Geisler Resurrects The Zombie Argument

Will the Geisler controversy ever stay dead? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

It’d been a few weeks since we’d seen anything from Geisler on Mike Licona. For the rest of us, we’d moved on with our lives. Maybe Geisler’s got the hint already. Unfortunately, with the appearance of a new webmaster for Geisler also came new arguments from Geisler on a topic that the rest of the world no longer cares about.

Hence, I call it the Zombie argument. It should have stayed that way but Geisler seems to want to keep resurrecting it. Oh well. Let us look and see what the first proponent has to say.

Second, unfortunately, while Licona’s work defends Jesus’ bodily resurrection ably, the assumption of genre hermeneutic known as apocalyptic or eschatological Jewish texts whereby Licona dismisses the historicity of Matthew 27:51-53 (and its recording of the resurrection of saints) results effectively in the complete evisceration and total negation of His strong defense of Jesus’ resurrection.

Oh come on now! This is the same tired argument we saw from Mohler as well and the one Geisler fears. Let’s point out some differences.

First off, not all miracles are equal and not all resurrections are equally noteworthy. Which miracle do you think you could probably make a better case for? The parting of the Red Sea or Jesus turning water into wine? With the Red Sea, we could do archaeology and compare the records of Egypt and look at the events that happened at the time.

With the second one however, are we actually going to try to go to Cana and try to find some leftover wine and be able to see if it was water that was instantaneously turned into wine? We would be much more hard-pressed. This is a miracle that I believe happened but is not essential to our faith. I would defend the possibility of the miracle in this case, but if I had to give a historical case for this one in particular, I would be hard-pressed. I would simply point to the general reliability of John.

In 2 Kings, there is an account of a dead man thrown aside who touches the bones of Elisha and comes to life again. What historical evidence will be mounted to show that this resurrection happened? Again, I cannot think of any. We do not know what this man’s name was even.

Compare this to Jesus’s resurrection. We do have evidence outside of the gospels in the epistles and we have the rise of the Christian church, the role of an honor/shame motif in the event, the reality that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and the claims of the apostles to see the risen Christ. Licona presents several articles of defense of this one resurrection.

Does someone who is a NT scholar really think the appropriate response would be “Yeah, but that doesn’t matter since you don’t accept this other claim in Matthew 27.”

No. I don’t even think a Bart Ehrman would use that line. The method is to deal with the evidence for the resurrection. Farnell assumes that the resurrection of Jesus would be defended like the resurrection of the saints and that the miracle of the saints if it happened would be as historically demonstrable as that of the resurrection of Christ. This is a huge assumption and a false one!

This conclusion is subjective, arbitrary, hermeneutically quite unnecessary. Nothing demands such a conclusion in the context or supports such a conclusion.

Farnell says the above about Licona’s conclusion that the text is apocalyptic. What he leaves out are the many arguments that Licona gives. Licona argues for a number of pages in the book with evidences and in his talk at EPS, he gave even more evidence for his position.

Farnell’s position is like someone sticking their head in the sand and saying “No! I don’t accept it!” Instead of dealing with the arguments Licona has given, he just asserts that there’s no need to have that conclusion. It doesn’t matter that Licona has given reasons. Those reasons must obviously be false! Why? Because they disagree with what I believe!

If the events in Matthew 27:51-53 are held that way, nothing—absolutely nothing— stops critics from applying a similar kind of logic to Jesus’ resurrection. Licona’s logic here is self-defeating and undermines his entire work on defending the resurrection.

Nothing stops critics from doing so except for Mike’s argument. No one I know of would take the creed in 1 Cor. 15 as simply apocalypse. No one I know of takes the crucifixion as simply apocalypse. For these people, it’s an all-or-nothing game. Either everything is literally historical or nothing is. For NT scholarship, it’s not that simple.

First, Licona appears to take other events in immediate context both BEFORE AND AFTER this passage as historical (Jesus crying out, veil of temple split, earthquake, the centurion crying out). Merely because he finds these events “strange” is rather subjective. His idea of “What were they [the resurrected saints] doing between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning?” shows that an acute subjectivity reigns in Licona’s hermeneutical scheme.

Licona does not take that view simply because it is strange, but based on a historical argument that Farnell has not touched. It is easy to cry out about subjectivity when one does not want to deal with the arguments.

Second, no literary signals exist to the readers that Matthew has switched from historical narration of the events surrounding the crucifixion. The passage flows both before and after as a telling of the events with no abrupt disjuncture. How would Matthew’s readers have recognized that the events, before and after, were historical in time-space but not the immediate passage?

How would Matthew’s readers have been able to distinguish the genre change from historical narrative to what Licona term’s “symbolic” based in eschatological Jewish texts.

Matthew’s readers would have been the most educated as few people then were literate. The popular audience would have known based on oral clues rather than written ones. We do not live in that culture and it is a mistake to think our thinking would be just like theirs. What clues were there? There would be a number and some we don’t know of I’m sure.

For instance, I just got done reading Ken Bailey’s “Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes” and my eyes were opened to things in 1 Corinthians I hadn’t noticed in years of reading. Paul writes often in a ring composition with point A, point B, point C and then an emphasis in point D, followed by a restating of C, then of B, then of A. We Western readers miss this. A Jewish reader would have caught on immediately.

There is nothing in the text that has Paul saying “Oh Corinthians. I want you to know how I’m writing. Please understand this.” Paul wrote using clues internal to the culture that that culture would have recognized. The same could be going on here in Matthew 27 and Licona certainly thinks it is based on the study of genre.

It is highly dubious that Matthew 27:51-53 or Revelation should be associated with Jewish Apocalyptic literature. While Revelation may share some highly superficial characterstics, such as symbolism, it DOES NOT share the dualism, pessimism, determinism, pseudonymity or rewritten history transformed into prophecy that characterized such Jewish literature (see Leon Morris, Apocalyptic, 1972).

This man has a doctorate after saying Revelation should not be associated with Apocalyptic literature? The very first word of the book is the Greek word for apocalypse. If Revelation is not an apocalypse, pray tell what exactly should we define it as?

Does Revelation share all the characteristics? No. But what does. However, there are a number of similarities. I believe there is a dualism in the sense of good vs. evil with the good winning. I also think some of Revelation is historical and has been rewritten, such as the account in Revelation 12 which I believe to be a description of the birth of Christ. (Let’s wait now and see if Geisler sends the Heresy Hounds after me.)

I would lovingly ask Mike Licona to reconsider his position. All of us have had times when we have reconsidered positions and changed as we grow in the faith and wisdom as Christians and in the love of the Lord Jesus.

Instead, what we need is for Geisler to consider he could be wrong in the face of opposition. This reminds me some of when the Arizona Congresswoman was shot and P.Z. Myers was sure that the shooter was a Republican who listened to talk radio. Myers would jump on anything that supported his claim and ignore all that went against it.

If Geisler is so sure he’s right, then he should have agreed to the round table discussion. He should have also agreed to meet Licona with witnesses, but he has not done so.

Meanwhile, let’s look at just one piece from the other short letter.

Be encouraged that we all see through the childish attacks you have faced. In
our culture, personal attacks are often offered when the opposition cannot
answer the clarity of your position. Sadly it is apparent that sometimes Christians
do this as well. You do not stand alone. We have been there, and we stand
alongside of you in the truth! The Administration, Faculty, Staff and students of
the Arlington Baptist College pray for you and stand with you in this battle.

All the childish attacks. Oh come on!

If people cry out over this, I wonder what they would do in the face of real persecution in certain countries overseas.

To begin with, let us remember it was Geisler who threw the first punch here, and that punch has cost the Licona family income and loss of credibility. Note also Geisler has had a petition going around behind the scenes against Licona and Geisler has been getting Licona uninvited from conferences and doing the same to Copan and Habermas for supporting Licona.

Last I checked, none of us have done such to Geisler. Geisler has tried to control the evangelical world and make sure everyone sees things his way.

I agree that attacks can come when the clarity of a position cannot be answered, but in this case it has been. I’ve done it. Max Andrews has done it. J.P. Holding has done it. We have not seen replies to what we have said. Holding’s challenge to Geisler for open debate was even taken down from Geisler’s Facebook page and the person who posted it was banned from posting there.

Geisler has refused to listen then and has instead kept going on his Crusade. If he wants to play that game it is played as well. The response of Holding was to make a cartoon and now Geisler plays the victim card. It is like the bully who punches someone only to have another student who doesn’t like it come over and knock him down and then the bully cries out that he is a victim.

What is done is done because Geisler is going against unity in the body and damaging Evangelicalism as a whole. There was a day and age when many of us held Geisler’s name in great respect. Now we look at that name with shame. We see it as disgraceful and for us, it wasn’t because of anything that Mike Licona said about Geisler. It was seeing Geisler himself and how he handled disagreement and the hostility in his approach to Licona.

The cause of Geisler’s loss of respect in the evangelical world is Geisler alone.

We hope that Geisler will stop and see the damage he’s done to the body and give it a rest. There are far more important battles to be fought.

We also want to note the irony that Ergun Caner is listed as support. Geisler. Do you really want to use Caner’s name again? There are people that have been waiting for you to answer questions for years on this topic and now in a topic where your position is not accepted, you bring in an endorsement from someone who’s endorsement will not be accepted. Do you really want James White going after you again?

Now earlier, I would have and in fact did agree with you on Caner. I hadn’t looked at it, but I knew Caner and I had a high respect for you and none for White. It seemed like a grudge match. Now since I’ve seen the way you investigate these claims, I must say I would simply wish to look at this whole thing myself if I got the time, but even if you were entirely right on Caner, it still does not serve you to bring him in here.

Seriously, this whole thing is dead. The evangelical world does not care any more about it. Oh I’ll still comment whenever you say something like this, but I’m also aware you’re doing a fine job of destroying your own reputation. When someone takes a minor and makes a major issue out of it, there is something else going on.

It’s done. I pray soon you’ll meet Licona with witnesses as he has asked for and be able to make amends and put this all past us. Enough damage has been done. There is no need to keep beating a resurrected horse.

In Christ,
Nick Peters