what Jesus said. Neither one is the “big picture”--which we might characterize as, “Jesus had a dialogue with Pilate and Pilate decided that Jesus was not a threat.” Just looking at John, there is no independent reason for thinking that one of these was invented and the other wasn’t.

Notice here the lack of any holistic view of John's work as an author, even within a particular scene. Not only does Licona not seem to recognize that we can verify the reliability of an author based on evidence from a given set of facts and then apply that to other scenes in that Gospel. He apparently thinks that we cannot even apply evidence about an author's knowledge and goals from one sentence to another within the same scene! So the fact that he likes this one UC (undesigned coincidence) and therefore thinks that, "My kingdom is not of this world" is somewhat confirmed by the UC apparently has no carry-over even to another nearby sentence within the same dialogue. When it comes to that separate sentence, he says that historians do not have enough data to tell if Jesus uttered it or not! This chops up a document literally sentence-by-sentence and applies historical agnosticism anew to each separate sentence within a scene even when other evidence shows us that the author had access to true information about that scene and recorded it accurately. This is a major methodological misstep.

Certainly the fact that Jesus refers elsewhere in John to hearing his voice is a terrible reason to "speculate" that the reference in John 18:37 to hearing Jesus' voice is made up. Why would that make you think that maybe John made up that part of the dialogue? For one thing, if you think John made up sayings, maybe John made up, “My sheep hear my voice” in John 10. And if Jesus did historically say, “My sheep hear my voice,” then that’s evidence that Jesus really talked that way--about people hearing his voice. So if anything, that evidence about how Jesus spoke and what images he used is some evidence that John didn’t make up Jesus’ saying, “Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” This speculation takes what should be evidence that John really knew how Jesus talked and turns it on its head!

Suppose that we were to put in place a (really bad) methodological principle that some saying is plausibly invented if it seems to echo a theme that Jesus taught elsewhere, because then it might be an evangelist's elaboration based upon something the evangelist had heard Jesus teach elsewhere. That's a terrible principle, but we can apply even that to show how arbitrary it is to suggest that John made up, "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice" as opposed to, "My kingdom is not of this world." In Mark 12:17 (echoed in the other Synoptic Gospels) we find that Jesus taught, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." Matthew 5:10 says that Jesus taught, "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And Matthew 5:39 says that Jesus taught that you should not resist evil but should turn the other cheek. Such teachings about meekness, non-violence, submission to Caesar, and the idea that Jesus' kingdom is the kingdom of heaven could have formed the basis for John to make up, "My kingdom is not of this world," especially since it continues with the theme of non-violence, "If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

See how easy this is to do? There is absolutely nothing independent about "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice" that makes it an objective, independent candidate for a Johannine elaboration more than, "My kingdom is not of this world." But if we think it is plausible that John elaborated this dialogue in such a way, then that picture of how John wrote his Gospel significantly undermines the force of the undesigned coincidence with the scene as told in Luke.

Licona’s suggestion that John just didn't happen to make up the part of the dialogue confirmed by the UC, even though he might have made up a nearby sentence, is what philosophers call an ad hoc hypothesis. It is in fact a blatantly ad hoc hypothesis. Because he endorses this undesigned coincidence, and because he is assuring listeners that they can accept the evidence of undesigned coincidences and his literary device views, Licona gerrymanders. This is not a probabilistically reasonable position. In fact, as a probability theorist, I’ve modeled undesigned coincidences, and I can tell you this: An important part of the value of the UC comes from the notion that, if a witness or author told the truth about the big picture, that gives us some reason to think that he was careful about the little things as well, not inventing them. If we think he was positively likely to tell the truth about the big incident but invent the little things (which is exactly what the literary device views say), that significantly undercuts the value of the UC.

So if you do recognize the force of these arguments for the Gospels from undesigned coincidences, you should recognize that this is evidence for the reportage model: The Gospel authors were careful reporters about all kinds of things, including the little things. Of course, the literary devices call into question big things as well as little things, as I’ve shown. But even when they call into question “details” like the green grass, or the night on which Jesus’s disciples were bickering, or Jesus telling Pilate that everyone who is of the truth hears his voice, we have evidence that this is not what the authors were like. And that’s good news! Let’s hold onto that good news and not trade it in for the literary fog of fact-changing literary devices.

Just little details, really?

It is Licona's apparently settled principle in these videos to avoid reporting his own and others' more eyebrow-raising theories that fall under the umbrella of compositional devices. This is a constant throughout the video series. You could watch the entire series and never hear that Licona thinks that John invented, "I thirst" and "It is finished" (Why Are There Differences, p. 166), that John invented Jesus' breathing on his disciples in John 20 (Ibid., p. 181), or that Luke moved the first appearance of Jesus to Jerusalem from Galilee. Note, too, as I have noted often, that the last of these would involve changing the entire surrounding circumstances of the appearance to a group recounted in Luke, eliminating what otherwise appears to be a separate appearance from that in Matthew 28, and in essence requires that Luke creates a scene in which Jesus appears in Jerusalem indoors and unexpectedly. And it would make it very hard to accommodate the doubting Thomas sequence, which John places firmly in Jerusalem prior to the disciples' trip to Galilee. Just to call this "moving" an appearance is confusing. You would never guess that Licona says that either Matthew or John "relocated" the appearance to Mary Magdalene (Why Are There Differences, pp. 175-176), which (again) would involve changing the entire circumstances and in John would involve creating an entire, detailed, made-up scene between Jesus and Mary. You would never know that both Craig Keener and Licona have suggested that the healing of two blind men in Matthew 9 may be a "doublet"--that is, a made-up, extra healing that never separately took place from the healing in Matthew 20 in Jericho (Ibid., p. 135, 244 n. 49, Keener, Commentary on Matthew, p. 282, 306-307, Christobiography, pp. 317-318). You would never know that Craig Evans has said that the "I am" sayings with predicates are the creation of the Johannine community and that Jesus didn't recognizably utter other sayings about his deity, nor that Licona, while saying vaguely that he wouldn't go as far as Evans, has nonetheless defended Evans's views of John's Gospel as merely being that John "paraphrased" Jesus' words or that we might be reading an "adapted version" of the stories about Jesus in the Gospel of John. 

I don't imagine that I am alone in thinking that most if not all of these constitute an alteration in the big picture and that several of them even constitute inventing incidents.

Despite all of this, Licona looks firmly into the camera and declares with reassuring sternness, "There was a limit" to what ancient biographers were allowed to do.

Based on the actual scope of these conjectured devices, we would be well-justified in replying equally firmly, "Well then, that's not very limited."

In fact, Licona's treatment of the Doubting Thomas incident is interesting in reference to this reassuring claim that "there was a limit" on what was allowed in Greco-Roman biography. In Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? p. 177, Licona conjectures that perhaps John "crafted the second appearance in order to rebuke those who, like Thomas, heard about Jesus’s resurrection and failed to believe." This would mean that John made up the entire set of Doubting Thomas scenes--that Thomas was not there on the first occasion, doubted, and that Jesus appeared a second time (both in Jerusalem) and showed himself specifically to Thomas with the group. I hasten to add that Licona decides that it is "more probable" that Luke has conflated two appearances instead. (Based on his definition of "conflation," this would be deliberate conflation.) But, as I point out in TMOM (pp. 444-445, see note 21), Licona's argument for thinking that it was Luke who conflated instead is confused, being based apparently on a reason for rejecting one proposed harmonization rather than for rejecting the suggestion that John invented Doubting Thomas. John's doing this would certainly amount to inventing an incident and changing the essence of an important story, unless one shifts one's definitions of those ideas at will to accommodate literally anything. Licona treats these two theories as "finalists" in his chapter summary as well (Why Are There Differences, p. 182). In TMOM I emphasize that treating theories as plausible finalists says something in and of itself about methodology and estimation of reliability, and I note that at no point does Licona suggest that John's general reliability is an argument for firmly rejecting the idea that he invented Doubting Thomas.

A similar point is worth stressing concerning the supposed "limits" of historical fabrication by authors of Greco-Roman bioi. In his discussion of this sequence, Licona does not even speak of John's reliability in relation to the reliability of his supposed genre. Yet the supposed genre of the Gospels constantly functions in Licona's discussions to support his claim that the Gospel authors have historical flexibility. This is a fascinating reflection. It seems that the genre is almost unbounded in its capacity to license change but isn't getting used as a limit. If we are to be assured by the supposed genre of the Gospels that "there was a limit" to what sort of fabrication might take place, this would seem to be an obvious place to bring this up--when raising, as apparently worthy of serious consideration, the idea that John made such a significant invention of a scene. But there is not the slightest sign that that consideration is functioning in Licona's decision that it "seems more probable in this instance that Luke has conflated."

Licona suggests that an invention by Plutarch concerning a conversation between one of the conspirators who killed Julius Caesar and Marc Antony exemplifies the most "radical" suggestions concerning fabrication in ancient literature. This is not really just a small detail. Classicist Christopher Pelling's suggestion (which Pelling calls "fabrication of a context") does amount to what could readily be called incident invention. But beyond that, Licona either is unaware of or just does not mention the following fact about a yet more radical suggestion about the Gospels, allegedly based on Greco-Roman biography: In the very anthology to which Licona alludes on ancient biography and the Gospels, written by (among others) Craig Keener's doctoral students, one of those students (Youngju Kwon) follows a classicist's suggestion that Plutarch invented a (short) incident in the childhood of the general Coriolanus (who lived long before Plutarch). Kwon then extrapolates this to Matthew's and Luke's infancy and childhood stories of Jesus:
This statement invites us to explore the possibility that Matthew and Luke felt the freedom to add extended accounts of Jesus’s early life due to the conventions of ancient biography. Given that ancient biographers commonly use the accounts of a hero’s birth and youth as a means of revealing his or her character, it is a reasonable inference that Matthew and Luke, the more literary-conscious evangelists, decided to add the accounts of Jesus’ early life in their writings. (Biographies and Jesus, pp. 73-74, emphasis added)
So much for the reassuring limits of fictionalization in the genre of Greco-Roman biography.

Chronology, narration, and my real positions

One of the most important distinctions that I have made in discussing chronology (time ordering) and the Gospels is the distinction between achronological narration and dyschronological narration. Achronological narration corresponds, very briefly, to narrating without intending to specify a chronology (such as an ordering or a length of time). Dyschronological narration refers to narrating with the intention of indicating either an ordering or the amount of time while believing that what one is implying or stating is contrary to fact. (See TMOM, Chapter II, section 1.)

As I discussed in this post, very often Licona will equivocate between these, especially when it comes to compression. Achronological compression would be narrating briefly and without detail; this might accidentally give the impression that something took less time than it really took. Dyschronological compression would be deliberately trying to make it look like something took less time than you believe it really took. As discussed in TMOM and elsewhere, at the end of Luke 24, I think that Luke is (from about vs. 44 onward) engaging in achronological compression, whereas Licona and William Lane Craig think he is engaging in dyschronological compression, trying to "put" all of the events onto Easter Sunday. (See the discussion of Luke 24 in this post, for example.)

Licona repeatedly brings up compression as if it is one of the special compositional devices that he and I disagree about, but as I've noted before, he is unclear about this. It makes me look unreasonable if I am taken to imply that nobody ever summarizes events or leaves out details. But it is only dyschronological compression that I question. In fact, it's interesting often to ask why an author would be trying to make something look like it took less time if the goal of brevity is just as readily satisfied by narrating briefly without the intent of giving a contrary-to-fact impression.

In the video on supposed "methodological missteps," Licona misconstrues and hence misrepresents my view of dyschronological narration. He says that he is not fond of my distinction because (he alleges) it means that I do not recognize that authors can imply things like chronology more and less strongly. Here is exactly what he says, accompanied by his somewhat unprofessional visual trick (which I haven't mentioned before) of switching the film to black and white while talking about my views:
I'm not fond of McGrew's distinctions because they do not recognize nuances. In fact, the failure to consider implied chronology that varied in strength is yet another instance of McGrew's black and white thinking. For her, even if the timing of an event is strongly implied but not explicitly stated, it's achronological. Therefore in some cases, the possible tension between the accounts cannot be recognized. But the way people communicate is not always with black and white clarity.

Now note closely what the accusation is: The accusation is that I have an intellectual problem because I am not able to recognize implied chronology that varies in strength and because I treat chronology as achronology even if it is strongly implied, unless it is stated explicitly. He says, "For her, even if the timing of an event is strongly implied but not explicitly stated, it's achronological. Therefore in some cases, the possible tension between the accounts cannot be recognized." Bear that in mind and read on.

Where does Licona get that idea? Apparently he thinks that I am defining dyschronological narration to be explicit chronological narration that is contrary to fact. He apparently thinks that this means that I'm overlooking the possibility that an author strongly implies a chronology that is not factually correct.

But actually, this is a misrepresentation, and a rather important one, since Licona uses it to argue that I do not recognize nuance in narration. I have never, ever said that dyschronological narration is defined as (inter alia) explicit statement of chronology. Instead, this is what I said:

I will be using the term “achronological” for narration that does not have a chronology stated or implied, as intended by the author. I will use “dyschronological” for narration that does imply or state a chronology that the author believes is different from what happened in the real world. 

This couldn't be much clearer, could it? Notice the words "implied" and“imply” there and "as intended by the author." The difference between what I call achronological and dyschronological narration lies in the intention of the author. Is the author trying to give the impression that things happened in a different order or took a different period of time from the time that the author believes was the real time period?

In fact, it would have made no sense for me to have defined dyschronological narration to be only explicit chronology, since one major purpose of these definitions is to provide precise terminology for discussing views I disagree with, and many of these proposals involve a claim of implied dyschronological narration. For example, if John "displaced" the day of Jesus' crucifixion, this was implied, and very subtly implied at that. I don't think that John did so, of course. But the view I disagree with is that he did, and it obviously falls into my category of a theory of dyschronological narration. Licona calls this "synthetic chronological placement" and recognizes that it corresponds to my dyschronological narration. That in itself shows that I'm including implied chronology (contrary to fact) under that header. Otherwise, I couldn't even use my own label for one of its main purposes--to categorize and describe clearly the views I'm disagreeing with.

Licona confuses an epistemological matter with an ontological matter. We might indeed be best justified in believing that an author is narrating something about a time ordering from what he explicitly says. (Even then we wouldn’t by that alone be able to say that he believed that this timing was different from reality. It would be a further step to ask whether he thought honestly that the time he narrated was correct. Perhaps he was right and someone else was wrong. Or perhaps he made an honest mistake.) But the fact that explicit statement of chronology constitutes (usually) the strongest evidence of how an author is narrating about time does not mean that that is included by definition in dyschronological narration as I define it.

In fact, even an implication of chronology that appeared to be weak (as far as our epistemological perception) would be dyschronological narration if the author meant it to indicate something contrary to fact. How we would learn that (if the implication in the text were weak) is another question. But the point is that explicitness and implicitness are related to how we come to conclude something about the author's chronological intentions. They are not part of the definition of what he is trying to do.

I do argue that in a great many cases both in the Gospels and in Plutarch Licona and Pelling (in interpreting Plutarch) are much too hasty to think that an author is implying a chronology when achronological narration is a very plausible option. Licona severely neglects the plausibility of achronological narration in his practice and does not always clearly maintain the distinction between narrating without a chronology (stated or implied) and changing chronology. In fact, the neglect of that distinction has caused a lot of confusion in NT scholarship, with modern scholars sometimes talking past one another. But all of that is quite different from my saying or thinking that by definition an author is not narrating incorrectly about chronology (either as a compositional device or under an honest misimpression) unless the author states chronology explicitly.

One could even argue that the failure to consider achronological narration or error is itself a kind of "lack of nuance" or "black and white thinking"--namely, the assumption that if an author appears to be implying a chronology, he must be doing so deliberately and then jumping from there to a deliberate time change. In making those jumps, the interpreter does not properly consider that we may have been mistaken in our first impression about what the author meant to imply. Jumping to that conclusion also neglects the fact that people do make mistakes. We should be willing to reconsider our first interpretation in light of further information, such as an apparent discrepancy with another account. These are surely "nuances" in interpretation that deserve consideration.

Strangely, Dr. Licona has tried to defend his misconstrual of my views on chronology as a natural one in a subsequent PDF on Risen Jesus, swiftly written up after a Facebook post of mine pointed out that he had misinterpreted my use of the terms. While he acknowledges that he didn't read carefully enough and missed what I said explicitly, right in my definitions, on p. 18, he then tries to say that this misconstrual was a result of the fact that this nuance plays no role in my actual analyses of particular passages! This is completely off-base, especially when it comes to the case of the foot anointing. Licona says that, "Although her chronological terms include nuance, nuance appears to have played no part in her use of the terms in relation to her assessment of the woman anointing Jesus."

In fact, contra Licona, I explicitly state that I do think that Mark is implying a particular day on which Jesus’ feet were anointed in Passion Week, though Mark doesn’t give the day order at that point explicitly and though others (such as Craig Blomberg) think it fairly plausible that Mark may be narrating achronologically. (TMOM, Chapter XIV, section 6, p. 390ff) This is a direct counterexample to Licona’s claim that I do not recognize that authors can imply things about chronology more and less strongly. It is a direct counterexample to his claim that I consider the author to be using achronological narration if he does not narrate chronological order with absolute explicitness. Because I think that Mark probably does imply a chronology here, the option of achronological narration as a harmonization is not strongly open to me. I do consider it more probable (especially on the interesting hypothesis that Mark might have been interrupted while writing, which I discuss in TMOM) than dyschronological narration, but I also recognize precisely what Licona says I don't recognize--that authors imply chronology. I both think and state at some length that Mark is implying a chronology here because the indicators seem to me fairly strong, though not fully explicit.

Here is what I say about the Markan passage in TMOM:
Ultimately, though, I am not fully convinced by the achronological suggestion. If Mark were narrating achronologically in verse 3, I would have expected him to put more content concerning Wednesday prior to that, in verses 1–2, after stating that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were two days away. Mark narrates almost nothing immediately after that careful time designation and before the dinner at Bethany and the anointing....Since Mark introduces the day in 14.1, he presumably intends to narrate some substantial events that happened on that day. Why would he make such an explicit time reference in 14.1, narrate only the decision of the Jewish leaders on that day, break off abruptly to tell about something that happened several days earlier, and then return in verse 10 to the narrative of events on Wednesday?...Mark has been indicating the days in his narrative of Passion Week from Sunday to Wednesday fairly clearly (Mark 11.11–12, 19–20, 13.1–3, 14.1). It would be surprising if he suddenly began narrating achronologically in 14.3, even as an artifact of breaking off and resuming writing. It is far simpler to take it that Mark intends all of the events at the beginning of Chapter 14 to occur on Wednesday.

For this reason, though I have presented the achronological options as worth consideration, I am inclined to think that this is an instance in which either Mark or John has simply made a minor, good-faith chronological error, and one that would be quite easy to make. (TMOM, p. 391)
Let's recall yet again what Licona said about my alleged "lack of nuance." He said, "For her, even if the timing of an event is strongly implied but not explicitly stated, it's achronological. Therefore in some cases, the possible tension between the accounts cannot be recognized." But could it be clearer that I am listing reasons why I take Mark to imply a chronology? No, it couldn't be. And does this mean that I recognize a tension between Mark and John? Yes, indeed, it does mean that! In fact, that's precisely why I think that one of them probably made a good-faith error.

In his new PDF, Licona quotes me as saying this,
The far more reasonable conclusion based on the text is that John believed that the event took place the evening before the Triumphal Entry. Whether one concludes that perhaps Mark was narrating achronologically or that one or the other author made a minor, good-faith error, fictionalization is an entirely unnecessary hypothesis. (TMOM, p. 395)
Somehow, this is supposed to mean that "nuance has played no part" in my analysis of the foot anointing. How in the world does this quotation mean that? It doesn't mean that at all. In fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not John or Mark has implied a chronology.

In light of what I wrote at some length about Mark's implying a chronology in this incident and the reasons for my thinking that, it is surprising enough that Licona asserted initially in his video that I lack the ability to recognize implied chronology, since my entire argument here, in the very book Licona claimed to be responding to, is a statement of why I think Mark is implying chronology. So not only did he miss my definition of dyschronological narration on p. 18, he also missed what I'm saying at some length in this passage.

But it is even worse that, having committed the error of misreading me in the first place, he doubles down and continues to insist that "nuance plays no role" in my use of my chronological terms in relation to this very passage--the foot anointing. The very nuance he accuses me of lacking in his original criticism is what I'm demonstrating in my analysis of this very passage, yet he now repeats that it is lacking when I discuss this passage! This is frankly inexcusable as a scholarly matter.

It almost seems that Licona thinks that I have to agree with him about the final explanation of a passage in order for him to agree that I have the interpretive nuance in question. It would be truly illegitimate to say that I have to agree that there actually is dyschronological narration in the Gospels somewhere in order for Licona just to admit that he misread my definition both of dyschronological narration and my understanding of achronological narration. It would be especially bizarre since the specific accusation was that I don't recognize that authors imply chronology. But in fact, I recognize this at some length in the discussion of the anointing. I don't have to agree that an author deliberately moved an event in order to recognize implied chronology. Deliberateness is a separate question. In this case I even agree with Licona about Mark's implying chronology.

Is the now-alleged problem that, when I list options concerning the foot anointing on p. 395, I continue to list achronological narration as an option at all? This listing does imply that I disagree with Licona's total ordering of probabilities (for achronological narration, dyschronological narration, and good-faith error) and consider achronological narration more probable than dyschronological narration. Is that supposed to mean that "nuance plays no role" in my analysis of the passage? But there is certainly no requirement for me to agree with Licona's total ordering of the probabilities of all three options in order to refute his accusation that I don't recognize implied chronology. I do so at some length when discussing Mark's narrative, and that is the very reason why I lean toward good-faith error in this case.

In fact, the claim that evangelists have narrated topically (a form of achronological narration) is a staple of evangelical commentary and comes up often in commentaries on the Gospels. If you were under the impression that this idea of achronological narration is some weirdness of Lydia's, I should correct that impression. The term is mine, but not the concept, by a long shot. If anything, I am somewhat less inclined than some other conservative evangelical commentators (maybe even less inclined than many) to allege or suggest achronological narration and somewhat more inclined to acknowledge chronological implication. This is directly contrary to Licona's portrayal of me. 

For example, as Licona acknowledges in his new PDF, Craig Blomberg thinks that Mark may be narrating achronologically concerning the foot anointing. So Blomberg gives a higher probability to achronological narration than I do and is even more resistant than I am to agreeing that Mark is implying a chronology in this passage. Shouldn't this mean, on Licona's view, that Blomberg suffers even more than I do from the dreadful fault of "black and white thinking" and that he's not able to recognize implied chronology?

I agree with the implication of Blomberg's interpretation that he considers achronological narration more probable than dyschronological narration. And given his inerrantist position, I fully understand his considering it more probable than good-faith error, but I also respectfully disagree with him about the probability of achronological narration here.

Blomberg has even suggested achronological narration as a reasonable possibility concerning the Temple cleansing in John 2. He notes (The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, p. 88) that there is no explicit time indicator at the introduction to John's account of the Temple cleansing nor one at John 3:1. (Blomberg also meticulously notes indications of chronology in John surrounding the Temple cleansing.) He seems to keep the achronological possibility open more than I do concerning John's Temple cleansing narrative.

Here, again, I agree with Licona just this far--that John is clear about placing the Temple cleansing early in Jesus' ministry. So I do not think that achronological narration is a good option there at all. At the same time, I completely disagree with literary device theorists that John "moved" the Temple cleansing. It seems to me that two Temple cleansings clearly occurred, based on the Gospel accounts. The point here is that I take John to be strongly implying a chronology to Jesus' movements in John 2 and 3, though Blomberg notes (truly enough) that no explicit chronological term is used in those chapters in a couple of potentially relevant verses.

As a matter of epistemology, the more clearly a chronology is implied, the more improbable achronological narration becomes. If the two accounts cannot be plausibly harmonized (as I think they easily can be for the Temple cleansing), this presses us toward a choice, where there is an apparent discrepancy, between good-faith error and deliberately false narration--dyschronological narration.

While I, like Blomberg and plenty of other evangelical interpreters, will consider achronological narration to be more probable than dyschronological narration in the Gospels when there is no explicit chronological ordering, this is because of epistemological considerations concerning the complexity and antecedent improbability of the dyschronological hypothesis. I've argued meticulously in TMOM that I don't think there was a known, accepted device of dyschronological narration in Greco-Roman literature. Nor would the Gospel audiences have been likely to know about one even if there were one, so they would have been confused if such a thing had been used--an additional reason not to use one even if it existed. Nor would the Gospel authors themselves have had a good reason to want to use one and thus limit their ability to convey historically accurate information about Jesus. I argue for all of this. Moreover, dyschronological narration includes not just the falsehood of the information implied but knowledge of the actual chronology and the deliberate intention on the part of the author to change the facts. It thus requires significant evidence. When one is merely inferring the author's intended chronology, one should be very open to considering that one has initially mis-inferred and that the author didn't intend that chronology after all. This is reasonable procedure. But it doesn't mean that dyschronological narration is "defined in practice" as including explicit chronology nor that one is incapable of recognizing implicit chronology. In fact, there are plenty of cases where one can recognize implicit chronology while thinking that the accounts can be harmonized. Or, if one does not think that harmonization is plausible, one might opt for a good-faith error. 

In at least the places already described (and there may be more), I think that the author probably has implied a chronology and that achronological narration is pretty improbable, while Blomberg considers it more probable than I do. Yet somehow, I don't think that Licona is going to be going out any time soon making a black-and-white-tinted video clip in which he alleges that Blomberg suffers from a lack of nuance, black-and-white thinking, and a severe inability to recognize when Gospel authors imply chronology.

D.A. Carson also thinks that Mark and Matthew are narrating achronologically on the foot anointing. In his commentary on John, p. 365, he is even rather brisk about it. Describing the difference between Matthew/Mark and John on this point, he says briefly, "The least important [difference] is the setting: in Matthew/Mark it is placed after the triumphal entry, in John it is placed before. It must be remembered, however, that the time indicators in Matthew/Mark are notoriously loose. These Evangelists often order their accounts according to topic, not chronology." Does this swift dismissal of the alleged time discrepancy mean that D. A. Carson suffers from even more of a "lack of nuance" and inability to see implications in narrative than Lydia McGrew, since I think Mark is implying a chronology on this matter?

Carson's comment here further confirms my point that suggestions of topical rather than chronological narration are common in evangelical commentary. They are  slightly less common in my conclusions.

Notice, too, that I don't have sections in TMOM concerning all of the passages that Licona discusses. This would have been nearly impossible. In his PDF, Licona implies that I have taken a position in TMOM concerning when Jesus healed a leper and whether there is or is not achronological narration in the Gospels concerning this healing. But this is another misreading. I did not take any position of my own concerning this alleged chronological discrepancy. Licona notes correctly that I quote Augustine, who took an achronological position on this alleged discrepancy. And I of course agree with Augustine in rejecting dyschronological narration. In that sense I quote Augustine approvingly. But here's what Licona doesn't explain, perhaps because he did not understand it: In the context in TMOM, I wasn't discussing the passages and stating or implying my own position on the alleged discrepancy itself at all

All that one has to do is read the passage in TMOM (pp. 234ff) order to see that I am discussing instead the question of whether or not it is historically correct to use Augustine (as Craig Keener mistakenly uses him) to support dyschronological narration. That was my purpose. I was noting that Keener misinterpreted Augustine (no doubt accidentally), taking Augustine's statement that the evangelists narrated as the Holy Spirit brought things to mind out of context. In the context Augustine rejects dyschronological narration and thus provides evidence against the idea that (as Keener appears to think when he cites Augustine) ancient readers of the Gospels accepted dyschronological narration. Since this is a rather important, unfortunate error on Keener's part and could give readers the erroneous impression that Keener has found acknowledgement of dyschronological narration in a prominent, ancient, Christian author, I spend some time on it. I'm noting (in the passage in TMOM) the way that a failure to make that distinction has created confusion, allowing evidence that shows acceptance of achronological narration to be misused as if it supports ancient acceptance of dyschronological narration. (In his videos, Licona agrees with my interpretation of Augustine.) The incident of the leper merely comes up by the way in my quotation of Augustine's discussion, which I am quoting to show Augustine's position concerning achronological and dyschronological narration. On p. 34 in TMOM I also quote Licona's own reference to alleged dyschronological narration concerning this same healing of a leper in order to illustrate clearly Licona's meaning of "displacement." Again, I do not analyze the alleged discrepancy.

In fact, I haven't examined that alleged discrepancy recently, so as of now, I have no definite opinion on the matter, though I strongly suspect that I'll be more inclined to agree with Augustine concerning the probability that someone or other is narrating achronologically. For one thing, Licona's argument in his PDF that Matthew is implying a chronology appears pretty indirect, based upon other places where Matthew says "and behold" and then trying to turn that phrase into a time indicator in Matthew. This looks quite speculative to me and weak. In contrast, D.A. Carson explicitly says, of this very verse (Commentary on Matthew, Kindle location 8139), 
The introductory kai idou (lit., “and behold”; also in Luke, absent from Mark, untranslated in NIV) does not require that this healing immediately follow the sermon. In Matthew, kai idou has a broad range, sometimes serving as a loose connective, sometimes introducing a startling thought or event, and sometimes, as here, marking the beginning of a new pericope.
So Carson disagrees quite strongly with the claim that "and behold" is a time indicator in Matthew that something happened immediately. Carson's comments here again underscore the common nature of an achronological interpretation in evangelical circles. If I suffer from an inability to recognize implied chronology through (apparently) disagreeing with Michael Licona too often about whether a chronology is or isn't implied, I seem to be in good company. I wouldn't be surprised if I agree with Carson in this particular case. By my recollection, this leper incident is part of a larger set of narrative order differences in this portion of Jesus' ministry between Matthew and Mark, and the late John Wenham (I seem to recall) suggests that it may be Mark who is narrating topically rather than chronologically in these places. His arguments and their impact on the leper healing chronology would need to be investigated as well. On the face of it, Licona's argument in his PDF about "and behold" fails to convince, and it certainly is not so knock-down that anybody who has the gall to disagree that there is a chronological discrepancy here (including others far more eminent than Lydia McGrew) is a rigid reader who doesn't make nuanced interpretations of the Gospels due to "black and white thinking."

For the record, since Licona raises this question in his PDF, of course I nowhere intend either to claim or to imply that I have given in TMOM some kind of exhaustive list of places where I think a minor, good-faith error is probable in the Gospels. Why would anyone expect me to do so? Still less would I do so in a footnote, which is where I give a partial list of what are clearly supposed to be examples (p. 52, note 2). Still less would I pause randomly to mention that I think there is a plausible point of error in a passage, such as that of the leper or that of the fig tree, that I'm not even discussing in detail in the book. I'm not even sure that I have that list in hand myself, in no small part because I (not infrequently) change my mind on particular passages, in both directions, though I am unabashedly slow to conclude that there is an error, due to my high estimate of the Gospels' reliability. I can think of specific passages that I have decided can be harmonized that, two years ago, I worried could not be. As far as I can tell, the number is quite small, and indeed the more evidence I obtain showing the high, detailed, factual reliability of the Gospel authors (which I do continue to obtain), the more I expect the list to continue to be small or even get smaller, for obvious epistemological, probabilistic reasons.

Licona raises repeatedly the issue of an implied chronology that may be incorrect concerning the order in which Jesus cleansed the Temple and cursed the fig tree during Passion Week.

Again, at no point in TMOM do I discuss the alleged discrepancies between Matthew and Mark on the chronology of Passion Week and the fig tree per se. I mention the fig tree (pp. 117-118) in the context of discussing a blog post by Craig Keener, where I am emphasizing the way that a failure to distinguish achronological from dyschronological narration creates confusion in analysis. It is Keener who brings up the fig tree and appears to be endorsing dyschronological narration but not speaking clearly. I'm also discussing the odd use of the notion of verbatim verbal reportage in this same context. I laid out what it would in fact mean if Matthew or Mark deliberately tried to give a contrary-to-fact impression about when the fig tree withered, and I note that Keener is unclear about this in his language, but I didn't discuss the details of the alleged discrepancy or the chronology of the various events. In the passage I'm also noting the oddity of Keener's suddenly referring to paraphrase and verbatim reports in this connection, since paraphrase is not even in view here but rather chronology. My point in the context concerns the way that the concept of "paraphrase" creates confusion. In his PDF, Licona again misreads me. He claims that I "treat the story of Jesus cleansing the fig tree," and says that when I "treat" this story would have been an "opportune time to tell us" if I think the differences between Matthew and Mark arise from an error. But he is just misreading my discussion on pp. 117-118. I literally just discuss what Keener says and what Keener implies in the service of my larger point in a chapter on speech reportage. This is not "treating" these alleged discrepancies. Given the complexities involved and the way that it would have taken me afield to give a measured evaluation of them, that passage would not have been an "opportune" time to do so at all.

Here is the passage from TMOM, only skipping the lengthy quotation from Keener's post:

Sometimes the connection between some degree of looseness in recording speeches and other alleged historical “flexibility” is made in a vaguer way. In a blog post about differences in Gospel accounts, Craig Keener moves rapidly from an unclear implication of dyschronological narration about the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree in Matthew or Mark to a generic reference to different ancient standards of reportage. He includes in the latter a reference to the fact that ancient writers didn’t give “anything like” a verbatim transcript of what people said. [Quote from Keener's post.] Keener’s scholarly work contains a great deal of information on the subject of recording speeches in the ancient world, though the conclusions he draws from that information are open to dispute. What is interesting about this statement in a popular post is that nowhere else in the post as a whole does Keener discuss the relaying of speeches in the Gospels. The one example discussed in the post is the cursing of the fig tree and the question of whether it withered at once or the next day—a chronological issue. Yet this discussion leads Keener directly to the mention of the recording of the spoken words. Why does a single sentence move from, “Readers in the early Roman empire expected history-writing and biography to be reliable in substance” to “not to have anything like verbatim recall of wording” in a post that isn’t at all about how accurately speech was reported? There are other relevant things that one could note about this short passage, in light of the distinctions I have made in earlier chapters. Keener implies a contradiction between Matthew and Mark concerning whether or not the fig tree withered immediately and then dismisses it with the vague statement, “Guess what? Ancient readers didn’t expect ancient biographies to be in chronological order, and moving material around was considered a matter of arrangement, not of accuracy.” Readers who have gotten this far in this book will remember that I distinguished “not narrating in chronological order” in the sense of narrating achronologically from “not narrating in chronological order” in the sense of narrating dyschronologically—changing the chronology from what it really was. If Matthew knowingly, falsely narrated that the tree withered immediately when he believed that it didn’t wither until the next day (or at least after the disciples and Jesus had left), he was narrating dyschronologically. He was not merely “moving material around.” He would have been giving the wrong impression, not merely a rough impression. Similarly, if Mark believed that the tree withered at once and that the entire conversation about faith and moving mountains happened on the same day but for some reason deliberately “made” Jesus and the disciples come back and discuss the matter the next day, then he was not merely “moving material around” with an unclear chronology. It is extremely unhelpful to blur this distinction with statements like Keener’s about the expectations of ancient readers, especially since the literary device theorists will find it much more difficult to substantiate the claim that ancient readers expected dyschronological narration and accordingly took the chronology in historical works with a grain of salt. The more relevant point for my discussion in this chapter is the oddity of introducing a mention of “verbatim transcripts” immediately after the discussion of the fig tree, as if it is relevant to the question. A reader might easily go away with the vague notion that somehow the claim that the ancients didn’t record things verbatim means that they also thought that it was okay to change chronology, because both are examples of flexibility, and the ancients had a looser and more flexible idea of historical truth and accuracy in general than we do. But that does not follow at all. (TMOM, pp. 117-118)
You can see for yourself by reading this that I'm going somewhere specific and that this is not at all billed as an analysis of the correct explanation of the alleged discrepancies between Matthew and Mark about the fig tree. You can also see how it would have interrupted the flow of what I'm actually writing in the passage to insert a digression on that topic. The passage occurs in a chapter on speeches in the ancient world and on the way that literary device theorists wrongly try to use the idea of paraphrase and also of making up speeches to infer looseness in reporting other events. It's rather striking that Licona once again misunderstands what I'm doing in a passage.

In his new PDF Licona conjectures that I think Matthew is narrating achronologically when (he admits) I don't say so. He then tries to draw some heavy conclusion about my alleged inability to see implied chronology from what he thinks I think. This is particularly illicit since, as he doesn't seem to realize, my intent in the context isn't even to talk about the alleged discrepancies themselves and probable resolutions.

Since the publication of TMOM, I've realized that this fig tree incident, with Matthew's narration of the cleansing of the Temple, has apparently become a sort of "signature" incident for literary device theorists, which they bring up pretty often. Therefore, I'll discuss it in more detail in a later post on Gospel differences. Spoiler alert: I haven't fully made up my mind between achronological narration (probably on Matthew's part) and a minor, good-faith error on the part of either Matthew or Peter, Mark's source. While there are some possible indications of achronological narration concerning the Temple cleansing in Matthew, there is also Matthew's statement that the fig tree withered immediately, which would have to be separately harmonized. This may mean that good-faith error is a simpler theory.

I certainly never say in TMOM or anywhere else that Matthew is not implying a chronology, though others appear to have thought that he isn't. (Norman Geisler, for one.) I would go so far as to agree with Licona that Matthew appears to be implying a chronology; that is by no means an unreasonable inference. Here, again, I'm actually somewhat less inclined than some evangelical interpreters have been to reach for the achronological narration explanation. Matthew may be correcting Mark here.

All of this about the fig tree is by the way. Licona quite explicitly stated in his video that I do not recognize implied chronology: "For her, even if the timing of an event is strongly implied but not explicitly stated, it's achronological." This allegation is hopelessly false and has been decisively refuted. It was already refuted by passages in TMOM, including my discussion of the foot anointing.

I urge readers to be open to the possibility that these fact-changing compositional devices are both a) a bigger deal than you might have previously realized and b) not found in the Gospels. I realize that thinking that these theories are completely wrong might seem like a stretch if you respect the authors who have endorsed them. I'm not asking anyone to accept what I am saying out of personal respect for me, just because I say so. I have offered meticulous arguments. I do ask you to give full, careful, intelligent, fair consideration to the arguments.

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