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Licona on the Gospels, Not Ham vs. Nye

Posted on Feb 4, 2014 by Tom Gilson

It's the evening of the great Ham and Nye debate. Here's my vote: Licona on the gospels instead.

Michael Licona is online now, teaching in Houston at the same time as the heavily hyped debate. He's sharing his groundbreaking research on the manner in which biography was written in the ancient world. Based on Plutarch's Lives, and the multiple views Plutarch took on similar events in multiple “Lives,” Licona is demonstrating most helpfully that the genre of biograpy was handled differently then than now. This has important implications for the way we read the gospels, especially their apparent contradictions.

Plutarch's “Lives” overlapped, so he had occasion frequently to descrive the same event more than once, from different angles and perspectives. We see in these multiple angles of exposure that he felt free to compress, transfer, and displace details of events. In one version of an event he said that political leaders brought forth a proposed new law, in another place the tribune spoke the proposal. That was the tribune's role: to be the spokesperson for the officials. This was a literary device, not a contradiction.

In one “Life” Plutarch identified two similar laws being proposed, separating by several years, in another “Life” he compressed the two into one. Again, it has every appearance of a literary device, not of careless contradiction.

He was just one author, telling the same story but with different details. Was Plutarch confused? Or was he just telling biography the way biography was told at the time? The latter conclusion is likely.

There are instances of the same literary devices in the gospels: compression, transference, and displacement. Were the gospel writers confused, or were they telling biography was told at the time? The latter conclusion is certainly reasonable. Apparent contradictions are explainable as misreading first-century biographies anachronistically, as if they had been written in the past few decades.

So if we understand the gospels the way a first-century reader/hearer understood them, we wouldn't be as concerned about apparent discrepancies or contradictions.

I suppose I might have learned some good things from Ham and Nye, but this was fresh information to me. I'm posting this just as Licona's session is moving into Q&A. I'm pretty sure this was been a better use of my time.

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12 Responses to “ Licona on the Gospels, Not Ham vs. Nye ”

  1. John Donnelly says:

    I’m disappointed that you didn’t really mention the Ham debate. Why is it that creationist Christians are seemingly looked down upon by other Christians . I am on here and I’ve no problem talking to you guys on here. The same courtesy should be afforded Ham et al. I’m unashamedly creationist but I love The Lord fervently . What we are not seeing in the body is brotherly love . Yes we can criticise each orders standpoints but not make ad hominem remarks . We simply must get together . Our Lord demands it . We know the basics guys and our Lord demands unity. To give you an example- I love WL Craig , have his podcasts , books etc . I also have all the creationist material . I think the long agers are wrong , simple as. Please respect my view . Yet I’m also for blogs such as these . It’s time we all humbled ourselves and made inroads into what unites us . Do you welcome me my friends ? I want to see your Christianity . That’s my challenge to all of you . Can you stick with me being on here given that I am who I am? As a former Catholic who happens to be more Catholic than most Catholics themselves I believe I can offer something . I am a regenerated Christian just the same as you . I love the Scriptures and I’m also non cessationist . I have met Mr Ham and am an ardent 6 day creationist , post trib , bible believing apologist . I am unusual . Will you love me as a brother? I am on here to show you the love I have for you even if you are a long ager , even if you try to shoot my positions down . It’s time guys . Time for true agape in Christ .
    John Donnelly ( Former Religious Education teacher in a state school ,Dublin Ireland )

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for your comment, John.

    Your assumption concerning my motivations is wrong. You strongly imply that I was motivated by a lack of unity or agape, which is untrue, and I think biblically you were on the wrong track to say so. It was a judgment made with no warrant.

    If I had watched the Ham-Nye debate I would have missed the Mike Licona lecture. Mike is a friend of mine. He has told me in the past how excited he was about this material, but I’d never had a chance to hear him present it. I was told beforehand that it probably would not be recorded (I found out otherwise afterward).

    Mike’s talk was new information to me. I did see some of the Ham-Nye debated before and after Mike’s lecture, and while the interchange was interesting it covered familiar ground for me, on both sides of the table. I chose to learn something new instead.

    I have also met Mr. Ham. If promoting unity in the body of Christ is a concern of yours, you might focus your attention in his direction. ‘Nuff said on that.

    My position on creationism is best summed up here. Note, however, that this is a side note and not the topic of this blog post. I do like to keep things focused on one thing at a time, so I will step in if needed to prevent this from becoming a creation/ID/evolution discussion.

  3. John Donnelly says:

    By the way , the Gospels are biographies , not in the modern sense but they do tell the life of Christ . I tell my students this all the time . They often don’t listen because they don’t want to listen . They are adolescents and think they know it all at times. When life gets hard and answers are few I pray they’ll turn to the gospels and therefore turn to Christ. We are servants and all we can do is faithfully transmit the apologetic we have been given . I believe I’ve done that for 26 years as a teacher to raw hard chaw teens from the City. The Gospels are great true stories to tell and they do change lives . I’ve witnessed that as a teacher .
    Bless Mr Licona
    Bless this Blog
    Amen
    John D

  4. John Donnelly says:

    I apologise Tom. Unreservedly . I just see so much disunity in the body caused by both sides tbh.Thanks for your clarification and swift reply I do think that there is a considerable lack of love on both sides . Is that true in your opinion ?

  5. Melissa says:

    Yes, the gospels are biographies that are told for a theological purpose. It’s important not to try to harmonize away the differences because it is often how the author utilizes these literary devices that give us insight into the theological point (or points) they are trying to make.

  6. Holopupenko says:

    @1: “As a former Catholic who happens to be more Catholic than most Catholics themselves…”

    Leaving aside the arrogance of this claim, I’m trying to wrap my mind around the “logic”…

    “We must simply get together.”

    Not at the expense of truth. If someone denies the Trinity (which is only known to us as revealed truth), then “getting together” impossible. If someone makes a grave metaphysical error (like Craig with univocity or Divine Simplicity), then one can cheer him on in his role as an evangelizer, but uncompromisingly–yet with charity–criticize him in the realm of reasoned knowledge. If someone supports the fundamentalist (please forgive me for the label–I only use it to draw out a point) notion of “creationism,” they need to be roundly criticized for (a) their philosophical errors and (b) for their flawed interpretation of Scripture (employing St. Augustine’s point as a model): they don’t know what creation is philosophically and they impose a self-serving hermeneutic (as opposed to exegesis) upon Scripture.

    On some points of disagreement, the proper response is to agree to disagree, and to hope for time and new knowledge to clarify the issue. On other points (univocity, “creationism,” Divine Simplicity, etc.) it is not possible to agree to disagree because the errors are so significant, and hence have the potential to infect faith and promote further errors. The intellectual battle must be fought, with the understanding that resolution will likely not come in our lifetimes.

  7. John Donnelly says:

    Hey Holo
    I ask you to be very careful in your comments . You come dangerously close to ad hominem . You offer no good reasons for your criticism . Offer some or kindly desist. I am not arrogant let me tell you ! I am not Catholic in that I do not attend mass every week . I do occasionally go when visiting my mum and dad who are Catholics. I believe I know the theology of Catholicism being a former seminarian . I am now a Christian and know my Lord . Do you know him ? That is a basic belief my friend.

    The final paragraph of this comment has been deleted by the siteowner. See the end of comment #2.

  8. Tom Gilson says:

    I am now deleting comments, including some earlier in the day, that are off topic.

    I was clear about this at the end of comment #2. This is not a thread about evolution, creation, or ID.

  9. Victoria says:

    Hiya Tom
    I hope this finds you well :) How is the foot, BTW?

    Is Dr. Licona going to publish this material? I’d love to read it.

    Still too busy to participate much in the blog – but I will say that the past couple of months have been both challenging and an opportunity to see how faithful God is in my day-to-day life – as one of my friends at church said, “It’s a good place to be when you depend on the Lord”.

    Take care,
    Victoria

  10. Oisin says:

    The most interesting part of the Ham on Nye debate, to me, was the portion where they were asked what would change their beliefs.

    I’d say that question should preface any discussion or debate to save everyone time….

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