Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Recently, I’ve written my thoughts on the Licona/Geisler situation. Again, to state why some might want to dismiss this, I am Mike Licona’s son-in-law. Some have used that as an excuse to disregard what I say, which is a sad situation. Look at the arguments instead of possible reasons for arguments.
To begin with, an open letter has been issued to Norman Geisler:
An Open Response to Norman Geisler
Norman Geisler has taken issue with a portion of my recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, in which I proposed that the story of the raised saints in Matthew 27:52-53 should probably be interpreted as apocalyptic imagery rather than literal history. In response, Dr. Geisler has offered strong criticisms in two Open Letters to me on the Internet. Until now I have been unable to comment because I have multiple writing deadlines, two September debates in South Africa for which to prepare, and, consequently, no time to be drawn into what would probably turn into an endless debate. I shared these first two reasons with Dr. Geisler in an email several weeks ago. Yet he insisted that I “give careful and immediate attention” to the matter. I simply could not do this and fulfill the pressing obligations of my ministry, which is my higher priority before the Lord.
Dr. Geisler questions whether I still hold to biblical inerrancy. I want to be clear that I continue to affirm this evangelical distinctive. My conclusion in reference to the raised saints in Matthew 27 was based upon my analysis of the genre of the text. This was not an attempt to wiggle out from under the burden of an inerrant text; it was an attempt to respect the text by seeking to learn what Matthew was trying to communicate. This is responsible hermeneutical practice. Any reasonable doctrine of biblical inerrancy must respect authorial intent rather than predetermine it.
When writing a sizable book, there will always be portions in which one could have articulated a matter more appropriately. And those portions, I suppose, will often be located outside the primary thesis of the book, such as the one on which Dr. Geisler has chosen to focus. When writing my book, I always regarded the entirety of Matthew 27 as historical narrative containing apocalyptic allusions. I selected the term “poetic” in order to allude to similar phenomena in the Greco-Roman literature in general and Virgil in particular. However, since Matthew is a Jew writing to Jews, “apocalyptic” may be the most appropriate technical term, while “special effects” communicates the gist on a popular level.
Further research over the last year in the Greco-Roman literature has led me to reexamine the position I took in my book. Although additional research certainly remains, at present I am just as inclined to understand the narrative of the raised saints in Matthew 27 as a report of a factual (i.e., literal) event as I am to view it as an apocalyptic symbol. It may also be a report of a real event described partially in apocalyptic terms. I will be pleased to revise the relevant section in a future edition of my book.
Michael R. Licona, Ph.D.
August 31, 2011
We the undersigned are aware of the above stated position by Dr. Michael Licona, including his present position pertaining to the report of the raised saints in Matthew 27: He proposes that the report may refer to a literal/historical event, a real event partially described in apocalyptic terms, or an apocalyptic symbol. Though most of us do not hold Licona’s proposal, we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy, despite objections to the contrary. We are encouraged to see the confluence of biblical scholars, historians, and philosophers in this question.
W. David Beck, Ph.D.
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
James Chancellor, Ph.D.
William Lane Craig, D.Theol., Ph.D.
Jeremy A. Evans, Ph.D.
Gary R. Habermas, Ph.D.
Craig S. Keener, Ph.D.
Douglas J. Moo, Ph.D.
J. P. Moreland, Ph.D.
Heath A. Thomas, Ph.D.
Daniel B. Wallace, Ph.D.
William Warren, Ph.D.
Edwin M. Yamauchi, Ph.D.
Now my personal reply:
I have been quite disappointed throughout this whole ordeal. I am a firm believer in inerrancy. I and numerous other evangelicals read this book and did not bat an eye at that part. My thinking on it was that it was a neat suggestion and was worthy of further research, but I wasn’t ready to sign on the dotted line. Still I have kept it as a possible interpretation.
Unfortunately, all that changed when Geisler read the book, nearly a year after it had been published.
From that day on, we have been in a constant situation with how to deal with this. As said above, Licona did not respond immediately due to more pressing deadlines. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough.
It is now known that he no longer has his position at NAMB, but anyone who thinks that he was fired should avoid saying such. Licona left the company on good terms and with a severance package which does not happen when one is fired.
I never had seen any reason given also as to why Mike’s interpretation violated inerrancy. I saw reasons why some thought it was wrong, and that is entirely fine. Had Geisler simply written that, none of us would have had a problem. Instead it was charged that Licona was violating inerrancy.
But if Licona is taking the text the way he honestly believes based on research that the author intended it to be taken, how can that be a violation of inerrancy? He could be wrong on the intention of the author, but he cannot be wrong in thinking that that is what he believes at the time.
I have had discussions with friends that have been a source of concern to me. I do not mind disagreements with friends, but I do mind when it seems we are on opposing sides on an issue that some see as more important than it really is. I have seen a pastor who is no doubt to me an example of many who has not even read Licona’s book or seen his arguments AFAIK at the time of this writing (And I know he had not for he told me himself) but yet, because Geisler says that it’s unorthodox and violates inerrancy, well that settles it.
Even if I believed Geisler was entirely right in his charge, let us be aware that this is a dangerous position and one James wants us to be careful about as well as Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. We have at that point simply an argument from authority without knowing the reasons why and are letting someone else do our thinking for us. Geisler can be right or wrong about any issue and is not an infallible Pope. Do we really want to attack another Christian’s livelihood without first hearing what they have to say in their defense?
I have also seen that on Vital Signs that the blogger there had put up a post based on what Geisler said. The post asked if we can trust the Bible. The answer was that from an SBC professor, sometimes we cannot. Then it was stated that Licona is selecting what details of the text he denies in an arbitrary fashion.
Rather one agrees or disagrees with Licona, he is not taking his position arbitrarily but is really wrestling with the text trying to take it as Matthew wanted. It can be said that Licona is going against the “plain sense” but do we really want to always say that is the correct sense? From such a reading, would we be able to answer the skeptics who state that the Bible says bats are birds for instance? Does this mean that everyone who interprets Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation in a non-literal sense is denying inerrancy?
Once again, Geisler is being taken without reference to the other side, and people’s reputations are being called into question.
Licona wrote an excellent book on the resurrection of Jesus backed by Gary Habermas, who has for years been the authority on the resurrection, something I’m sure even Geisler would agree with. He does not see this as a violation of inerrancy and as his name is on the list of signers, we can tell despite the second open letter of Geisler what position he takes, along with Craig who said the exact same thing on this passage in a debate with Avalos.
However, because of a supposed attack on inerrancy, several in the church who might have read Licona’s book won’t take the time to read it. Several who could have listened to his audio files or any other information will say “Nope. He’s a heretic,” and move on, never knowing the truth.
What is concerning also is the way this looks to a watching world. The new atheists love it I’m sure when we start slinging mud at one another and going after each other. It keeps us from going after our common opponent. All this time could have been spent focusing not on the denial of the resurrection of the saints, which Licona says he’s now open to, but focusing on the denial of the resurrection of Christ.
What needs to be asked now is if Christians are willing to come together and be open to ideas that are new to their paradigm. If we believe the Bible is true, we need not panic over a false interpretation. We need to respond to it. If it seems that a Christian brother or sister is the one guilty, let us first give the benefit of the doubt. Does the person really deny inerrancy?
Suppose they say “I have always believed inerrancy, but I am having questions.” This is not, of course, the position of Licona but I state it for the sake of argument. What to do with such a person? We seek to find out what they are struggling with. If they have a view of the text that seems different, we study the text. We also study material relevant to it, such as the social world of the time of the writing and the language that it was written in.
In the end, we should all want to be on the side of the truth. Because we think an interpretation is wrong, that is not sufficient reason for thinking that the author is denying inerrancy. We need more than a wrong interpretation. We need a wrong interpretation knowing that the author intended otherwise. Every argument against Licona’s interpretation could have been correct and it would not have shown that he was denying inerrancy.
I urge all of us to put this issue behind us and realize who we are in Christ and that it would be better for us to go after the wolves outside the flock than the sheep within.