Planet Kepler- 452b and a Premature Farewell to God

Planet Kepler- 452b and a Premature Farewell to God

By Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.

With the discovery of Kepler-452b, an earth-like inhabitable planet, one overzealous scientist has proclaimed “Bad News for God.”  Jeff Schweitzer (in “Earth 2.0: Bad News for God,” 7/23/15) prognosticated the death of God with the discovery of Kepler 452b.  He argued that any life elsewhere disproves the religious hypothesis that there is a God who created all things.  However, upon careful examination his thesis is lacking logically, scientifically, and theologically.

Logically, there is no contradiction between these two premises: (1) There is life in outer space, and (2) God exists.  Both are possible.  Indeed, if God exists and created the universe (Gen. 1:1), then it makes sense that two are compatible. What is more, Schweitzer is short on logic, insisting that there cannot be life elsewhere in the universe since it is nowhere mentioned in Genesis or the rest of the Bible.  This is a logical fallacy named Argumentum ad Ignorantiam (argument from ignorance).  From nothing, nothing can be proved.  When we find homes, cars, and machines on other planets, then we can talk.

Scientifically, even agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow saw the general confirmation of Genesis through Astronomy.  He wrote, “Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origin of the world…. The chain of events leading to man commence suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy” (God and the Astronomers, 14).   Astronomer Hugh Ross has filled in many of the details in his book The Creator and the Cosmos (NavPress, 1993).

Nonetheless, Schweitzer insists that “life on another planet is completely incompatible with religious tradition.”  He declares, “be clear I am talking here of how just the simple existence of life elsewhere undermines religion.”  Why?  Because “From Genesis 1:1, we get: ‘Let us make man in our image….’ Nothing in that mentions alien worlds.”  For we are told in unambiguous terms that all life was created in six [literal] days.”  Further, there was light 10 billion years before the Bible said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3).

However qualified Schweitzer may be in “marine biology,” he falls seriously short in theology.  First, he misquotes the Bible reference. It is not, as he said, Genesis 1:1  that speaks of creating man in God’s image; it is Genesis 1:27.  Second, he wrongly assumes the Bible teaches that light began in the universe the week human beings were created.  Yet the Bible mentions light being present from the very beginning (Gen. 1:3), before the other days, including the sun appearing (Gen. 1:16-19).  Third, he assumes (not proves) that the “days” of Genesis were all 24-hour days with no long time periods anywhere.  Actually, the word “day” (yom) is used in Genesis 1 in many ways other than 24 hours.  It is employed of the daytime versus the night (1:3).  It is also used of all six days, namely, “in the day (yom) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (Gen. 2:4).  It is also used of thousands of years when speaking of God resting on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2) which is still going on (Heb. 4:9-10).  Indeed, since as early as the time of St. Augustine (4th cent), many Christians have held that the creation events are not limited to 6-24 hours of time.  Finally, nowhere does the Bible affirm how old the universe is; it simply states that it had a “beginning” (Gen. 1:1) whenever that was.  In fact, nowhere does the Bible add up all the genealogies, nor assume there are no missing generations.  Indeed, there are demonstrable gaps.  For example, Matthew 1:8 says “Jorum begat Uzziah,” yet 1 Chronicles 3:10-12 reveals that there were three generations between them. The Bible gives accurate genealogies but not always complete chronologies.

Further, at best, the existence of Kepler-452b proves only that some kind of life is possible on it.  But this is two gigantic steps from claiming that intelligent life actually exists there.  First, it only shows life is possible there, not that it is actual.  After all the condition for a fire exists with dry leaves, but it still takes something to ignite it.  Second, there is another leap from the premise that some simple life exists to the conclusion that intelligent life exists.  An appeal to naturalistic macro-evolution to fill in the gigantic gap begs the question. For even it has unproven presuppositions, such as, (a) spontaneous generation is possible (even though Redi and Pasteur disproved it).  (b) New forms of life are possible without intelligent intervention, even though no observation or experimentations—the basis for scientific conclusions — support this view.

Schweitzer’s interpretation of Genesis is that when it says God created “all living beings” (Gen. 1:21) it definitively excludes the possibility of some forms of life elsewhere in the universe.  However, this violates a fundamental rule of interpretation, namely, every text must be understood in its context. Clearly, the context of God creating life in Genesis 1-2 is “the earth,” not the universe.  And taking a text out of context is a pretext.

Is there animal-like or human like life anywhere else in the universe?  We don’t know.  We have not seen any evidence for it.

Is it possible for physical life to exist elsewhere in the universe? Yes, but we can’t legitimately deduce the actual from the merely possible.  Again, dry leaves alone don’t make a fire.  There is a significant difference between a condition and a cause.

What if there is human-like rational life elsewhere in the universe?  That’s a lot of “ifs.”  (1) If there is life in outer space, and (2) if there is rational life, and (3) if it is fallen life, then what?  Then, C.S. Lewis’s speculation is worth reading (“Religion and Rocketry” in The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays).  If there is fallen life, then God who is love (1 Jn. 4:16), loves them and has provided redemption for them.  The details are left for further theological development.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth, we know two things.  First, Kepler- 452b is not grounds for “bad news for God.”  If anything, it is good news about God.  Johann Kepler, after whom the planet is named, was a devout believer in God.  He desired, namely that “belief in the creation of the world be fortified through this external support, that thought of the creator be recognized in its nature, and that his inexhaustible wisdom [will be] shone forth daily more brightly.”  (Mysterium Comographicum).

Indeed, contrary to Carl Sagan’s charge that unless there is intelligent life in outer space, there is a lot of “wasted space,” astronomers now know with the discovery of the “Anthropic Principle” that the universe was made for human life (anthropos).  As the psalmist declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork” (Psa. 19:1).  Even the great agnostic philosopher Immanuel Kant confessed belief in God, saying, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heaven above and the moral law within me” (Critique of Practical Reason, 166).  Certainly, the discovery of the vastness and variety of the universe does not diminish but fulfills Kepler’s desire.

Second, the only verified space travel was when the Logos (Christ) came into the world at His Incarnation (Jn. 1:14) and returned to outer space or beyond in His Ascension (Acts 1:9-10).   Meanwhile, back on planet earth, He has left us with an engaging task: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…teaching them to observe all that I [Christ] have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20).  When we have completed extending God’s love to all the other earthlings on this planet which are within our reach, then, if it ever becomes possible, we can extend that love to any of our cosmic cousins who may exist beyond our reach now.

Benjamin Hlastan’s Concerns about the Missiological-Apologetic Implications of Licona’s Approach to Mt. 27

Benjamin Hlastan’s Concerns about the Missiological-Apologetic Implications of Licona’s Approach to Mt. 27


Dear Dr. Geisler,


Thank you for sending this article. I just read it and agree with the conclusions and the urgency of this matter. As a missionary, a pastor and an apologist in the European context, I cannot overemphasize the importance of this topic not only in theology proper, but also in it’s effect in practice. The desire and the ability of people to be merchants and give away the treasure of God’s word to gain temporal pleasures of “modern” philosophical trends is amazing. Yet, the results in daily practice are obvious in anemic and self-destructive lives, churches and societies.


Missiologically, if Licona were right, and the same principle were applied elsewhere, there’s nothing left to tell the lost world, nor to engage it on a common ground – history and science. But, as I deal daily with people on one-to-one basis or in groups in the public anti-Christian arena, my experience has been that the innerancy/reliability of the Bible is the single most important issue to which a contemporary man even pays attention, and is willing to be informed, which in turn leads to the content of the Bible – Christ. I have story after story to prove that. One should only hear the silence that falls upon the people, and the amazing attentiveness that follows, when just a few pieces of evidence for the Bible are presented. Even the hardest and most vocal critics listen and frantically search for any counter-perspectives. So, Licona’s issue removes, speaking from a human standpoint, the foundation for missions and evangelism of the contemporary society, as well. Have we not learned anything from somewhat recent times of Bultmann etc., and their desire to “defend” the Bible with faulty methods? If so, who cares then if any grave be empty at all? I think it is not a coincidence that just before the two world wars happened, the authority of the Bible was denounced. Ironically, Wellhausen witnessed both events, the rejection of God’s Word and the destruction of God’s Work (man) in the WW I (isn’t this patten so familiar from Gen. 3 and 4?), and I wonder if Wellhausen (or for that matter, our generation) ever connected the dots…


Sincerely in Him,


Slovenj Gradec, Slovenia

May 14th, 2012


Benjamin Hlastan is a graduate of Southern Evangelical Seminary and an apologist working in Slovenia.  You can read more about him and his family by clicking the photo below.
Family Pictures 185

Considering Michael Licona’s Historiographical Approach

Considering Michael Licona’s Historiographical Approach

by Christopher Cone, Th.D, Ph.D
April 2012

[This article is reproduced and abridged here with permission.   Click here to read the full article on Dr. Cone’s blog and leave comments.]

In arguing for the historicity of the resurrection, Michael Licona attempts to compare five naturalistic theories of the resurrection (offering non-supernatural explanations for what happened to Jesus) with the theory that the resurrection was in fact historic.… However, I would argue that in his work there is a significant methodological flaw that undermines his case…. Licona does some excellent work here, and I hope his efforts serve as a springboard for other Biblical scholars to fill in the gaps left by his work. As an overall project – as a scholarly and objective presentation of the arguments for and against the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, this work is worthy. Nonetheless, the methodological flaw is perhaps fatal to his case, and at least undermines the authority of his primary sources (the canonical Gospels). Further, it is worth noting that this methodological device assumed and employed by Licona is gaining in popularity and influence….

It is evident at this point that there will be some friction between Licona’s historiography and the idea of inerrancy. Whereas Licona’s historical method demands only a provisional understanding of truth, it would seem his Biblical theology would demand a very different approach. Where these two concepts collide, there is a decision to be made as to what interpretation of the data is to be preferred. This subtle tension has not –so- subtle results as Licona explains his interpretation of the Gospel data, and as he underscores his rationalistic preference for historiography over theology….

I don’t mention these passages to suggest doubt on his part; rather I think they are important as they betray a preference for historiography over and against the Biblical data as inspired. In other words, if I understand Licona’s case correctly, it seems he values first determining historicity, and then appreciating its doctrinal value. This order of priority has significant hermeneutic consequences, as we will see. The question arises: What if historicity cannot be determined beyond the immediate claims of a particular text? How this question is answered in Licona’s work underscores what I believe is the fundamental flaw in the method employed.

One such passage, described as “a strange little text,” for which there is no external historical verification is Matthew 27:52-53. This passage describes the bodily resurrection and post-resurrection ministries of saints in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s death. Licona explains (away) this passage as follows: “Given the presence of phenomenological language used in a symbolic manner in both Jewish and Roman literature related to a major event such as the death of an emperor or the end of a reigning king or even a kingdom, the presence of ambiguity in the relevant text of Ignatius, and that so very little can be known about Thallus’s comment on the darkness…it seems to me that an understanding of the language of Matthew 27:52-53 as “special effects” with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible.

Special effects. Since the events in these verses are historically unverifiable, their literal interpretation (as historical fact) is implausible, and consequently redefined as special effects. How does Licona arrive at this conclusion? … Very early on, he inserts a very pivotal statement: “There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).  Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches in order to communicate the teachings, philosophy, and political beliefs of the subject, and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determining where history ends and legend begins. And there it is.Bios is flexible. Some of it can be historical, other aspects can be mere special effects…..

To his credit Licona anticipates the question this begs. He notes, “If some or all of the phenomena reported at Jesus’ death are poetic devices, we may rightly ask whether Jesus’ resurrection is not more of the same.” He offers two brief arguments against that conclusion (no indication of early poetic interpretations, and no known early opponents of Christianity critiqued on the basis of misunderstanding poetry as history). Despite these two points, I believe the damage has been done. Burridge uses the Bios classification in the same way Philo utilized allegorical interpretation – to redeem the Scriptures from rationalistic critiques. By adopting the Bios theory, Licona is participating in genre override, which allows for explaining away difficult passages, via a menu approach to historicity in the Gospel events.

Admittedly, for a historian who adopts Licona’s historiographical presuppositions, Matthew 27:52-5 is problematic because (1) it sounds implausible, and (2) there is no external historical verification. To resolve the difficulty by changing a genre classification creates a far greater problem, precisely due to the hermeneutic implications Burridge identified. Such a hermeneutic move is useful for resolving isolated difficulties, but it is also useful for undermining the authority of the entire text. If it is implausible that people could be resurrected at the death of Christ, then it would seem equally implausible that Jesus should be the Son of God – even God Himself – and should be raised from the dead. As Licona admits, if any of the text is legend, it becomes difficult to know where the legend ends and the history begins. What he may view as history, I may view as legend, and he has made the case for my understanding-as-legend to be legitimate. And if the Gospel writers had the flexibility of inventing speeches, how can I have any certainty about what Jesus said? Sometimes “useful” can be the enemy of truth (e.g., Gen 3:6).
Why not view the Gospels not as Bios, which is so nebulous as to defy definition and certainty, and instead view them simply as historical narrative – which even Burridge admits is possible (at least if only by implication). After all, should Matthew be viewed as a totally different genre than Luke, who described his work as “the exact truth?” (asphaleia –certainty, Lk 1:4)? Why not take the writers at face value? Granted if we do so, we are stuck with these pesky resurrection narratives that we can’t historically verify – and which still look foolish to skeptics no matter our historiographical method.

At the time this article was written, Dr. Cone was serving as the President of Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute and as pastor of Tyndale Bible Church.  His areas of focus are Bible exegesis and exposition, systematic theology, hermeneutics and theological method, epistemology, philosophy, apologetics and worldview, environmental ethics, conference speaking and classroom pedagogy, pastoral leadership, and executive leadership. For more on Dr. Cone click here. Cone-Pics1_021

Dr. Mark M. Hanna Stands with Dr. Geisler Against Theological Erosion and Hermeneutical Aberrations

Dr. Mark M. Hanna Stands with Dr. Geisler Against Theological Erosion and Hermeneutical Aberrations

February 27th, 2012

Dear Norm,

I just read your excellent letters and articles pertaining to the issues raised by Licona’s views.  I want you to know that I stand with you completely.  You have stated your case with absolutely compelling arguments.  It is not a minor matter as some contend, for it carries far-reaching implications that should not be passed over as unimportant.

I think that defenses by some individuals of Licona’s views on the matter and their criticisms of you show that they do not understand why this is not a trivial issue.  You have done the cause of Christ a great service by clarifying what is involved and by presenting an airtight refutation of his dehistoricizing of Scripture.

I know of no one who is doing more to combat theological erosion and hermeneutical aberrations than you.  I am sure that God is keeping you with us to fulfill a much needed defense of the truth of the Bible.  As you rightly say, if the foundations are undermined, we have nothing left.

With great appreciation for the person you are and the work you do,


Mark M. Hanna is a full time writer and was for many years the Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and World Religions at Talbot School of Theology and California State University.  He also taught at the University of Southern California, where he earned M.A. degrees in philosophy and world religions and a Ph.D. in philosophy. He lived in the Middle East for four years, earning his B.A. at the American University in Beirut. He has lectured in numerous universities and theological schools around the world. He is the author of Biblical Christianity: Truth or Delusion? (link), Crucial Questions in Apologetics (link), and The True Path: Seven Muslims Make Their Greatest Discovery (link).  Dr. Geisler described Dr. Hanna’s Biblical Christianity as “masterly and brilliant!”





Copyright © 2012 – All rights reserved

To see all posts tagged “Licona” click here.

Former President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on the Licona Issue




Former President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

on the Licona Issue

More About Dr. Kaiser here

and here


Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr. is one of the foremost evangelical biblical scholars of our times.  He has written numerous books on this and related topics.  In our opinion, his view has the utmost authority on this topic.  –N. L. Geisler
A survey was distributed to a few defenders of biblical inerrancy to see who might agree that various statements in Dr. Mike Licona’s book The Resurrection of Jesus  are inconsistent with the doctrine of inerrancy as expressed by the ICBI.   The survey and Dr. Kaiser’s response may be viewed below.





A Petition on Mike Licona’s View

Mike Licona’s Statements (in The Resurrection of Jesus):             


“There is somewhat of a consensus among contemporary scholars that the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios).  Bioioffered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material andinventing speeches…and they often included legend. Because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (34, emphasis added in this and following citations).

“For this reason, we get a sense that the canonical Gospels are reading authentic reports of Jesus’ arrest and death…even if some embellishments are present” (306).

“A possible candidate for embellishment is Jn 18:4-6” (306, n. 114).

“It can forthrightly be admitted that the data surrounding what happened to Jesus is fragmentary and could possibly be mixed with legend, as Wedderburn notes.  We may also be reading poetic language of legend at certain points, such as Matthew’s report of the raising of some dead saints at Jesus’ death (Mt 27:51-54) and the angels at the tomb (Mk 16:5-7; Mt 28:2-7; Lk 24:4-7; Jn 20:11-13) (185-186).

There is “…‘a weird residual fragment’ in Matthew (Mt. 27:52-53).  If taken literally, there would have been many, perhaps hundreds of empty tombs around Jerusalem on that first Easter” (527-528).

“This strange report in Matthew 27:52-53 attempts to retain the corporate harrowing of hell and the individual preascension appearances.  However, ‘the magnificent harrowing of hell is already lost in that fragment’s present redaction’” (530).

“This brings us to that strange little text in Matthew 27:52-53, where upon Jesus’ death the dead saints are raised and walk in the city of Jerusalem…. Raymond E. Brown notes that similar phenomena were reported at the death of Romulus and Julius Caesar…. In a clearly poetic account, Virgil reports that the following sixteen phenomena occurred after Caesar’s death:..” (548).

“…it seems to me that an understanding of the language in Matthew 27:52-53 as ‘special effects’ with eschatological Jewish texts and thought in mind is most plausible…. Matthew may simply be emphasizing that the great king has died.  If he had one or more of the Jewish texts in mind, he may be proclaiming the day of the Lord has come” (552).

It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew as a poetic deviceadded to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (553).  (Emphasis added in all these quotations.)


Select Inerrancy Statements by ICBI in its “Chicago Statement” (1978)

Article XIII : We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.  We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.

Article IX: We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience,guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write. We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.

Article XII: We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.  We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science.

Article XIII:  We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.  We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.

Article XVIII: We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.


Selections from the Official ICBI Commentary titled Explaining Inerrancy

Article XII Selections:  Though the Bible is indeed redemptive history, it is also redemptive history, and this means that the acts of salvation wrought by God actually occurred in the space-time world.


When we say that the truthfulness of Scripture ought to be evaluated according to its own standards that means that … all the claims of the Bible must correspond with reality, whether that reality is historical, factual or spiritual.

By biblical standards truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than tomean that which corresponds with reality.


Article XVIII Selection: When the quest for sources produces adehistoricizing of the Bible, a rejection of its teaching or a rejection of the Bible’s own claims of authorship [then] it has trespassed beyond its proper limits.

By biblical standards of truth and error is meant the view used both in the Bible and in everyday life, viz., a correspondence view of truth.  This part of the article is directed toward those who would redefine truth to relate merely to redemptive intent, the purely personal, or the like, rather than to mean that which corresponds with reality.


Select Official ICBI statements from Hermeneutics Statement Explaining Hermeneutics (hereafter, EH).


EH Article VI: We further affirm that a statement is true if it represents matters as they actually are, but is an error if it misrepresents the facts. 

The commentary  adds, “The denial makes it evident that views which redefine error to mean what ‘misleads,’ rather than what is a mistake, must be rejected.”


EH Article XIII: We deny that generic categories [categories of genre]which negate historicity may rightly be imposed on biblical narratives which present themselves as factual.

Some, for instance, take Adam to be a myth, whereas in Scripture he is presented as a real person.  Others take Jonah to be an allegory when he is presented as a historical person and [is] so referred to by Christ.


EH Article XIV: We deny that any event, discourse or saying reported in Scripture was invented by the biblical writers or by the traditions they incorporated.


EH Article  XXII: It  “affirms that Genesis 1-11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.”


The denial makes is evident that views which redefine error to mean what‘misleads,’ rather than what is a mistake, must be rejected.





An Expression of Opinion on Mike Licona’s view on Inerrancy


“We affirm that the view expressed in the above citations from The Resurrection of Jesus:

(1) casts doubt on the historicity of parts of the Gospel record (Yes or No); Yes
(2) is inconsistent with the doctrine of inerrancy as expressed by the framers of the ICBI (International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) in their above statements on inerrancy (Yes or No).” Yes
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.




If you would like to sign this petition, please begin by opening the document

by clicking the icon below.


(Click here to open this article in rich text format)


In the document, please read tge document, scroll down to the last page (page 5),

highlight YES or NO to the two questions,

type your name in red on the signature line, save the document, and email it to:



Copyright © 2012 – All rights reserved

To see an index of other articles on the “Licona Controvery” please clickhere.

Dr. Moody, Dr. Caner, and All of Arlington Baptist College Take Their Stand Alongside Dr. Geisler for the Full Historicity of the Gospels

Dr. Moody, Dr. Caner, and All of Arlington Baptist College Take Their Stand Alongside Dr. Geisler for the Full Historicity of the Gospels

1 February 2012

Dear Dr Geisler:

Since our founding in 1939 by Dr. J. Frank Norris, the Arlington Baptist College
has openly and firmly stood on the core fundamentals of our faith. One of the
most essential doctrines of Scripture is now sadly under question. The historical
and literal resurrection of the saints in the Gospels and the absolute sufficiency of
Scripture in the narrative are now both being diluted and denied.

We just wanted to drop you a note and say that we stand with you in this issue,
completely and without hesitation. You have rightly said that this is a bigger issue
than just historicity–it goes to the very core of our faith. Your leadership is once
again so sorely needed, and you have stood like Athanasius.

Be encouraged that we all see through the childish attacks you have faced. In
our culture, personal attacks are often offered when the opposition cannot
answer the clarity of your position. Sadly it is apparent that sometimes Christians
do this as well. You do not stand alone. We have been there, and we stand
alongside of you in the truth! The Administration, Faculty, Staff and students of
the Arlington Baptist College pray for you and stand with you in this battle.

Until the Trumpet:
Dr. DL Moody, President
Dr. Ergun Caner, Provost and VP of Academic Affairs
Arlington Baptist College
Arlington, Texas

A Critique of the Genre Interpretation of Matthew 27:51-53 in Dr. Michael Licona’s work, The Resurrection of Jesus

A Critique of the Genre Interpretation of Matthew 27:51-53 in Dr. Michael Licona’s work,
The Resurrection of Jesus


by Dr. F. David Farnell, Ph.D.
January 31, 2012


After examining the primary sources regarding the controversy, two essential factors may be noted:

First, Licona’s work exhibits many commendable items.  For instance, it presents a strong stance on the historical basis for Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.  One can be encouraged that in light of historical criticism’s attack on the miraculous since Spinoza and the Enlightenment, Licona has maintained the historical, orthodox position of the church.

Second, unfortunately, while Licona’s work defends Jesus’ bodily resurrection ably, the assumption of genre hermeneutic known as apocalyptic or eschatological Jewish texts whereby Licona dismisses the historicity of Matthew 27:51-53 (and its recording of the resurrection of saints) results effectively in the complete evisceration and total negation of His strong defense of Jesus’ resurrection.

Licona labels it a “strange little text” (Resurrection, 548) and terms it “special effects” that have no historical basis (Resurrection, 552). His apparent concern also rests with only Matthew as mentioning the event.  He concludes that “Jewish eschatological texts and thought in mind” as “most plausible” in explaining it (Resurrection, 552).  He concludes that “It seems best to regard this difficult text in Matthew a poetic device added to communicate that the Son of God had died and that impending judgment awaited Israel” (p. 553).

This conclusion is subjective, arbitrary, hermeneutically quite unnecessary.  Nothing demands such a conclusion in the context or supports such a conclusion.

If the events in Matthew 27:51-53 are held that way, nothing—absolutely nothing— stops critics from applying a similar kind of logic to Jesus’ resurrection.  Licona’s logic here is self-defeating and undermines his entire work on defending the resurrection.

Several arguments prevail against Licona.  Many have already been mentioned.  So I will add only a few.

First, Licona appears to take other events in immediate context both BEFORE AND AFTER this passage as historical (Jesus crying out, veil of temple split, earthquake, the centurion crying out).  Merely because he finds these events “strange” is rather subjective.  His idea of “What were they [the resurrected saints] doing between Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning?” shows that an acute subjectivity reigns in Licona’s hermeneutical scheme.

Second, no literary signals exist to the readers that Matthew has switched from historical narration of the events surrounding the crucifixion.  The passage flows both before and after as a telling of the events with no abrupt disjuncture.  How would Matthew’s readers have recognized that the events, before and after, were historical in time-space but not the immediate passage?

How would Matthew’s readers have been able to distinguish the genre change from historical narrative to what Licona term’s “symbolic” based in eschatological Jewish texts.

 It is highly dubious that Matthew 27:51-53 or Revelation should be associated with Jewish Apocalyptic literature.  While Revelation may share some highly superficial characterstics, such as symbolism, it DOES NOT share the dualism, pessimism, determinism, pseudonymity or rewritten history transformed into prophecy that characterized such Jewish literature (see Leon Morris, Apocalyptic, 1972).

Licona’s decision for such a genre linkage has no substantial reason.  It is arbitrary.

Finally, since as Licona argues most of our historical knowledge is fragmentary, should not the passage be given the benefit as history.  NOTHING in the CONTEXT precludes its history and NOTHING in the context negates its history, except a subjective bias that the story is “strange.”  This is an existentialist interpretation of what something means “to me” (i.e. Licona).

I would lovingly ask Mike Licona to reconsider his position.  All of us have had times when we have reconsidered positions and changed as we grow in the faith and wisdom as Christians and in the love of the Lord Jesus.


F. David Farnell, Ph.D.

Professor of New Testament

The Master’s Seminary


More about Dr. Farnell here.


To see an index of other articles on the “Licona Controvery” please click here.

Copyright © 2012 – All rights reserved


Support, Outrage, and some Unfortunate Approval in Response to the Satirical YouTube Video(s) that Slander Dr. Geisler

Support, Outrage, and some Unfortunate Approval in Response to the Satirical YouTube Video(s) that Slander Dr. Geisler


    “It has come to the attention of the President of SES that a student has made a video about the controversy between Dr. Licona and Dr. Geisler.  We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste.  At SES we demand a high standard of conduct in the way we interact with others.  Whenever there is a disagreement on any issue, there is a respectful way to handle it.  As Christians, as brothers in Christ, there are occasions when we may have differences, but as members of one Body, we need to resolve our differences according to Scripture.  Publically embarrassing anybody is totally unacceptable….” (emphasis is added in all these quotations).  — Acting President of Southern Evangelical Seminary

     I saw the YouTube video and was appalled at it.  It was not only in the poorest of taste, it also grieved me to watch it.  It was unkind, uncalled for, and so sad to see something like this happen.  I wrote Bob Westra to thank him for the letter he sent out. …[T]he student related to Licona should have been dismissed from the college.  –SES Alumnus

     “I watched the video. Wow, it was immature, inappropriate and distasteful. If an SES student made this video, I would recommend they be brought before the school for review–not based on their view, but based on the fact that they made the video and for the following reasons:  1)    They used the classical Christmas Carol story in a very distasteful way…. 2)  Like Dr. Geisler or not, he deserves respect. Furthermore, Dr. Geisler is far more accomplished than the youngens who made the video. 3) The video was sarcastic and put words into Dr. Geisler’s mouth. This shows not only immaturity,but further strengthens Dr. Geisler’s position…. 4)   He makes the point repetitively that those who support Dr. Geisler’s view are clones of Dr. Geisler, eluding that all who hold to the position that Dr. Geisler does are non-thinkers…. I happen to agree with Dr. Geisler theologically. Furthermore, this video attacked me and every other Alumni and Student who holds to the same view.  5) This video seems to mock inerrancy despite the fact that it tries to skirt that it is the main issue….  6) Lastly, while he illustrates physical attacks on Dr. Geisler in humor, it is still depicting physical attacks. It also explicitly is threatening to take action against Dr. Geisler…. This is stooping to verbal threats and scare tactics.” –SES Alumnus

      “I reported the video to YouTube for a TOS violation at 10:00 a.m. on 12/21/11.  User:  TektonTV. Video:  Geisler’s Christmas Carol.  Reason:  Cyberbulling/Cyberharassment.  TOS violation: “Things like predatory behavior, stalking, threats, harassment, intimidation, invading privacy, revealing other people’s personal information, and inciting others to commit violent acts or to violate the Terms of Use are taken very seriously. Anyone caught doing these things may be permanently banned from YouTube.”  YouTube Community Guidelines”  —SES Alumnus

     “The recent You Tube cartoon caricature of Dr. Geisler is a repugnant setback to open cordial debate among Christians and brotherly love. This is clearly an Ad Hominem attack of the worst kind,since 1) it mocks and ridicules a brother in Christ, who is among the greatest Christian apologists of our time, and who has fought in the trenches of worldview warfare for over 50 years, 2) it misrepresents the previously expressed viewpoints of Dr. Geisler, 3) it offers an imbalanced and inappropriate trivializing to the serious matter of the inerrancy of Scripture which requires cordial and measured responses, 4) it confuses and obfuscates the really important issues related to the debate, 5) it reflects the flawed methodology of an individual(s) who seeks to win a debate at all costs rather than searching out the issues in order to discover the truth of the matter.  The only fitting response by Christians, regardless of one’s position on the inerrancy issue, to such a grievous attack of this kind is to openly denounce those involved in this attack on a Christian brother and the immature and flawed methodology it represents. It is in the best interest of all Christians, that Dr. Licona and Dr. Habermas who supports him join Dr. Geisler in an open and clear rejection of this unchristian and unwise attack that can only bring shame to the cause of Christ.”  —President of a Seminary


“Well,…that moves the discussion to a new low and clearly makes only an abusive ad hominem argument.  I find it not only in very poor taste, but sad.”  — a Seminary Professor*


“The material that you have written is very straightforward and it seems to be fair. The material that has surfaced on personal blogs and YouTube, however, has been ridiculous. It seems that some people have taken your comments personally and have resorted to personal attacks. I am sorry that you are having to deal with these ridiculous asides. These personal attacks and attempts at humor certainly obfuscate the issue and make profitable, scholarly dialogue very difficult”  — NT Doctoral Student


“Dr. Geisler has most probably done more research on the issue of inerrancy than any other philosopher/theologian alive today; he is worthy of respect.  Ad hominen attacks and ridiculous videos add nothing to the debate but sadness, grief and disregard–it’s shameful and lack of a Christ-like spirit. On a different note, Geisler’s willingness to meet with Licona to hammer out the “real” issues…and biblically so, is a kind and praiseworthy act. The same spirit ought to come from Licona and his defenders but is not, for the most part…. Let us also not forget that Geisler not only served as one of the framers of the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy but also founded EPS and was a president of ETS. Again, show respect where respect is due.” —-an Author and Lecturer


“I have heard [of] the debate between you and Dr. Licona.  It surprises me that he takes the position that he does.  Before this, I respected him as a scholar.  I always thought the evangelical philosophical society was a conservative evangelical society.  In fact, I was going to try and join it.  Since many of them endorse Licona, I don’t know if I will pursue this.” —Ph.D. student in New Testament



grieves me.  I am so sorry.  [My husband] rightly calls you a ‘watchdog for the Christian faith’ and we will act on this news.  Our love and prayers are with you.” ––a Layperson


“Thanks for keeping me in the loop and thanks for defending inerrancy.  Defending inerrancy is crucial!  It is a sad commentary that the issue has degraded to personal attacks on you.”
— a Seminary graduate


“As a graduate of the seminary, and fellow brother in Christ, I want to inform you of a slanderous video by current SES student [name] on the internet against SES co-founder Dr, Geisler…. I am actually ashamed, saddened and embarrassed by this type of activity on [name] part.  I know that I and numerous people have personally confronted [name] about such behavior and he refuses to listen.” — a Southern Evangelical Seminary [SES] graduate


 “I am very disturbed by this personal attack on you!  I will not stoop to watch it.  I’m grateful that you are a staunch defender of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture.  I thank God that you continue to be a gatekeeper of our orthodox Christian faith…. I pray that Dr. Licona has a change of heart.” — a Layperson


“Satire is one thing but bearing false witness and slander are quite the other.  We need men like you who see subtle dangers and point it out to the flock.  They’re ‘worthy of double-honor.’  These videos didn’t give you the honor you deserve.  The fact remains that those who hold this apocalyptic interpretation of the end of Matthew 27 are still denying that what the Apostle presented as historical events are in fact historical events. After all the smoke and sleight of hand has passed, isn’t that what it still boils down to?  The heavy burden of the proof lies on those who are audacious enough to make the claim to the contrary.  The ‘proof’ offered is highly speculative, quite subjective, and wholly external to the text its self.  I don’t see why its controversial to anyone for you to offer correction and warning about things like this. It deserves honor, not derision.” — a layperson


*Names are omitted to protect anonymity and avoid annoyance.  Letters are on file.


“Let’s be clear. A story, an affirmation, is either true or false, but not both true and false in the same way at the same time. That is a long accepted law of logic, and no amount of fudging can make it change. While I have no reason to question the sincerity of the author and while only God can judge his heart, Southern Baptists paid far too great a price to insist on the truthfulness of God’s Word to now be lured by a fresh emergence of the priesthood of the philosopher, especially when a philosopher raises a question about the truthfulness of Scripture.” (1/9/2012)  — Dr. Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary



Dr. Mike Licona Refuses to Condemn YouTube Video Attack on Dr. Geisler

Licona’s daughter, son-in-law, and his friend admit putting together the YouTube cartoon caricature demeaning Dr. Geisler for producing scholarly critiques of the in-print views of Mike Licona’s which deny the ICBI view of inerrancy ( After a recent blog (12/27/2011) defending his actions in helping to produce this video, Mike Licona wrote a blog of approval about his son-in-law’s part in the objectionable video, saying, “Nice blog. I want everyone to know that I’m proud to have you as my son-in-law! You’re a good guy with a good heart and mind. I thought J. P. Holding’s “Geisler’s Christmas Carol” was hilarious and done in good taste. Debbie and I watched it several times. We laughed at the humor and sighed that there is so much truth in it.I have received numerous emails from highly respected evangelicals who enjoyed the video as well. Keep up the good work, son. I truly believe you’re going to be one of the leading Christian bloggers within the next few years.”

Dr. Geisler has written a personal appeal to Mike Licona asking him to condemn the video and restrict the discussion to the theological issues involved, rather than approving of demeaning attacks on the character of other scholars who are seriously attempting to defend the inerrancy of Scripture.  Pray that he has a change of heart.




To see an index of other articles on the “Licona Controvery” please click here.




Dr. Paige Patterson Speaks out

Dr. Paige Patterson Speaks out  

More about Dr. Patterson

“Let’s be clear. A story, an affirmation, is either true or false, but not both true and false in the same way at the same time. That is a long accepted law of logic, and no amount of fudging can make it change. While I have no reason to question the sincerity of the author and while only God can judge his heart, Southern Baptists paid far too great a price to insist on the truthfulness of God’s Word to now be lured by a fresh emergence of the priesthood of the philosopher, especially when a philosopher raises a question about the truthfulness of Scripture.”

— Dr. Paige Patterson, President or Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Thank God for the courage, conviction, and character of the man of God to whom the SBC owes the most for its orthodoxy on inerrancy—Dr. Paige Patterson. I Hope there is a place reserved in Nashville for a bronze statue of him. It is time for other SBC leaders to close ranks on the Licona issue. – Dr. Norman Geisler 

To see all posts tagged “Licona” click here.

Evangelicals and Redaction Criticism: Dancing on the Edge

Evangelicals and Redaction Criticism:

Dancing on the Edge



Dr. Geisler first delivered these notes to the faculty of Trinity Evangeicaly Divinity School in the late 1970s when faculty member Grant Osborne began to adopt a form of redaction criticism.  This was also delivered by Dr. Geisler in a course on Bibliology at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1987.


  1. Things Surely to be Believed by Evangelicals
A.  The Gospel writers (except possibly Luke) were eyewitnesses of the events.


B.  The Gospels were written during the lifetime of these witnesses by the disciples’ names they bear.


C.  Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would supernaturally activate the apostle’s memories on all that He taught (John 14:26; 16:13).


D.  The NT documents should be considered authentic until proven otherwise (just as one is presumed innocent until proven guilty)


E.  What the Gospels say that Jesus said (and did), He actually said (and did).


F.  It is the written gospels (not their alleged sources) that are inspired (2 Tim. 3:16).  So truth is in the text, not behind it.


G.  Conclusions:


1.  The Gospel records are authentic, biographical, and historical.


2.  The records present accurately what Jesus really said and did.


3.  In view of IA, IB and IC, the Gospel writers were not dependent on other sources for their teachings.



  1. Things Surely not to be Believed by Evangelicals
A.  That the Gospels were written by persons who were not contemporaries of Christ.


B.  That Redaction Criticism  is necessary to discover what Jesus taught.


C.  That without the aid of Redaction we cannot understand the message of the Gospels.


D.  That the Gospels create, rather than report, what Jesus said and did.


E.  Conclusions:


1.  Accepting criticism of this kind [or, these kinds] is incompatible with evangelical Christianity.


2.  No evangelical institution should keep teachers who teach what is incompatible with evangelical Christianity.



III.  Things Apparently Believed by Some Evangelicals

A.  The Gospels are a reinterpretation of the life of Christ to fit the needs of the readers of a later generation.


B.  Gospel writers redacted earlier sources to construct their Gospels.


C.  By getting behind the Gospel record, redaction criticism is helpful (essential?) in interpreting the text.


D.  Redaction criticism should be used to establish the authenticity of the sayings and events recorded in the Gospels.


E.  Gospel writers sometimes placed what Jesus said (or did) on one occasion into another occasion where He did not actually say (or do) it.



  1. Things Safely to be Believed by Evangelicals
A.  All Redaction Criticism is UNNECESSARY in view of I above.


B.  Most of Redaction Criticism is INCOMPATIBLE with evangelical Christianity (namely II above).


C.  Even “modified” Redaction Criticism is dangerous (namely IIII above) because:


1.  This special use of the term is easily misunderstood (since its original and       common meaning is anti-evangelical).


2.  It is difficult to divorce totally redaction and other ideologies from their original non-evangelical presuppositions (There is a high fatality rate among those who try—Gundry, Guelich, et. al.).


3. To refer to a Gospels as a “reinterpretation” is at best ambiguous.  This may imply misrepresentation or error.


4.  The attempt to get behind the text, rather than to stay in it, is hermeneutically misdirected.


5.  The role of the Gospel writers as eyewitnesses whose memories were supernaturally guided by the Holy Spirit is neglected.


6.  It undermines confidence in the authenticity and authority of the text by treating it as a literary creation rather than a historical report (Luke 1:1-4).



CONCLUSION:  Since I is necessary to evangelical belief, II is incompatible with it, and III is dangerous to it, the practice of redaction is UNNECESSARY, UNWISE, and UNHEALTHY for evangelicals to adopt such unorthodox ideologies.




CHANGE THEIR FORM (Grammatical Change) CHANGE THEIR CONTENT (Theological Change)


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