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A fiery debate has erupted over a leading Southern Baptist apologist's questioning of Matthew 27. The question: whether Matthew's reference to many saints rising from their graves after Jesus' resurrection might not be literal history.

The theological war of words, spurred by high-profile open letters and retorts on the Internet, has raised questions about the meaning of biblical inerrancy. It has also led to the departure of Michael Licona as apologetics coordinator for the North American Mission Board (NAMB).

At issue is a passage of Licona's 700-page The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, published in 2010 by InterVarsity Press.

"Based on my reading of the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and biblical literature, I proposed that the raised saints are best interpreted as Matthew's use of an apocalyptic symbol communicating that the Son of God had just died," said Licona, former research professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. Licona voluntarily resigned from the seminary on October 4 after the print version of this article went to press.

In a series of open letters posted online, Norman Geisler, distinguished professor of apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, California, objected to Licona's characterizing the passage as a "strange little text."  Geisler accused Licona of denying the full inerrancy of Scripture. He also called for Licona to recant his interpretation, labeling it "unorthodox, non-evangelical, and a dangerous precedent for the rest of evangelicalism."

In a 2,800-word blog post, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, praised Licona's book as "virtually unprecedented in terms of evangelical ...

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hide thisNovember November

In the Magazine

November 2011

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