Interpretation Sparks a Grave Theology Debate

Apologist’s questioning of Matthew 27 creates theological war of words. Christianity Today November print issue.

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.

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