Contradictions in the Gospels: An Interview with Mike Licona

On April 21 Christianity Today published an interview with Dr. Michael Licona about his new, provocative, and innovative book, Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography (Oxford). In the interview Licona says things such as, [Christians] often engage in “harmonization efforts, which sometimes subject the Gospels to a sort of hermeneutical waterboarding until they tell the harmonizer what he wants to hear”; “If I fail to [let the Bible’s evidence about itself speak], I deceive myself, claiming to have a high view of Scripture when in reality I would have a high view of my view of Scripture.”

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And the heart of the interview–and the recent book: “What my book does is look at how one of the most highly regarded biographers of antiquity—Plutarch—reported the same events differently. By looking at those different accounts, I can identify patterns in those differences, infer compositional devices from those patterns, and then read the Gospels with those devices in mind. It’s truly amazing to see the Gospel authors using many of the same compositional devices employed by Plutarch!”

And what does he say about historical reliability in the Gospels? You’ll just have to read the interview and, more importantly, read the book!


13 thoughts on “Contradictions in the Gospels: An Interview with Mike Licona

  1. RWL

    Is it ancient biography or ancient historiography? Bauckham (2006) and Byrskog (2000) assert the Gospels are ancient historiographies, not ancient biographies? What do you think?


    1. Peter Connell

      It seems that the literary devices – regardless of how one would classify the writing – are what is in view here — and there may be something to what is written. I plan on buying the book and giving it a read. Bauckham has written some fascinating things himself, especially in the area of Christology.


  2. Pingback: Contradictions in the Gospels: An Interview with Mike Licona | A disciple's study

  3. Once again this is a warning to all Christians. Liconia called Matthew a liar by reporting the saints rising from the grave on the night of Christ’s crucifixion never happened. A point excellently defended by Norman Geisler. It is sad a young man who started with so much promise had denigrated to the skeptics such as Blomberg and McGowan.


    1. Clarke Morledge

      Craig Blomberg a “skeptic?”

      So, when Blomberg wrote “Can We Still Believe the Believe?” as a defense of the Bible, what do you think he was defending?

      Furthermore, Matthew can only be called a “liar” if he, in fact, is making an historical claim, that turns out not to be true. As I understand Licona, if Matthew is using a literary device consistent with all other Greco-Roman biography of the time period, then Matthew is not making a specific historical claim. So, if it turns out that Matthew is not making such an historical claim, then charging Matthew with a falsehood is irrelevant.

      That would be like charging Jesus with making a falsehood, if no historical farmer named “X” could be found who planted that seed along the path, on the stony ground, among the thorns, and in the good soil.

      To your favor, you could be correct that Matthew IS indeed making an historical claim. But it just means that Licona’s interpretation of Matthew is wrong. It does not imply a denial of inerrancy. The inerrancy of Scripture and the inerrancy on someone’s interpretation (yours, mine, Licona’s) must be kept distinct from one another.

      If I had to issue a “warning to all Christians,” it would be that your remarks come across as confusing.


      1. Inerrancy means ALL the Scriptures is true. Blomberg uses that word but it does not mean what the rest of the conservative evangelicals. As far ass Matthew using a device where he stressed the truth is still lying. Either the saints came out of the graves or they did not. There is a reason why Blomberg has unkind and rude things to say about Geisler, because Geisler knows the truth behind Blomberg’s deception.


  4. I totally agree with the issue of harmonization, yet it goes far beyond the Gospels. I was browsing a church’s add for a pastor that insisted in its statement of faith on multiple harmonizations across the board! Part of it is the theologians haven’t done a good job cleaning up after the apologist! Adding this book to my reading list now!


  5. PC1

    I found this link to a round-table discussion between Licona and some well-known evangelical authors. It includes discussion about inerrancy and I found it very informative. Personally, although I appreciate the point Licona makes regarding ‘apocryphal’ language in Matthew, I view the rising of these ‘saints’ to be historical, and that is what Matthew intended. Quarles and Kruger particularly make important points about the text. However, I find it very disappointing that it seems Licona effectively lost his job over this issue in 2011. He is clearly a committed Christian who is convinced of the resurrection of Jesus and what that means for humanity, and is keen to tell others about Him. To be treated like that is pretty awful.



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