Charles L. Quarles of Louisiana College has a lengthy review of Michael R. Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010) in the newest issue, which I just received in yesterday’s mail, of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, 4 (Dec. 2011): 839-44. Although the book represents a major advance in evangelical scholarship on the historicity of the Resurrection, discussions about the book have focused largely on Licona’s controversial suggestion that the pericope of the saints raised from the dead (Matt. 27:52-53) may be viewed as apocalyptic imagery rather than as a literal historical occurrence. In 2011 evangelical philosopher Norman Geisler publicly denounced Licona’s interpretation as a denial of biblical inerrancy, leading to Licona’s departure from the Southern Baptists’ North American Mission Board (NAMB) at the end of the year and to his being ostracized at several other evangelical institutions. (Full disclosure: Licona and I worked together in the same department at NAMB for two years, 2006-2008, and we are good friends.)
Not surprisingly, Quarles devotes about half of his review to a discussion of Licona’s handling of this one passage. Quarles offers what appears to me to be a very thoughtful and well considered critique of the apocalyptic interpretation of the pericope, which I will only summarize briefly here. He objects that the text of Matthew gives no clear indication of a shift in genre from historical narrative to apocalyptic. He posits that Licona’s arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection would also support the historicity of Matthew 27:52-53 (a point Quarles unfortunately does not develop, no doubt due to space constraints). He critiques the claim that the pericope is non-historical because it may be poetic. Quarles emphasizes that it is especially difficult to exclude historical and even evidential intent from Matthew’s statement “they appeared to many.” Finally, Quarles takes exception to Licona’s appeals to pagan parallels. His arguments here are worthy of reading and careful reflection.
Quarles mentions the controversy itself only very briefly at the end of the review:
“Recently, Licona’s position on these two verses has stirred considerable controversy, necessitating a more extensive treatment of his discussion of Matt 27:52-53 than a typical review would warrant. My hope, however, is that a treatment of two verses that amounts to only 6 pages out of the 641 pages of text in the book will not prevent conservative evangelicals from carefully reading and digesting the author’s many fine arguments for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection” (843-44).
Amen to that.
Quarles offers no further comment on the Licona controversy, not even mentioning Norman Geisler, and says nothing about the claim that Licona’s view of the Matthean pericope is a denial of biblical inerrancy. This is rather ironic, given that JETS is the journal of a society founded on the issue of biblical inerrancy. To his credit, though, and as is appropriate in a book review, Quarles keeps the attention focused where it should be, on the relevant exegetical and hermeneutical issues and not on personalities or red-flag accusations.