Dr. Lydia McGrew on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)

NOTE: Some readers have asked me for a transcript of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar. Unfortunately, I don’t have one, but the points she raised in her talk can be found at this link here. In her talk, Dr. McGrew was responding to an e-interview given by Michael Licona, a leading Christian apologist for the Resurrection who is an Associate Professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and who is also the author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017). In his book, Dr. Licona defended the historicity of the Gospels but endorsed the view, common among New Testament scholars, that the authors of the Gospels would have considered it perfectly legitimate to deliberately alter historical details of events, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, because back in those days, writers of biographies were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. Dr. McGrew is a conservative Christian writer but not a Biblical inerrantist. Nevertheless, she felt that by acknowledging the existence of what she terms “fictionalizing compositional devices” in the Gospels, Dr. Licona had conceded too much to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman (whom Licona debated on the reliability of the New Testament back in 2016), and that such a concession undermined his whole case for the historicity of the Resurrection. For this reason, Dr. Grew decided to respond to Dr. Licona by presenting the webinar shown below.

Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar is titled, “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars and How to Avoid Them.” Her host for the webinar was Jonathan McLatchie, an Intelligent Design proponent who is currently a PhD student in cell biology and a contributor to various apologetics websites, as well as being the founder of the Apologetics Academy. I’m happy to report that Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Webinar is now available on Youtube. I commend it to viewers, and I can promise you it’s a very thought-provoking presentation, whatever your theological perspective may be. Comments are welcome from people of all faiths and none.

For the benefit of those readers who don’t know her, Dr. Lydia McGrew has a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University (1995), but nearly all of her published work has been in analytic philosophy, with specialties in epistemology and probability theory. Her curriculum vitae is here. Dr. McGrew is also a home schooling mother living in the Midwest, who is married to the philosopher, Dr. Timothy McGrew, Chair and Professor of the Department of Philosophy at Western Michigan University (C.V. here).

UPDATE: I’ve transcribed the first part of Dr. McGrew’s talk, which can be viewed below. This is going to take a few days to finish. I invite readers to have a look at Dr. McGrew’s remarks on Bad Habit #1: Failure to make crucial distinctions. Comments are welcome.

Preamble

Thanks so much for having me, Jonathan. I’m going to be going to share-screen here in a minute, to a Power Point presentation. This is the first time I have ever done this talk with Power Point, so we’ll see how that goes. When I do that, I don’t think I’ll be able to see the chat window anymore, so I won’t be able to reply during that time to chat until I cancel the share-screen. But please do hang around and ask questions after I’m done. I’m going to try not to make this too uncomfortable. I have a lot of material to get through, so it’s going to be fun. So let’s go to Power Point right now, go to share-screen, and … OK! There we go. [The first slide now appears on the screen.]

My talk today is called, “Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars And how to avoid them.” That title is pretty self-explanatory – with the one caveat that it is entirely about the Gospels. My talk is entirely about the Gospels. In fact, I had thought of changing to “Six Bad Habits of Gospel Scholars And how to avoid them,” but my advisors said that didn’t sound as good, so I’m sticking with this title.

You’ll notice that most of my examples are taken from scholars that are considered broadly evangelical, even conservative evangelical, [and] not chiefly from Bart Ehrman, or Raymond Brown, or people out there, who are not considered evangelical. There are a few exceptions that you’ll see as we go along, but [it’s] mostly from evangelical scholars and pastors and so forth. This is deliberate. My goal is to show these examples and these habits in a scholarly context, where apologetics enthusiasts are more likely to trust the judgements of the authors involved. My goal is to suggest that we should question the bad habits of New Testament scholarship, no matter where we find them. Being labeled an evangelical, or even being labeled a conservative, is not a guarantee of infallibility, and doesn’t place one beyond criticism. It doesn’t mean that we have to assume that whatever that person is doing has been carefully vetted or rightly judged, or whatever. And there is a lot of cross-pollination that goes on from mainstream New Testament scholarship, which is quite liberal New Testament scholarship, into evangelical scholarship. You’ll see some of that in the examples I give today. So I want to show how this has happened, so that we can question these things on their own merits.

None of this is intended as a personal attack against anyone. The ideas are the thing. They’re important ideas. We need to be able to discuss them vigorously and find out the truth, so my goal here is just a better understanding of the truth.

I also wanted to mention that when I say these are bad habits, I mean: philosophically and historically bad habits. This would be true even if the books were not Scripture. Even if they were not religious books, these are bad habits when applied to Plutarch, for example. Yes, I do expect that people might be somewhat surprised to hear some of the theories that are out forward by evangelical scholars, but my goal is not just to make my audience be shocked, or think [they’re] some kind of bad habits in the sense of being impious, or theologically bad in some kind of a priori way. I want to show that these are important matters, but then I want to move on to show that these are logically and historically poor positions, not to suggest that we should just oppose them because we feel shocked by them, or something like that. So bad habits here means: intellectually bad habits. All right: that being said, let’s go!

Bad Habit #1: Failure to make crucial distinctions

Bad Habit Number One: Failure to make crucial distinctions. It’s amazing how often you see this – and this is something where I think that I, as an analytic philosopher, can help, because that’s something that analytic philosophers do all the time. We come in there and we say, “You’re using this word univocally,” or something. [Note: I presume that Dr. McGrew meant to say “equivocally,” rather than “univocally,” here. – VJT.]

So I’m going to start with this one: Two senses of “compression” or “telescoping.” These are phrases that you’ll hear, terms that you’ll hear. Now sometimes, what you’ll hear is that an author like a Gospel author, will tell things in a briefer way: he’ll leave things out. He’ll just not mention everything, not mention every detail. An illustration I’ve heard used is that it’s like the “guy version” and the “girl version” of a story, wherein women like to hear all the details whereas men just like to hit the bullet points, and so on. That’s fine for one sense of compression, that describes one sense of compression or telescoping.

But there is another sense, a different sense, in which it is said that some author is telescoping. For example, if you read any New Testament scholar saying that Luke puts all of the events of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples on Easter Sunday, on that one day, he put them on that one day. Or you even read concerning some secular work, that some Roman author put all of these events on December 3rd, when really they took three days – from December 3rd to December 5th – and the author allegedly knew that. All right. Now that’s a very different sense of “compression” or “telescoping” from just leaving stuff out. If you just leave stuff out, you’re just being indefinite. You’re not specifically trying to give the impression that these things happened all in one day or all in a much shorter time, or that certain people didn’t say certain things, or anything like that. You’re not trying to make your reader read your document in such a fashion that it gives the impression that this took a shorter time.

Now these two senses get melded all the time in New Testament scholars’ writing. They’ll say “So-and-so compressed this,” and you’ll hear that, and the reader may hear that, as the first sense: he just leaves it out. And that author may even say, “Well, it’s like the guy version and the girl version” – and you know, frankly, whether it were a guy or a girl, if I heard someone say that a series of events, that he knew took forty days, took one day, I would consider that misleading. I would not write that off as “the guy version.” If he were really putting all of the events that took forty days onto one day, that’s not something that we would normally call “the guy version versus the girl version.”

So we need to keep those two senses distinct, and when somebody says, “This Gospel author – in this case it’s Luke I’m giving an example from – is telescoping,” we need to be explicit about what sense if meant by that and try to draw that person out and say, “Now, what do you mean by that?”, and not assume that the – I would call it “fictionalizing sense” is just as unobjectionable as the merely “leaving stuff out” sense. Those are just completely different, and one might say, “You know, I don’t think Luke would actually put all of the events on one day, if he knew they took forty days. That’s not compatible with what I see elsewhere of Luke as an accurate author.” OK? And you shouldn’t ever feel browbeaten by someone who just says, “Well, haven’t you ever heard of telescoping? It’s a technical term, and we know about it in New Testament scholarship.” Well, that type of telescoping we aren’t automatically bound to agree with or acknowledge. There needs to be a stronger argument for that stronger sense of telescoping or compression.

Next: Two senses of “non-chronological order.” This is very similar to the two senses of “telescoping” or “compression.” Now what you often will found – and I’d say that ancient authors have somewhat more of a tendency to do this than we do, but we do it sometimes too – is just what I call “and-and chronology” or “and-but chronology”: “He did this and this, but he did this, but this happened.” OK. This is not implying a chronology. All right. This is not giving a specific chronology at all! This is just saying, “These things happened.” They might not have happened in that precise way.

In his 1984 book, Craig Blomberg talks about this sense of narrating in non-chronological order. An example of this would be the temptations [of Jesus] in the wilderness, where you get a slightly different order between Matthew and Luke, but it’s just where the word [would] just be “and.” “And this happened” – words like kai or te in the Greek, so that Luke is not saying, “This happened after that happened. This happened first, and that happened.” He’s not necessarily implying a chronological order. You can’t necessarily tell.

Now, that’s a very common trope of traditional harmonizers. Now I want to emphasize this. That fact, that ancient people – and we sometimes, too – are inexplicit about our chronology, is not something that was discovered as a special compositional device used by the Greeks and Romans, or something, just last year. That’s actually something that traditional harmonizers have been saying for many, many decades, and actually [for] hundreds of years. OK? Sometimes you get a non-chronological narration, but it’s not actually giving a chronological order.

But let’s go to the other sense of “non-chronological order,” or narrating it in a non-chronological order. When Jesus and his entourage are coming towards Jericho, we have in one Gospel – we have in Mark, for example, that they saw these people who were blind when they were leaving Jericho. Mark only mentions one blind man, and Jesus healed that blind man when they were leaving Jericho. In Luke, you have a mention of the healing of a blind man as they are approaching Jericho, and [it’s] very explicit: “as they were approaching Jericho,” or “as they were leaving Jericho.” OK? Now, that’s a real issue for harmonization, and I think that there are harmonizations that can be given there: they might [be] leav[ing] the old Jericho [and] approaching the new Jericho, whatever. But if we say that Luke changed Mark’s chronological order, because he wanted to narrate the healing of the blind man – he only mentions one man, before they leave Jericho, and Jesus meets Zacchaeus up in the sycamore tree – then that’s not just narrating in a non-chronological order, in the first sense. That’s a difference of [Mark’s] having a chronological order, and [Luke’s] having a different chronological order from Mark’s. In fact, these two senses are so different that they’re incompatible. They’re completely incompatible. Narrating in an order where you do not imply a chronology is incompatible with narrating in an order where you do imply a chronology, and you change the chronology from someone else’s – maybe even changed it from what you had reason to believe was true. OK?

So one might [not] – and shouldn’t – have any objection to narrating in an inexplicit fashion about chronology, narrating things in a topic-oriented order or something like that, without even mentioning a chronology – versus laying out a chronology – “This happened, then this happened, then this happened” – when you know it’s the wrong chronology! You know it’s not how it happened! You might say, “Oh. What’s your argument that he [Luke] did that – as opposed to, for example, having a source that told it a different way, or in a different order. Why do you think he knew the true order and then said, ‘No. I would prefer to tell my readers in a different order’?” That requires a much stronger argument.

Next: Two senses of “ipsissima vox.” And that’s a Latin phrase – it sounds quite impressive – that means: the very voice. Now there’s actually a whole continuum of senses: this isn’t just a very, very short, non-continuous distinction. But broadly speaking, we could say, “We don’t necessarily have the very words, so ipsissima vox is often contrasted with ipsissima verba – the exact words. We don’t have the exact words of Jesus, because maybe he spoke in Aramaic, and the [Gospel] authors give it in Greek. Or maybe they paraphrased it somewhat.” Moderate paraphrase, recognizable paraphrase. If you had been there, you would have said, “Oh!” You would go like, you know, back in time, you could watch the scene and say, “This is the time when Jesus was saying, ‘I and the Father are one.’” OK? But it might have other words as well, or it might be worded somewhat differently, but it would be a recognizable paraphrase. [There] would be an incident where it would actually correspond to what was actually said by Jesus or by someone else at times – the phrases he even used for other people. Most often [there’s a] quote (?) of the speech of Jesus.

So there’s a sense of, “We don’t have the exact words, but we have the very voice.” There’s a recognizable paraphrase of what was said, a translation into a different language, or something like that. And naturally, that’s going to have fuzzy edges: at what point the paraphrase becomes so free that we don’t call it the very voice, or we don’t call it a paraphrase any more.

Well, now we’ll go to the second sense, all right? I’ll give an example. Jesus on the cross in the Synoptic Gospels is said to have said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” In a paper in the year 2000 about the use of ipsissima vox in the Gospel of John from the Cross, Dan B. Wallace hypothesized that actually in John, when Jesus said, “I thirst,” this was the so-called ipsissima vox. [There was] modification, redaction of the tradition on the part of the Gospel author of John, of the real phrase, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” So in other words, if you had been there, you would not have recognizably heard Jesus say anything like, “I am thirsty,” that could have expressed physical thirst. You would have heard him say something like, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”, and that John modified this to “I thirst,” meaning thirst in a metaphoric, theological way. This theory is repeated in Mike Licona’s recent 2017 book, Why are there differences in the Gospels?, and Licona appears to agree with Dr. Wallace, and credits him with the theory. Now that is said to be also ipsissima vox, but it’s very understandable that someone might hear that and say, “I wouldn’t call that the very voice of Jesus! I wouldn’t say that if Jesus never said, ‘I am thirsty,’ in John or anything like it, like, ‘Please give me a drink’ – and John recorded it in the same way, and even records people running and offering him something to drink at that very time – that this is the very voice of Jesus, because I can make up some kind of theological theory, connecting Jesus’ sense of forsakenness by God with thirst, OK?” That’s not the ipsissima vox. – well, we might say, “That’s not the very voice of Jesus.” That’s a very broad use of that phrase. You want to insist that the very voice – you know, you can define words however you want, but you need to make it clear to people what you’re talking about.

And unfortunately, what happens a lot in New Testament scholarship, and particularly with this one, with ipsissima vox – it happens with all of them, but particularly with ipsissima vox – is that you’ll have, oh, there’ll be some kind of controversy. Like, there was the controversy about the “I Am” statements, and whether Jesus recognizably uttered anything like the “I Am” statements – I’ll be coming back to that later – and you know someone will be writing, and will try to set people’s minds at rest and say, “Hey, everybody agrees that we don’t have the very words of Jesus. All evangelical scholars agree that we have this thing called ipsissima vox,” – this very technical-sounding term, you know – but when they’re saying that to defend the historic broad changes, and calling them ipsissima vox, unfortunately, it’s not always made clear to people that there is a narrower sense of it, and that this is an extremely broad sense, and this is not uncontroversial among New Testament scholars and evangelical New Testament scholars. Not everybody accepts this very broad use of ipsissima vox. So there will be a kind of equivocation of the term. And I don’t think that’s quite fair to the layman. I think the layman has a right to know that … you’re not forced to a false dilemma here: either you think we have memorized the exact words of Jesus, everything, he didn’t speak in a different language, no paraphrase, no nothing – in which case you sound like a fundamentalist, very rigid person – or you have to be totally open to the idea that John changed “My God, why have you forsaken me?” to “I thirst.” We should not foist that kind of false dilemma on the layman, the pastor, the theological student, the apologist, whatever. We need to recognize different senses of this term.

One person I want to give a shout-out to here – and I have not been in communication with this person at all, so he doesn’t know I’m going to do this – but who did make this distinction, and so I want to give credit, is Rob Bowman, a New Testament scholar who did a post on the “I Am” statements. He explicitly said, “There are different senses of ipsissima vox.” And I think that Jesus uttered the “I Am” statements in a historical sense, that if you had been there, you would have recognized Jesus as doing them. And he [Bowman] said, “It’s possible to use this term in a sense that is too loose.” I really appreciate that kind of clarity and that’s all here.

Bad Habit No. 2: Preference for Complex over Simple Theories

All right. Bad Habit Number Two here. Here we are. OK. Moving through here. If I talk way too fast, Jonathan, can you come on and say, “You’re talking way too fast. People can’t even hear you”?

Preference for complex over simpler theories. Now this is a big umbrella and covers a lot of ground, so I put several things [here]. The reason I have six bad habits – I had seven in an earlier version – is that I combined two or three categories under this heading. So I’m going to go on.

Failure to recognize when a variation is just a variation. The first type of preference for complex over simpler theories; a failure to recognize when a variation is just a variation, because sometimes a variation is just a variation, like sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. OK? And you would be amazed at how New Testament scholars don’t know how to do this.

Example: in his commentary on Matthew, Robert Gundry is discussing the feeding of the five thousand, and Matthew uses the phrase, “when evening came.” In Mark, this is: “It grew late.” Mark says, “when it grew late.” And Gundry literally hypothesizes that “when evening came” was redacted from Mark’s “when it grew late” because Matthew was attempting to allude to the Last Supper, and trying to make the feeding of the five thousand Eucharistic. Douglas Moo objected to this at the debate that they had, in the pages of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and what Gundry had to say was, “Well, I have a lot of other places in the feeding of the five thousand where I do the same thing.” Yeah. He had a lot of other equally really, really bad arguments… This is one – perhaps the only – example I give from Gundry, because his work on Matthew was so extreme that I’m afraid people might say that he is not sufficiently typical. But this is just such a perfect example of this tendency not to be able to see that a variation is just a variation. Matthew is just telling the story in his own words. “When evening came” is a perfectly natural way of describing. It has nothing to do with the Last Supper.

OK. Similarly, in Mark, Jesus says, “I have not called the righteous but sinners.” Full stop at [Mark] 2:17. In Luke 5:32, Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” and he adds this phrase, “to repentance.” In a 1999 paper, called “An Apologia for a Broad View of Ipsissima Vox” (interesting title, in the light of what I was discussing a few minutes ago), Dan B. Wallace argues that Luke deliberately included the words “to repentance” because of Luke’s emphasis on the theme of repentance, and his desire to make this the emphasis of Jesus’ words. Mark’s version, because he [Jesus] had been eating with the sinners, might have been seen as an invitation to a meal, so that Luke added “to repentance” by redaction to Jesus’ words. Notice that there is no idea that Luke just talked to somebody who might have heard it that way, that, you know, it’s just a variation of witness testimony in a natural variation? No; it has to be a redactive change. Sometimes a variation is just a variation.

Another illustration from that same book – excuse me, that same paper, by Dan B. Wallace, is when Matthew [chapter 12] discusses “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” which is in Mark 2;26, Jesus is talking about David eating the showbread, the sacred bread. This has caused people to question whether Jesus made an error, because at that time, Abiathar wasn’t yet high priest, and so forth. Frankly, it’s just like we might refer to President Reagan, when he was still an actor, or something like that. It’s really not a problem. But Wallace conjectures that Matthew has this high Christology, and that Matthew might have been concerned that people reading Mark would think that Jesus made a mistake. And so Matthew deliberately suppressed the words, “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” in order to avoid such a potential problem. But sometimes a variation is just a variation. Maybe Matthew … just didn’t happen to remember that phrase, “in the days of Abiathar the high priest.” We’re leaving out naturalness in variation. Everything is heavy redaction.

Another example from that same paper by Dan Wallace – which I have, by the way, and I did not get it from Dan Wallace, I got it from someone who had a copy – he’s talking about Mark 1:34. It talks about people bringing a lot of people to Jesus, “and he healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.” Matthew 8:16 says: “He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” Oh my goodness! Matthew has, “he healed all the sick,” and Mark has, “he healed many who were sick.” Well… you could probably [guess] what I’m going to say for yourselves, right? What is Dr. Wallace going to conjecture? That Matthew, with his high Christology, is concerned that it might look like Jesus wasn’t able to heal everybody, so that he – you know, he’s like, looking at Mark, and he’s going, “Maybe people might read ‘he healed many,’ so he’s changed ‘he healed many’ to ‘he healed all.’” Matthew can’t just tell the story in his own words. A variation is never just a variation.

Utterly unforced errors

Another example of the preference – remember, our overarching bad habit here is Number Two, preference for complex over simple theories – are what I call utterly unforced errors. An example here is the “I thirst” change that I gave as an example earlier. That’s what I call an utterly unforced error. There is no even prima facie discrepancy between John and the Synoptics. There is no discrepancy between Jesus saying, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and Jesus saying, “I thirst.” He could have said both. These utterly unforced errors are really an egregious example of the preference for complex over simple theories. So that’s an example. It just comes out of the clear blue sky. You bring up this theory that somebody changed something. Why do that? Why not just go with the simpler theory that Jesus said, “I thirst”?

Another example of an utterly unforced error is the suggestion [made in relation to John 20:22, where the risen Jesus is said to have breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”]. This is in [Mike Licona’s] Why are there differences in the Gospels?, page 180 – “Perhaps John desired to allude to the events at Pentecost,” and the motive given here is that John wasn’t going to write about Pentecost, because he wasn’t going to write a sequel, like Luke did. [Quote:] “So he wove mention of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost into his communications with his male disciples,” just to somehow allude to the day of Pentecost. Utterly unforced error. Unnecessary complexity. Rather than just taking it to be that Jesus did this, [and just] saying, “Maybe we don’t know what it meant – especially if we’re not Catholics.” Catholics have a theory about what it was. When he breathes on them and says, “Whoever’s sins you retain, they are retained,” and so forth. But the fact that we don’t understand Jesus’ words and Jesus’ actions does not mean that the epistemically most reasonable theory is that the person made it up, that the evangelist made it up.

[To be continued]

83 thoughts on “Dr. Lydia McGrew on Six Bad Habits of New Testament Scholars (and how to avoid them)

  1. If there’s ever a transcript, I’d like a link.

    I doubt many are going to wade through 2 3/4 hours of a speech by someone who we don’t know to be a good source of information, one that is introduced by McLatchie. If it amounts to nothing more than apologetics, well, that’s too much of one’s life wasted. It’s also not a subject that most of us care about deeply.

    Computers often can make reasonably good transcripts. I’d be willing to look over something like that.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Perhaps a summary of what you think the most salient points are? That would take a bit of work, but it would be a much more useful post than “here’s a video you can look at”.

  3. Only 2 hr and 47 min? I’m sure everyone here will not fall asleep while watching it…
    BTW: VJ. The world has changed.. The attention span of most people is 1/3 of what it used to be …You might want to consider it next time you write an OP or link a video…

    I love your work!

  4. GlenDavidson:
    If there’s ever a transcript, I’d like a link.

    I doubt many are going to wade through 2 3/4 hours of a speech by someone who we don’t know to be a good source of information, one that is introduced by McLatchie.If it amounts to nothing more than apologetics, well, that’s too much of one’s life wasted.It’s also not a subject that most of us care about deeply.

    Computers often can make reasonably good transcripts.I’d be willing to look over something like that.

    Glen Davidson

    I agree….

  5. John Harshman:
    Perhaps a summary of what you think the most salient points are? That would take a bit of work, but it would be a much more useful post than “here’s a video you can look at”.

    I’d thought Hirschman was retired with all the time in the world to kill?
    What’s the rush?

  6. So I decided to listen to the video…

    After 30 seconds ( I randomly skipped to the presentation).

    Here is my first point:

    Were the books of the new testament written in the chronological order?

    By the comparison of the well known accounts, I’d have to say no…

  7. from the OP:
    Dr. McGrew is also a home schooling mother living in the Midwest, who is married to the philosopher, Dr. Timothy McGrew,

    I thought Tim McGrew’s wife was Faith Hill.

  8. I can’t say that what I’ve seen of Lydia McGrew on the web is very encouraging. She seems to be doing nothing more than indulging in her desire to believe in what she was taught, and is especially unhappy with anyone religious who might agree that Christianity is lacking in meaningful evidence:

    But let the Christian for one moment imply that there is evidence, whether in the form of evidence for design in the bacterial flagellum or evidence for miracles in the early testimony of the apostles, and the wrath of all the furies comes down upon him. Sometimes it comes from his own! There is no one quite so angry at one Christian as a Christian academic who has made his faith safely neutered and then hears his Christian brother declaring that evidence supports faith. But from the secularists as well, who no longer consider the evidentialist Christian, or his God, to be safe. Now, they must heap contempt upon him. Now, they find him dangerous.

    UK Apologetics

    Yes, I suppose one might find such persons dangerous, but mainly because they believe in rot that they can’t bear hearing is rot. Granted, I’m not about to say that they’re all dangerous in a jihadist sort of way, or even that she necessarily is, but anyone who thinks that the bacterial flagellum is evidence for design (not the god of the gaps tripe that morons and true believers think is profound), or that sacred text miracle claims are important, hardly has a trustworthy intellect.

    Glen Davidson

  9. J-Mac: Were the books of the new testament written in the chronological order?

    Why not ask FFM? Perhaps that is something that has been revealed to him directly by gawd.

    J-Mac: By the comparison of the well known accounts, I’d have to say no…

    What if FMM disagrees? How will you settle such a disagreement?

  10. keiths: It’ll look something like this, but with Bibles instead of computers.

    It’s an interesting question and not one I’m sure I’m the first to think of.

    Perhaps FMM can tell us what happens when two people have different revelations about the same thing and both say that they came directly from god. FMM, how are such disagreements resolved?

  11. OMagain:

    Perhaps FMM can tell us what happens when two people have different revelations about the same thing and both say that they came directly from god.

    Trial by ordeal. Each one drinks a quart of molten lead. God saves the one with the true revelation.

    If they both die, well, at least they’re not fighting about it any more.

  12. OMagain: Perhaps FMM can tell us what happens when two people have different revelations about the same thing and both say that they came directly from god. FMM, how are such disagreements resolved?

    The same way that disagreements are resolved when two people claim that they were told different things by any other person.

    There is nothing especially mystical about revelation, we experience it everyday any time we communicate with anyone.

    peace

  13. fifthmonarchyman: The same way that disagreements are resolved when two people claim that they were told different things by any other person.

    Can you give an example of what the conversation might be like between person A and person B who both say they have had a revelation from god?

    E.G. Perhaps one person has had it revealed to them that women are equal to men and the other person has had it revealed to them that women are less then men. Both claim to have had this “revealed” to them by god. How would the conversation look? How do they “decide” a winner when all they have is the brute “fact” of revelation?

  14. OMagain: Can you give an example of what the conversation might be like between person A and person B who both say they have had a revelation from god?

    See the conversation between keith and fifth.
    They put each other on ignore.

  15. fifthmonarchyman: The same way that disagreements are resolved when two people claim that they were told different things by any other person.

    There is nothing especially mystical about revelation, we experience it everyday any time we communicate with anyone.

    peace

    Actually, what did happen was that people “resolved revelation” by eventually turning to observation and theorizing, since of course there’s no sort of resolution to be had from “revelelation.”

    And because “revelation” never was able to demonstrate any kind of efficacy at all, in the end empiric discovery was recognized to be the means of finding “truth.” It’s not the whole story, considering that brains have to be capable of learning before doing so, but evolution appears to explain that well enough.

    Glen Davidson

  16. GlenDavidson: Actually, what did happen was that people “resolved revelation” by eventually turning to observation and theorizing, since of course there’s no sort of resolution to be had from “revelelation.”

    And now, because we have entered a time when you do not have to labour all day to feed yourself, some are able to turn back to such things and waste otherwise potentially productive lives on nonsense.

    They were standing of the shoulders of giants, now they are being carried.

  17. OMagain:

    How do they “decide” a winner when all they have is the brute “fact” of revelation?

    You didn’t like my molten lead test?

  18. keiths: You didn’t like my molten lead test?

    I have a book of ways in which fortunes can be told or guilty parties discerned.

    My favourite is the cracking goats head. Chuck one on the fire and recite the names of those who are suspected. When the goats head crackles, you’ve found the troublemaker.

    FMM, as you have keiths on ignore, is there a better way to decide who is correct about their revelation other then to:

    keiths: Each one drinks a quart of molten lead.

    ?

  19. Hi everyone,

    People have been asking for a transcript of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s webinar. There isn’t one. However, I’ve added an extra paragraph to my OP providing some background information and a link to a summary of Dr. McGrew’s key points (see also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here). As I put it in my revised OP:

    In her talk, Dr. McGrew was responding to an e-interview given by Michael Licona, a leading Christian apologist for the Resurrection who is an Associate Professor of theology at Houston Baptist University and who is also the author of Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017). In his book, Dr. Licona defended the historicity of the Gospels but endorsed the view, common among New Testament scholars, that the authors of the Gospels would have considered it perfectly legitimate to deliberately alter historical details of events, relating non-factual claims as if they were factual, because back in those days, writers of biographies were more concerned with Truth than with mere facts. Dr. McGrew is a conservative Christian writer but not a Biblical inerrantist. Nevertheless, she felt that by acknowledging the existence of what she terms “fictionalizing compositional devices” in the Gospels, Dr. Licona had conceded too much to skeptics such as Bart Ehrman (whom Licona debated on the reliability of the New Testament back in 2016), and that such a concession undermined his whole case for the historicity of the Resurrection. For this reason, Dr. Grew decided to respond to Dr. Licona by presenting the webinar shown below.

    I hope that helps. Cheers.

  20. OMagain: How would the conversation look?

    If would look the same as if two people claimed that any person told them contradictory things.

    something like this

    Employee one : The boss said we have to clean up the lab before we left
    Employee two : No he did not, I heard him say we could leave it just like we found it
    Employee one : Do you really think that is the sort of thing he would say
    Employee two : Yes, from my experience he is not much of stickler when it comes to cleanliness
    Employee one : Are you kidding me? You are just saying that so that you can leave early

    Employee two : Not at all, To clean it up would be a waste of time and against the bosses wishes.

    Employee one: Tell you what, I will assume I’m right you can assume you are right and we will see when the Boss gets back.

    peace

  21. Hi Vincent,

    The last time we discussed it, you accepted the historicity of the Resurrection. I assume that’s still the case?

    Also, what’s your opinion regarding the overall accuracy of the four gospels?

  22. fifth:

    Employee one: Tell you what, I will assume I’m right you can assume you are right and we will see when the Boss gets back.

    So if “the Boss” is Jesus, and he’s 2,000 years late getting back from death, you just shrug and keep waiting, perhaps fighting a religious war in the meantime?

    ETA: Most bosses go on lunch breaks. Jesus went on a death break, and he still hasn’t come back to check on the employees.

  23. OMagain: E.G. Perhaps one person has had it revealed to them that women are equal to men and the other person has had it revealed to them that women are less then men.

    Person one: God says that women are less than men

    Person two: From my experience and that of other people I know and trust that is not the sort of thing that God would say.

    Person one: I don’t care about other peoples experiences I am only interested in my own.

    Person two: I would say that you are mistaken in your beliefs but as long you don’t try and force your opinions on other people or otherwise harm them. You are entitled to your own mistaken views.

    Person one; Ok cool, the same goes for you
    How about let’s talk football

    peace

  24. fifthmonarchyman: Person two: I would say that you are mistaken in your beliefs but as long you don’t claim try force your opinions on other people or otherwise harm others. You are entitled to your own mistaken views.

    The problem is if one of those “mistaken “ beliefs is God wants to force certain true beliefs on others because not to do so would be causing harm.

  25. PopoHummel: See the conversation between keith and fifth.
    They put each other on ignore.

    I only put keiths on ignore temporarily so that he can have time to work out the implications of his new faith and his recent rejection of atheism.

    It was not about any sort of disagreement between keiths and I it was about insuring that I can stay within the rules here by continuing to assume that he is posting in good faith.

    peace

  26. I think PopoHummel was speaking metaphorically, since I have never put anyone on Ignore.

    And indeed, in the conversation that PopoHummel is referring to where I proselytize for Rumraketism, I do put you on ignore — not literally but by using presuppositional tactics against you.

    It was hilarious watching you struggle and lose defending Christianity against a dose of your own medicine.

  27. Just a few comments to get the ball rolling:

    1. I find it interesting that in those rare cases where Dr. McGrew encounters genuinely irreconcilable discrepancies between the Gospels, she prefers to argue that one of the Gospel writers got it wrong, rather than arguing (as Mike Licona would) that the authors of the Gospels weren’t trying to be historically accurate in the modern sense, anyway. In other words, Dr. McGrew is prepared to sacrifice Biblical inerrancy, if necessary, in order to preserve the overall reliability of the Gospels as historical documents whose authors were trying to report the facts and who would never have dreamed of fictionalizing details of episodes. I think her instincts are sound here. What do other readers think?

    2. In her talk, Dr. McGrew defends the legitimacy of apologists’ attempts to harmonize the Gospels whenever apparent discrepancies arise, pointing out that similar discrepancies often occur in different eyewitness reports of the same events. This would be a perfectly valid point, if the Gospels were eyewitness accounts, but they’re not. Of the Gospel authors, only John is likely to have been an eyewitness, and his Gospel contains lengthy discourses attributed to Jesus which are not found in the other Gospels. (Few New Testament scholars today believe that Matthew’s Gospel was written or even substantially influenced by the apostle Matthew.) Nevertheless, the Gospels were written within about 35-75 years of the events they describe, and the Gospel authors are likely to have interviewed some individuals who would have witnessed many of the events described therein. Should we therefore consider them to be “semi-eyewitness” accounts, and in that spirit, endeavor to harmonize their apparent discrepancies? Or is this special pleading?

    3. In her talk, Dr. McGrew draws attention to what she calls the many “undesigned concidences” between various Gospel accounts of the same event, and argues that they way in which they unintentionally reinforce one another buttresses the case for their historical reliability. She also warns that by omitting any mention of these “undesigned concidences,” Christian apologists severely weaken their case for the reliability of the Gospels and for the historicity of the Resurrection. She also chides Dr. Licona for going overboard (as she sees it) with the “minimal facts” approach, which attempts to argue for the Resurrection on the basis of a small set of generally acknowledged facts. In Dr. McGrew’s view, this is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it leaves out too much in the way of supporting evidence, which would strengthen the Christian case. Does Dr. McGrew have a valid point here?

    4. On the other hand, I can see that Dr. Licona might respond to Dr. McGrew as follows: “Dr. McGrew views the Gospels as historical documents which were written fairly early (for instance, she dates Luke to around 60 A.D. following Colin Hemer). For all I know, she may be correct. However, such a view is now rejected by most New Testament scholars, who date Luke to 80 to 110 A.D. and who also reject the traditional view that its author was the traveling companion of St. Paul, just as they no longer accept the tradition that Mark’s Gospel is based on the historical reminiscences of the apostle Peter. If one is putting forward a case for the Resurrection of Jesus, it’s not a good idea to begin by trying to overthrow the consensus of New Testament scholars, who are experts in their field. It is surely more prudent to stick to the claims that these experts would acknowledge to be factual, and argue for the Resurrection on that basis.”

    Who do readers think is right here: McGrew or Licona?

  28. fifth:

    Person two: I would say that you are mistaken in your beliefs but as long you don’t try and force your opinions on other people or otherwise harm them. You are entitled to your own mistaken views.

    Person one; Ok cool, the same goes for you
    How about let’s talk football

    So your answer is that there is no way to resolve competing claims of revelation, other than by waiting for Jesus to show up and settle the matter.

    That’s quite interesting, because we know that at least one of the two persons in your example is wrong about his or her claimed revelation, but doesn’t realize it.

    You could be that person, fifth.

  29. Hi keiths,

    The last time we discussed it, you accepted the historicity of the Resurrection. I assume that’s still the case?

    Yes, that’s correct.

    Also, what’s your opinion regarding the overall accuracy of the four gospels?

    Still positive. However, in the interests of fairness, I’ve ordered a copy of Michael Alter’s book, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry, which was highly praised by John Loftus, over at Debunking Christianity, back in 2015. I have to say that Michael Alter acquitted himself well in a debate with Jonathan McLatchie on Justin Brierley’s show, Unbelievable, which readers can view here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oI022n5OUfQ

  30. vjtorley: n her talk, Dr. McGrew draws attention to what she calls the many “undesigned concidences” between various Gospel accounts of the same event, and argues that they way in which they unintentionally reinforce one another buttresses the case for their historical reliability.

    I for one find the presence of “undesigned concidences” to be compelling evidence for historic reliability.

    The cool thing about them is that you don’t have to be an expert in archaeology or textual criticism to discover and evaluate them.

    Any slob with a bible can do it

    peace

  31. newton: The problem is if one of those “mistaken “ beliefs is God wants to force certain true beliefs on others because not to do so would be causing harm.

    That is why the concept of freedom of religion is such an important thing.

    It needs to be defended against all enemies both traditionally religious and secular.

    peace

  32. vjtorley: I think her instincts are sound here. What do other readers think?

    How would you deal with the adoration of the Magi, the massacre of the innocents, and the flight into Egypt? Are these factual episodes, mistakes, or fictional stories? What would be your reasoning for your choices?

  33. fifthmonarchyman: I only put keiths on ignore temporarily so that he can have time to work out the implications of his new faith and his recent rejection of atheism.

    I bet he has plenty of time for lots of things regardless of your need to put on blindfolds. How about you ask him, whether he has worked out your implications?

  34. Couple of disjointed comments:

    1. The link makes Dr. Lydia McGrew look like a right-wing nut. For example, the statement of purpose, which begins “What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: The Jihad and Liberalism.” Is this a fair characterization?

    2. I wonder if Parson Weems’s biography of Washington, known to be full of confabulated incidents, would be a reasonable model for the gospels. Discuss.

  35. VJ,

    I think there may be ways to reconcile the apparently conflicting accounts in the gospel. Sometimes we may have satisfying ways to reconcile the accounts others not so satisfying.

    There were some accounts in the Bible that took 2000 years to find an answer for. For example the question of King Saul’s body have apparently 2 conflicting accounts:

    They put Saul’s armor in the temple of Ashtoreth. The Philistines also hung Saul’s body on the wall of Beth Shan. 1 Samuel 31:10

    and

    They put his armor in the temple of their gods and hung up his head in the temple of Dagon 1:Chronicles 10:10

    But 3000 years after the events, an archaeologist discovered the temples were actually 4 connected sanctuaries with Dagon in one sanctuary and Ashtoreth in another, all in the same building! So what looked like an irreconcilable difference was an astonishing level of accuracy by apparently two separate witnesses!

    So it is with the gospels. Let’s hypothetically suppose there is an answer to reconcile the accounts no matter how conflicted they may appear to be. Is that any less a leap of faith then believing in eternal life.

    That said, I believe I’ve seen miracles answered in the name of Jesus. At some level that has been enough for me because I certainly won’t pray in the name of Richard Dawkins.

    Of course we would all be believers if God chose to make himself as evident to us as He did to Paul on the road to Damascus, but God has not chosen to do that. He has chosen to make the road to belief in Jesus fraught with difficulty and labor. But that is by design, imho:

    It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, it is the glory of Kings to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2

    and

    Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

    John 6:29

    Having faith is work! It is the work of God in Christian’s life to develop his faith. I once trusted in science and technology, but it will not bring salvation, only short term relief. Only Jesus offers salvation. I’ve cast my lot with him even if I don’t have all the answers, I believe as a little child.

    As far as specifics, there is powerful archaelogical evidence for the Gospel of John and Luke. Matthew has been a troubling gospel, and Michael Brown, a messianic Jew has spoken on the topic as well as his conversion.

    Brown said the Old Testament predicted the Messiah would teach the world about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Brown was keen to point out, “what Jew has inspired more study of the old Testament and Moses than Jesus?” That is evidence Jesus is the promised Messiah.

    As far as artifacts, the shroud of Turin and the veil of Veronica. It seems the two are mentioned in the gospels and the veil of veronica was quite persuassive to me that it COULD be credible.

    http://www.einterface.net/gamini/Veronica.html

    n 1977, Italian scientists examining the Manoppello veil under ultraviolet light found that the fibres contained no pigment, and concluded that the image of a man�s face on the cloth could not have been painted or woven with coloured fibres. In 1999, a German priest and scholar, Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, announced that, after 13 years of research, he concluded that the cloth in Manoppello was the authentic veil of Veronica. The cloth, measuring 9.5 by 6.5 inches, and made from byssus, a very fine fabric woven from mussel fibres, possesses a number of extraordinary properties: the image on the cloth appears or disappears depending on the angle of the light; the image appears to be three-dimensional when viewed from a certain distance and angle; and the identical image appears on both sides of the cloth, like a photographic slide, which would not have been possible to achieve using ancient techniques. Scientific research comparing the facial image on the Turin Shroud with that on the veil in Manoppello shows that they are exactly the same size and superimposable.

    When Jesus prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, that seems powerful evidence to me. When he said there will be wars, rumors of wars, plagues, pestilence, etc. That seems powerful to me. It is also more evident that though science can cause relief, it can also be an instrument for our destruction. Science cannot save man from himself and from inevitable death.

    So rather than say I’ve found a reconciliation for all the problems in the gospel, I trust in Jesus and the gospels because I have no where else to turn. The atheists certainly won’t bring me salvation. Maybe that may sound child like, but that’s is my faith. But as I’ve pondered the issues, the gospels have become more believable over time, not less, despite all the problems in providing some reconciliation.

    I’ve occasionally kept a private diary. Even the way I wrote things down may look conflicting to an outsider. I’ve read diaries of my dad. It’s amazing how it almost didn’t line up with the way I saw things or my mother’s account of the same events. But it’s not that the accounts weren’t true, they had different perspectives and ways of being expressed. That is the quality I see in the gospels — fragmented sounding, like it was patched together from different diaries and testimonies. It doesn’t read like a well crafted fiction novel, it reads like a combination of eye-witness testimony and commentary by the biographer or historian, patched together “as is” with not much effort to make a coherent sounding narrative.

    Hence, J. Warner Wallace (a murder detective) and Roasaria Butterfield (an English Professor) heard a ring of truth, as did I.

  36. PopoHummel: How about you ask him, whether he has worked out your implications?

    When I was talking to him about his recently accepted religion’s presupposition that scripture was true he proceeded to contradict his own scripture in less than a couple of minutes.

    So instead of accidentally forcing him to do something like that again I asked you all to let me know when he had posted a summery of his newly adopted beliefs or a list of the things he accepted as an atheist that he now rejects.

    It’s the best I can do in an effort to avoid assuming that he is not posting in good faith.

    Peace

  37. stcordova: I think there may be ways to reconcile the apparently conflicting accounts in the gospel.

    I’ts obvious that there are ways to reconcile gospel accounts that seem to be conflicting. Christians have been producing gospel harmonizations for 2 thousand years. None of this is even remotely new.

    If we assume that the authors are truthful and reliable in what they report then any apparent conflicts must be the result of our understandings rather than actual contradictions.

    On the other hand if we assume that the gospels are late writings produced by folks with no knowledge of the events they record for which historic accuracy was not important then any apparent conflicts will seem to reinforce those assumptions.

    peace

  38. OMagain: What if FMM disagrees? How will you settle such a disagreement?

    Everyone is entitled to an option and he should provide evidence, if he is to insist that his opinion is correct…
    That’s how civilized people express their rights to opinion…
    It doesn’t make them true, as there are no two truths, unless one is expressing his opinion on materialism…

  39. fifthmonarchyman: How about let’s talk football

    Heh. So “revelation” is nothing more then opinion, and from your very own mouth. I mean, we all knew that apart from you so I guess that’s some kind of progress.

  40. fifthmonarchyman: If we assume that the authors are truthful and reliable in what they report then any apparent conflicts must be the result of our understandings rather than actual contradictions.

    So it’s simply impossible that there are any actual contradictions? So any perceived contradiction is in fact a misunderstanding in us rather then a contradiction in the text?

    That despite many many different translators, coping processes and so on not a single error has been introduced?

    Out of interest FMM, what is it that is easier to thread through a needle then for a rich man to enter heaven?

  41. J-Mac: Everyone is entitled to an option and he should provide evidence, if he is to insist that his opinion is correct…

    I’ve already demonstrated that your “evidence” that supports your opinion does no such thing.

    J-Mac: That’s how civilized people express their rights to opinion…

    Civilised people accept when they are wrong and truly civilized people are eager to be shown to be wrong that they might learn the true ways. You have not demonstrated this.

    J-Mac: It doesn’t make them true, as there are no two truths, unless one is expressing his opinion on materialism…

    Does quantum woo count as materialism then? You are a big fan of that. Seems to me if you can build a computer out of it, it’s “materialism”. Catch 22 no?

  42. fifthmonarchyman: None of this is even remotely new.

    Or useful. Anybody can confabulate an “explanation” for an “apparent” contradiction. Or explain that a contradiction is the result of not knowing all the perspectives.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3bfO1rE7Yg

    fifthmonarchyman: Christians have been producing gospel harmonizations for 2 thousand years.

    It’s odd that they would need to do that, at least more then once. Were the true facts about the harmonizations not “revealed” properly then? Why did it need to happen over and over again?

    And it’s just a waste of time. Is it something like the day they do it properly then we’ll have real piece on earth via magic or something? That’s the only thing I can imagine that would make it worthwhile to spend tens of thousands of individual lives doing that over history. Otherwise, utterly pointless. What’s come of it?

    fifthmonarchyman: On the other hand if we assume that the gospels are late writings produced by folks with no knowledge of the events they record for which historic accuracy was not important then any apparent conflicts will seem to reinforce those assumptions.

    Or they could just go “Meh” and do something more interesting and productive. I.E literally anything else at all.

  43. OMagain: I’ve already demonstrated that your “evidence” that supports your opinion does no such thing.

    Civilised people accept when they are wrong and truly civilized people are eager to be shown to be wrong that they might learn the true ways. You have not demonstrated this.

    Does quantum woo count as materialism then? You are a big fan of that.Seems to me if you can build a computer out of it, it’s “materialism”. Catch 22 no?

    O’RLY!?
    Continue dreaming! Don’t forget to wake up when its time for a reality check… lol

  44. OMagain: Heh. So “revelation” is nothing more then opinion, and from your very own mouth.

    I have no idea how you came to that conclusion. Recognizing that you are not going to persuade someone who does not wish to persuaded and moving on is not the same thing as abandoning the concept of objectivity.

    And it’s certainly not the same thing as declaring revelation to be mere opinion.

    peace

  45. J-Mac: Everyone is entitled to an option and he should provide evidence, if he is to insist that his opinion is correct…

    yes,

    Especially if his entire argument hinges on his opinion that his reasoning is valid or logic is universal and binding.

    That is why I ask folks who deny God to provide justification for things like that in the very beginning.

    peace

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