C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    40 replies to "Paul Copan on the Mike Licona Controversy"

    • John Bailey

      After reading all the open letters from Geisler and Licona, I have one question. Regardless of the zeal Geisler demonstrates in his issue with Licona, is Geisler correct in his assertion that Licona’s poetic view of Matthew 27:52-53 is unorthodox? Is Matthew 27:52-53 a historical truth or apocalyptic imagery?

    • Daniel

      Got to love how some people conflate their interpretation of the text with the inerrancy of the text. If you have a different interpretation, you are accused of doubting the Bible. I’ve seen this over and over where the fallacious response that begs the question is, “But the Bible clearly says…” I’d expect that from the uneducated lay-person. But Norm Geisler should know enough about theological topics to “get” this and give another brother in Christ the benefit of the doubt.

    • Matt. 27:52-53 is alone by itself, and so it must be searched both historically and theologically. But certainly it does appear to be best seen and expressed as theological truth, within the reality of that historical death of Christ and resurrection. Here is spiritual and theological detail, and this is the so-called literal or fundamental truth, with the eschatological & apocalyptic language and symbol.

      I agree with Licona here! And note I am a conservative Anglican. πŸ™‚

    • Marv

      “Everybody’s doing it” as an apologia.

      That the suggestion is “plausible” is overstating the case. But to refer to the issue as one of “inerrancy” is also inaccurate.

      A pretty dang unlikely suggestion and a problematic use of the concept of “genre” and “apocalyptic” yes. But inerrancy, noooooooot exactly.

    • I won’t quote the whole here, but perhaps the note for these texts (Matt. 27:52-53) in the NLT Study Bible, should be seen…in the end, this is not about any eschatological order, but an “episode to form a more powerful commentary on the impact of Jesus death.”

    • Note, order meaning sequence..

    • John Bailey

      I, an uneducated lay-person, am trying to understand Mr. Licona’s point. If we are to assume that the text (Matt. 27:52-53) is apocalyptic in nature, are we to assume Matthew used his literary license to embellish the actual event by adding these verses?

    • John: I can see that you don’t understand these two verses and piece. Matthew is not “embellishing” anything, but using human language to express great mystery! Since this piece is not spoken of in history, or any other part of scripture exactly, he is speaking from the Bible’s own apocalyptic nature, and again he uses it theologically. Note, that if we are pressing the literal, just when are the saints raised, translated, etc.? The Text is just not clear here? And so this simply cannot be some kind of eschatological sequence or order.

    • Nick

      I’m married to Mike’s daughter and I’ve been writing on this for awhile. Based on what Fr. Robert said, there is a parallel I’d use and that’s the temple in the end of Ezekiel. Do I think that describes a literal temple to be built? No. But it does describe the ramifications of the new covenant in a way Israel could understand.

    • Nick: Very interesting, sounds good! Ezek. 48: 35..”The Lord Is There.” Btw, even a Historic Pre-Mill guy can say amen here! – In the likes of an Irenaeus πŸ™‚

    • CH

      I don’t follow the logic of apocalyptic genere providing a pass on historical accuracy. Is there some rule that states this genere can make any historical claim but still be inerrant?
      The book of Revelation is surely apocalyptic – how would one know which of its claims are literal and which are not? What about the other claims of Matt 27? What criteria is used to limit the figurative interpretation to only the verses in question?

    • jonathan

      I dont understand why these verses in matthew are thought to be not accurate accounts. It seems like it is presenting it as an actual account. I think to think otherwise would be reading too much into it.

      Why would the saints being raised be a problem? Lazarus was raised. I would just assume these that were raised did not have glorified bodies.

    • jonathan

      I would say Matthew was dishonest if this was not a true account. But I don’t think that’s the case.

    • […] Mike Licona shot a brief video in which Paul Copan offers his thoughts on the ordeal. (HT: C. Michael Patton) […]

    • Greg

      Jonathan,

      Matthew would only be dishonest if he wrote in such a way as to intentionally mislead the original readers of his gospel. If he wrote using apocalyptic language because he knew his audience would understand it as apocalyptic and not historical, then there is no dishonesty going on. His first century audience would recognize he was not writing history, and interpret it accordingly. Fast forward two-thousand years, or even several hundred, and the reader may have lost the ability to discern apocalyptic language in a mostly historical account.

      Inerrancy is firmly dependent upon authorial intent. If an author never intended a passage to be historical, then saying as much does not violate inerrancy.

      As smart as Norman Geisler and Al Mohler are, this very simple point is completely lost to both of them. This is very sad, especially because of how much damage they are causing to Licona’s career and reputation. I sincerely hope both are publicly rebuked and held responsible for their actions, Geisler especially so. I have lost considerable respect for both of them because of this incident.

    • Amen there Greg, nicely said! I think Geisler needs to retire! πŸ˜‰ I hope Michael Licona fairs well, and moves on to greater Christian historical and theological service! All pastor-teachers should read and have a copy of Licona’a: The Resurrection of Jesus, A New Historiographical Approach (IVP). Note, Craig Keener’s statement, “This book is the most thorough treatment on the resurrection and historiography to date.” But I like Gerd Theissen’s statement about his book the best…”It is fascinating to follow Licona’s arguments step by step in his investigation of the resurrection of Jesus as a unique event in history. … This is a necessary book, and I recommend it to all who are interested in interpreting the Bible and the Christian faith in a responsible manner.”

    • Michael

      So I’ve been hearing about this controversy and wondered what Licona did to get Geisler all stirred up and now I find out it’s all over a passage with a varied history of interpretation anyway? I’ve always had much respect for Dr. Geisler but maybe he has too much time on his hands now. Unbelievable.

    • Norman Geisler is in his late 70’s I believe? And let me tell ya, the mind slows down when you hit 60! πŸ˜‰ Seriously, both Geisler and Mohler only show their theological ignorance over this Text and subject! Mike Licona wins the day here, his work speaks for itself!

    • Matt

      And we wonder why evangelicals are often ridiculed. God has worked through his servant, MIke L, to write the book on the most important event in history, and some grumpy old men are trying to play the boys club game. Yet another example of inerrancy being equated with a brittle system and/or arrogance and fear deceiving people into the heresy that literal interpretation is the godly default.

    • Nick

      Knowing Mike, I can assure you that he is doing well and I think in the long term, this will help his career as he’s getting public exposure. Just keep praying for him and supporting him.

    • jonathan

      I understand that there may be a “theory” that matthew was making up an event to communicate “whatever”…..but the way it is written is as a narritive…..this happened, then this.

      It seems like to read too much into it is hard for me to swallow.

      “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom;…..(did this not happen?)

      I am sorry, this whole concept is really foreign to me…….it really just seems made up :/

      and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,…….(and did this not happen?)

      and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many……(and not this?)

      I dont understand how we can put words into matthews mouth and say this was not a true account.

      To me it is more “unbelieveable” to think matthew made this up, then to believe the accounts actually happened.

    • Nick

      Jonathan. You’re not a first century Jew. You know how the text reads to you, but are you of the same mindset as a 1st century Jew in another culture with another language and tradition? Could it be Matthew wrote in a way 1st Century Jews understood and not one 21st century Americans do.

      Furthermore, really think about this. Do you really think Mike Licona is so ignorant that he misses that the account seems to contain a lot of details that appear to be historical? It’s also not that he’s anti-miracles. He’s used modern miracles in debates, including one with Stephen Patterson you can listen to at his web site. I know it might be hard to believe, but he actually got to his conclusion by studying the evidence.

    • jonathan

      EDIT

      –I am sorry, this whole concept is really foreign to me…….it really just seems made up :/—this was supposed to be put at the very end and not the middle πŸ™‚

    • jonathan

      I dunno….it seems like the first century jew argument (to me) seems like something that could be used for anything.

      (with all respect)I dont see how that would have anything to do with anything. Please help me understand how this would.

      To me this would be a “tall tale”.

    • jonathan

      I mean this argument could be made of many different accounts (Him performing miricles, casting out demons, ect)

      Matthew says that these risen saints appeared to many people.

      Matthew said the curtain in the temple tore…..I dont know how Matthew would have any credibiblity with 1st century Jews if these things simply did not happen……unless 1st century Jews liked fairy tales.

    • jonathan

      I mean people can use these kind of arguments to try and say Jonah was not “really” in a great fish….

      If we cant even see this was a historical account (matt 27 or Jonah)…..then I quit!

      ….(not really but you know what I mean)

    • Daniel

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting that it isn’t a “true account”. But it is only true if properly understood. Just because something might use apocalyptic language doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. If we take something as literal when it is supposed to be metaphor, symbolic, poetic, sarcastic, hyperbole, or something else, it isn’t the text that is wrong. It’s us. It’s a fallibility issue – OURS, not an inerrancy issue.

    • Ed Kratz

      I think the best point that Mike makes in the debate about inerrancy is that Geisler (the primary spearhead in the attacks of Licona) does make an interpretive decision when he argues that the days of Genesis 1 are not literal. He holds to an old earth. Why can he do that and Licona can’t make interpretive decisions in Matt? Whether you agree with him or not, Mike is just doing the same thing as Geisler.

    • Michael,

      Funny, I am myself one that believes in an old earth creation also, and so see some aspect to framework in Gen. 1, etc. But just as Mike Licona, I see Matt. 27: 52-53 as apocalyptic. And I am certainly a conservative Anglican also.

    • Nick

      @Jonathan.

      Once again, you just say it reads like a narrative, therefore it’s all history. Okay. I go to Exodus 32. God is about to destroy Israel. Moses intervenes. The Lord changes His mind. Well. I guess that settles it. The text is a narrative and there’s no reason to think otherwise. We read everything as literal then and we can see that God changed His mind. Clearly, God is not omniscient then. After all, if we don’t take it literally, why should we think God spoke at all? Why should we take anything in Moses as being an accurate description of God at all? Moses wouldn’t just make it up after all.

      It gets better! We go to the next two chapters and we find that Moses sees the body of God, well at least his back! Therefore, being good students, we can deduce that God has a body. No reason for Moses to make it up and it’s a narrative.

      I hope the problem is becoming apparent. You’re still reading the text as a 21st century man instead of a 1st century Jew.

    • Matt

      Until Licona’s opponents answer the challenge issued by CMP @ 29 (and he’s right: it doesn’t matter whether one agrees), this whole fiasco is confirmed as a hypocritical witch hunt for which Brother Licona is owed a sincere and humble apology.

    • jonathancarr

      Nick,

      Concerning Exodus, I do believe God changed His mind. Jeremiah 18:7-10 shows us He does, and if God respects the intercessor (Moses) to me it doesnt seem hard to see.

      With Gods body, how can you explain things when you see God!! He used words to explain what he saw.

      But with Matt 27 I believe it is different. How in the world can you say this was not a literal account? Your comparing apples to oranges (in my opinion). Rocks do break, veils do tear, the dead does rise. To think you can read into his writings this way is just plain dangerous.

      But thats my opinion. And many many people have their own opinions.

      Scholars would agree and disagree with me. So depending on the flavor of your choice you stand. :/

    • jonathancarr

      I can understand why Geisler would take issue, and also why others would take “issue” with Geisler.

    • Mike Licona

      Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This thread popped up in a Google alert for me for my book. So, I started reading down. Nice thread and I compliment you all for the civil discussion. This may be the only time I chime in, since I usually don’t have the time. Jonathan, I would like to encourage you to read or listen to my EPS paper on this subject. I think it would bring clarity to the matter. Both are on my web site http://www.risenjesus.com. The mp3 is in the “Audio & Video” section. Right click on the link to download it will be the quickest option. If you prefer to read my paper, it’s listed first in the “Articles” section. May the Lord bless you all on this Thanksgiving!

    • Nick

      @Jonathan. I’ll avoid the open theism divergence as tempting as it is and as problematic as it is.

      Just a problem. John 1:18 says no one has seen God. 1 Tim. 6:15-16 says no one has seen God or can see Him.

      Now I’m just going by the plain sense of the text and Exodus is a historical narrative and clearly says Moses saw God. Now I turn to 1 Tim. 6 and I find it says not only did Moses not see God, but no one can.

      What do I do?

    • Perhaps we can understand this if we look at theophany, and since Christ is ‘the only “image” of the invisible God’, (Col. 1:15). And in the OT we have pre-incarnate appearances of God, this must be Christ! Note Gen. 18:1-16, and too the “man” who wresles with Jacob, after which Jacob said, I saw “God face to face”! (Ge. 32: 30)

      Ambrose of Milan said, “Christ therefore is, and always is, for He who is, always is. And Christ always is, of whom Moses says, “He that is has sent me.”

    • jonathan

      @ Mike, Thank you

      I would love to see your angle and how you came to your conclusions (you are a scholar and all : )

      I hope everything ends with friends around the table drinking coffee!

    • […] (5) Paul Copan addresses the ‘Licona Controversy’. […]

    • Gary Simmons

      It saddens me that people try to read a first-century (and earlier) text with 21st-century assumptions about what is or is not valid truth.

      Matthew wrote in a way that would not mislead his intended audience — first-century Jews/Christians. Now, his extended audience, two thousand years apart, might have some trouble due to differences in cultural expectations.

      You hear “it’s not historical” and then you automatically jump to the conclusion “therefore, false”. Why? Because few people in the Western world see poetry or literature as a vehicle of truth. So, when we see a story in literature, we run it through our own cultural matrix, which only accepts what is strictly historical.

      In a similar way, Americans enter a sushi restaurant and hear “raw” and assume “therefore unsanitary”. Why? Because we do not eat raw fish in our culture. Instead, we interpret sushi within our own cultural matrix. We do know of raw beef or pork, which is unsanitary and dangerous. We mistakenly apply this to raw fish, despite fish not carrying the pathogens that make raw food dangerous.

      As Nick said so well: the problem is with us, not with the Bible. Our expectations are too small, and we try to force the Bible (and God) within our own expectations to fit what we think is right.

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