Let’s Be Clear

There has been plenty of discussion in my blog’s combox over the past few days concerning Matthew 27:52-53. Fr. Robert, whom I assume most of my readers are familiar with, has taken a certain position on the interpretation of this passage (i.e., he believes it to be apocalyptic and non-historical), but when challenged he has failed to provide arguments for his position or to address the arguments against it. He has appealed to R. T. France’s NICNT commentary without telling us how France supports his position or why we should find France compelling. He has repeated himself ad nauseam and rambled on and on about things that are irrelevant to the discussion. Don’t take my word for it, please, wade through the comments and see for yourself.

So after his most recent round of comments he stated (for the second time in as many days) that a blog is not the place to have fruitful discussions of this sort. Here are his two comments to this effect:

Kyle: First, on an open blog it is very hard to engage all of the so-called arguments and issues. I confess that my blogs have been general, and somewhat overarching here. (September 18, 2011 at 8:01 pm)

This is a blog, if we were face to face it might be somewhat different? But as I have said before, the blog is always a poor commutator! Anyway that’s how “I” feel! :) (September 19, 2011 at 2:44 pm)

So I said in response:

Also, you’ve now said twice that you can’t communicate properly on blogs, or something of the sort. I’m going to have to agree. I haven’t been able to understand you. So I’m going to ask that you stop commenting until you are able to express yourself clearly. And you might have noticed that I’ve deleted some of your comments. I will continue to delete all irrelevant comments and I’m going to start deleting all repetitive comments as well. I’ve been as patient as I can be. (September 19, 2011 at 3:25 pm)

I’ll just remind everybody that “as the author/administrator of this blog I am sovereign over the comments. I have the right to allow people to break the rules or to demand that they strictly adhere to them. I have the power to approve, delete, or edit comments at my discretion. I also have the right and power to ban commentators at will.” (Comment Policy) I didn’t owe Fr. Robert a warning but I gave him one anyway. He took it personally and then responded very childishly (see the top three of his deleted comments here to see what I’m talking about – the others were simply irrelevant to anything).

But I just saw that Fr. Robert ran over to Marc Cortez’s blog and said the following:

Just a note, but I was asked by Nick to leave his blog over this subject (which I have done), I suggested maybe your thoughts and arbitration? He was silent. Anyway, this issue and subject got nasty, I simply kept reiterating the “apocalyptic” position itself! I did not want to play their game, I mean how many ways does one need to say this theological point? I simply became the fall guy for the position, it seems? And btw, I have written Locona personally. (September 19, 2011 at 1:32 pm)

Now let’s be clear. I did not ask Fr. Robert to “leave [my] blog over this subject.” I asked him to “stop commenting until [he is] able to express [him]self clearly.” He can continue to comment on the subject so long as he actually says something of substance.

And suggesting Marc’s arbitration was silly. This is my blog. I arbitrate. I like and respect Marc a lot, but he has no authority to arbitrate anything ’round these parts. I don’t go to his blog to settle disputes so why would Fr. Robert expect him to come to mine and do it?

I will also point out that things only got nasty when Fr. Robert made them nasty. He started hurling accusations at Steve Hays about what Steve was implying in a post that I linked to.

Fr. Robert certainly kept “reiterating the ‘apocalyptic’ position itself,” but he did so without any actual arguments! That was the issue in the first place! The constant repetition with nothing of substance to back it annoyed me to the point where I couldn’t take it any more! And he obviously didn’t want to play our “game” since we (by that I have in mind myself and Kyle Essary for the most part, but also Steve Hays to a lesser degree) asked him to explain himself and argue his case.

So to Fr. Robert I say: Get a grip, stop playing the victim, and try to be a bit more honest. Your recounting of the events leaves much to be desired. You’re welcome to comment over here whenever you want to as long as you contribute to the discussion rather than stifle it. You’ve admitted to making very general comments on the issue as well as making the same point so I’ll remind you of two other points in my comment policy:

Do Be specific. If you have a point to make then make it. Don’t be unnecessarily vague and speak in generalities. I want to know what you have to say but I don’t want to have to work to get you to say it.

Don’t Repeat yourself. They say that repetition is the mother of skill; well I don’t care. If I (or someone else) disagrees with you then don’t keep repeating yourself in hopes that I (or they) will eventually agree with you. It’s probably not going to happen. If you think that people disagree with you because they just don’t understand you then think again; I’ve found that many disagreements are the result of understanding precisely what someone is saying. And don’t ask a question expecting a certain answer and then continue to ask it once you’ve been answered with something unexpected. Again, repeating yourself is not likely to make anyone change their mind.

You’ve made me work much too hard to get you to defend your position and you’ve repeated non-arguments more times than anyone else would ever get to on this blog. I’ve extended that courtesy because I like you, but I can only stand so much. So if and when you’re ready to “play my game” then come on back.

B”H

20 thoughts on “Let’s Be Clear

  1. Nick, sorry I wasn’t able to respond to that comment earlier. But, I agree with you. Although I’m happy to come over here and offer my thoughts occasionally, I wouldn’t presume to play arbiter on any of your discussions.

    Besides if anyone besides you is going to play arbiter here, Esteban is clearly better qualified!

  2. Wow, I miss one day here and all this happens? Sheesh.

    I hope you and Fr. Robert get past this. You guys seemed to have a great relationship, every time I visited this blog. You both seem like good guys to me.

    This Matthew 27/Lincona/Geisler issue has been getting a lot of attention as of late!

  3. Craig: Sadly, these things happen all too often.

    Marc: I don’t say anything on this blog without an imprimatur from Esteban (a.k.a. Pope Verbose LXI). :-P And you’re always welcome to offer constructive criticism or pushbacks on arguments. That’s one of the things I appreciate about your comments.

    EDH: Yeah, stuff goes downhill quick. There’s no hard feelings on my part. I just want to use my time in constructive dialogues. If a conversation is going nowhere then it’s waste of time.

  4. I’m saddened that Fr. Robert responded in the way that he did. I had to leave the previous conversation because it was clear that he was either reading my comments/questions ungraciously or ignoring them completely yet starting the comment with my name to imply that it was a response. I continued to ask about how he understands the rest of the pericope now without answer. To be fair, his argument was:

    1. Why only one historical source? (in his first comment) – I responded that there are lots of things in only one historical source, are there other reasons to deny the historicity of this one? He did not directly respond to this question.

    2. It seems to be more spiritual and symbolic in nature (in his first comment) – I asked why it seems that way, and he did not respond other than to say that it is apocalyptic and most scholars agree with this. I pointed out how this does not address the question because we all agree it is apocalyptic in nature, but many of us also hold it is historical and wanted to know why he no longer does. I commented that Lazarus’ resurrection only appears in one tradition, is both symbolic and spiritual in nature, but also historical. I wanted to know why he denied the Matthew tradition, but not the Johannine one. He did not respond other than to say that they come from different traditions, but we already know this to be the case.

    3. The majority of scholars agree with his position (his second comment) – I pointed out that I don’t care about consensus…after all, appeals to authority are a defined logical fallacy. I’ve read what they say and have yet to find a convincing argument, I was simply asking Robert to give us his reasons.

    (His third comment neither responded to what I said nor added to the discussion…he switched from discussing the traditions behind the text to “traditional”)

    4. Quote from NIV Spirit of Reformation Study Bible about the dead waiting in their tombs (his fourth comment) – We responded with the consensus evangelical view that they were not raised immediately at his death, but following his resurrection. This is the theological commentary from ancient writers through Calvin to most evangelicals today.

    5. The passage appears to be more theological in nature (his sixth comment – repeats his second comment) – I merely responded that we are all in agreement that it is symbolic in nature, but we are not discussing its theological meaning, but whether or not it is historical. I asked how he differentiates between the tearing of the veil (which is multiply attested in Mark), the earthquake and the raised saints. Does he deny the entire pericope (which also includes the multiply attested centurion) or just this one line of it…if so, why? The tearing of the veil is just as eschatological, apocalyptic, etc. Why deny the one and accept the other?

    6. An apocalyptic section in the middle of the Resurrection narratives does not deny its total historicity (his seventh comment) – No one said it did. I was asking why (and if) he now denies the historicity of the tearing of the veil, because it comes in the previous line of the exact same pericope, not somewhere else in the tradition.

    7. Scholars who agree with the historical position are simply conservative evangelicals – (his eighth comment) This is simply ad hominem and irrelevant. He repeats the argument from consensus at this point.

    8. Ad hominem toward us – We are “pissed” and don’t “have” (anything) “to say,” need to “man up” stop being a “bully,” etc.

    I hope it is clear from this recap (and you can read the longer version if you so desire), that we were not being theological cowards or anti-intellectual. He simply did not either understand or desire to respond to the arguments we were making against his position, nor answer the questions directly which we were asking about it (veil vs. raised saints, how to distinguish the change between history/apocalyptic, etc.).

    I hold Robert as a strong brother in Christ, and do not desire a name-calling battle, but instead a theological discussion. I would hope that he would choose to move back toward the same as the ad hominems add nothing to the conversation.

    Let me be clear, as someone who holds that the text is breathed out by God (and not necessarily the events behind the text), I have no problem with a text being theological in nature and providing eschatological foreshadowing of events to come. I just am wanting reasons for such a position beyond “it seems that way” and “most scholars hold this view.”

  5. This is probably my last comment on the discussion, but Craig Blomberg gives a good example of how someone takes the passage as both theologically fulfilling its apocalyptic nature, and also historical. This is from Jesus and the Gospels, p.348:

    “The Synoptics tell us that already from noon until 3 P.M. on the day we now know as Good Friday a preternatural darkness had fallen upon the land (Mark 15:33 pars.). Whatever its cause, it is clear that ‘nature’ was in sympathy with the horror of the Son of God being put to death. Apocalyptic signs continue as the veil of the temple is rent from top to bottom (v. 38). It is impossible to resolve every question surrounding these symbolic actions (Did the veil rip just before or just after Jesus’ expiry? Was it the inner or outer veil? Are the later ideas of Eph. 2:14-16 and Heb. 4:14-16 implied – with people now having immediate access to God?). But the veil’s splitting fits the whole scene. The temple, the city, and all those loyal to its corrupt system are being condemned, even as they think they are condemning Jesus.

    The Gentile centurion supervising the proceedings, observing these signs and how Jesus died, becomes convinced of Christ’s innocence. Further apocalyptic portents shake the area, most notably a significant earthquake (Matt. 27:51). Probably the strangest episode of all appears only in Matthew (vv. 52-53) – tombs were opened and certain ‘saints’ were raised to life. The punctuation of many translations makes it appear as if these resurrections occurred before Jesus’ own. But the text should probably be rendered, ‘ the tombs broke open. And the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life, and having come out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection, they went into the Holy City.” Again, there are many unanswerable questions surrounding this mysterious scene (Who were the holy people? How long did they make appearances? What happened to them next?). But Matthew’s point is similar to Paul’s: Jesus’ resurrection is the ‘firstfruit’ of the resurrection of all believers of both old and new covenant times (cf. 1 Cor. 15:20). A few got to be raised not at the end of the world but with Jesus as a dramatic testimony to that fact.”

    Notice how his view holds that it is both theological, a fulfillment through apocalyptic events and historical. This is a clear explanation of the position I have been trying to maintain in the other thread. As such, it should be clear that saying that the passage is symbolic in nature doesn’t do much for me since I hold that it’s symbolic, yet historical. I’m wanting to know why one should reject it as historical other than the fact that it’s singly attested since most of us hold to all sorts of things that are only singly attested.

  6. Kyle and Nick: I think you guys were very mean to Father Robert. The reason he was repetitive in his answers was because you were repetitive in your questions. If his arguments were less than rigorous, it was because he was still thinking through his position. Rather than respecting a fellow Christian who was trying to work through his understanding of a difficult passage, you two saw it as your duty to hammer him back into orthodoxy by repeatedly demanding that he address the points that you deemed decisive.

  7. Vinny,
    Come on…go back and read the thread again. How was I “mean?” For asking his personal reasons? He came into the conversation stating from the start that he had changed positions and I simply wanted to know why beyond arguments from authority and single attestation (which I know he doesn’t apply to other events). Did I ever say his position was “unorthodox?” I don’t think that now and didn’t think it then…I just don’t agree with his position and wanted to have a conversation over why he has changed to see if there are good reasons why I should change. Come on…at least attempt to read people graciously.

  8. Kyle: I just read the thread again and I think that it might have been possible to read you graciously had you backed off once it was clear that Fr. Robert couldn’t offer much in the way of reasons besides the authority of commentators whose opinions he otherwise trusted. Once you had expressed your reasons for disagreeing with those opinions, the only thing you accomplished by repeatedly demanding that he answer your questions was to embarrass him and make him look foolish for thinking that any of those commentaries were worthy of consideration.

    Nick: And you are entitled to treat people as hostile witnesses if you wish to do so. All I know is that I have never had any trouble keeping my conversations with Fr. Robert cordial even though we probably haven’t agreed on much of anything.

  9. Vinny: I’d appreciate if you could stop being so mean to me and Kyle. And please, try to remain cordial. I’ll excuse the rudeness of your last two comments but I won’t abide any more of that.

  10. Nick: You can be as mean as you want to me. I expect to get the third degree here and I’m not going to post a comment unless I am prepared to defend it. I suspect that Fr. Robert thought that he was among friends who would give him the benefit of the doubt.

  11. Vinny: I can assure you that I don’t want to be mean to you at all. That’s why I can’t understand why you’re being so mean to me. All this hostility and aggressiveness from you is troubling. Why can’t you just be nice?

    Steve: Fantastic idea! I have done so and here are the results:



    Nancy: I can assure you that any mean-o-meter that has you on top must be broken!

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