John’s Changed Day?

If John changed the day that Jesus was crucified on, does this count as a denial of Inerrancy? Let’s find out as we dive into Deeper Waters.

Over on Geisler’s site under the article about how the list is growing of Licona’s denial of Inerrancy, we have the following:

Now it has come to our attention that in a debate with Bart Erhman at Southern Evangelical Seminary in the Spring of 2009 that Licona asserted concerning the day Jesus was crucified that: “I think that John probably altered the day in order for a theological—to make a theological point there. But that does not mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified.” However, it does mean that the Licona believes that text is in error! This is a flat denial of the inerrancy of Scripture!

What are those last two lines?

“However, it does mean that the Licona believes that text is in error! This is a flat denial of the inerrancy of Scripture!”

Does it really?

To begin with, let’s go to the start. What does Licona say? He says that he believed John changed the date. If John changed the date, then that means that he knew what the date was. Licona then says that he believes John changed the date to make a theological point.

Note also then that that means John expects us to recognize the changed date.

If that is the case, then is John knowingly writing error?

No.

Let us consider another example in the gospel of John in comparison to some others. We have in John 2 the scene where Jesus raises a ruckus in the temple. In all the other gospels, this takes place in the Passion week. In this gospel, it takes place at the beginning.

“But Nick! Could it be that it happened twice as some think?”

Could be, but it could just be that John is changing chronology to make a point.

Is that example not good enough? Let’s go to another one then. How about the order of the temptations of Jesus? It would be interesting to see what Geisler has to say about this.

Fortunately, I don’t have to look that far. He and Thomas Howe together wrote a book on biblical contradictions and this is one of the verses they dealt with. (Interestingly, their reference to the question of John only addresses the point of being in the tomb 3 days and 3 nights. It doesn’t address John’s timing.) On page 329 of “When Critics Ask” we read the following:

It may be that Matthew describes these temptations chronologically while Luke lists them climatically, that is, topically. This may be to express the climax he desired to emphasize. Matthew 4:5 begins with the word “then” while verse 8 begins with the word “again.” In Greek, these words suggest a more sequential order of the events. In Luke’s account, however, verses 5 and 9 each begin with a simple “and” (See NASB). The Greek in the case of Luke’s account does not necessarily indicate a sequential order of events. Furthermore, there is no disagreement on the fact that these temptations actually happened.

Wow. So it turns out that it could be the case that for topical reasons, the order of the event was changed, but there’s no disagreement that these temptations happened, and one is still in line with Inerrancy.

Meanwhile, Licona says that for topical reasons, namely a theological point, the known date was changed, but there is no disagreement he was crucified, and this is not in line with Inerrancy?

Now someone will say “But isn’t it obvious that one does not do that when writing history?!”

Well, perhaps if you’re a 21st century American, but this is the great danger with Geisler’s approach. Geisler does not want the cultural context to be part of the interpretation of the passage. What does that mean then? The text might as well have been written in a vacuum, but you can be sure there will be a cultural context that the text is read in, and that is Geisler’s own cultural context.

The great mistake is to assume that the culture of the Bible and the way writings were written was just like ours. It wasn’t. Why should we give our culture precedence anyway? Why not 5th century Japan? Why not 12th century China? Why not 15th century France? Why not 10th century England? Why think the biblical culture was like any culture?

By wanting to avoid culture, one inevitably plugs in their own culture as if something was written without having any input from the surrounding culture, despite the use of words, idioms, and other such things that would been understood by the culture.

This is a view I call Americentrism. It is the belief that everything had in mind a 21st century American audience who thinks like we do and since we tend to be literalists, then the text ought to always be taken literally. Since we write history in a straight chronology, the ancients had to do the same.

For all this talk on literal readings however, literal does not mean what it is assumed to mean but rather it refers to taking it the way the author intended to take it. One can be sure that were the Reformers here today, they would be the ones arguing against Geisler. That does not mean they’d agree with Licona necessarily, but they would say that he needs to be shown to make his case on what the Bible teaches instead of dismissed out of hand.

So if we look at that culture and we find that history did not have to be chronological, we will find no problem. If John changed the date, then we can ask “Why?” Well he changed the date so that Jesus being crucified on Passover would be a theme. “Why that? Passover is the time we offer up a lamb without blemish to celebrate our freedom from slavery…..oh!”

There is no disagreement that this is what the gospel writers thought about Jesus. Now does that mean I entirely agree with Licona’s perspective? Not yet. I haven’t studied the issue enough to form a certain judgment.

I can also assure anyone that if Licona receives a better interpretation that fits the data, he will be one who can happily accept it. The point I wish to establish is that this does not mean that one is denying Inerrancy since this is a known change and the audience would know that John had set it at this date not to give a chronological account, but to give a thematic approach.

Perhaps some people out there need to take off the Americentric glasses.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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3 Responses to “John’s Changed Day?”

  1. Jim Kinnebrewjimkinnebrew Says:

    Nick,
    I get your point about culture playing a part in interpretation. The question to be answered then, is what are the examples of late first century literature changing known history in order to make a theological point. Also, what point was John making, and could he not have made that point without changing what the other 3 Gospels said? I don’t find your examples from the temple cleansing and the temptations convincing. The better solutions in my opinion are that the cleansing happened twice, so the synoptics and John are both accurate and Geisler’s point about the temptation orders does not transfer to changing a date. Grammatically, Luke’s order has no chronistic sequence, but when you say the date you are making a chronistic statement. I certainly sympathize with Mike’s search for the original meaning. I just don’t agree with his conclusion.

  2. alaskazimm Says:

    You said, “what point was John making, and could he not have made that point without changing what the other 3 Gospels said?”

    Nick wrote “If John changed the date, then we can ask “Why?” Well he changed the date so that Jesus being crucified on Passover would be a theme. “Why that? Passover is the time we offer up a lamb without blemish to celebrate our freedom from slavery…..oh!”

    That seems to me like a fairly elegant way to make the point without being pedantic.

  3. Daniel Y. Says:

    regardless of whether or not John altered the date, Nick, I think you’ve quite clearly showed that to hold such a view is NOT to deny inerrancy.

    It’s difficult to comprehend the level of hypocrisy, on Geisler’s part, in his defense of chronological alterations in OTHER verses.

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