Misquoting Licona

Should we represent opponents honestly? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Many of my readers may very well be familiar with Bart Ehrman’s book “Misquoting Jesus.” In this book, Bart discusses his belief that the words of Jesus are not accurately reproduced in the New Testament. Of course, Ehrman is well-known for his quarrel with the idea of an inerrant Bible; his downhill slide away from Christianity beginning with his rejection of the doctrine. Though Ehrman insists his ultimate reason for abandoning Christianity was the problem of evil, I believe he may not have come to this point had the issue of inerrancy not also been an issue. It clearly made an impact on him when one considers the number of times Ehrman has told the story about the genesis of his doubt in the doctrine of inerrancy.

Of course, I am open to being wrong.

One would think then that the one who is making the most out of a reputation of defending Inerrancy, namely Norman Geisler, would want to make sure he does not make the same mistake as the book title of Ehrman and be sure that he is quoting his opponent, Mike Licona, in this case, accurately. I find it ironic that one who is making the most out of a reputation of defending inerrancy, namely Norman Geisler, would be guilty of doing the very thing Ehrman asserts regarding the words of Jesus in the New Testament.

As it stands, he is not. Case in point is his recent article taking to task Dr. Robert Sloan, President of Houston Baptist University and Dr. Mike Licona.

“(9)Licona believes that the Gospel of Matthew does not come from the apostle Matthew or from another apostolic source, but it has been redacted by a later writer. For he affirmed that “This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances. However, “the magnificent harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction” (RJ, 530).”

In order to give full disclosure, I need to acknowledge that Mike Licona is my father-in-law. This also has the added advantage of being able to ask him point blank any question that comes up that would be of concern. I found this particular assertion regarding the authorship of Matthew particularly amusing because Mike and I had recently talked about Bart Ehrman and his disregard for the arguments on the authorship of the gospels from conservative scholars. After reading Geisler’s most recent attack, I called Mike and told him I was surprised to hear that he does not believe Matthew wrote Matthew. He responded that he, too, was surprised to hear that!

I then emailed Mike, referencing point nine of Geisler’s article, in particular. Mike urged me to check the reference in his book, something that I should have done from the start. However, hindsight is always 20/20. If you have a copy of Mike’s book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” I urge you to turn to page 530.

At the start of the first paragraph indentation, you will read “Crossan thinks that a trace of the harrowing of hell appears in Matthew 27:52-53, which may have been an attempt to solve this fourth problem.” In other words, we are dealing with Crossan’s view, not Licona’s view.

Following are the verses in Greek as well as an English translation. The next paragraph goes as follows, and keep in mind this is still Crossan’s view being stated:

“This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances. However, ‘the magnificient harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction.(257)’ A later attempt has the apostles and teachers leading the harrowing of hell after their deaths.(258) For Crossan the marginalization of the harrowing of hell is ‘one of the most serious losses from earliest Christian theology.(259)”

(Parentheses indicate the number of a footnote.)

All of this is the view of Crossan which is summarized in part here. (Pages 519-532 explain in depth Crossan’s hypothesis on the resurrection).

Now let’s look again at the manner in which Geisler portrays Licona’s view.

According to Geisler, “Licona believes that the Gospel of Matthew does not come from the apostle Matthew or from another apostolic source, but it has been redacted by a later writer.”

The first part is Geisler’s portrayal of Licona’s belief that the gospel of Mathew does not come from Matthew but from another source and was, in fact, redacted.

“For he (supposedly Licona) affirmed that “This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances.”

According to Geisler, this is the belief that Licona affirms.

And here is the last part with a quote from the book to seal the deal:

“However, “the magnificent harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction’ ” (Again, Geisler asserting that these are the words of Licona and a belief that he affirms).

The problem is right after the word “redaction” there is is, as shown earlier, a number indicating a footnote. Going to the bottom of the page, we find the corresponding footnote and read “Crossan in Stewart,ed. (2006), 181.”

If we go to page 689, we see that the footnote refers to a work by Dr. Robert Stewart, “The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue,” Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.

Thus, Geisler has attributed to Licona a view that he does not actually hold. In his book, Licona was merely quoting Crossan, not his own view, in a chapter entitled “Weighing Hypotheses” with the look at Crossan beginning on page 519. This portion ends on page 532 and Licona then begins to outline his personal view and critiques Crossan’s view.

Logically, this means that one of two things has happened. Either Geisler has used sloppy scholarship and has misrepresented his opponent. Or, even worse, he is just outright being dishonest. We cannot know, but let us hope that it is the former.

One may object, “But maybe Geisler did not write that. Maybe someone under him wrote it and he just gave his stamp of approval.”

However, even if this were the case problems remain. Even if it is true, It defies reason that someone reading the book would not know this is a footnote. Second, even if Geisler didn’t actually write the article, he did give it his stamp of approval not bothering to check it for accuracy. He proceeded to put it up on his website and Facebook page so this is where the buck ultimately stops.

Either way, his name is on the article which means he is claiming authorship. If that’s ethical, he can have no complaint with those who hold to the pseudonymous authorship of a work. How could this be since he holds that to deny Matthew wrote Matthew is to deny inerrancy? Since the gospel of Matthew nowhere makes the claim that it is written by Matthew, how does he know? Is he relying on the early Church Fathers? Is this any more than an Evangelical Pope at work?

Licona holds that the traditional authorship is probable. Can this be demonstrated with 100% satisfaction? No. Few, if any, conservative scholars would argue otherwise. But the evidence is largely in favor of this view while the evidence to the contrary is quite weak.

Moving on, in the first open letter, Geisler regularly refers to events on pages 546-553 of Licona’s book. That letter can be found here. Why is it important to mention those pages?
Because those are the very pages where Licona responds to the harrowing of hell. Geisler should be especially familiar with them since those are the pages that contain the theory of of the rising of the dead saints in Matthew 27 that first got Geisler started. This being the case, one would think Geisler would be well aware that the view outlined in those pages does not reflect Licona’s personal view.

Geisler has the freedom to think Licona is wrong. That’s fine. He does not have the freedom to misrepresent Licona. This kind of misrepresentation should not be accepted in the evangelical community. If we are quoting our friends or our foes, we need to do our best to make sure we get their views right. Mistakes can happen, but it is difficult to see how it could have been made in this case. Let me repeat it. There is a footnote IMMEDIATELY AFTER the quote.

This is also why it is so important for people to check references. The sad reality is most people are not going to bother to read Licona’s book but only read what Geisler says about it and go accept that as the gospel truth. They will not hesitate to tell others that Licona does not believe that Matthew wrote Matthew, which is false, and attribute to Licona a view actually held not by him, but by Crossan, a member of the Jesus Seminar. Thus, the greatest work we have today defending the resurrection will be disregarded by those not doing their homework, because of a misrepresentation.

Since the misrepresentation was public, it only follows that the apology be public as well. It cannot be covered over like it never happened. This is… Just a removal will not work. It cannot be covered over like this never happened. This is a serious offense.

It has been asserted that the enemies of Christ have been handed a powerful weapon by Licona’s book. Personally, I have not once seen it used as such and am on the internet engaging skeptics enough to know if it were indeed the case. The fact that there is such disagreement in the evangelical community. If you want to know who has handed the enemies of Christ a powerful weapon, it is Geisler with his personal vendetta.

Though we hope there will be public repentance in this case, we are not holding our breath. Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call to the evangelical community to stand against such behavior. We must first deal with troubles such as this within our own household. We also hope this will be a wake-up call to Geisler. The time he has spent attacking Licona could be much better spent refuting real enemies of the faith.

In Christ,
Nick Peters


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6 Responses to “Misquoting Licona”

  1. Shawn White Says:

    Well done, Nick.

  2. alegler Says:

    Geisler almost has a hatred for Licona. He has gone to universities around the country speaking bad of Licona causing them to cancel Licona’s speaking engagements. Licona speaks about it on one of the Theopologetics podcasts.

  3. apologianick Says:

    Yes Adam. I helped arrange that for Mike. Geisler is just way too obsessive in this whole thing. It’s an embarrassment on evangelicalism.

  4. Scott Says:

    The greater-good ethic, in practice, is no different than the end justifies the means ethic.

  5. Jason Ayers Says:

    I linked to this page on Geisler’s Facebook page as part of a post challenging him to make the correction and apologize. Geisler has responded. He said:

    “The change will be made shortly. Sometime Sunday”.

    My reply:

    “Dr Geisler, I am very pleased to hear that, but I think you also need to publicly apologize for the mistake on here, on your website and everywhere else you have a voice, in order to make sure everyone is made aware of it.”

  6. Geisler’s Shark-Infested Waters | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] we know that Geisler has gotten views wrong before and has in fact gotten Licona wrong before. Now to be sure, Geisler has removed the remark claiming that Licona does not think Matthew […]

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