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The Trials of Mike Licona

I actually didn’t know who Mike Licona was until a few weeks ago, but I’ve discovered that he is a Christian writer who is a strong supporter of the historicity of the resurrection and generally defends the historicity of the Bible.

Unfortunately for him, he recently suggested the possibility—just the possibility, mind you—that Matthew 27:51-53 (the raising of the dead saints) is apocalyptic language rather than intending to portray a historical event. I’m very pleased to see that Michael Patton has been defending Licona and calling for a great deal more generosity concerning this disagreement.

And this brings up an issue that I have with many arguments regarding biblical interpretation. Too many people are very quick to argue that their opponents are denying scripture, when they are simply interpreting it differently. There are interpretations that are so lacking in legitimacy that one may suspect that even the person who concocted them doesn’t believe them. But many arguments are between people who both have a great deal of respect for scripture, but who disagree on what scripture actually intends to communicate.

This passage is an excellent example. I can certainly how one can legitimately disagree about what Matthew is trying to convey here, starting with the veil in the temple being torn in two. Is that literal or figurative language? (I’m speaking here of Matthew’s intent in writing it, not whether one believes he is historically accurate.) Did Matthew mean that this literally happened, or was it something that happened in the spiritual realm?

It is doubtless an incredibly important spiritual point that is being made, whether the language is intended historically or not. It’s a point that can be made in either case.

I don’t think that the argument that either party (or parties) in this dispute doesn’t care about scripture. All involved are committed to the inerrancy of scripture, and understand it in a similar way, as requiring historical accuracy. There is apocalyptic language in the Bible. It’s not impossible that this language is. Indeed there are some indications that it is.

Similarly, debates about creation hinge on just how one reads the texts. If one reads the text as historical narrative, one has one set of options (accepting it as accurate, or assuming it’s pretty much useless). On the other hand, there are many elements of the creation stories (pretty much all of them) that would suggest something other than historical narrative. Yet many will accuse anyone who doesn’t take these texts as historical narrative of not believing what the Bible has to say.

My point here is simply this: You can’t tell whether someone is ignoring the meaning of scripture until you have determined its meaning. Differing regarding interpretation, as long as the interpretation is an honest attempt to understand the text, does not constitute rejection of scripture.

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