Christian NT Scholar and Apologist Michael Licona Loses Job After Questioning Matthew 27

As reported by Christianity Today (see here), New Testament scholar Michael Licona has apparently lost both his job as research professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary and been ousted as apologetics coordinator for the North America Mission Board (NAMB).

Why? In his 700-page book defending the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, Licona proposed that the story of the resurrection of the saints described in Matthew 27 might be metaphorical rather than literal history. Why is this a problem? As a result of Licona’s questioning of Matthew 27, apparently some evangelical scholars, most notably Norman Geisler, accused Licona of denying the full inerrancy of the Bible. Other evangelical scholars, including Paul Copan and Craig Blomberg, however, rallied to Licona’s defense.

Since this blog is primarily for and about metaphysical naturalism, why am I reporting on this incident here? Several reasons.

1. The incident casts doubt on the role of “history” vs. “inerrancy” in defenses of Jesus’ resurrection. As the co-editor of the leading skeptical anthology on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus, I have read several apologetics for the resurrection of Jesus, including (so far) about half of Licona’s massive book. One common theme of such books is that one does not need to presuppose the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy in order to establish the historicity of the resurrection. And here we have a rather public case of one prominent evangelical NT scholar (Licona) losing his job because he allegedly questioned the full inerrancy of the Bible.

I can understand why, from an Evangelical perspective, doctrinal purity or consistency is important, but I have to admit this incident has me scratching my head. Not that any Evangelicals would ever come to me for strategic advice on how to handle an in-house issue like this, but if I had been consulted during this, I would have recommended they find a better way to handle this. For example, where was due process in all of this? Does Licona agree that he stopped affirming the “full inerrancy of the Bible”? Was he offered some finite probationary period to consider arguments by Geisler and others in favor of Matthew 27? If the Christianity Today story is accurate (and I have no reason to doubt it), the entire incident comes across as entirely hasty and reactionary.

2. The incident casts doubt on the ability of Evangelical scholars, qua Evangelicals, to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. To his credit, Licona apparently questioned the literal historicity of Matthew 27, without letting the perceived implications of his commitment to Biblical inerrancy get in the way. At the same time, however, I can’t help but be struck by the fact that apparently many Christian scholars were unwilling to publicly defend Licona, presumably because they were afraid they might lose their jobs, too. It is precisely because of this sort of mentality that I have previously questioned whether evangelical Christians can consistently affirm the ethics of belief required by freethought.