Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Geisler's Blomberg Bomb

Yes, Norman Geisler is at it again; all it takes to set him off repeating the same old stuff these days is a yak sneezing in Alberta. The latest incarnation, though, is more about Craig Blomberg than Mike Licona, and as usual we’ll just pick out what’s new – which isn’t much.

Geisler says that using Licona’s arguments, one could easily dehistoricize the Resurrection of Jesus, and he uses James Dunn as an example. Unfortunately, he fails to notice that while Dunn does indeed use the informing contexts of Second Temple Judaism to comment on the Resurrection, he doesn’t actually go on to say that this means the Resurrection was non-historical, or that it was apocalyptic (per Licona on Matthew 27). Geisler merely jumps the Dunn, as it were, thusly:

For Dunn, Jesus had in mind that "His death would introduce the final climactic period, to be followed shortly ('after three days'?) by the general resurrection, the implementation of the new covenant, and the coming of the kingdom.” Here Dunn’s imposition of Jewish eschatology genre effectively eviscerates any idea of Jesus’ physical, literal resurrection on the Sunday after His crucifixion and places it entirely into distant future of Jewish expectations of a final resurrection at the Last Judgment. 

It does? Well, no, it doesn’t. What Dunn is saying – wrongly, but that is beside the point here – is that he thinks Jesus’ Resurrection was seen by Jesus as being a signifier of the general resurrection. Nothing Dunn says in this quoted sentence in any way releases a judgment about the Resurrection of Jesus as physical or not, literal or not (and though Dunn may or may not say something else that does that, I have no recollection of him doing so in his many works I have read). If anything, it favors a physical and literal reading of it, but Geisler errs profoundly in that he is inserting his dispensational eschatology into Dunn’s words. Dunn is not referring to a “distant future” but a general resurrection three days, or “shortly,” thereafter.

Let me emphasize again that I do consider Dunn wrong in his reading here. However, this is not made any better by Geisler abusing it to enact his own exegetical fantasies.

         After another quick bash at Licona, Geisler gets on Blomberg’s case for the rest of the article. We can skip a lot of this; there’s some typical amusement (e.g., both Geisler and Mohler are unworthily called “scholars”!) and typical panic button pushing (“opening up a proverbial avenue for major portions of the Gospels to be labeled as non-historical in genre”) to start, before we get to hear the ambulance siren. It’s again little atypical though; Blomberg’s views represent a “significant, substantive shift” from Geisler’s head-in-sand exegetical approach to one that tries to understand the Bible as it was written by those who wrote it, though of course, it is not put quite that way.

         We are told, “Blomberg apparently chose to ignore The Jesus Crisis (1998) and has already catalogued the evangelical disaster that such a blend of grammatico-historical and historical-critical elements precipitates in interpretive approaches.” Yes, and it’s a good thing he did ignore it. The Jesus Crisis was one of the most obscurantist, naïve, and misguided caveman-manifestos produced by Christians this century. See link below to my review, where I address the very example of the Sermon on the Mount that Geisler chooses to highlight. The authors of The Jesus Crisis, as I pointed out, displayed the heights of incompetence in their analysis, and in the end resorted to an utterly illogical and inconsistent ruse of harmonization which failed to respect the literary contexts of the NT era. As I put it:

Let's take the prime example. I've answered points claiming contradiction between Matt and Luke's versions of the Sermon on the Mount by noting that Matt's version is likely to be an anthology -- a collection of Jesus' teachings, organized by Matthew according to his purpose as the composer of a handbook of faith; whereas Luke is more on the historical side, and reports what was actually said on that occasion. 

No big problem. Both writers were following standard literary and historical practices for the time. But Thomas insists that such an approach "inevitably leads to diminishing historical accuracy in the Gospels" -- for you see, Matthew 5:1-2 "indicates Jesus began at a certain point to give the Sermon's contents." And what of the literary-device explanation above? Thomas wonders, then, "why would (Matthew) mislead his readers" into thinking that Jesus made this full sermon on one occasion? 

What is missing here: This was a normal practice for the day. No one would be "misled" into thinking this was a full sermon because no one would have thought it was meant to be recorded as such in the first place. But Thomas, clearly, does not agree, with comments like this in response to Blomberg's assertion that Biblical writers followed the typical practices for composers of the day: "Despite what the practice of ancient historians may have been, Matthew's intention to cite a continuous discourse from a single occasion is conspicuous. Was he mistaken?" "No matter what the alleged motives of the writers in so doing, that kind of action is fundamentally problematic at best and dishonest at worst." (!) The only difference between these comment and comments like C. Dennis McKinsey's "read the Bible like a newspaper" is that McKinsey is nastier in his formulations. And yet we are told that it is we who propose such solutions who are "run(ning) roughshod over the historicity of the Sermon's introductory and concluding formulas". 

You might wonder, of course, how Thomas suggests that we resolve the differences in the Sermon, and his answer is: By harmonization -- of an extreme, unnecessary sort. Put it this way: Did Jesus say, "Blessed are the poor" or "Blessed are the poor in spirit"? Thomas replies: He said both, and on the same occasion. Matt and Luke just chose to report one or the other: "Most probably Jesus repeated this beatitude in at least two different forms when he preached His Sermon on the Mount/Plain, using the third person once and the second person another time and referring to the Kingdom of God by different titles." Odd here how omission is not a sin; but commission is. I thought it was Matthew's intent to show he was citing a continuous discourse? If that is the case, isn't he "misleading" his readers by not giving a full report and leaving things out? 

     There follows from Geisler and extended rant (it may as well be called that) on how George Eldon Ladd tried to please both sides, so to speak, and failed. I am sure many view Geisler’s adherence to old earth views the same way. Then we get to an extended second rant on how Blomberg defended Robert Gundry, and Geisler repeats all the usual buzzwords, including the misuse of stats from the vote which expelled Gundry from ETS.

     We then get to a collection of reputed “sins” by Blomberg in which he allegedly supported dehistoricizing procedures. I will only say here that I disagree in whole or part with most of Blomberg’s solutions, as whether I do or not would be beside the point. In each case, like Gundry and Licona, it is the same thing over and over again: Blomberg suggests some contextualizing solution to an issue; Geisler harrumphs back that this is not in accord with his fundamentalist vision of what was meant by ICBI, and doesn’t even touch Blomberg’s arguments, except with a cattle prod from a distance. For example, in “answering” Blomberg’s suggestion of a benign pseudonymity for certain NT books, Geisler merely raises panic:

  Yet, how could one ever known the motive of such ghost writers?  Would not such a false writer go against all moral standards of Christianity?
     Here Geisler steps into a pile of  non sequitur of his own creation: He has rapidly moved from uncertainty (“How could we know?”)  to certainty (“We know this would be immoral!”). He has also merely raised the spectre of panic without justification. I do not agree with the whole of Blomberg’s thesis here, but I imagine he would answer that the benign motives of the writers are proven by 1) the contents of the writings in question, which obviously do not serve any self-seeking purpose for the author; 2) the fact that the church at large evaluated and accepted these writings. Either way, inciting unreasoning panic isn’t an argument.

     Geisler notes something close to my heart as well:

      Interestingly, recently, Craig Blomberg blames books like Harold Lindsell's Battle For the Bible (1976) and such a book as The Jesus Crisis for people leaving the faith because of their strong stance on inerrancy as a presupposition. 

     And he does so rightly. I have encountered numerous apostates over the years who left the faith, or dealt with many Christians in a faith crisis, because of exegetical midden like Lindsell’s, and The Jesus Crisis, provided answers that were utterly impossible to defend of justify. Of course, Geisler himself sits on a throne well above all of this; he never answers emails from people hurt by his stance, or gets down in the trenches with the likes of a Dennis McKinsey. Well, scratch that: He did debate Farrell Till, and did so by reading prepared statements the whole way through. That sure does the job, doesn’t it?

     Geisler complains:
     In doing this, evangelicals of this approach, subject the Scripture to forms of historical criticism that will always place the Bible on the defensive in that it can never be shown to reflect historical trustworthiness.  Indeed, logically, probability for one person may not be probability for another.  What is accomplished is that the Gospels are placed on shifting sands that never have any foundational certainty for “certainty” cannot be entertained by their methods.  

     Indeed? Let me put it this way: If Geisler thinks this, it is only because the sort of work being done by scholars (term deserved) like Licona, Blomberg, and Bock is atmospherically beyond his comprehension. The sands do not “shift” – Geisler is wearing greasy sneakers.

     This is also shown when he says this further, on a point I will use to close:

            The fact, however, is that “probability” logically rests in the “eye of the beholder” and what is probable to one may be improbable to another. For instance, what Blomberg finds “probable” may not be to critics of the Gospels who do not accept his logic.  This also places Scripture on an acutely subjective level which logical impact of these approach is to reduce the Gospels to a shifting-sand of “one-up-manship” in scholarly debate as to who accepts whose arguments for what reasons or not.  Blomberg argues that “an evenhanded treatment of the data [from analysis of the Gospel material] does not lead to a distrust of the accuracy of the Gospels.” But, this is actually exceedingly naïve, for who is to dictate to whom what is “evenhanded”?  Many liberals would think these Blomberg has imposed his own evangelical presuppositions and is VERY FAR from being “evenhanded.” 

     Wait a minute. 

      Is this the same Geisler who is even now arguing a point? Why is he bothering if “what is probable to one may be improbable to another”? Isn’t he worried that his critics will not “accept his logic”? Doesn’t he care that many would think he has imposed his own presuppositions and is “VERY FAR” from being evenhanded?

Consistency sure demands a lot of us, doesn’t it?

Review of The Jesus Crisis (bottom of the page)

Nick Peters' more detailed treatment


  1. I think it is time Geisler retires. Perhaps he is getting senile. These rants against Licona and Blomberg are very disappointing to me.

    Greg West

  2. It has become painfully obvious that Norman Geisler in the last few years has fancied himself a contemporary Irenaeus who has been called to fight the Church's heresies. The problem is that his idea of Church history jumps from a modern day reinterpretation of the Biblical texts to the name Martin Luther (without a clue as to what that guy actually believed) to various Great Awakenings (without being able to distinguish the vastly different theological frameworks of each) to Billy Graham, Christianity Today, and Dallas Theological Seminary.

    Consider his blunders with Licona, the one outlined in this post, and go back a few years to "Chosen But Free" and his attack on Calvinism. Now I have my own disagreements with Calvinists but I know what it is and Geisler's version was a complete straw man (big surprise).

    Apparently you cannot give anything but a simplistic interpretation of Scripture that fits in at DTS without being a heretic. But you can be a complete fraud like Ergun Caner who lies about his past and pretends he was raised in a Maddras in the Middle East before converting to Christianity when he was actually raised in Sweden and Geisler will back you up even though you haven't repented.