Mike Licona Replies

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.

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21 Responses to “Mike Licona Replies”

  1. Rob El Says:

    Nick, do you think Geisler’s issue might be, that he’s mistaking literalism for inerrancy?

  2. Articles. « Loftier Musings Says:

    […] Mike Licona Replies […]

  3. apologianick Says:

    Hi Rob. Thanks for posting.

    I take great delight in seeing an atheist ask that question since it tells me you’re actually taking the side of biblical argumentation seriously rather than doing what most atheists do and just dismiss it as nonsense.

    Yes. I think that is at least part of Geisler’s mistake. Licona is not denying Inerrancy. He honestly believes that this is what Matthew intended for us to get out of the text.

  4. Rob El Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, and as always it’s my pleasure to post your articles! You’ve got a good voice, and a strong writing style, because we disagree on theological assumptions, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy your posts. You keep writing them, I’ll keep posting them 🙂

    I’m no Christian, but it seems to be, there is no (or not much?) theological necessity in the verses in Matthew, you can interpret those passages as non literal, and inerrancy remains perfectly unharmed. If Licona was trying to say the resurrection, virgin birth or something of similar necessity was ‘metaphorical’, ‘allegorical’ (or whatever term you like), Geisler might have a worthy objection. As it is, it seems kind of an esoteric, and over the top challenge by Geisler, in my very humble opinion.

  5. Steve Wilkinson Says:

    While I think I agree with Geisler’s position on this particular issue, I thought it was a bit nuts of his demand for immediate response and attention to the issue. While I respect much of Dr. Geisler’s work… seriously, who does this guy think he is? (Note: Geisler still hasn’t responded to Dr. James White’s challenge concerning Geisler’s defense of Ergun Caner and his history of lying after over a year now.)

  6. RichardLuciano1 Says:

    I feel the next two evangelical debates are going to be about variant ways of defining inerrancy, and fundamentalism/liberalism within evangelical circles. Methinks TULIP sniffing or the weeding of it along with ID debates on the age of the earth will be visiting the back burners in a few years. Maybe we should stay on top of this new hot button issue. Lines could be drawn anywhere for an alleged crossing of the line (e.g., is hellfire real fire; Can the Leviathan of Isaiah 27 be interpreted with paganism if Virgil or Greco Roman writing cannot be implemented in a small passage of Matthew’s Gospel; Are these additionally resurrected people so interwoven that Romans 10:9 can only imply if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him and others in a co-resurrection from the dead thou shalt be saved? Can six days of creation really be very good with death and suffering thrown in?). I totally accept Dr. Geisler’s interpretation of Matthew 27’s raised saints, but I cannot accept his charge against Dr. Licona. This is on a level similar to Replacement Theology or Transubstantiation, but it is not as serious the trend of Dual Covenant Theology.

  7. Origen Says:

    J.P is right. Geisler is nothing but a bully. This is not the first time he has done something like this. Geisler’s position seems to be that if you do not agree with him you must be a heretic. He tried to do the the same thing to New Testament scholar Murray J. Harris in the mid 90s. Harris’ reply to Geisler’s, FROM GRAVE TO GLORY, is excellent tomb of New Testament evangelical scholarship on the subject and a must read.

  8. jamie black Says:

    I get the feeling people aren’t reading what Norman geisler said. Mike licona signed the Chicago statement of innerancy which states explicitly against the dehistorizing of Biblical texts. The resurrection is not the only Tennet of Biblical Christianity. Of course it is an absolute fundamental of Christianity,but it is not the only one. The very same resurrected Messiah held to the absolute infallibillity,trustworthiness and truthfulness of the o.t Scriptures (and by implication the same goes for the new), so we must adhere to Jesus view of Gods written record to man. He believed everyword could be trusted down to minutiae. So if a Christian claims to trust Jesus then he is obligated to affirm what Jesus affirms, and that is the total trustworthiness of Scripture.

    • Randy Everist Says:

      But Jamie, here you’re just assuming what you seek to prove! The text can only be “dehistoricized” if it is meant as history in the first place! Now of course, the text has an objective meaning whether we recognize it or not; that is to say, it either is or is not intended to be literal history, regardless of my view or anyone else’s. That said, inerrancy is only false if Matthew intended it as history and yet it was not an actually-occurring event. Suppose that statement is true. Then what would it take to deny inerrancy? The affirming of that statement. Licona does not in fact affirm that statement. So where does he violate the Chicago Statement, especially considering the Statement itself makes room for non-literal language? To my view, if Geisler is correct about the Statement (which I think he is not), so much the worse for the statement, not the rest of us who haven’t taken crazy pills on the matter.

  9. Steve Wilkinson Says:

    I think what concerns me more were some of the statements Licona made while discussing his faith-journey with Bart Ehrman on the Unbelieveable? radio program. He basically talked like giving up inerrancy (while he held it currently) wouldn’t be that crucial to Christianity. I disagree, and I can see where Dr. Geisler might have some concern if he has been following other such statements by Licona (if there have been any). Maybe this was something pent-up? Either way, though, for Geisler to make the kinds of demands he has, and the way he has gone about it, is highly inappropriate (especially, as I mentioned, given Geisler’s own track record).

    And, again, I don’t agree with Dr. Licona that this is a the best reading of the passage (though, sure, possible). I’m always suspicious of drawing these kinds of parallels (just as I am with Genesis and ANE, or Jesus and Mystery religions). Why do it here and place emphasis on it? Also, that the passage says in v53 that ‘they appeared to many in the holy city’ sounds historical (or even that it should be historically tested), similar to Paul’s saying Jesus appeared to many. It kind of infers… go ask them. If it had stopped after v52, I’d be more inclined to consider this alternate position.

  10. apologianick Says:

    The statements on Unbelievable were made asking if Inerrancy is essential for Christianity. I surely wouldn’t say that it is. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. It just means it’s not essential. To say he has something pent-up is to say Licona makes his statement because he doubts Inerrancy. That’s not the case. He makes it based on a study of the text in relation to its genre.

    • Steve Wilkinson Says:

      I agree with you, if what you are saying is that someone can be a true Christian without holding or even knowing what inerrancy is. Certainly, they could know Jesus and trust in Him for their salvation.

      On the other hand, if you are saying that inerrancy is not essential for/to Christianity as a whole, I disagree. What is the alternative? It is a complex doctrine, and I often avoid it (especially in apologetic dialog with unbelievers), as it is unlikely there will be the time or patience to unravel what it means. However, I think it is a crucial doctrine (if rightly defined… if, as you’ve questioned in your other articles… we’ve yet to do so).

      “To say he has something pent-up is to say Licona makes his statement because he doubts Inerrancy.”

      Not necessarily. It could be a pent-up misconception on Geisler’s part of what Licona actually believes. But, if I heard Licona make those kinds of statements in different ways at different times (assuming he did), I might start to wonder. Then if I saw something that I thought was a good example of the repercussions, I suppose it might trigger me to comment. I’d certainly do it in a more gracious way than Geisler did, but I’m just saying I can see how it might happen.

      Again, I don’t know if that is how Licona typically expresses his thoughts on this issue, or if that was just because he was in the company of Ehrman. But, it was a bit troubling to me. It didn’t sound like he was just saying one could be a Christian without holding inerrancy… but that if the BIble was found to be errant in small ways, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal… as the evidence for the Resurrection is really where it is at. Sorry, as solid as I think the Resurrection is evidentially, I just can’t go there.

      I suppose one could come up with a rough Christianity without inerrancy, and the basic idea of Jesus being our Savior could still be true. However, the usefulness of Scripture at that point would be pretty up in the air. You’d be left with a rough story of the history of the Jews and Christianity, where any of the details can be questioned. Sure, maybe one could still consider the evidence for theism, and Christ’s resurrection to be strong enough to believe something like it happened. Where one would go from there, though, who knows? I guess it depends on how much error one thought they had found Scripture has.

      While I don’t know Licona’s work well at all, I doubt he wants to go there. But, I think that is what happens if inerrancy is given up. (I say this having spent several years interacting with liberal churches and profs who mostly all believed Scripture was super important, just not inerrant.)

  11. apologianick Says:

    I’d say Inerrancy is actually not essential for Christianity. I also say this as someone who has a firm belief in Inerrancy and has been debating so called “Bible contradictions” for years. I say this is the case because it could be that Jesus rose from the dead and the Bible is not Inerrant.

    In fact, Gary Habermas makes the same point in his minimal facts approach where he has it that we can take the Bible the way the liberals do, and Jesus still rose from the dead.

    I don’t consider it an all-or-nothing game and I think that’s what was being discussed. In fact, some Christian scholars who are quite orthodox do not believe in Inerrancy.

    However, what needs to be realized here also is that Inerrancy in the manuscripts does not equal Inerrancy in the interpretations.

    • Steve Wilkinson Says:

      “I say this is the case because it could be that Jesus rose from the dead and the Bible is not Inerrant.”

      But, then what would you believe about this Jesus? I guess if he rose from the dead, he is either quite powerful or someone else is. What follows, though, if the rest of the Bible isn’t reliable? Maybe Christ rose from the dead, but the apostles were mistaken in worshiping him.

      My problem is that once inerrancy goes, how does one then determine which items are errors and which are not? (plus, like you, I’ve found no reason to toss inerrancy out)

  12. Nick Peters Says:

    How do we know what is reliable about Alexander the Great? About Socrates? About Nero? About Augustine or Aquinas? About anyone in history whatsoever?

  13. The Geisler-Licona Controversy:Part 1: What Is This All About? | SBC Today Says:

    […] respond, Geisler published a second open letter (August 21, 2011). Licona did respond with his own open letter (August 31), which included Licona’s reaffirmation of inerrancy, an acknowledgment that in any […]

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  15. apologianick Says:

    Hi Allsaints! Thanks for the comments! This is not a paid project. This is something I started doing in 2007. My style has been improving and will continue to improve and I’d say my marriage has helped improve it. This is also something that will hopefully become a ministry on its own with a web site this year. I recommend you click the donate button at the top if you want to take part in supporting this work. Thanks for the comment. I’d appreciate your prayers as well and keep reading and tell others about Deeper Waters.

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  17. Godfrey Babu Says:

    I have had fairy interpretation of text and engaged in critical examination/scrutiny of literalism in scholastic perspective of biblical narratives. The more so, I employed proper understanding of the word (through comparatively methodology of historicity and deity of scriptures) the more I imposed questions on the canon comprehension of the bible and inherent demand of the Holy spirit to enable elucidation. This enriched fortune made me a solid apologetic of Christendom. I find NO fault following Professor Licona interpretation.

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