In the tradition of America’s favorite past-time I want to use a baseball analogy to express the recent debate concerning the position of Dr. Mike Licona on the Matthew 27:52 passage (The Resurrection of Jesus). Dr. Thomas Howe has once again presented tremendous insight into the inerrancy of the text. Dr. Howe’s first article produced a solid base hit. In his follow-up articles, on this issue, he presents solid evidence the Matthew 27:52 passage is historical by using Old Testament scriptures. Dr. Howe then solidifies the position with an article concerning an inerrant approach to the text in the interpretation process. I present the reader with his latest.
In Dr. Howe’s first article The Real Issue he connected solidly with an inside fast ball meant to move the hitter away from the plate. This hit placed a runner on first. Dr. Howe’s follow-up article Matthew and Daniel connects solidly with the inside high fast ball advancing the runner to second and the batter ends up on first. In this article he expresses, using the text of the Old Testament book of Daniel, how the raised saints in Matthew 27:52 must be connected. Dr. Howe concludes in his article Matthew and Daniel
This connection between Daniel and Matthew indicates the necessity of taking the statement in Matt. 27:52 as an historical event. Also, this connection is used by Matthew as evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Daniel’s prophecies. By taking references in Matthew’s Gospel, such as 27:52–53, as non-historical, Licona has inadvertently robbed the text of its witness to the Messiahship of Jesus.
Dr. Thomas A. Howe, Ph.D, professor of Biblical Languages at Southern Evangelical Seminary, has written a series of articles concerning this issue. In recent arguments some have debated that Dr. Licona is a Biblical Language scholar and as such has a level of expertise Dr. Geisler does not posses. The question is a simple one. Does Dr. Licona’s position deny inerrancy? Dr. Howe says, Yes!!
Licona claims that the events in Matt. 27:52-53 did not actually occur because, as apocalyptic literature, Matthew did not intend them to be taken as referring to historical events. But Licona cannot know Matthew’s intent, and even if he did, it does not follow that because a text is apocalyptic that it cannot or does not refer to historical events. To claim that the events in Matthew’s text did not actually occur is simply not a matter of interpretation. Even if we take Matthew’s text to be apocalyptic, which is by no means certain, Matthew presents the events as actual historical events or as symbols of actual historical events, but nevertheless as events that actually happened. If they did not occur, Matthew’s Gospel is in error, and this is certainly a matter of inerrancy.
One can read the Dr. Howe’s complete article here. While some are taking off for the Christmas holidays, inerrancy does not take a holiday. This is an issue that will tear evangelicalism apart. It needs to be dealt with in the evangelical world not in the scholarly academy only. Inerrancy is a doctrine of the church, Certainly the academy has produced scholars that affirm it and can articulate it in the academy. However, it is high time for the church and her leaders to clearly articulate seriousness of an issue that has the tendency to lead us back to denying the Word of God. While we all have friends and it is time for us to take seriously Proverbs 27 concerning our friends. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”.
Much has been made of the doctrine on inerrancy in the past four months. Since Dr. Mike Licona’s book has been publicly reviewed, and found to be lacking in sound scholarship when it comes to inerrancy. So far he has refused to retract his view, but has simply expressed some doubts about it. The best he has given is:
“…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.”
Notice that Dr. Licona still insists that Matthew could have presented this text as apocalyptic and, as such, it did not actually happen. He takes an agnostic approach as he characterizes himself as “undecided” concerning that author’s intent of the text. Enter the authorial intent doctrine that many inerrantist hold to tenaciously. However, this is the first time I have seen it used to deny the historical-grammatical intent of the text when there was nothing other than outside sources that would call the text into question.
Enter Authorial Intent
Dr. Mike Licona resigned from his position as the Apologetics guru of the Southern Baptist Convention at The North American Mission Board. In a recent Baptist Press article Dr. Licona said; “Historical research, Licona said, must work on a case-by-case basis.” According to Dr. Licona’s own words, he believes the Scriptures are to be approached with a question in the back of the reader’s mind concerning the historical accuracy of the text. Friends, this is not inerrancy. Any approach to the text with a question concerning the historical accuracy of the text negates the basis of the text being without error. It is like two Baptists, one a Frewill Baptist and another a Confessional Baptist singing the song, “when we all get to heaven”. The confessional Baptist sings it with a statement of fact in his voice. While the Freewill Baptist sings it verbally, but in his mind changes the words to; “if” we all get to heaven.
Well it looks as if the “scholarly” community, as expressed by SEBTS’s professor Dr. Evans, desires to be “the appropriate places for such a discussion to occur“. This scholarly community is saying, in essence, “these dumb preachers are just trying to jump on a band wagon.” Well, let’s look at who is leading the “band wagon.” Read more
Dr. Mike Licona
In Dr. Geisler’s first letter he clearly expresses his disagreement with Dr. Licona’s position. Dr. Licona presents the position that Matthew 27:52-53 is not a historical event but a “legend” or a “poetic” story told by Matthew. You can read Dr. Geisler’s full letter here. According to Dr. Geisler, Dr. Licona asks the right question but arrives at a very troubling answer.
“If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same” (553, emphasis added)
“First, you say that “There is no indication that the early Christian interpreted Jesus’ resurrection in a metaphorical or poetic sense to the exclusion of it being a literal event that had occurred to his corpse” (553). But neither is there any indication in the text that a historical understanding of the resurrection of the saints should be excluded from this text.Your second reason is even less convincing. You argue that Jesus’ resurrection must have been literal (and the resurrection of these saints was not) since “no known Christian opponent criticized the early Christians or their opponents for misunderstanding poetry as history” (553) But this is a well-known fallacy of an argument from silence .”
“Finally, the same mistake seems to be occurring in your interpretation of this text as is made by many current liberal scholars in dehistoricizing other biblical texts, namely, using extra biblical sources as determinative for understanding a biblical text.”
Thus, Dr. Geisler’s disagreement is not limited to methodology, he disagrees with Dr. Licona’s outcome. Read more
Dr. Mike Licona
Dr. Mike Licona is considered a leading Southern Baptist Apologist. He was interviewed by Lee Strobel as he researched his book The Case for the Risen Jesus. This book has been used by many pastors to strengthen disciples with fresh arguments describing truth to unbelievers.
It seems that Dr. Licona’s latest book has something, while not negating his argument for the resurrection of Jesus, certainly calls into question his integrity concerning inerrancy. I am not questioning Dr. Licona’s personal position concerning inerrancy. Certainly, if asked, Dr. Licona will express that he believes he is an inerrantist. However, what I am calling into question is the argument he makes in his book. The argument he presents is certainly not an argument from the inerrancy of Scripture.
This presentation is not something I have discerned on my own as I saw this argument as Dr. Norman Giesler presented it in an open letter. Dr. Giesler, it seems, tried to privately contact Dr. Licona concerning his disagreement but received no reply. After the request was rejected Dr. Giesler embarked on an open letter. One open letter led to two. Which is amazing to me as Dr. Licona has responded to others when challenged concerning his positions here, here, and here. Certainly when a Norman Giesler contacts me privately to express some concerns and even disagreement, I would desire to respond to one of the leading Evangelical apologists in the world. What Dr. Licona did by refusing to respond to Dr. Giesler would be akin to me refusing to reply to Dr. Jerry Vines after I spoke at the SBC Pastors Conference on what Baptists believe about the Bible.
I am currently trying to place together an accurate presentation of the situation. I will post more on this issue after I complete more research as to Dr. Licona’s position and connection with the Southern Baptist Convention.