Interviewed by Baptist Press, Licona expressed what every New Testament scholar in the world knows: that the Gospels sometimes take the same sorts of liberties in telling the story of Jesus that other ancient Greek biographies take in telling the stories of their subjects. In other words, these differences of presentation—some may rise to the level of “contradiction”—are within the expected tolerances for the sort of literature they are.
Of course, saying out loud what reputable experts know is a serious no-no in some provinces of Baptistland. Chaplain Mike of Internet Monk hits the nail on the head:
Ironically, in the interview Licona was actually trying to increase Christians’ trust in the reliability of the New Testament by pointing out that what we might consider “contradictions” according to our post-Enlightenment standards of historical veracity were simply characteristic of the way historians wrote then. He also affirmed that these “contradictions” were all written with regard to peripheral details in the accounts and not major points. In addition, he suggested that what we are really talking about here in the vast majority of cases are “differences” and that there is only a handful of stubborn differences that might rise to the level of actual contradictions — and again, even if they did, these relate only to peripheral details.
This, however, was not good enough for Al Mohler, who was involved in another dispute involving Licona’s understanding of Scripture in 2011. In that case, even though Licona wrote a book which strongly defended the literal resurrection, his handling of one pericope (Matthew 27:51-53) as a “poetic device” fell short in Mohler’s eyes and “ “handed the enemies of the resurrection of Jesus Christ a powerful weapon.”
With regard to the dispute we are considering today, Dr. Mohler has commented, “It would be nonsense to affirm real contradictions in the Bible and then to affirm inerrancy.” He was not satisfied with Licona’s suggestion that certain forms of inerrancy might be ruled out by his approach. “What you lose is inerrancy itself,” Mohler asserted.
Whatever. Personally, I much prefer to deal with the Bible as it truly is rather than what I might wish it to be.