Christian Zombies and the Apocalypse

Matthew 27: 51-53

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

There is a controversy currently running in the Evangelical world over this passage.  The issue centers on Norman Geisler and his attempts to censure Mike Licona for his references to this passage as a form of apocalyptic literature.

Licona recently presented a paper in his defense at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. You can read that paper here or listen to his presentation here (mp3)

Geisler’s response can be found at his website.  At issue is the doctrine of inerrancy and whether or not Licona is rejecting inerrancy or properly discerning a shift in genre in this passage. Christianity Today wrote a summary of the issues here.

[hat tip: Francis Beckwith]

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16 thoughts on “Christian Zombies and the Apocalypse

  1. Tim —

    I see this as just another example of the YRR showing their fundamentalist roots. They aren’t going to tolerate any move to the left and thus force moderates to side with liberals. Those who don’t know history damned to repeat it….

    What I’m unclear about is how you see this connected to Mormons? In other words, legit topic but how do you see this connected to Evangelical / Mormon issues?

  2. I came across an analysis of the passage I found interesting, although it doesn’t arrive at a conclusion:

    Exegesis of Matthew 27:51-54: A Closer Look at a Biblical Anomaly

    I still fail to see, though, how an apocalyptic interpretation would be a challenge to the doctrine of inerrancy (which I don’t subscribe to anyway). Even inerranticists believe that the Bible includes genres of literature other than literal history, so why is Licona’s view a problem? It seems to me that inerrancy and interpretation are two distinct issues.

  3. I concur. Licona might be wrong about the genre, but he’s not arbitrarily calling it apocalyptic. If he’s right about the genre, then he’s absolutely taking a viewpoint from inerrancy.

    It’s discussions like this that make me think the term “inerrancy” might not be all that useful.

  4. What I’m unclear about is how you see this connected to Mormons? In other words, legit topic but how do you see this connected to Evangelical / Mormon issues?

    Not every issue discussed on this blog is about Mormonism AND Evangelicalism. Sometimes it’s one or the other and sometimes it’s both.

  5. I think Al Mohler is right about this opening a crack. If Licona can declare historical sounding material as non-historical then the argument becomes which historical sounding material never happened. Essentially a statement that the bible is inerrant but non-perspicuous in what it is inerrant about. So the average reader can choose between historical details. Which gets right back to the virgin birth debate, which is how this whole thing started a century ago.

    In context there is a list of historical details Matthew whips off:

    1) Jesus cries out and stops breathing
    2) Curtain of the temple tears
    3) Earthquake
    4) Graves open and saints walk out
    5) Those “zombies” are seen by many people
    6) Centurian sees this stuff going on and declare Jesus the Son of God.

    Which of those didn’t happen? All of them? Most Evangelicals want (1) to have happened. (2) is rather important, theologically.

    Once you agree that Matthew is making stuff up in the middle of a historical account the line gets much more subtle. That is the path that led to Liberal Christianity.

    You can strike a compromise, like the bible is inerrant on matters necessary for salvation but.,.. this is a real issue. Evangelicals want

    1) Scholarship that’s taken seriously, that is even considered scholarship and not propaganda
    2) Scholars who support their views of scripture and church history.
    3) Their views of church history and scripture to be in accord with the long standing traditions of the church.

    The truth is they can pick any 2 and lose the 3rd.

  6. Once you agree that Matthew is making stuff up in the middle of a historical account the line gets much more subtle.

    I don’t think the claim is that Matthew is “making stuff up.” The claim is that Matthew (through inspiration) is speaking to a different kind of truth than literal history.

  7. How does Norman Geisler the writer of Chosen But Free in any way reflect on the YRR?

    He doesn’t. The broad support for fundamentalism in evangelical circles does. 20 years ago a guy who openly supported inerrancy, was writing an apologetic about it and denied the historicity of one little thing would be considered well within the fold. At that point evangelical Christianity was looking to expand and was willing to tolerate diversity in the ranks.

    Geisler would likely not have had his position, and would not have had broad support. For example my old fashioned NIV Study Bible (standard for Evangelicals) has a note about 27:52-3 being unique to Matthew and possibly symbolic of redemption. My reformation study bible (ESV) and NLTSB treats it as a historical event.

  8. Eric —

    I don’t think the claim is that Matthew is “making stuff up.” The claim is that Matthew (through inspiration) is speaking to a different kind of truth than literal history.

    I agree with you, I’m using their language to make a point. I also agree with out modern day fundamentalists that this is liberalism. 100 years ago if you met a theological liberal the virgin birth was speaking a different kind of truth than literal history….

  9. The YRR made me do it. I’m not sure Geisler would agree.

    Sure but you, James White and me all believe that people’s opinions are influenced by forces in ways that Geisler doesn’t account for 🙂

  10. I think this might have more to do with Geisler’s age than Driscoll’s passion. Nearly ten years ago he left the Evangelical Theological Society over their response to open theism. This isn’t any where close to being that kind of threat.

  11. Pingback: Apocalypse Again 112611 « Mennonite Preacher

  12. Your catchy title for this post caught my attention. I’m glad I decided to read the post because I was previously unfamiliar with this controversy. I spoke with Licona last year about the possibility of making our Transitions and Bridges resources available through the NAMB for SB churches. I was told that Licona was leaving the NAMB, but thought it was due to financial reasons and denominational downsizing. It is a real shame that American evangelicalism confuses hermeneutical issues with a high view of Scripture. Reminds me of similar controversies in the origins debate in regards to Genesis. Here’s to hoping evangelicals can move beyond their witch hunting among the brethren.

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