New Research on Gospel Contradictions: Interview with Mike Licona
by Sean McDowell
Michael Licona is one of the world’s leading experts on the historical evidence for resurrection. I use his book The Resurrection of Jesus in my Master’s Level course at Biola. For the past few years, Dr. Licona has been working on some cutting-edge research related to Gospel contradictions. His research is both fascinating and groundbreaking. He answers a few of my questions:
SEAN MCDOWELL: Mike, what got you interested in the question of Gospel contradictions?
MIKE LICONA: Back in 2008 and 2009 I was publicly debating Bart Ehrman on the resurrection. He brought up Gospel contradictions as one of his major objections to the Gospels. I have noticed that this genuinely bothers many Evangelical Christians. As a result, I decided to look into it in more depth. I wasn’t so much concerned about resolving them, because I understood that if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true, regardless of any errors that might be present in the Bible. So, even if there are contradictions in the Gospels, it wouldn’t negate the truth of Christianity. But it does bother a lot of Evangelicals, so that’s what got me interested in the topic. And to be honest, it did make me question the historical reliability of the Gospels.
MCDOWELL: What makes your approach to Gospel contradictions unique?
LICONA: Most approaches involve trying to harmonize various passages to see if all the details can fit together. This can be a legitimate practice. But many times it can go way too far. Both Richard Burridge and more recently Craig Keener have shown that the Gospels belong to the genre of “ancient biography.” If this is correct, it would be plausible that we would see the same amount of flexibility in the Gospels as we observe in other ancient biographies. So, I wanted to learn what those flexibilities were. By carefully reading ancient biographies written around the same time as the Gospels and comparing how they tell the same stories differently, I began to recognize that some of the differences resulted from compositional devices. Then when I went to the Gospels…
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