Thread: The Geisler/Licona debate
September 2nd 2011, 11:14 PM #1
The Geisler/Licona debate
What do I have to say on the matter?
The link can be found here
The text is as follows:
Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I'd like to take a look at a reason for writing on inerrancy, and that is the Geisler/Licona exchange going on right now. Let me state a reason at the start people might think I have a possible bias. I do happen to be Licona's son-in-law as I am blessed to have his daughter as my wife. However, I do try to be objective in all that I do, even in this case. Licona does know the areas of interpretation where I do disagree with him on. (Keep that in mind fellow apologists. You are allowed to disagree with those you do not doubt know far more than you in the field. No one is infallible in their interpretations) I ask people to look at the reasons for my belief rather than a possible motive.
To begin with, the charge is that Licona is denying the historicity of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27. What are we to make of this?
To begin with, before we ask if it is denying inerrancy, we must ask a question. Did Matthew intend for the writing to be taken as historical? Did he intend for us to think that a mass resurrection had literally taken place or did he intend for us to see this as an apocalyptic image of what the effects of Jesus dying on the cross were?
In fact, that seems to be the question that no one is really asking. Now someone might say that we can never get to authorial intent. Perhaps we cannot do so perfectly, but at the same time, we know it influences a message. I can say something sarcastic to a friend and rather than their being insulted, they will smile and laugh often because they know that that is my personality type and I do not really mean to say something negative about them to tear them down.
With my own wife, I can say an area to her that I think she lacks in. Knowing me, she realizes that what I say I say out of love. I do not mean to imply that because she needs to improve in this area, she is a failure or less of a person, although someone else saying the exact same thing could be meaning just that. Intent certainly does matter.
Now let's consider what is going on in this debate and how Licona is interpreting the text. Let's put the view up this way.
Matthew intended the event in Matthew 27 to be seen as apocalyptic and not a historical description.
Licona sees the event as apocalyptic and not a historical description.
Licona takes the text as the author intended.
Question. Can you take the text as the author intended really and be denying inerrancy? It would seem odd to say that a text is not meant to be taken as historical but the only way to affirm inerrancy is to take it as historical.
But let us change the message above.
Matthew intended the event in Matthew 27 to be seen as historical and not an apocalyptic description.
Licona sees the event as apocalyptic and not a historical description.
Licona does not take the text as the author intended.
Is Licona denying inerrancy on this one? Not necessarily. Let's consider a text like Matthew 24.
Let's suppose Preterists are right and Jesus intended the events he spoke about to be seen as apocalyptic descriptions and not literal descriptions. Does that mean that if someone is a Dispensationalist, then they are denying Inerrancy? No. It means that they are misinterpreting the text.
Let's suppose Dispensationalists are right and Jesus intended the events he spoke about to be seen as literal descriptions and not apocalyptic ones. Does that mean that Preterists are denying Inerrancy? Again, no. It just means that the text is being misinterpreted. If simply not taking the text as the author intended meant denying Inerrancy, all of us would be denying Inerrancy since none of us have perfect interpretations. Inerrancy refers to the context of the text and not our interpretations.
Now let's change the scenario of Licona above to see how it could deny inerrancy.
Matthew intended for the event in Matthew 27 to be seen as historical.
Licona realizes this, but believes that it is not historical.
Licona is knowingly denying the intent of the author.
In that case, then Licona would certainly be going against Inerrancy and I would be siding with Geisler on this case. However, Licona has examined the evidence and honestly believes what he believes right now.
But we cannot know the intent of the author!
Okay. Suppose we can't. What's the best method to do? Be as charitable as we can. To charge someone with believing something unorthodox is quite a serious charge. Before we do such, let's make sure we have examined every possible option exhaustively. If we cannot know for sure, then let us say "Well that might be his intent and if that was his intent, then we will accept it until further data shows otherwise."
Meanwhile, consider what an avenue we have open for NT research. We could study this kind of writing and see if it shows up elsewhere in the gospels and if that could illuminate our understanding of the text. In no way does this mean we deny the actual death, burial, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus. As an evangelical, I think we should study the text and try to see where our modern views could be going against the way people in the past wrote.
If we are people of truth, then we should be seeking it. This means examining all options. It also means we can look at scholarship without fear. If we believe in the Bible, we can say to its critics "Bring your charges and accusations. We will face them all!" If we believe Jesus rose from the dead, we believe that will hold out in the face of the strongest opposition.
Let's remember that is what we agree on. Jesus did rise. That is the message that needs to be given to the world. Let us unite together rather than tearing one another apart. I have no doubt that despite what one might think about how Licona has handled this text, he has done a valuable work for the church by publishing his book "The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach." If you think he's absolutely right, or even if you think he's unorthodox, you owe it to yourself if you're interested in resurrection studies to interact with what he says still and that should not be overlooked.
If someone can show that Licona is denying Inerrancy, then we will have a problem, but thus far, I have not seen it shown.
The following tWebber says Amen to ApologiaPhoenix for this useful Post:
September 8th 2011, 11:36 AM #2
Re: The Geisler/Licona debate
And now for part 2.
The link can be found here
The text is as follows:
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.
September 8th 2011, 04:00 PM #3
Re: The Geisler/Licona debate
Due to rampant stupidity by Skeptics, and time issues, I'm only going to be on TWeb in my own (tektonics.org) section from now on. Deal with it.
September 10th 2011, 10:37 PM #4
Re: The Geisler/Licona debate
And what about James White?
The link can be found here
The text is as follows:
Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I'm going to respond to what was recently stated at AOMin.org on the question of Licona's inerrancy. As I've stated, I am the son-in-law of Licona, but I try to be as objective as I can. The fact that at this point I cannot say with certainty that I agree with Licona's position should show that some. I do not however in anyway agree with the contention of Geisler and others that Licona is violating inerrancy.
To his credit, looking at the source that Jamin Hubner points to to indicate James White's thought, White does not attribute the argument directly to Licona of "Well this is just in one gospel." Indeed, if that was Licona's only reason for thinking the text is not historical, we would be having some issues.
Also, the reason that Licona is taking the position he has is not because he doubts the power of God. This is especially evident in his debate with Stephen Patterson where he talks about how he had a friend who was miraculously healed and he definitely attributes that to God. (It's a fascinating story to read or hear about. I highly recommend you do so.)
The sad reality is that most people will not read Licona's book to know his arguments. Again, to his credit, White does not use these arguments directly on Licona, but Hubner seems to think that they apply. Now it could be that Licona is entirely wrong in his position, but it is certainly the case that Hubner is entirely wrong on why Licona takes the position that he takes.
Licona's reasons for thinking this come from his reading of Greco-Roman biographies. Keep in mind that this is someone taking the time to read the biographies that are of the same genre as that of the gospels in an attempt to better understand the gospels. This is someone who really wants to know the writing of the time.
This is in no way a concession to liberalism. Were it so, Licona would be giving the arguments such as one gospel recording it or the problems of miracles. He is not. Instead, he is saying that he has read numerous such accounts in the deaths of great kings in the Greco-Roman world.
At that is a question for his accusers. Were you to read such an account, would you conclude that the historian was ignorant? This was not just in secular historians as well. Josephus records a number of strange signs and wonders. Does he intend all of them to be literal? Did all such Roman historians?
Well if the account is not historical, why state it?
You know, isn't it about time someone asked that question?
From my understanding, what Licona is saying is that these events not only were written as apocalyptic descriptions of the death of a great king, but also to show in such imagery what the effects were of the death of Christ. The temple being torn would show that the barrier that allowed entrance into the Holy of Holies had been torn and now all could freely enter the presence of YHWH. The darkness and earthquake would both be seen as a symbol of judgment. What about the resurrection?
It's noteworthy that the text says the people entered the city after Christ's resurrection. The idea would be that since Christ was raised, saints would be raised as well.
There are some people who do see that but think that in addition to that, God could have really done a game of one-upmanship on the leaders in Jerusalem by making what was just imagery for the deaths of those great kings be an actual historical event in this case.
Now the question can be "You know, this is a fascinating idea! Is there any way we can determine if this is the case?"
Why yes there is.
It's called research.
We don't just dismiss the idea. We study it and see the writing techniques of the time and decide what the case is based on the evidence. We don't decide what we are to believe based on force. When Licona is told to just get in line and believe what we believe, it is hardly a convincing argument. (If someone wanted to impugn him further, they could just say that if he changed his mind that he really didn't do that. He was just doing that to maintain his reputation.)
I don't know about you all, but I'm certainly interested in seeing this researched. Put the finest minds in evangelicalism out there we can find and study it. If they come back and say "Licona. We did the research. Here's why it looks like your hypothesis while interesting is wrong" and they list the reasons and Licona accepts them, then fair enough. He will do so knowing it was researched.
The question is what would his critics say to such research? Would they just dismiss it or not?
Do we want to be committed to our ideal of what the text should say or what it is that the author intended to say?
I hope that in response to this White will himself engage with Licona's arguments. I know White has a large following as well. While I have not been impressed in the past, perhaps I might be pleasantly surprised this time.
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