The Geisler-Licona Controversy:
Part 1: What Is This All About?

December 1, 2011

by Steve Lemke, Provost, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, McFarland Chair of Theology, and Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


A debate has been swirling in Apologetics circles (particularly the Evangelical Philosophical Society) between two well-known and effective Christian apologists, Norman Geisler and Michael Licona. We at SBC Today have been aware of the debate for some time, but withheld comments on it in hope that a resolution amenable to all parties would take place. After the EPS meeting in San Francisco earlier this month, it has become apparent that no such reconciliation is likely. Therefore, we want to describe our understanding of what has happened (in Part 1), particularly for those of you who were not previously aware of this controversy. In a future post (Part 2), we would like to attempt to provide some perspective on the debate.

The subject of this controversy is Mike Licona, a Christian apologist who (until recently) served as Apologetics Coordinator for the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as a research professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary in North Carolina. He has spoken and debated on behalf of positions held by evangelical Christians in numerous venues – regional Baptist meetings, evangelism conferences, scholarly meetings, and college campuses. He is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which requires an affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture as a prerequisite for membership. So, to summarize, Licona is a conservative evangelical and inerrantist who has served the SBC effectively in addressing Apologetics issues in conferences, churches, and college campuses.

The focus of the controversy is several pages in Licona’s new book, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2010). The overwhelming majority of this book is very positive, presenting a careful and well-researched scholarly defense of the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. However, it is just a few pages (pp. 185-186, 548-553) out of this 718 page book around which the controversy has swirled. On these pages Licona addresses “that strange little text” (p. 548) in Matt. 27:52-53, which describes six events after the crucifixion – darkness, an earthquake, the tearing of the temple veil, rocks splitting, the opening of tombs, and some saints coming to life from the tombs. Licona mentions this scriptural account while addressing John Dominic Crossan’s hypothesis that these events were associated with the “harrowing of hell” (1 Pet. 3:19-20, 4:6). Licona suggests that apocalyptic events such as these were claimed in Greco-Roman literature at the death of kings (Romulus, Julius Caeser, Cladius, etc.) and similar significant events. Indeed, Licona notes, the Roman historian Lucian openly admitted that he embellished his stores “for the sake of ‘dullards’” (p. 549).

Licona also notes the similarity of these words and events with the apocalyptic language utilized in Old Testament texts (Judg. 5:4; 1 Kings 19:11-12; Ps. 77:18; Isa. 2:19, 5:25, 24:18; Jer. 4:23-24, 15:9; Ezek. 37:12-13; Dan. 12:2; Joel 2:2, 10, 28-32; Amos 8:8-9; Nah. 1:5-6; Zeph. 1:15-18; and Zech. 14:4). Since Matthew would have been familiar with this Old Testament apocalyptic language and the practice of “phenomenological language used in a symbolic manner in both Jewish and Roman literature relating to major events,” Licona proposes that it is “most plausible” that Matt. 27:53-54 be understood as “special effects” drawn from “eschatological Jewish texts” (p. 552). Licona also “forthrightly” acknowledges that not only these events but also including the post-resurrection appearances of angels (Matt. 28:2-7, Mark 16:5-7, Luke 24:4-7, and John 20:11-13) were possibly “mixed with legend” (p. 185). Licona holds this interpretation despite acknowledging that (a) the darkness was reported in all three Synoptic gospels, as well as by the secular historian Thallus, and (b) that earthquakes were common in that region, which would have accounted for the earthquake, the tearing of the temple veil, the rocks splitting, and the tombs opening.

Enter Norman Geisler. Norman Geisler is one of the best known conservative Christian apologists over the last few decades, the former President of Southern Evangelical Seminary and of the Evangelical Theological Society. He was a framer and original signer of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and wrote the commentary for the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. Geisler expressed concern that Licona’s interpretation of Matt. 27:52-53 did not pass muster with inerrancy as defined in the Chicago Statement. After a personal note received no response from Licona for a month, Geisler published his first open letter to Licona. After Licona continued not to 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 such book “there will always be portions in which one could have articulated a matter more appropriately,” and a statement that the furor had led him to “reexamine” his position, resulting in at least this concession: “…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.” Geisler responded with a third open letter (September 8), in which he did not find Licona’s concessions sufficient. At the ETS meeting in San Francisco, Licona presented a paper that defended the ahistorical reading of Matthew 27, but also characterized himself as “undecided” in interpreting that text. Geisler responded to Licona’s paper as well.

By this time, a number of others were weighing in on the debate. Al Mohler published a post largely critical of Licona, to which Licona responded. Baptist Press had two articles, one citing the concerns with Licona’s views, and another offering a response from Licona. Geisler then posted his response to the Baptist Press articles. Among others, Peter Lumpkins, Tim Rogers, James White, and Nick Norelli (here and here) essentially agreed with Geisler and Mohler that Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27 (and inerrancy) was problematic. Christianity Today also published an article on the controversy, (basically pro-Licona) to which Geisler also responded.

On the other side, a number of Christian apologists and New Testament scholars rose to Licona’s defense (while not necessarily agreeing with his interpretation of Matthew 27), asserting that Licona’s view was not inconsistent with inerrancy. Some such defenders included (among many others) Licona’s son-in-law Nick Peters (here and here), Steve Hays (here and here), Jason Engwer, Max Andrews, Jacob Allee (here and here),  Randy Everist, Brian LePort, Marc Cortez, Michael Bird, Randal Rauser, J. P. Holding, and Dave Jones. In addition, after Licona’s first response to Geisler, a number of well-known evangelical scholars affirmed that despite most of them disagreeing with Licona’s specific interpretation of Matthew 27, “we are in firm agreement that it is compatible with biblical inerrancy.” This group included David Beck, Craig Blomberg, James Chancellor, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Craig Keener, Douglas Moo, J. P. Moreland, Daniel B. Wallace, and Edwin Yamauchi. Paul Copan, President of EPS, while also disagreeing with Licona’s interpretation of Matthew 27, has also affirmed that Licona’s view is consistent with inerrancy.

Meanwhile, secular humanists and skeptics have gleefully enjoyed the intramural evangelical fight, though clearly siding with the Licona perspective (here, here, and here). This has led some evangelicals such as Stephen Bedard to plea for peace from both sides.

So, what do you think about all this? I’ll be providing my perspective in Part 2.

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Ron Hale

Dr. Lemke,

As I have read your great article and the work of Tim Rogers, Peter Lumpkins, plus the Christianity Today article by Bobby Ross, Jr …. I am reminded of a verse of scripture on humility; that of a younger Christian man submitting to the wisdom of an older man.

“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).

When this matter was “first” brought to Dr. Licona’s attention by the distinguished professors Dr. Geisler and later by Dr. Mohler, he could have chosen to be humbly submissive; yet that didn’t seem to be the case, therefore, all this avoided.

Dr. Licona has a lot to offer the Kingdom and Southern Baptists and it is my hope there will be a meeting of the minds and hearts on this matter.

Now for a sermon outline on these verses [Matt. 27: 51-54]:

I. THE TEMPLE – the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom pictures the love of God now being open to all.
II. THE TOMBS – pictures the reality that Jesus conquered the grave and its terror and tragedy.
III. THE TESTIMONY – Jesus said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (JN 12:32). The Centurion had a great testimony in verse 54 …”Surely he was the Son of God!”

Blessings!

    Randy Everist

    I’m not intending to be contentious, but are you implying that this verse teaches Licona should have abandoned his interpretation out of sheer deference to Geisler? What if an older, respected person in your church disagreed with you about a particular passage and asked you to change your mind. Are you saying you would be biblically obligated to do it? Something doesn’t seem quite right about that.

      Bill Mac

      I was going to say the same thing. I’m pretty sure the submission referenced here is within the context of the local church, and being older does not necessarily equal having correct interpretations.

      Ron Hale

      Randy,
      I have mentioned two scholars … yet … you only refer to Dr. Geisler. If one … then two wise men in my congregation sought to correct me on a passage of Scripture, I would be obligated to clothe myself in humility and respect what they had to say. Changing my mind (repenting) is a different matter.

      Since I feel that Licona was incorrect in his interpretation of these verses, yes … I wish that he had listened in respect and changed his mind. Thanks.

        Peter Grice

        There is no grounds for assuming that Dr. Licona did not humbly respect Dr. Geisler and Dr. Mohler. In fact there is enough evidence that he did. The world is confused on this point: respect simply does not mean agreement. It is not arrogant or prideful to hold convinctions that imply another point of view is wrong. Again, that is what the world is telling us.

        Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” – I Timothy 4:12

        J. P. Holding

        Good grief. That’s the kind of thoughtless devotion to authoritarianism that got us into this mess to begin with.

        Geisler and Mohler are not “scholars”. They may have some serious education in unrelated areas, but they are popularists more than anything else. They also do not have any expertise in the field of NT studies, and in the narrow topical interest area, which directly concerns Licona’s thesis. They are not fit to judge whether he was correct or not.

        In the non-specialized world of the New Testament era, the advice to heed (supposedly) older, wiser men was a lot easier to deal with. In today’s world, with its many narrow fields of specialization and burgeoning fields of knowledge, it takes a lot more for an older man to be “wiser”on a subject than in the first century.

        And so, yet one more reason why we need to get better education in our churches — so that we don’t blindly follow some interpretation we assign to the text ourselves based on a bare surface reading, as opposed to the generating contexts.

        Randy Everist

        Hello. I’m a bit confused, as repentance is not the issue (unless you maintain that Licona’s interpretation has come about because of sin, or that he maintains it because of sin). Furthermore, suppose we separate the issues into intellectualism and sin. One could say (as you may or may not) that Licona does not believe nor maintain his belief in the interpretation of a passage because of sin, but the way he has handled it is sinful. But in that case, it would not follow that this wouldn’t have happened if only he had “repented,” for then he would still hold the belief for which he would be condemned. Further, there’s the contextual issue of the context itself, where I’m not sure Geisler and others are given some kind of wide authority over Christendom. Finally, suppose we do commit ourselves to saying Licona’s interpretation or maintaining of his view is sinful–how could we say that unless our standard for what qualifies as that is that we believe it is a wrong interpretation? It would then follow that everyone with whom we disagree only is doing so out of a sinful heart. In short, I don’t see any reasonable way to say Licona could have avoided all this if only he had done anything other than bow to the will of Geisler, Mohler, and the like. I just don’t see where they derive the biblical authority to demand it. I don’t even defend Mike’s view. I am wholly in agreement that it seems unnecessary and incorrect. But a denial of inerrancy? I still haven’t even seen an argument for it!

          Ron Hale

          Randy,

          Matthew Henry had this to say on I Pet 5:5:

          “Humility is the great preserver of peace and order in all Christian churches and societies, consequently pride is the great disturber of them, and the cause of most dissensions and breaches in the church.”

          My appeal has been to humility not authority.

          Blessings!

          Nick Peters

          It has been an appeal to authority by just saying Geisler is older. Upon what basis did you say Licona should submit to Geisler and Mohler? Let’s see what you said.

          “I am reminded of a verse of scripture on humility; that of a younger Christian man submitting to the wisdom of an older man.”

          The only basis here is age. So again, some questions.

          Fred Phelps is older than Geisler. Should I submit to Fred Phelps?

          Camping is older than Geisler. Should I submit to Camping?

          Richard Dawkins is older than I. Should I submit to him?

          Job’s accusers had old men on their side. Does that mean Job was wrong in not submitting to them?

          What is pride however is non-NT scholars telling NT scholars what qualifies as valid exegesis and what doesn’t. Pride is speaking outside of the area of your expertise as if you are an authority.

Randy Everist

Thanks for the article Dr. Lemke. I’m afraid Geisler overstepped his bounds on this one. He was not overstepping them to question Licona’s interpretation or even his hermeneutic (we all may question whether a particular genre or style is appropriate to a particular passage), but going after the man seemed to be a bit much. Moreover, Geisler’s had some troubling issues with mis-applying quotes within the book to Licona himself (when really it would be Licona quoting John Dominic Crossan, even unfavorably so) and doing so without footnotes or explanation.

Geisler has done so much good for Christianity, and conservative evangelicals as well. I’d hate for this to be his lasting legacy for the next generation, leaving us with a sour taste in our mouths.

    Joshua

    “Geisler has done so much good for Christianity, and conservative evangelicals as well. I’d hate for this to be his lasting legacy for the next generation, leaving us with a sour taste in our mouths.

    Dr. Geisler has already left many of us with a sour tast in our mouths over the Ergun Caner coverup. In my opinion, after his handling of the Licona situation, he seems to be drifting off into irrelevancy.

John Metz

Dr. Lemke,
I appreciate your willingness to address this issue and look forward to the second part.

While I think Licona made an error in his interpretation of Matt. 25:53-54 (and acknowledge that Licona has moved away somewhat from his position stated in his book), I do not support the argument that he, therefore, cannot support inerrancy.

There does seem to be a definite trend, more pronounced in some, to find reasons to discard their brothers in Christ over this or that doctrinal point rather than conduct a reasonable, fair Christian dialogue. What is attacked more often than not is the assumed “implications” of what was said as drawn by the critic regardless of what the original author said or intended.

I think you are right in concluding that there will be no reconciliation between the parties involved in this particular dispute.

Tim Rogers

Dr. Lemke,

Thank you for your approach in this issue. Looking forward to your Part 2 in this series.

Dr. Everist,

I’m afraid Geisler overstepped his bounds on this one. He was not overstepping them to question Licona’s interpretation or even his hermeneutic (we all may question whether a particular genre or style is appropriate to a particular passage), but going after the man seemed to be a bit much.

When one of the three living framers of a statement you have signed says your hermeneutics is not consistent with inerrancy you need to reassess your hermeneutics. You seem to forget that it was Dr. Geisler who wrote the commentary on the statements explaining what each one means. Thus, Geisler, Sproul, and Packer are the only living framers. Their writing is something that we should turn and they all still affirm the commentary which expresses the intent of the framers. It is a post modern approach that changes the meaning of the statements. We would do serious damage to the doctrine of the Trinity to now begin changing the intent of the Nicene Council.

Blessings,
Tim

    Randy Everist

    Hi Tim :)

    I only wish I was a doctor. I’m not even a nurse! ;) Your exact first sentence is why I chose to examine carefully Geisler’s questions. I respect him very much, and would not flippantly dismiss him. Yet I won’t get in line just because he says to, either.

    As you rightly point out, Geisler was not the only framer of the statement. Also, the only attempt at a valid argument I have seen from him and any others is that a proper approach to inerrancy will not “dehistoricize” the Bible. I would agree, so long as the caveat is made that the Bible must be claiming it as historical fact in the first place! But this isn’t quite enough, and here’s what I mean.

    In order to deny inerrancy, one must believe the Bible teaches X, but in actuality the Bible is mistaken about X. So Licona would have to be saying that the passage in question is taught in the Bible as historical, but it is not historical. But this is not what Licona says at all. In fact, he thinks the authorial intent is to be the now-infamous “special effects.” Consider the alternative: there are those who think Luke 16 is historical, and those who think it is a parable. Should those who think it is historical accuse those who think it to be parabolic as denying inerrancy, and vice versa? That truly seems bizarre. In fact, anyone with whom you disagree with respect to genre concerning any passage should be regarded to be denying inerrancy (as far as I can tell) if this latter definition holds. I wish you all the best, and I wish this didn’t divide all of us so!

    BTW, as to post-modern, I certainly don’t embrace any of that.

Tim Rogers

Dr. Lemke,

For those who may be interested there is a survey for people to weigh in on this matter. Our readers can find it here

Blessings,
Tim

    Peter Grice

    Tim, you have only just finished saying that the case is closed because Dr. Geisler is “one of the three living framers of the statement.

    What then, is the point of a survey?!

    Dr. Licona has pointed out that another “living framer” in Dr. Packer regards the creation account in Genesis as poetic symbol, and that this conflicts with Dr. Geisler’s interpretation of the text’s genre. Thankfully for them both, there is nothing inherent in the doctrine of Inerrancy itself, that would dictate that the text must be historical narrative. Dr. Packer does not equate poetic symbol with error. Similarly, apocalyptic symbol indicates truth just as much as historical narrative.

    Max Andrews

    Unfortunately, the use of ICBI by Dr. Geisler is horribly inaccurate, lest I say, even dishonest. I’ve pointed out his convenient omissions of key sentences and Art. XX. All of which have the potential of backfiring on him. Additionally, this survey allows for multiple submissions. I suspect it tracks by IP address but all I would have to do is go to another computer or, presumably, change my IP, and vote again. I hope that’s not an issue for most of us but it certainly allows parties and individuals who are completely uninterested to vote and spam the results. There are no specified parameters in the data field. Additionally, I hope that everyone who has cast of a vote has done so responsibly by 1) reading the relevant portions in Mike’s book in their entirety (since Geisler can’t seem to get footnotes right, it is a complete misrepresentation so avoid the straw man arguments and avoid the second hand source), 2) read Mike’s EPS paper and even read the ICBI and ICBH in their entirety, and 3) read the link below on the factual errors and omissions Geisler made on this survey. (Unless he accidentally omitted those sentences and Art. XX I think an inference to the best explanation is dishonesty…)

    ERRORS WITH THIS SURVEY:
    http://maxandrews.wordpress.com/2011/11/26/caveo-cavi-cautum-a-second-look-at-geislers-petition-against-licona/

    COMMENTS ON THIS SURVEY:
    http://sententias.org/2011/11/17/in-promptu-ponere-a-response-to-norm-geislers-petition-against-mike-licona/

      Tim Rogers

      Brother Max,

      In all of the debate that has been on this, not once has Dr. Geisler ever referred to Dr. Licona as “dishonest”. That statement needs to be recanted by you as you are moving toward ad hominem.

      Blessings,
      Tim

        Peter Grice

        Max didn’t once claim Geisler called Licona dishonest. Perhaps you would like to re-read. “Recant” is a concept that should be used with great caution, and is several notches higher in tone than where this discussion should be. Far better to engage the points being made?

          Tim Rogers

          Dr. Grice,

          Brother Max said; “lest I say, even dishonest. You say; “Max didn’t once claim Geisler called Licona dishonest.” Maybe you just missed it in your scanning of Brother Max’s statement.

          Blessings,
          Tim

        Peter Grice

        Pastor Tim, not so. Max wondered whether Geisler himself was being dishonest. Max never said Geisler charged Licona with dishonesty, as you claim. It is plain to see. Please re-read. I reply here because I cannot reply above.

bossmanham

I really hope this isn’t where theological dialogue is headed in this generation; bitter blog fights without regard to credentials or accountability. Several of the people mentioned, while very intelligent, are just bloggers! I can’t think that moving these discussions on to blogs is a very good idea.

    Randy Everist

    Depends on how you view scholars. Some view young scholars as those with graduate degrees pursuing doctoral education in one of the relevant fields. If that is the case then several (including Max and myself) would qualify. But no biggie; I don’t really self-identify as a scholar or whatnot.

    Max Andrews

    bossmanham,

    Randy already pointed this out but we aren’t all there is. It seems like Habermas, Beck, Copan, Craig, Wallace, Beckwith, Turek, et al. were left out of your consideration. Why? I’m not sure. I’m not as credentialed as these scholars but I’m a graduate student in philosophy with my undergrad in religion that works with a few of the scholars I just listed. Historiography isn’t my speciality either; my field is in the philosophy of religion/science. So, we aren’t all just random bloggers.

      Nick Peters

      My stance that could make some think I’m personally biased so I’ll clear it up upfront is that I am Mike’s son-in-law. However, I am also working on a Master’s in Philosophy at SES, a school Geisler helped found, and I have taken classes under him.

      I’m not a NT scholar either or a specialist in historiography. You can take my opinion with a grain of salt as you see fit, but by all means evaluate the arguments as always.

        Tim Rogers

        Nick,

        I am also working on a Master’s in Philosophy at SES, a school Geisler helped found…

        A school that had a debate with the faculty and as a result of the faculty dialog decided that Dr. Licona had strayed from the world of inerrancy. Thus, he is not longer at the school because the entire faculty agreed his position denies inerrancy.

        Blessings,
        Tim

          Nick Peters

          Irrelevant Tim since I don’t believe something because my Seminary does. I believe it because there are good reasons for it.

          It’s nice to know you want to disavow my opinion with reasons that have nothing to do with it.

David D. Flowers

Geisler wrote a “personal note” and gave it a month before making it a public spectacle? I’d like to know why he didn’t make more of an attempt to discuss this with Licona (in private) before deciding to post an open letter.

This is just one more example of the arrogant behavior so often displayed by the “gatekeepers” of conservative evangelicalism. This has much to do with why conservatism (especially the SBC) has lost this young evangelical.

Folks like Geisler and Mohler have hijacked evangelicalism and are terrorizing the Body of Christ with their unbridled tongues. I’m more concerned about the way this was handled than I am of anyone’s interpretation of Matt 27.

    Tim Rogers

    Brother David,

    This has much to do with why conservatism (especially the SBC) has lost this young evangelical.

    Folks like Geisler and Mohler have hijacked evangelicalism and are terrorizing the Body of Christ with their unbridled tongues.

    In all due respect, if that is the case then why are you here at SBC Today trying to argue your point?

    Blessings,
    Tim

Steve N

It seems the only thing that unites Protestants is their hatred of Rome and the authority of the Pope. The so-called freedom provided by the doctrine of sola Scriptura results in a divisive mess of angry little people denouncing one another as heretics. I thank my Protestant friends for all the spiritual food they have given me over the years, but this is the final nail in the coffin. You have proven yourselves unwilling and unable to follow the evidence where ever it leads. Instead of one Pope, you have many, each claiming the authority to decide who is Christian and who is not. I’m crossing the Tiber because I would rather follow one Pope with two thousand years of tradition behind him, then a rag tag mess of petty dictators. Nice job, Geisler. You’re the straw.

    Luke C

    Steve,

    There’s no need for you to cross the Tiber. Eastern Orthodoxy has 2,000 years of tradition without a pope.

Demon Slayer

Dr. Noramn Geisler is an embarrassment. I agree with his assessment with the interpretation of matthew 27:52-53;however, I refute his ad hominem attacks on Michael Licona. we are to admonish and sharpen each other not kill one another. Proverbs 27:17 & 2 Thessalonians 3:15.

Ron Hale,

for 1 Peter 5:5, see 1 Timothy 4:12.

Dr. Lemke,

great article. thank you for all the extensive details of the controversy. Jesus Bless you always.

regarding the stephen bedard post, I agree with him that geisler and licona should reconcile and make peace (romans 12:18 and Matthew 5:24), but I believe is geisler needs to repent because he alone has brought shame on licona’s ministry, name and life.

Scott Shaffer

Great article and I look forward to the second part.

I don’t agree with Licona’s interpretation, and you could employ the slippery slope argument about what will happen if someone has this interpretation. However, I’m hard-pressed how it amounts to denying inerrancy.

I also find it ironic that Geisler confronts Licona on this point because it is my understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) that Geisler is an old-earth creationist and views Genesis 1-3 as symbolic.

    Randy Everist

    Indeed, if what is seemingly proposed is correct, those who view Genesis 1-3 as literal and historical ought to regard Geisler’s symbolic interpretation (and Packer’s framework interpretation) as a denial of inerrancy. After all, there are events reported that strictly speaking did not happen according to Geisler. My wife knows very little about theology, but the first thing she said when this came up a while back was, “Doesn’t Geisler think that Genesis 1 isn’t literal?” I don’t see him writing an open letter to himself any time soon though. ;)

Nick Peters

I’ll state this as someone on the inside who has watched Licona in all of this.

To begin with, Geisler has not mentioned the fact that while he did wait for a reply, he was also made aware that Mike and his family were on vacation in Europe during July, a vacation they’d been planning for over a year.

Second, Mike didn’t want to jump on this immediately when he got back because shortly afterwards, he had two debates to do in South Africa and he thought it was more important to study and prepare for those.

Geisler went on with an open letter.

Mike did not respond immediately because he was taking the time to plan out his response. During the whole time, I did not see Mike say anything cross about Geisler. There has been no hostility. Thus, if someone wants to say that Mike has not been humble about this, then they are simply wrong.

As for the hermeneutics issues, Geisler apparently doesn’t realize that one can use a valid hermeneutic and still come to a different conclusion. Consider again that Exodus 33-34 is a narrative where Moses asks to see God’s glory and God walks by so that Moses can see His back. No one can see His face however.

So, are we going to say God literally has a back and literally has a face and just plain literally has a body? There’s nothing in the text itself that indicates otherwise. Chapter 32 speaks of God changing His mind. Are we to take that literally? There’s no indication in the text to not do so. What about the long day in Joshua 10? Is that a literal event or not?

Geisler is not a NT scholar and he is not infallible in matters of Inerrancy. The problem is still modern man reading a 1st century work as if it was a 21st century work. Imagine a case where someone from 1st century Judea gets teleported somehow here to our times. (Maybe a Star Trek scenario) For all our work on biblical scholarship, we would all get an immense education from him just by reading the New Testament and seeing how he understands it.

We’ve gained more and more new knowledge since ICBI and we need to use it. Note also the situation that Mike has brought up. There are similar events recorded in pagan writings. Are we going to say the pagans were saying that, but they knew it didn’t happen, but that we also know it didn’t happen because it’s not in the Bible? However, when we come to what happens in the Bible, we know it because it is the Bible? If so, then we have absolutely no defense whatsoever when it comes to the pagan copy-cat thesis. (Mithras, Horus, Dionysus, etc.) An unbelieving world will just tell us we’re begging the question.

Now someone like N.T. Wright I believe says that it could be that in the case of Christ, YHWH upped the honor ante for Jesus by making all the things that he said happened real. The pagans did not get the real deal, but to show Jesus was who he was, Jesus got the real deal. That is an argument with some merit.

The reality is that the other side also has some merit to it. I’m not sold on it, but I understand where Mike is coming from and why he takes the route he has and he has been researching it for awhile. In issues like this, we cannot avoid dogmatism.

What does this have to do with salvation? Zip. NT scholars would not be bothered to have Mike teaching a class for them. This would include conservative ones. Keep in mind that Packer, Mohler, and Geisler are NOT NT scholars. Mike’s work needs to be judged by those in his field. They have judged however, and they have no problem with it.

This all could have been avoided, but not by anything on Mike’s part. Mike’s been given the way to avoid as only being “RECANT!” Why should Mike be forced to change his mind if he’s not convinced yet? He needs more than an appeal to authority. He needs an actual argument, but unfortunately Geisler chose to deny that route by not meeting at the round table discussion.

Nick Peters

btw Ron, Eliphaz told Job that men that have grey hair were on his side and they were older than Job’s father. Should Job have listened then?

Keep in mind which side God took at the end.

My ministry partner’s associate also pointed out that Camping is older than everyone else in this discussion. Should I submit to Harold Camping?

John Metz

Dr. Lemke,
I regret that your very even-handed post has invited so many rancorous comments.

David Packer

Dear Steve,

The issue as I understand it has more to do with identifying a passage of Scripture as being of a certain type of literature, and not directly with theology or inerrancy. So, it is not directly about doctrine, inerrancy, theology, or even hermeneutics. Though I do not agree with his perspective, he is consistent in his hermeneutic principles and has genuine reasons why he sees this as apocalyptic literature. But I do admit that he runs this right up to the edge of what can be tolerated.

So the real issues are: (1) How free should someone be to identify a passage as apocalyptic literature? and (2) When is the line crossed in going too far in doing so? and, to some degree, (3) How should apocalyptic literature be interpreted?

Rarely do we criticize the literalist who goes too far with apocalyptic literature, or so it seems to me, but clearly there are dangers on both sides. I lean toward the literal interpretation in most cases and see the passage as historical, not apocalyptic, but this is not a theological issue. While affirming the general direction of the conservative movement of the SBC, I still presume that we intend to give people some “wiggle room” for interpretation of Scripture. This interpretation seems to fit inside that general area of acceptable scholarly wiggle room — though to my mind, as I said, it does get close to the edge.

As you know better than I, there are several places in Scripture where conservative scholars tend to take similar views. I heard Dr Huber Drumwright take a similar position with regard to 2 Corinthians 12:8 where Paul wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord.” Drumwright’s position, as I recall, was that this did not mean a literal three times, but was symbolic or apocalyptic, meaning that he had prayed thoroughly about the issue.

I would prefer that denominational workers would express themselves in language that is sensitive to other opinions, but, I understand all too well the challenges with doing so.

Blessings,
David Packer

Stephen M Young II

Great article and the first I have heard of any of this. I also enjoyed reading the comments. Looking forward to part two.

John Metz

When do we get Part 2?

Steve Lemke

John,
I’ve been sidetracked a bit with being tied up in jury duty several days, Trustee meetings, and end of semester activities at the Seminary. So I haven’t been able to give it due attention. I hope it’ll be birthed sometime next week.
swl

Margo Glunt

I have read ‘some’ of the above article so forgive perhaps ‘some’ of the noted ignorance. My comment is just this> IT’S in the Word of God should we not just Believe it. Put Faith in it and Trust that it’s accurate. Just because the other gospel accounts do not mention it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. Why would our faith wrestle with this as IF it didn’t happen? I do believe that we should, yes ask questions dive into scripture and compare scripture to scripture. THERE is the scripture to compare this to. THAT is the first fruits. Jesus being Jewish/and a high priest, with the small amount of resurrected saints the first of the ripen harvest(Jews) offer them to GODhead as an ‘grain offering’ The next would be the Bride of Christ His body of believers…then those who remain(during the tribulation; found after the rapture) and put their trust in Him will be with Christ.Open for discussion Thank-you

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