For those who do not know, Michael Licona’s recent book on the resurrection of Jesus has garnered many positive reviews and a number of critical responses. First, allow me to say that Dr. Licona and I would be on two different sides of the fence in terms of apologetic methodology. I find his strict evidentialism (not that I object to using evidence—not in the least!) to be sub-biblical apologetic method. However, this is a side issue at the moment. Still, much of his new book is valuable and worth reading (see my interview with Dr. Licona here).
Norman Geisler raised an issue with Licona’s book in the form of multiple open letters on his website (first letter & second letter). Dr. Geisler goes to great lengths to demonstrate that he believes Licona to be outside the bounds of orthodoxy in terms of his view on inerrancy. The issue being that Dr. Licona refers to the resurrection of the saints in Matthew’s Gospel as being largely poetic. Now, I take a far more literal view of that passage than Dr. Licona and I do take issue with what appears to be a dismissal of the historicity of the account. However, I am not sure that this is approach (although troubling) can be equated to a rejection of inerrancy.
I would actually take less of an issue with Michael Licona’s statement in his book and more of an issue with some of his statements on the Unbelievable program (UK). Licona’s debate on Unbelievable left much to be desired in terms of holding the line on distinctively Christian approaches to biblical date (listen here). Further, his follow-up discussion on Unbelievable regarding his faith journey seemed to make light of biblical inerrancy (here). Still, Dr. Licona affirmed his adherence to inerrancy (in an awkward manner). James White evaluated Licona’s comments on The Dividing Line program (here) earlier this week and while I don’t agree with everything he said, I think Dr. White raises some issues that must be considered by those following Licona’s preferred method of apologetics.
Now, Michael Licona has finally responded to Norm Geisler’s criticism. Below is a copy of Dr. Licona’s response along with Norm Geisler critique of his response. Again, while not agreeing fully with Michael Licona, I found his explanation to be somewhat satisfying. Again, to me, his comments on the Unbelievable radio program are far more concerning. I would be curious to hear what other make of this issue…
Dr. Michael Licona’s Open Letter
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.
It has come to my attention that this matter may become a political/theological hot potato. The scholars on the list have stood with me. It was not my intent to amass a huge list. It was my intent to demonstrate that a significant number of the most highly respected evangelical scholars, all of whom are members of ETS, see no incompatibility between the position I took in my book and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. The list has served its purpose. I have no desire to be the cause of pressure brought on those who have stood with me or on their academic institutions. Therefore, I have decided to remove the list of names for the present time at least. In no case, did an institution demand that their professors withdraw their names.
A number of scholars have suggested that this discussion is better played out in the theatre of an academic forum. I could not agree more! Southeastern Theological Review (STR) has offered to host a ‘virtual’ roundtable discussion involving significant scholars commenting on my book. A main subject of this roundtable will be the raising of the dead saints in Matthew 27:52-53. This roundtable discussion(s) will be posted on the STR web site and will precede a full journal devoted to my book in the Summer 2012 edition of STR.
Michael R. Licona, Ph.D.
Here is Dr. Geisler’s response.