William Lane Craig and James Crossley debate the resurrection of Jesus

This is my favorite debate on the resurrection.

You can watch the debate here:

The MP3 file can be obtained from Apologetics 315.

There is not much snark in this summary, because Crossley is a solid scholar, and so there isn’t very much to mock him for.

SUMMARY

William Lane Craig’s opening speech

Two contentions:

  • There are four minimal facts that are accepted by most historians
  • The best explanation of the four minimal facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead

Contention 1 of 2:

Fact 1: The burial

  • The burial is multiply attested
    • The burial is based on the early source material that Mark used for his gospel
    • Scholars date this Markan source to within 10 years of the crucifixion
    • The burial is also in the early passage in 1 Cor 15:3-8
    • So you have 5 sources, some of which are very early
  • The burial is credited to a member of the Sanhedrin
    • the burial is probable because shows an enemy of the church doing right
    • this makes it unlikely to to be an invention

Fact 2: The empty tomb

  • The burial story supports the empty tomb
    • the site of Jesus’ grave was known
    • the disciples could not proclaim a resurrection if the body were still in it
    • the antagonists to the early Christians could have produced the body
  • The empty tomb is multiple attested
    • it’s mentioned explicitly in Mark
    • it’s in the separate sources used by Matthew and John
    • it’s in the early sermons documented in Acts
    • it’s implied by 1 Cor 15:3-8, because resurrection requires that the body is missing
  • The empty tomb was discovered by women
    • the testimony of women of women was not normally allowed in courts of law
    • if this story was being made up, they would have chosen male disciples
  • The empty tomb discover lacks legendary embellishment
    • there is no theological or apologetical reflection on the meaning of the tomb
  • The early Jewish response implies that the tomb was empty
    • the response was that the disciples stole the body
    • that requires that the tomb was found empty

Fact 3: The appearances to individuals and groups, some of the them hostile

  • The list of appearances is in 1 Cor 15:3-8
    • this material is extremely early, withing 1-3 years after the cross
    • James, the brother of Jesus, was not a believer when he got his appearance
    • Paul was hostile to the early church when he got his appearance
  • Specific appearances are multiply attested
    • Peter: attested by Luke and Paul
    • The twelve: attested by Luke, John and Paul
    • The women: attested by Matthew and John

Fact 4: The early belief in the resurrection emerged in a hostile environment

  • There was no background belief in a dying Messiah
  • There was no background belief in a single person resurrecting before the general resurrection of all of the righteous at the end of the age
  • The disciples were willing to die for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus
  • The resurrection is the best explanation for the transformation of the disciples from frightened to reckless of death

Contention 2 of 2:

  • The resurrection is the best explanation because it passes C.B. McCullough’s six tests for historical explanations
  • None of the naturalistic explanations accounts for the minimal facts as well as the resurrection

James Crossley’s opening speech

Appeals to the majority of scholars doesn’t prove anything

  • the majority of people in the west are Christians so of course there are a majority of scholars that support the resurrection
  • there are Christian schools where denial of the resurrection can result in termination

The best early sources (1 Cor 15:3-8 and Mark) are not that good

1 Cor 15:3-8 doesn’t support the empty tomb

  • verse 4 probably does imply a bodily resurrection
  • the passage does have eyewitnesses to appearances of Jesus
  • but there are no eyewitnesses to the empty tomb in this source
  • appearances occur in other cultures in different times and places
  • Jesus viewed himself as a martyr
  • his followers may have had hallucinations

Mark 16:1-8

  • Mark is dated to the late 30s and early 40s
  • The women who discover the tomb tell no one about the empty tomb

The gospels show signs of having things added to them

  • Jewish story telling practices allowed the teller to make things up to enhance their hero
  • one example of this would be the story of the earthquake and the people coming out of their graves
  • that story isn’t in Mark, nor any external sources like Josephus
  • if there really was a mass resurrection, where are these people today?
  • so this passage in Matthew clearly shows that at least some parts of the New Testament could involve
  • what about the contradiction between the women tell NO ONE and yet other people show up at the empty tomb
  • the story about Jesus commissioning the early church to evangelize Gentiles was probably added
  • there are also discrepancies in the timing of events and appearances
  • why are there explicit statements of high Christology in John, but not in the earlier sources?

William Lane Craig’s first rebuttal

Crossley’s response to the burial: he accepts it

Crossley’s response to the empty tomb: he thinks it was made up

  • rabbinical stories are not comparable to the gospel accounts
  • the rabbinical stories are just anecdotal creative story-telling
  • the gospels are ancient biographies – the genre is completely different
  • the rabbinic miracle stories are recorded much later than the gospels
  • the rabbi’s legal and moral ideas were written down right away
  • the miracle stories were written down a century or two later
  • in contrast, the miracle stories about Jesus are in the earliest sources, like Mark
  • the rabbinical stories are intended as entertainment, not history
  • the gospels are intended as biography
  • just because there are some legendary/apocalyptic elements in Matthew, it doesn’t undermine things like the crucfixion that are historically accurate

Crossley’s response to the evidence for the empty tomb:

  • no response to the burial
  • the empty tomb cannot be made up, it was implied by Paul early on
  • the women wouldn’t have said nothing forever – they eventually talked after they arrived to where the disciples were
  • no response to the lack of embellishment
  • no response to the early Jewish polemic

Crossley’s response to the appearances

  • he agrees that the first followers of Jesus had experiences where they thought Jesus was still alive

Crossley’s response to the early belief in the bodily resurrection:

  • no response about how this belief in a resurrection could have emerged in the absence of background belief in the death of the Messiah and the resurrection of one man before the general resurrection of all the righteous at the end of the age

What about Crossley’s hallucination theory?

  • Crossley says that the followers of Jesus had visions, and they interpreted these visions against the story of the Maccabean martyrs who looked forward to their own resurrections
  • but the hallucination hypothesis doesn’t account for the empty tomb
  • and the Maccabean martyrs were not expecting the resurrection of one man, and certainly not the Messiah – so that story doesn’t provide the right background belief for a hallucination of a single resurrected person prior to the end of the age
  • if the appearances were non-physical, the disciples would not have applied the word resurrection – it would just have been a vision
  • the visions could easily be reconciled with the idea that somehow God was pleased with Jesus and that he had some glorified/vindicated non-corporeal existence – but not resurrection
  • not only that, the hallucination hypothesis doesn’t even explain the visions, because there were visions to groups, to skeptics and to enemies in several places

What about the argument that only Christians accept the resurrection?

  • it’s an ad hominem attack that avoids the arguments

James Crossley’s first rebuttal

Regarding the burial:

  • I could be persuaded of that the burial account is accurate

Regarding the non-expectation of a suffering/dying Messiah:

  • Jesus thought he was going to die
  • this thinking he was going to die overturned all previous Messianic expectations that the Messiah wouldn’t suffer or die
  • the early Jews could easily reconcile the idea of a suffering, dead man killed by the Romans with the power of the all-powerful Messiah who supposed to reign forever
  • no actually bodily resurrection would have to happen to get them to continue to identify an executed corpse with the role of Messiah

Regarding the belief in the bodily resurrection:

  • it would be natural for Jews, who believed in a general resurrection of all the rigtheous dead at the end of the age, to interpret a non-physical vision of one man after he died as a bodily resurrection, even though no Jew had ever considered the resurrection of one man before the general resurrection before Jesus

Regarding the testimony of the women:

  • Just because women were not able to testify in courts of law (unless there were no male witnesses), the early church might still invent a story where the women are the first witnesses
  • first, the disciples had fled the scene, so only the women were left
  • and it would have been a good idea for the early church to invent women as the first witnesses – the fact that they could not testify in court makes them ideal witnesses and very persuasive
  • also, it’s a good idea to invent women as witnesses, because the Romans had a rule that said that they never killed women, so they wouldn’t have killed these women – Romans only ever kill men
  • in any case, the first witness to the empty tomb is angel, so as long as people could talk to the angel as being the first witness, that’s the best story to invent

Regarding the consensus of Christian scholars:

  • I am not saying that Craig’s facts are wrong, just that appealing to consensus is not legitimate
  • he has to appeal to the evidence, not the consensus

Regarding my naturalistic bias:

  • I don’t know or care if naturalism is true, let’s look at the evidence

Regarding the genre of the gospels:

  • the creative story-telling is common in all genres, it’s not a genre in itself
  • stuff about Roman emperors also has creative story-telling

Regarding the legendary nature of the empty tomb in Mark:

  • First, Christians interpreted the visions as a bodily resurrection
  • Second, they invented the story of the empty tomb to go with that interpretation
  • Third, they died for their invention

William Lane Craig’s second rebuttal

The burial:

  • Bill’s case doesn’t need to know the specifics of the burial, only that the location was known
  • the location is important because it supports the empty tomb
  • to proclaim a resurrection, the tomb would have to be empty
  • a tomb with a known location is easier to check

The empty tomb:

  • creative story telling was common in Judaism: retelling OT stories (midrash), romances/novels, rabbinical anecdotes
  • but the gospels are none of these genres – the gospels are ancient biographies
  • Craig also gave five arguments as to why the tomb was empty
  • the burial story supports the empty tomb
  • there is multiple independent attestation, then it cannot be a creative fiction invented in Mark alone
  • the witnesses were in Jerusalem, so they were in a position to know
  • regarding the women, even though Jesus respected the women, their testimony would not be convincing to others, so why invent a story where they are the witnesses
  • the male disciples did not flee the scene, for example, Peter was there to deny Jesus three times
  • if the story is made up, who cares what the male disciples did, just invent them on the scene anyway
  • the angel is not authoritative, because the angel cannot be questioned, but the women can be questioned
  • there was no response on the lack of embellishment
  • there was no response to the earliest Jewish response implying that the tomb was empty

The appearances:

  • we agree on the appearances

The early belief in the resurrection:

  • he says that Jesus predicted his own death
  • yes, but that would only cause people to think that he was a martyr, not that he was the messiah – something else is needed for them to keep their believe that he was the Messiah even after he died, because the Messiah wasn’t supposed to die
  • and of course, there was no expectation of a single person rising from the dead before the general resurrection, and certainly not the Messiah

The consensus of scholars:

  • Jewish scholars like Geza Vermes and Pinchas Lapide accept these minimal facts like the empty tomb, it’s not just Christian scholars

Against Crossley’s hallucination hypothesis:

  • it doesn’t explain the empty the tomb
  • it doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection
  • hallucinations would only lead to the idea that God had exalted/glorified Jesus, not that he was bodily raised from the dead
  • the hallucination theory cannot accommodate all of the different kinds of appearances; individual, group, skeptic, enemy, etc.

The pre-supposition of naturalism:

  • if Crossley is not committed to naturalism, then he should be open to the minimal facts and to the best explanation of those facts
  • the hallucination hypothesis has too many problems
  • the resurrection hypothesis explains everything, and well

James Crossley’s second rebuttal

Religious pluralism:

  • well, there are lots of other religious books
  • those other religious books have late sources, and are filled with legends and myths, and no eyewitness testimony
  • so why should we trust 1 Cor 15 and the early source for Mark and the other early eyewitness testimony in the New Testament?
  • if other religious books can be rejected for historical reasons, then surely the New Testament can be rejected for historical reasons

Genre:

  • the genre of ancient biography can incorporate and commonly incorporates invented legendaryt story-telling
  • this is common in Roman, Greek and Jewish literature and everyone accepts that

Empty tomb: multiple attestation

  • ok, so maybe the empty tomb is multiply attested, but that just gets back to a belief, not to a fact
  • multiple attestation is not the only criteria, and Craig needs to use the other criteria to make his case stronger

Empty tomb: invented

  • if there is a belief in the resurrection caused by the visions, then the empty tomb would have to be invented
  • why aren’t there more reliable stories of people visiting the empty tomb in more sources?

Empty tomb: role of the women

  • there are women who have an important role in the Bible, like Judith and Esther
  • Mark’s passage may have used women who then kept silent in order to explain why no one knew where the empty tomb was
  • if the fleeing of the men is plausible to explain the women, then why not use that? why appeal to the supernatural?
  • we should prefer any explanation that is naturalistic even if it is not as good as the supernatural explanation at explaining everything

Empty tomb: embellishment

  • well there is an angel there, that’s an embellishment
  • anyway, when you say there is no embellishment, what are you comparing it to that makes you say that?

Appearances: anthropology

  • I’ve read anthropology literature that has some cases where people have hallucinations as groups

Appearances: theology

  • the hallucinations would not be interpreted against the background theological beliefs that ruled out the resurrection of one man before then general resurrection of all the righteous dead
  • these hallucinations could have been so compelling that they made the earliest Christians, and skeptics like James, and enemies like the Pharisee Paul abandon all of their previous background beliefs, proclaim the new doctrine of a crucified and resurrected Messiah which no one had ever expected, and then gone on to die for that belief
  • the hallucinations could have changed all of their theology and reversed all of their beliefs about the what the word resurrection meant

William Lane Craig’s conclusion

Supernaturalism:

  • None of the four facts are supernatural, they are natural, and ascertained by historians using normal historical methods
  • the supernatural part only comes in after we decide on the facts when we are deciding which explanation is the best
  • a tomb being found empty is not a miraculous fact

Genre:

  • the gospels are not analagous to these rabbinical stories, the purpose and dating is different

Empty tomb:

  • what multiple attestation shows is that it was not made-up by Mark
  • and the argument was augmented with other criteria, like the criterion of embarrassment and the criterion of dissimilarity
  • Judith and Esther are very rare exceptions, normally women were not viewed as reliable witnesses
  • if the story was invented, whatever purpose the inventors had would have been better served by inventing male witnesses
  • Craig grants that the angel may be an embellishment for the sake of argument, but there are no other embellishments
  • the real embellishments occur in forged gnostic gospels in the second and third centuries, where there are theological motifs added to the bare fact of the empty tomb (e.g. – the talking cross in the Gospel of Peter)
  • he had no response to the earliest jewish response which implied an empty tomb

Belief in the resurrection:

  • there was no way for Jewish people to interpret an appearance as a bodily resurrection before the end of the world, they did not expect that
  • they could have imagined exaltation, but not a bodily resurrection

James Crossley’s conclusion

Supernatural explanation:

  • as long as there is any other other possible naturalistic explanation, we should prefer that, no matter how unlikely

Creative stories:

  • some of these creative stories appear within the lifetimes of the people connected to the events (none mentioned)

Embellishment:

  • you should compare to earlier stories when looking for embellishments, not later
  • and we don’t have any earlier sources, so we just don’t know the extent of the embellishment

Jewish response:

  • they probably just heard about the empty tomb, and didn’t check on it, then invented the stole-the-body explanation without ever checking to see if the tomb was empty or not

53 thoughts on “William Lane Craig and James Crossley debate the resurrection of Jesus”

  1. I just finished giving a presentation on the resurrection of Jesus to my two daughters and my older daughter’s boyfriend. If universities have a 70% success rate of turning Christians, and if I know how to do math, this means there is a 10% chance that both my daughters will graduate with their faith intact. There is a 50% chance that both will reject Christianity, and a 40% that only one will reject their faith. This is high stakes.

    I’m guessing that a significant number of the 70% eventually come back to faith, but it’s much better to avoid periods of wandering.

  2. “Some of these creative stories appear within the lifetimes of the people connected to the events (none mentioned)”

    Two examples come to mind: Plato and Alexander the Great.

    1. The biographies of Jesus emerge in the same generation that he lived. The eyewitnesses to his life were alive when they were written. If you accept the dating of Mark by atheist scholar James Crossley, then the gap is 7-10 years after Jesus died.

      Plato lived around 400 BC. But his biographer Diogenes Laertius wrote after 200 AD, a gap of about 600 years.
      Alexander the Great lived around 350 BC. But his biographer Arrian wrote around 150 AD, a gap of about 500 years.

      So I don’t think there is a parallel there, unless you think that a 10 year gap is the same as a 500-600 year gap.

  3. (1) You’re assuming eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.

    (2) I highly doubt Mark was written that early.

    (3) My point isn’t that legend crept in because the literature is late, but rather the literature recounts the legends that had already been circulating in that time period.

    1. 1) I’m not assuming a thing. I have arguments for my views. For example, Richard Bauckham’s critically-acclaimed “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

      2) It’s your word against the atheist New Testament critic James Crossley. I’ll take James Crossley.

      3) My point is that you have zero examples of legends creeping in within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses for this genre of literature (i.e. – ancient biography). The two examples you offered were hundreds of years after the events occurred.

  4. (1) I was not implying that you didn’t have arguments to back up this view of authorship. Rather, this view cannot be just “granted” since many critics would not agree here. I guess this is all besides the point, however.

    (2) So because James Crossley is a NT critic/atheist all of a sudden his dating is flawless? This is really just a nonsense response. See the debate with James White and Shabir Ally. Ally cites many conservative scholars that agree with a later dating of Mark (and if I remember correctly, Bauckham was one of them!).

    (3) This is just false. See Sherwin-White (who Craig loves to quote).

    “Mr. P.A. Brunt has suggested in private correspondence that a study of the Alexander [the Great] sources is less encouraging for my thesis. There was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds within the lifetime of contemporaries [circa 300 BCE], and the historical embroidery was often deliberate.”

    By the way, compare the burial stories/empty tomb stories in the Gospels. We can already see the legends about Joseph starting to form. In Mark he starts off a man searching for the Kingdom of God and John he becomes a secret disciple. Indeed, just look at the extra-biblical literature as well.

  5. Jeff, will you elaborate on the legends of Joseph? You are obviously referring to Joseph of Arimathea. Are you suggesting there is an irreconcilable conflict between Mark and John’s accounts of Joseph? Even if that were so, would that disqualify the historical records regarding the life of Jesus, or would it be more prudent to consider the account of Joseph as separate from the account of Jesus?

  6. Yes, I am suggesting it is irreconcilable. However, as you note, the implications of this should not be exaggerated. I can still agree that the Gospels contain reliable information and things like that.

  7. I have listened to a number of Craig’s debates and I have noticed a very bad habit. Repeatedly throughout his lectures he makes the claim, “Almost all credible scholars agree (with me) on this point.” This is a preposterous assertion. If it were true then the majority of scholars would have to be born-again evangelicals which is NOT the case. What I am sure that Mr. Craig means is: “Almost all scholars that I believe to be credible agree with me.”

    Ok, let’s look at the first point:

    “Fact 1: The burial

    ◦The burial is multiply attested
    ◦The burial is based on the early source material that Mark used for his gospel
    ◦Scholars date this Markan source to within 10 years of the crucifixion
    ◦The burial is also in the early passage in 1 Cor 15:3-8
    ◦So you have 5 sources, some of which are very early
    ◦The burial is credited to a member of the Sanhedrin
    ◦the burial is probable because shows an enemy of the church doing right
    ◦this makes it unlikely to to be an invention”

    1. No the burial is not multiply attested. We have four anonymous works, which no one but evangelicals believe were written within TEN years of the events, in which two of them are blatant works of plagiarism of the first, “Mark” and the fourth “John” seems to use “Mark’s” chronology but then has Jesus give some incredibly long sermons, not in parables as he does in the other Gospels…nor often times is the subject matter mentioned in the other three.

    2. How do we know that Mark had “source material”? This work could be something of a historical novel, loosely based on the major known events in Jesus life, but the rest of it complete fabrication, which then was plagiarized without confirming its accuracy by Matthew, Luke, and John.

    3. Yes, Paul in I Corinthians mentions a burial…but absolutely nothing of an empty tomb. Curious.

    4. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. We do NOT necessarily have five sources, we may well only have “Mark”.

    5. No, the burial by Joseph of Arimethea comes completely out of left field in a latter Gospel. It is no where to be found in the earliest gospel, Mark. The Sanhedrin had just voted UNANIMOUSLY the night before to execute Jesus, why on earth would a man who had just voted to crucify Jesus, suddenly have remorse, and offer to bury Jesus in his very expensive tomb??

    Most likely this story is a later embellishment. Once again it is not in the earliest Gospel, but it may well have been needed, in a subsequent gospel to explain Mark’s new statement of an “empty tomb”, a fact never mentioned by Paul.

    Only the rich were buried in hand hewn caves. Odds are, like most crucified criminals, the body of Jesus was either left to be eaten by the vultures or thrown into a common grave. So to have an answer for “who bought the expensive tomb” they only had a rich Jews to pick from. The Romans wouldn’t have done it. The disciples had all fled. And Jesus family was dirt poor.

    This, friends, is an embellishment.

    1. Ok, let’s look at the first point: “Fact 1: The burial

      Gary’s alternative explanation which serves as a denial to WLC’s Fact 1: “Only the rich were buried in hand hewn caves. Odds are, like most crucified criminals, the body of Jesus was either left to be eaten by the vultures or thrown into a common grave. So to have an answer for “who bought the expensive tomb” they only had a rich Jews to pick from. The Romans wouldn’t have done it. The disciples had all fled. And Jesus family was dirt poor.”

      Gary, all you have is speculation. There’s no eye-witness testimony to Jesus’ body being eaten by vultures or thrown into a common grave.

      There are rebuttals to your various objections about WLC’s supporting evidence for Jesus’ burial, but given your stated preference for “evidence,” there’s far more reasonable evidence for burial than for your speculative claim of vulture-eating (or wild dog eating) of Jesus’ body or His Body being thrown into a common grave.

      1. What’s more, no scholar (except maybe a fringe atheist like John Dominic Crossan) believes that. Gary isn’t going to be able to name two scholars who hold that view, but that’s his view. What does that tell us about how interested he is in the truth? He’s bashing the consensus of scholars because they are against him, and he knows it.

        1. FWIW, Gary and I have continued the debate over at Rhoblogy’s blog: Hosting a Debate.

          All are welcome to join in over there.

          Over on Rhoblogy’s thread, Gary maintains his position of denying Fact 1:

          “No one today knows for sure where Jesus was buried. So we cannot examine the grave to see if there is still a skeleton inside.

          But aren’t we making a big assumption? We are assuming that a body was buried! What was the usual custom of the Romans regarding the disposition of the bodies of crucified criminals? Historical records tell us that it was the usual Roman custom to leave the bodies on the crosses…for days, even weeks! This was done as a reminder to other potential trouble-makers within the Roman occupied countries, that this is what would happen to THEM if they started any trouble. And when the Romans did decide to finally take down whatever was left of the corpses (birds and scavengers had usually consumed much of the body), they were thrown into a common grave.

          So IF Jesus was buried at all, most likely he was buried in a common pit with many other bodies.”

  8. Fact 2: The empty tomb
    ◦The burial story supports the empty tomb
    ◦the site of Jesus’ grave was known

    Gary: If the first Gospel, Mark was written in the late 60’s, more probably the 70’s as most non-evangelical scholars believe, who is left to know where Jesus tomb is and what is left of the city to recognize landmarks to get to the tomb? Jerusalem has just been razed and its occupants either killed or carried off by the Romans!

    ◦the disciples could not proclaim a resurrection if the body were still in it

    Gary: Oh yes they could if someone saw someone who they thought was the risen Jesus and then everyone starts seeing Jesus everywhere, including in visions, and a legend is born.

    Evangelical Christians seem to think that all the disciples were still living in Jerusalem 10 years after the crucifixion when Mark decides to write his gospel, which is immediately published in every book store in Jerusalem so that every witness to the crucifixion and resurrection can verify the story. This did not happen, my friends!

    Many scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by a Greek Christian living in another country. By the time his “gospel” went into general circulation, witnesses may not have been still alive.

    ◦the antagonists to the early Christians could have produced the body

    Gary: No they couldn’t. Not if this story was written after 70 AD and not if Jesus body was thrown into a common grave, 30 years earlier.

    ◦The empty tomb is multiple attested
    ◦it’s mentioned explicitly in Mark
    ◦it’s in the separate sources used by Matthew and John
    ◦it’s in the early sermons documented in Acts
    ◦it’s implied by 1 Cor 15:3-8, because resurrection requires that the body is missing

    Gary: No, it implies a body is missing. It says nothing about an expensive, hand-hewn tomb of a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

    ◦The empty tomb was discovered by women
    ◦the testimony of women of women was not normally allowed in courts of law
    ◦if this story was being made up, they would have chosen male disciples

    Gary: Yes, this is a good point. But it doesn’t prove that the story is true, just that the author chose women to find the empty tomb. Maybe women were the first ones to “see” a resurrected Jesus in the distance or in a crowd, and so this part of the story is true.

    ◦The empty tomb discover lacks legendary embellishment

    Gary: What??? Just read the gospels chronologically: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. We start out with one man in the tomb, no appearance of Jesus, and the women flee “telling NO ONE” and by the time we get to John we have two angels in flaming white garments, earthquakes, fainting Roman guards, male disciples rushing to the tomb, and multiple post-resurrection appearances by Jesus! If that isn’t embellishment you might as well rip the word out of the dictionary!

    ◦there is no theological or apologetical reflection on the meaning of the tomb

    Gary: that is because it is an embellishment. That is why Paul never mentions it.

    ◦The early Jewish response implies that the tomb was empty
    ◦the response was that the disciples stole the body
    ◦that requires that the tomb was found empty

    Gary: This reaction of the Jews is found where? In the Christian gospels and no where else! Notice that these embellished details are missing in the earliest accounts.

    Enough for tonight.

    1. Fact 2: The empty tomb”

      Well Gary, if you don’t accept Fact 1, the burial of Jesus, then Fact 2 is obviously a non-starter.

      No need to rebut your objections to Fact 2 if you don’t accept Fact 1.

  9. Let’s look at the idea of embellishment in modern light to see how reasonable it is.

    Henry Ford died in 1947. That’s 67 years ago. What would happen if I wrote a biography of Henry Ford and said he was a famous boxer or rodeo clown? What would happen if I published this biography in my hometown of Warren, Michigan? We have people alive in the Detroit Metro area whose parents worked with Henry Ford and knew him personally. I would be ridiculed for making such a silly assertion and attempting to re-write history.

    This is exactly the scenario with the early gospels. Stories of Jesus were well known. If new details emerged 70 years later, a significant number of people would call fowl. We have no reason to believe that there were objections to the early gospels.

    The idea of legendary development due to embellishment is a bit far-fetched. The oral accounts were written down too soon and too close to the reported events.

    This, of course, is not an argument that the gospels are infallible. It’s an argument that the important points are not due to legendary development.

    Also, please realize that scholars can agree on the historical record of Jesus without becoming bible-thumping evangelicals like me. They can agree on the generally accepted facts and still reject the idea that Jesus was God incarnate.

    1. Gary: “Repeatedly throughout his lectures he makes the claim, “Almost all credible scholars agree (with me) on this point.” This is a preposterous assertion. If it were true then the majority of scholars would have to be born-again evangelicals which is NOT the case. What I am sure that Mr. Craig means is: “Almost all scholars that I believe to be credible agree with me.”

      Hi Gary,

      I’m too busy today to provide a response to your two comments from last night. But I want to address your objection excerpted above.

      Dr. William Lane Craig (WLC from now on) is referring to scholars who are widely accepted regardless of whether they are theists or atheists. Most emphatically, he is not saying “Almost all scholars that I believe to be credible agree with me.”

      That might be a move that an atheist or some other Christian might make, but that’s definitely not what Dr. Craig does. He’s appealing to both theistic scholars and atheistic scholars here.

      Lastly, I hope to address other points of your comments tomorrow night.

      Much Thanks for the engagement.

  10. I think that you are making a lot of 21st century assumptions.

    1. We can only guess when the Gospels were written. The consensus among scholars is that the first Gospel was written in the mid to late 60’s or the early to mid 70’s. Extremists on both sides what to push the time their way: evangelical Christians like Craig wanted to convince us that it was only 10 years after the crucifixion, while some radical skeptics want to date them in the 90’s.

    If we go with the consensus, then the Jews were either at war with Rome or had just been annihilated by Rome.

    2. How do we know where the first Gospel was written and by whom was it written? Christians only assume that they were written by the traditional ascribed authors, due to second or third hand hearsay by Papias, who believed in a lot of very odd mystical things about Jesus. The Church as always considered him an unreliable source of information.

    3. How quickly did the Gospels come into the hands of the Church? We don’t know.

    So, is it possible that the Gospel of Mark was written in the early 40’s, by John Mark, writing in Jerusalem, copied and distributed immediately throughout Palestine and beyond, long before the destruction of the city in 70 AD, so that the general public had access to the assertions made about Jesus and could therefore confirm or deny their historicity? Yes. It is possible.

    But this scenario is also possible:

    A Greek-speaking, professional, pagan writer named Romulus, living in Antioch, Syria is hired by a rich benefactor to write a novel involving death and life after death, somewhat after the genre of that contemporaneous Latin/Greek novel about the wife who is “resurrected” (I will have to look up the name)…for HIM and him alone. The book was NOT written for public consumption.

    It is 74 AD. Jerusalem has been destroyed. The temple has been razed to the ground. This pagan author remembers the commotion in the 30’s when there were several Messiah-pretenders in Judea and Galilee. He decides to write a historical novel about one of them, Jesus. He knows the basic story as he knows Christians from the local Antioch Christian church and knows their belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. He has heard of some of Jesus’ original disciples, Peter, James, John, Andrew and others. He also has some knowledge of the apostle Paul and his writings to give his book an authentic feel. So he includes such factual details as Jesus hometown of Nazareth, that he was a Galilean, that he was an apocalyptic prophet, that he was alleged to have done miracles, that he claimed to be the Messiah, thereby angering Jewish authorities who asked the Romans to crucify him…which they did.

    And all the other details in the book of “Mark” are pure literary fabrication.

    His benefactor (also a pagan) loves the historical fiction, and keeps it as a prized possession for ten or twenty years…on a bookshelf in his house.

    Years later he asks for more copies to be made to give to family and friends. (We are now in the 80’s or 90’s) One of the copies falls into the hands of a Christian who assumes it is all factual details about his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! He brings the book to his church who also believes it is a factual account. Over the next five years the book spreads through out the Christian churches. Suddenly more “gospels” are appearing, several of them strangely word for word copies of Mark in over 70% of their content!

    We are now either in the late 80’s or the 90’s. Jerusalem is destroyed. It’s citizens either dead or scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The city is razed, so that it is impossible to even recognize important landmarks, such as how to get to “Jesus tomb”.

    And what was the life expectancy in the first century. Most people alive in 30 AD and able to remember it, would be dead by this time. So who is going to say, “Wait a minute! Jesus never walked on water! There never was a tomb! Jesus was buried in a common grave along with all the other executed Roman criminals. We believe in his death, burial, and resurrection because Paul saw a bright light and heard a voice on the road to Damascus.”

    The in the 130’s, the very superstitious and mystical Papias has a vision in which the Presbyter “John” tells him that John Mark wrote the first Gospel…and 50 years later in France, Ireneus confirms Papia’s vision that John Mark wrote the first Gospel and that the other canonical gospels were also written by eyewitnesses or associates of eyewitnesses.

    Is this scenario possible with the evidence as we have it? Yes.

    Bottom line: We don’t know what happened. But the second scenario is much more likely to have happened than that a dead man was reanimated after three days and walked out of his tomb.

    1. Gary,

      Why don’t you run your imaginative story past a skeptic like say, Bart Erhmann and see what he thinks about it. I’d bet dollars to donuts that even Bart would be amused at the fantasy that you have suggested.

      There are so many holes in what you have written, it is quite clear that you are quite satisfied to formulate fiction rather than anything actually based upon and arising from historical facts.

      For instance:

      You fail to realize that NONE of the gospels represents the first written reference to Jesus’ resurrection. That reference would appear earlier than any of the written gospels in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15. This epistle was likely written no later than the 40’s or 50’s AD, and the passage re the resurrection of Christ is something that Paul says he has received previously and which had, prior to his reception of it, actually become a virtual creed in the Christian community. This would push (as the atheist Gerd Ludemann has suggested) the accounts of Jesus’ bodily resurrection to the 30’s AD placing it within years or even months of the actual event itself. Paul even says that the account is such a vital core concept to Christianity that if it is untrue, then Christians have believed in Christ in vain.

      Another example:

      You said:

      “Years later he asks for more copies to be made to give to family and friends. (We are now in the 80’s or 90’s) One of the copies falls into the hands of a Christian who assumes it is all factual details about his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! He brings the book to his church who also believes it is a factual account.”

      You need to explain why in the 80’s or 90’s (if no one has ever heard of the resurrection of Christ up to that point as you suggest) there are even any Christians around in the first place. Exactly what explains their existence 50 or 60 years after Christ’s crucifixion if they thought he was still as dead as a door-nail?

      Take a close look at the words of the Roman historian Tacitus who writes concerning the happenings in Rome approximately 65-70 AD during the reign of Nero (Annals 15:44):

      ” Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind.”

      http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/annals.html

      Why in this period (65-70 AD) was there an “immense multitude” of Christians in the city of Rome itself? What was that “most mischievous superstition” that was “checked for the moment in Judea” but had then suddenly broken out not only in Judea but across the Roman empire to the point it had both entered and prospered in the Roman capital city of Rome itself?

      These are only some of the things you must explain.

      What is it exactly that would cause fiercely monotheistic Jews to alter their understanding of that monotheism to see a human being (Jesus Christ) on a divine par with God himself? And what would at the very same time cause scores of polytheistic pagans to suddenly chuck ALL other “Gods” that they had known and worshipped many since their youth, and instead hold that Jesus Christ was the only true God? And what would cause BOTH of these groups to do this under the threat of life, limb and status (and to do so in such a way that even as early as the late 60’s AD there were large numbers of Christians as far away from Jerusalem as Rome)?

      This kind of thing does not happen overnight and for no good reason. There were dozens of other “Gods” and religions circulating throughout the empire, some home-grown, and some filtering in from new territories that the Romans had conquered. Why did Christianity overcome them all to gain the following that it did so early in its history?

      Christians can point confidently to the resurrection of Christ as the reason, but not only have you not offered any credible explanation, you do not even seem aware that these questions need to be answered by anyone, including yourself, who wishes to alter history to suite their own preferences.

      JMG

      1. “He knows the basic story as he knows Christians from the local Antioch Christian church and knows their belief that Jesus was raised from the dead.”

        So you see, I never said that the Christian belief in a resurrection was a late invention. I will bet that the earliest Christians DID believe that Jesus has been resurrected, just as Paul recorded.

        My issue is the empty tomb story in the original ending of Mark, which by the time that Matthew, Luke, and John are finished with it, has so many discrepancies and embellishments that it makes one’s head spin.

        So, I’m not questioning an early belief in the Resurrection. I am questioning the story the developed around that belief, that was not written down IN DETAIL until approximately 40 years later.

      2. “What is it exactly that would cause fiercely monotheistic Jews to alter their understanding of that monotheism to see a human being (Jesus Christ) on a divine par with God himself?”

        I am currently 2/3 finished reading conservative Christian apologist and scholar, NT Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. One of the most shocking concepts that I have learned is this: The early Hebrews did not believe in an afterlife. This concept did not develop in Judaism until the Babylonian Exile, but really took off during the Greek occupation of Judea in the second and third centuries BC. By the time of Jesus, Judaism was divided on this issue. Pharisees believed in an afterlife and resurrection. The Sadducees did not. Jesus agreed with the Pharisees on this doctrine and so did Paul Christianity was just one more step in the seeming evolution of the concept of an afterlife and resurrection. Now, unlike the Pharisees, the Christian resurrection had two parts: Jesus first, the saints later However, if you read the Book of Revelation, chapter 20, by the time of the end of the first century, this Biblical author says that the resurrection will occur in THREE stages: Jesus first, the beheaded saints second, the rest of the saints third. If you read some of the non-canonical Christian gospels of the first and second century AD, you will see how the concept of resurrection continued to evolve in “gospels” that even some of the greatest early Church Father accepted as divine Scripture!

        So the fact that Jews would buy this “new” resurrection development does not surprise me.

        I am sure that no one in the 1830’s believed that any rational American, especially, Christian American would believe that an angel named Moroni had just descended from heaven to the state of New York to give a man named Joseph Smith some Golden Plates written by ancient Hebrews in North America! But…they did…and by the thousands they took off in covered wagons to form what is now a religion of 15 million members in practically every country on the planet.

        1. Gary,

          While you seem to have missed most of what I said, and I will respond as time permits, later today perhaps, you did say one thing in the comment above re Wright’s book that I would like you to provide a reference for before I do respond. You said:

          “I am currently 2/3 finished reading conservative Christian apologist and scholar, NT Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. One of the most shocking concepts that I have learned is this: The early Hebrews did not believe in an afterlife.”

          Can you supply the page or pages in which Wright explicitly says that the early Hebrews did not BELIEVE in an after life. I have Wright’s book, I have read it and I do not recall him saying this. If I myself have missed that, I’d appreciate you setting the record straight with a concrete reference to what Wright actually wrote.

          JMG

      3. “This kind of thing does not happen overnight and for no good reason. There were dozens of other “Gods” and religions circulating throughout the empire, some home-grown, and some filtering in from new territories that the Romans had conquered. Why did Christianity overcome them all to gain the following that it did so early in its history? ”

        Some of the most hard-to-believe religions and beliefs have suddenly appeared and rapidly grown, even in the modern world. The fact that it happened in a time when 95% of the population of the Roman Empire was uneducated, illiterate, and very superstitious is even less surprising.

        People have been willing to die for even crazier beliefs. Just look at the Heaven’s Gate people, the Jonestown group, and many others.

        1. Gary,

          No references for your claims about Wright’s book? Ok, but I am not surprised.

          Anyhow, moving on.

          “ I will bet that the earliest Christians DID believe that Jesus has been resurrected, just as Paul recorded.”

          Very good. I’m quite glad to see that you have not taken the route that many misguided skeptics have of late in suggesting that Jesus himself never existed. That is definitely a plus, and your acceptance of the claims that the earliest Christians made about Christ’s resurrection is quite refreshing. However, that concession on your part does not get you off the proverbial hook. WHY did they make such a claim? Where did the idea even come from that instead of a single final resurrection of all people, that a single man would be resurrected (and we are talking bodily resurrection here) far in advance of all other people? And most importantly, as I asked previously, why would Jews who had always, virtually to a man, clung so closely to the idea of monotheism (one God, no others) at all costs, suddenly adjust their concept of that monotheism to allow a human being (and one that had been executed as a common criminal, no less!) a share in that status as being himself that same God that they had worshipped for centuries? Only a very significant occurrence could give rise to the idea of a singular bodily resurrection itself, and the acceptance of not only that concept but all the heavy-duty theological implications that it carried. What was that event? You have given not even a suggestion, despite your admission that the claims of the early Christians that Jesus really did rise from the dead in a body that was somehow changed such that it was now fully immortal.

          Your position seems to be that such things simply happen spontaneously for no good reason. One of the common objections to the claims of Christianity that is encountered today is that people will always hold the religious beliefs of their parents and the community in which they live. I am gratified that you clearly reject this position. Unfortunately, however, you err in the opposite direction. You seem to think that people just willy nilly change their worldview and understanding of reality (even long-standing, fiercely held ones) with little compulsion, virtually at the drop of a hat. Long held beliefs, though previously held to the point of death, suddenly become little more than paper plates, to be discarded with little or no concern.

          Historically this is simply not the case.

          The best you can do to try to justify your understanding here is to point me to Heaven’s Gate and Jamestown, but these examples are quite invalid ones as comparisons to Christianity, and as a careful thinker, you should certainly realize that. Both Heaven’s gate and Jonestown were rather small, tightly controlled, local communities of people. They did not “die FOR their beliefs” but rather they died ACCORDING to their beliefs. In both cases, the people took their own lives through group suicides because they understood such action on their part was necessitated BY their beliefs. And in the case of Jonestown, there is much indication now that many there were forced to take their own lives by their leaders quite against their own will. That isn’t even close to a good comparison for Christianity.

          Christians were not victims of their own beliefs, but were persecuted and often executed by both government authorities and other citizens simply because they refused to recant their claims of Jesus’ deity and bodily resurrection from the dead, and they did so for no other reason than to refrain from lying to their persecutors about what they knew to be true. Additionally, Christianity once it had expanded beyond Jerusalem and Judea (which according to the reference I made to Tacitus was quite early on) it was not a small, closely controlled group of people in a single location, but was rather made of scores of individuals from a wide spectrum of social strata across the entire Roman empire.

          The words of Pliny in his letter to Trajan regarding the rapid and pervasive spread of Christianity across his province are exemplary:

          “ I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found.”

          http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/pliny.html

          Note, Pliny indicates Christianity had spread like something of a tsunami through his district with “many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes” succumbing to it. Pliny likens the spread of Christianity to a “contagion” that had spread to both the urban (“cities”) and rural (“villages and farms”) populace. Although Pliny is hopeful that the spread of Christianity can be stemmed, he indicates that it had so permeated the province that the previous pagan religious rites and observance had been “long neglected” because of it, to the point that the sellers of animals for pagan sacrificial rites had practically been driven out of business, struggling to find purchasers for their goods.

          So, as should be clear, your examples are invalid and simply don’t compare. Proverbial apples and oranges here.

          JMG

      4. “Christians can point confidently to the resurrection of Christ as the reason, but not only have you not offered any credible explanation, you do not even seem aware that these questions need to be answered by anyone, including yourself, who wishes to alter history to suite their own preferences.”

        I think you are confused as to the issue we are discussing. I don’t need to prove that the resurrection DID NOT happen. You need to prove that this supernatural event, which breaks all the laws of science, medicine, and physics DID happen.

        You have provided ZERO evidence for the resurrection, other than hearsay, assumptions, and a willingness to die for one’s beliefs.

        1. Gary,
          Let’s address what seems to be your central issue: the resurrection accounts found in the gospels.
          Your main “beef” seems to be with the gospels and when you believe they were written. According to your imaginative scenario, some nebulous and unexplained concept of Jesus’ resurrection persisted for 40+ years without any detailed description of the events surrounding the resurrection itself (why and how this could be, you do not say). Then, a fictional writing (the gospel of Mark) that filled in those details appears and is readily accepted by the vast majority of Christians simply because they were not rational naturalists, and, were, therefore, superstitious and gullible.
          Papias, however, indicates that the gospels of Matthew and John were both written by eyewitnesses who knew Christ first hand, and that Mark was a collection of accounts from the memory of another first-hand eyewitness, the Apostle Peter. You attempt to dismiss Papias’ words with the waive of your hand by saying that the church has never considered Papias a reliable source. This is not true (and of course you don’t feel the need to provide any reference in support of your claim here). The best that you could say is that the church historian Eusebius, who wrote centuries after Papias and did not even know him personally, thought him to be “a man of very little intelligence” on theological grounds, not on the credibility of his historical record (Papias was a pre-millennialist, and Eusebius, who was not, faulted him primarily because of that – See R. Bauckham, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, pages 12-13). Therefore, unless you can provide some reference for your statement, “The Church has always considered him (Papias) an unreliable source of information”, it must be regarded as a gross overstatement designed to sidestep evidence that runs counter to your preferred understanding of New Testament origins.
          There is also good evidence that Paul, at the time of the writing of several of his epistles (40 – 60 AD, I Thessalonians, I Corinthians, and I Timothy) was not only familiar with the gospels of Luke and John but either quoted verbatim from them or made reference to things that Jesus said that are recorded in them, assuming that his audience was also familiar with them and would recognize his quotes and references as being authentic and, thus, add further authority to what he was writing to them.
          If this is the case (and I will show that it is), then your home-made scenario of no detailed gospel existing until 70 AD or later fails miserably.
          Let’s take a look.
          I.) First consider I Timothy 5:18:
          For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
          While the first quote regarding “the ox” may be traced to Deuteronomy 25:4, it is the second quote concerning “the laborer” that is relevant here. This is a direct quote of something that Jesus said and which is recorded in only one other place in the entire Bible, Luke 10:7:
          “Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house.”
          Therefore, I Timothy 5:18 requires that the gospel of Luke (or at the very least a defined and circulated oral tradition containing the same information) was already in existence at the time of the writing of I Timothy and was known well-enough by the readers of the epistle to be recognized as authoritative on the same level of OT scripture such as Deuteronomy 25:4.
          II.) Next consider, I Corinthians 11:23-25:
          23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
          24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
          25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
          In verse #23, Paul indicates that what he is about to write has not come directly to him through divine revelation, but that he has “received it” via the recorded words and teaching of Jesus himself (“from the Lord”). When Paul had previously been with the Corinthians, he had delivered or passed it on to them verbally.
          In verse #25, Paul quotes Jesus with the words “THIS CUP is the new covenant in My blood”. Only the gospel of Luke uses this terminology to describe the significance of the drink they are about to share.
          Matthew (26:28) simply reads “For this is My blood of the covenant …”
          Mark (14:24) likewise says “This is My blood of the covenant …”
          John does not record the words surrounding the bread or the cup.
          Luke (22:20) reads “… This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”
          In both verses #24 and 25, following Paul’s quote of Jesus passing the bread and cup to the disciples, Paul records Jesus as instructing them to partake “in remembrance of me”. These also are direct quotes from the gospel of Luke. Neither Matthew, Mark, or John record this piece of Jesus’ words, only Luke.
          Again, Paul quotes something that had been passed on to him by others (he “received” it in a very similar way that he had then passed it on to the Corinthians) and previously passed on verbally to his Corinthian audience, and he does so at least 10 years prior to 70 AD in words found nowhere else in scripture EXCEPT in the gospel of Luke. This indicates that both Paul and his Corinthian associates were familiar with either the gospel of Luke (or at least some defined and recognized oral tradition containing the same information) no later than 60 AD and most likely even years earlier than that.
          III.) Now take a look at I Thessalonians 4:13-18, specifically verses 15-17.
          Here, although Paul does not directly quote the words of Christ in any of the gospels, in order to address a concern that the Thessalonians had regarding Christians among them who had died, Paul does seem to make a direct reference to words which Christ had spoken. Paul indicates in verses 16-17 that the Thessalonians can know that they will be united with their loved ones at Christ’s return, and even more that they can know the sequence of that reunion and what will occur at that time. He says that the dead will rise or be resurrected first, and then those still living at that time will be caught up to join the. So the sequence is: A.) The dead rise first and then B.) the living rise (with an assume resurrection change to their physical makeup as well, but without having to undergo death).
          Note: [1Thessalonians 4:16-17 NASB] 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
          17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
          Yet, in verse 15, Paul says that this sequence is evident because of something Jesus had said in his teaching (“by the word of the Lord”) in a very similar manner to what he said regarding Jesus’ words surrounding the bread and the cup which we have already considered.
          Note: [1Thessalonians 4:15 NASB] 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
          According to this verse, Jesus said something that informs us about the sequence of believers both dead and living one day being gathered together to him. The living will not be gathered prior to (“precede”) those who have died (“fallen asleep”). It will actually all take place in the opposite order, dead first, living second.
          But where did Jesus say anything about this? The only possible reference that would seem to touch on the issue is in the gospel of John :
          Note: [John 11:25-26 NASB] 25 Jesus said to her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,
          26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
          In the context of Lazarus’ physical resuscitation from the dead, Jesus mentions two groups of believers with reference to the future in this sequence : 1.)Verse 25 – physically dead believers who will be resurrected to “live”, and 2.) Verse 26 – physically living believers who will “never die”.
          This would appear to be the words that Paul points to, and, if not these, then where else?
          It can reasonably be concluded then that at the time of Paul’s writing of I Thessalonians (one of Paul’s earliest epistles (dating most likely to the very early 40’s AD, and accepted as genuinely Pauline by even the likes of Bart Ehrman), Paul and his readers were familiar with the gospel of John (or at very least, a defined and recognized oral tradition containing the same information).
          Now if you wish to attempt to maintain that Mark is the first of the 4 gospels to be written, and if Luke and John were already in circulation in the 40’s and 50’s AD (as the above would indicate), then Mark could not possibly have been written as late as 70 AD, and your whole scenario is patently false. In any case, it seems clear that very early there were in existence either written gospels and or a defined oral tradition which contained the same detailed information concerning Jesus’ life, teaching, crucifixion and resurrection which was eventually written down in the gospels themselves, and, therefore, your contention that the details of the resurrection accounts in the 4 gospels were simply late concoctions is shown to be untenable.
          Lastly, you seem to assume that the apostles were somehow totally absent or silent during the 40 years from Jesus’ crucifixion and claimed resurrection in 33 AD to 70 AD, and in 70 AD when your fictional novel surfaces and is universally accepted by the Christian community, that they were no longer around to debunk it. Where did they go? Had they all taken a sabbatical in Egypt or something? In the 40 year period between their claims that Jesus had been resurrected and the appearance of your mysterious “book”, they had said NOTHING about the details of the resurrection event and no one had been curious enough to even ask them? Seriously? And when the “book” appeared, we are to then assume that they continued to sit by silently as the fictional account was embraced by the entire church, and while their own names were attached to it and whatever “developed” from it? Truly this is wishful thinking on your part, and I trust you’ll understand that I cannot rationally join you in it.
          You had mentioned previously that you are currently making your way through Wright’s book, but when you are finished, I’d suggest to you as your next item to be “Redating The New Testament” by the very liberal John A.T. Robinson. Though in the beginning setting out to debunk the idea of early dates for New Testament writings, Robinson wound up convincing himself that the ENTIRE NT was written BEFORE 70 AD. This is not the work of a conservative evangelical, yet he does honestly deal with the evidence and commendably follows where that evidence leads. While all will not agree with every single point he makes, he presents many valid arguments that have never really be refuted. Check it out, I think you will find it very enlightening.
          You might also want to check out the little book called “Easter Enigma” by John Wenham. It is an excellent work that shows that the “hopeless contradictions and discrepancies” between the gospel accounts of the resurrection that skeptics tend to point to are readily reconcilable when it is simply kept in mind that the gospels describe a series of comings and goings from the tomb with details directly from those who participated in them.
          JMG

        2. Gary,

          BTW

          “You have provided ZERO evidence for the resurrection, other than hearsay, assumptions, and a willingness to die for one’s beliefs.”

          The charge of “hearsay” is one that skeptics constantly put forward as though it is the coup de grace for the claims of Christianity as found in the New Testament writings.

          Of course, however, written eyewitness depositions are legally acceptable as court evidence and are quite common in legal procedures. Further, according to Cornell University Law School those written depositions are also valid on the basis of their existence as “Ancient Documents” assuming 3 conditions are met by the documents:

          http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/ancient_document_rule

          First, the document must be more than 20 years old. Second, the document must have no signs of obvious alteration. And third, the document must be found in a place of natural custody or in a place where it would be expected to be found.

          If the document(s) meets all three of these conditions, then according to Cornell University Law School, “ the document is found to be prima facie authenticated and therefore admissible.” The New Testament documents meet all 3 conditions and are, therefore, valid evidence in support of the truth claims of Christianity.

          If someone wants to claim that they do not meet any of the 3 conditions, it is incumbent upon the objector to provide support for their disqualification.

          Therefore, your charge that I have only offered inadmissible hearsay is false.

          JMG

    2. That’s a great theory, except that it does not correspond with the historical record. We have a chain of custody for how the biographical sketches of Jesus were handed down from the original disciples to the generations of the early church fathers. J. Warner Wallace has a good write-up on his blog and in his book. I’ve also read the same account in Gary Habermas’ book. Here is a link to the blog post: http://coldcasechristianity.com/2013/why-i-know-the-story-of-jesus-wasnt-changed-over-time/

      1. Exactly where are these “biographical sketches of Jesus” that were handed down from the original disciples?

        Do you have any of the original documents? Are any of these original documents signed by the original author? Where were these documents written? When and where were they first published/distributed to the public or even just to the clegy?

        1. Do you think the only facts we know about history are through signed original documents? I don’t know if we have the originals of early church letters. I expect we only have copies of copies. We have no reason to doubt the early church had the desire and ability to preserve its history through these copies.

  11. As I mentioned, TU, this is not my assessment from only the debate above. EVERY debate that I have listened to involving WLC, (which is four now, I believe) he makes this unsupported claim multiple times throughout his discussion. Bishop Spong, in his debate with WLC, called WLC out on this very point. Bishop Spong said exactly what I said above:

    “The only scholars that agree with you Mr. Craig are fellow evangelicals.”

    I would suggest that I, a skeptic, and you, an evangelical, be careful to not fall into the same trap. If we are going to claim that “most scholars” agree with OUR position, we should back that claim up with names.

    1. Can you name which scholars that Craig quotes who is an evangelical in his speech?

      For example, he cites Gerd Ludemann for the appearances, who is an atheist.

      So I have to ask you for names. Who are the evangelicals he cited?

      1. No. I’ll let you list all the names of the “majority of scholars” that always seem to agree with Craig…according to Craig.

        1. That’s what I thought you would say, it basically shows that everything you said was unqualified and/or irrelevant opinion. You refused to answer the minimal facts case and talked about off-topic subjects like when were the gospels written. But the first fact-based question I asked to substantiate your claims, you could not answer.

          1. WK:

            I did not make the assertion about the evangelicals, Bishop Sprong. You will need to ask him.

            MY assertion is that Craig frequently makes the following comment in his debates, “and on this issue, most NT scholars agree…(with me, William Lane Craig)”.

  12. FWIW, background to origin of Gary M’s initial comments above on 9/11 for the benefit of WK blog readers:

    Gary M. had said on a very lengthy Lutheran blog thread: “I am committed 100% to Truth, not to any ideology or philosophy. Prove to me the Resurrection really happened, and you will have a new convert.”

    In response I invited him to examine this WK post and to engage further on this thread.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been very busy this weekend to attend to his initial two comments and his comments afterwards. But I do want to give background before going to church later today.

    Furthermore, Gary M. has written the following yesterday to his Lutheran interlocutors who have charged him with being angry. It helps to understand where Gary is coming from.

    Mr. X E Van Gelical • 13 hours ago

    Somewhere in one of the over one thousand comments below, “Todd” accused me of being angry. He’s right. I am angry. And here’s why: I don’t like being played the fool.

    I believe that the church leaders in whom I trusted to teach me and my children the doctrines of the orthodox Lutheran Christian Faith, and specifically, the doctrines of the LCMS orthodox Lutheran Christian Faith, failed me…and fooled me.

    What am I talking about?

    As many of you know I was a Lutheran for about 25 years, but during the first 21 of those years, I was a liberal ELCA Lutheran. I started attending an LCMS church about four years ago. I felt that I had found the true Apostolic Christian Church! I was so eager to learn about this incredible version of Christianity that I studied every confessional Lutheran book I could find on the subject and even started an orthodox Lutheran blog.

    Over the course of time, interacting with many LCMS laypersons AND LCMS pastors on my blog, I began to discover that the LCMS has a very serious, very deep, but very real division within its pastors and theologians.

    There is a very vocal, and very passionate “ultra-conservative” or as they would refer to themselves, “conservative” group, and there is a more “moderate” group. Both groups confess their allegiance “quia” to the Lutheran Confessions. There is no disagreement on those documents. And, they both pledge their allegiance to the 1932 and the 1973 Doctrinal Statements of the LCMS…at least in public.

    What I came to see was that there is a very large segment of the LCMS which believes that the two LCMS doctrinal statements mentioned above are “outdated”. To these LCMS pastors and theologians, there is just too much scientific and scholarly advancements in the study of the Bible in the last few decades to believe that the earth was created in six literal days without any form of evolution, that the entire planet was flooded, when the geological evidence proves this impossible, that many of the apparent discrepancies in battlefield statistics and historical accounts in the OT are not just “apparent” but real, true, inrreconcilable discrepancies, and that there may be some non-inspired passages in our modern Bibles.

    Now, no one is denying the Virgin Birth or the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus here. But, the bottom line is…this segment of the LCMS does NOT believe in the inerrancy of the Bible…in any sense. This segment of the LCMS believes in the inerrancy of the “MEANING” of the Word of God and in the inerrancy of the core “TEACHINGS” of the Word of God.

    So why don’t you hear talk about this in LCMS publications or online discussions? Answer: Because the “ultra-conservatives would declare all-out WAR on the “heretic” moderates (which to conservatives is code for “liberal”) and the new view of inerrancy would be too much for the man and woman in the pew to swallow.

    So this MASSIVE division regarding how the modern Christian should view his or her Bible lies simmering beneath the surface of the LCMS, but most laypersons never see or hear of it.

    But every once in awhile… a whiff of it bubbles to the surface.

    Well, I got a good whiff of it. And I was furious. How could any pastor or theologian who belongs to the orthodox/confessional Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod believe let alone teach this heresy?? Evolution? The Bible is only inerrant in its meaning and teachings???

    But what was I to do? Report every pastor who I found thinking and teaching this way? I asked (anonymously) for advice on what to do from prominent LCMS pastors and from the LCMS itself, the local DP and the national office. All were upset about what is happening, but no one really wanted to stir the pot.

    However, the damage, to my personal view of the Bible, had been irreversibly damaged. Where once I refused to even consider that a story such as the Creation, the Flood, Jonah in the belly of a whale, or men living to be over 900 years old could even possibly be hyperbole or metaphorical…now I wasn’t sure what I could believe. And, as you know, I began to investigate the “inerrant-in-message-only” Bible and with my eyes now wide open and my brain willing to review all my past unquestioned beliefs…I suddenly found myself questioning more than just if Methuselah really lived to be over 900 years old.

    So, yes, I am angry. I am angry that “men of God” put their careers before my spiritual well-being. Instead of just telling me that the LCMS is wrong, as they believe, and that the Bible is NOT inerrant…they slowly eroded my faith in ANYTHING that the Bible or my denomination told me to be Truth.

    The moderates in the LCMS need to come clean. Tell the truth.

    And if you think that this “moderate” wing of the LCMS is a small minority, you have another thing coming. It is either a very large minority or it is a slight majority. And do you want to know where your pastor stands. Here’s how to find out:

    Don’t ask him directly, “Do you believe that the LCMS Doctrinal Statements of 1932 and 1973 to be 100% correct on the issue of Biblical inerrancy?” Your pastor has a family to feed and a huge education debt to pay off. You may not get a straight answer.

    So, ask him what he thinks of the orthodox/conservative Lutheran blog, “Brothers of John the Steadfast” instead:

    If he says, “I read it all the time! Those pastors are great! They really stand up for confessional Lutheran doctrine.”—he is an “ultra-conservative”.

    If he says, “I find that website too fundamentalist. They are very strident. I avoid those types”—he is most likely a “moderate”.

    If he says, “I have never heard of BJS.”—your pastor is over 80 years old and has never touched a computer.

  13. FWIW, background to origin of Gary M’s initial comments above on 9/11 for the benefit of WK blog readers:

    Gary M. had said on a very lengthy Lutheran blog thread: “I am committed 100% to Truth, not to any ideology or philosophy. Prove to me the Resurrection really happened, and you will have a new convert.”

    In response I invited him to examine this WK post and to engage further on this thread.

    Unfortunately, I’ve been very busy this weekend to attend to his initial two comments and his comments afterwards. But I do want to give background before going to church later today.

    Furthermore, Gary M. has written the following yesterday to his Lutheran interlocutors who have charged him with being angry. It helps to understand where Gary is coming from.

    Mr. X E Van Gelical • 13 hours ago

    Somewhere in one of the over one thousand comments below, “Todd” accused me of being angry. He’s right. I am angry. And here’s why: I don’t like being played the fool.

    I believe that the church leaders in whom I trusted to teach me and my children the doctrines of the orthodox Lutheran Christian Faith, and specifically, the doctrines of the LCMS orthodox Lutheran Christian Faith, failed me…and fooled me.

    What am I talking about?

    As many of you know I was a Lutheran for about 25 years, but during the first 21 of those years, I was a liberal ELCA Lutheran. I started attending an LCMS church about four years ago. I felt that I had found the true Apostolic Christian Church! I was so eager to learn about this incredible version of Christianity that I studied every confessional Lutheran book I could find on the subject and even started an orthodox Lutheran blog.

    Over the course of time, interacting with many LCMS laypersons AND LCMS pastors on my blog, I began to discover that the LCMS has a very serious, very deep, but very real division within its pastors and theologians.

    There is a very vocal, and very passionate “ultra-conservative” or as they would refer to themselves, “conservative” group, and there is a more “moderate” group. Both groups confess their allegiance “quia” to the Lutheran Confessions. There is no disagreement on those documents. And, they both pledge their allegiance to the 1932 and the 1973 Doctrinal Statements of the LCMS…at least in public.

    What I came to see was that there is a very large segment of the LCMS which believes that the two LCMS doctrinal statements mentioned above are “outdated”. To these LCMS pastors and theologians, there is just too much scientific and scholarly advancements in the study of the Bible in the last few decades to believe that the earth was created in six literal days without any form of evolution, that the entire planet was flooded, when the geological evidence proves this impossible, that many of the apparent discrepancies in battlefield statistics and historical accounts in the OT are not just “apparent” but real, true, inrreconcilable discrepancies, and that there may be some non-inspired passages in our modern Bibles.

    Now, no one is denying the Virgin Birth or the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus here. But, the bottom line is…this segment of the LCMS does NOT believe in the inerrancy of the Bible…in any sense. This segment of the LCMS believes in the inerrancy of the “MEANING” of the Word of God and in the inerrancy of the core “TEACHINGS” of the Word of God.

    So why don’t you hear talk about this in LCMS publications or online discussions? Answer: Because the “ultra-conservatives would declare all-out WAR on the “heretic” moderates (which to conservatives is code for “liberal”) and the new view of inerrancy would be too much for the man and woman in the pew to swallow.

    So this MASSIVE division regarding how the modern Christian should view his or her Bible lies simmering beneath the surface of the LCMS, but most laypersons never see or hear of it.

    But every once in awhile… a whiff of it bubbles to the surface.

    Well, I got a good whiff of it. And I was furious. How could any pastor or theologian who belongs to the orthodox/confessional Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod believe let alone teach this heresy?? Evolution? The Bible is only inerrant in its meaning and teachings???

    But what was I to do? Report every pastor who I found thinking and teaching this way? I asked (anonymously) for advice on what to do from prominent LCMS pastors and from the LCMS itself, the local DP and the national office. All were upset about what is happening, but no one really wanted to stir the pot.

    However, the damage, to my personal view of the Bible, had been irreversibly damaged. Where once I refused to even consider that a story such as the Creation, the Flood, Jonah in the belly of a whale, or men living to be over 900 years old could even possibly be hyperbole or metaphorical…now I wasn’t sure what I could believe. And, as you know, I began to investigate the “inerrant-in-message-only” Bible and with my eyes now wide open and my brain willing to review all my past unquestioned beliefs…I suddenly found myself questioning more than just if Methuselah really lived to be over 900 years old.

    So, yes, I am angry. I am angry that “men of God” put their careers before my spiritual well-being. Instead of just telling me that the LCMS is wrong, as they believe, and that the Bible is NOT inerrant…they slowly eroded my faith in ANYTHING that the Bible or my denomination told me to be Truth.

    The moderates in the LCMS need to come clean. Tell the truth.

    And if you think that this “moderate” wing of the LCMS is a small minority, you have another thing coming. It is either a very large minority or it is a slight majority. And do you want to know where your pastor stands. Here’s how to find out:

    Don’t ask him directly, “Do you believe that the LCMS Doctrinal Statements of 1932 and 1973 to be 100% correct on the issue of Biblical inerrancy?” Your pastor has a family to feed and a huge education debt to pay off. You may not get a straight answer.

    So, ask him what he thinks of the orthodox/conservative Lutheran blog, “Brothers of John the Steadfast” instead:

    If he says, “I read it all the time! Those pastors are great! They really stand up for confessional Lutheran doctrine.”—he is an “ultra-conservative”.

    If he says, “I find that website too fundamentalist. They are very strident. I avoid those types”—he is most likely a “moderate”.

    If he says, “I have never heard of BJS.”—your pastor is over 80 years old and has never touched a computer.

  14. Interesting – the atheist debater in this debate accepts several of the minimal facts, and he also dates Mark to the late 30s – early 40s.

    Link:
    http://chab123.wordpress.com/2014/09/15/a-look-at-william-lane-craig-and-james-crossley-debating-the-resurrection-of-jesus/

    Recently, my friend Wintery Knight (who is the king of writing debate reviews) posted a somewhat older debate between William Lane Craig and James Crossley on the resurrection of Jesus. I have been familiar with Crossley’s work because of the book How Did Christianity Begin?: A Believer and Non-Believer Examine the Evidence.

    Anyway, I was reading a chapter in the book called Debating Christian Theism. This is a more recent work and came out well after the debate with Craig and Crossley. In it, there is a chapter between Gary Habemas and Crossley on the resurrection. In this chapter, Habermas points out that Crossley agrees with the minimal facts about the resurrection of Jesus which are the following:

    1. Jesus’ death by crucifixion

    2. Very Shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.

    3. Within a few years after Jesus death, Paul came to faith after a personal experience that he interpreted as a post resurrection appearance of Jesus to him.

    Crossley’s dating of Mark:
    http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-date-of-marks-gospel-9780567225955/

    This book argues that Mark’s gospel was not written as late as c. 65-75 CE, but dates from sometime between the late 30s and early 40s CE. It challenges the use of the external evidence (such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria) often used for dating Mark, relying instead on internal evidence from the gospel itself.

  15. Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.[r] 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.

    —Matthew 27:50-53

    This afternoon I spent over an hour watching and listening to conservative Christian apologist William Lane Craig debate skeptic scholar James Crossley in the above youtube video recording regarding the Resurrection of Jesus. I found many things said during the debate itself very interesting, however, I was shocked by Craig’s post-debate response to a question from an audience member.

    Craig was asked if the above passage from the Gospel of Matthew should be understood literally: that dead saints came out of their tombs and roamed the streets of Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ resurrection?

    Craig quoted a fellow historian who believes that this passage is a legend. Craig went on to say that this is the most likely interpretation of this passage…BUT…this event was connected to the crucifixion and therefore has nothing to do with the present discussion regarding the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus!

    Excuse me!

    If Craig believes that Christians in “Matthew’s” day were inventing legends about dead people coming out of their tombs, then how can he expect us to believe that just a few years earlier, when “Mark” was writing his gospel, that Christians, including “Mark”, weren’t fabricating legends about Jesus coming out of his tomb??

    The inconsistency and chutzpah is incredible!

    1. Can you tell me where this plays in with the minimal facts case that Dr. Craig made? Which of the minimal facts is undermined by the metaphorical/historical status of Matthew 27?

      1. Give me a break.

        If Matthew can make up legend, then Mark can make up legend, and if both were making up legend, which parts of this story can we believe as fact and which parts are fiction?

        Many persons coming out of their graves and one person coming out of his grave are both events which do NOT happen in any of our lives except in horror films.

        So which is more likely in the case of Jesus?

        1. An invisible, ancient Hebrew deity reanimated his decomposing body?

        2. or his first century, ghost-seeing, superstitious, despondent disciples were having visions and writing legends/fiction?

        1. Gary: “Give me a break.”

          Hi Gary, I’ll give you a break. Your objection about Matthew 27:50-53 is something that Christians have been aware of for quite some time. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for more than 5 years. It’s not the game-changer that you think it is.

          Here’s an article that shows why: A Bad Argument Against the Resurrection That’s Often Repeated.

          Please read the article, Gary. In the comments you’ll see a comment that I left. Hopefully, this is the break that you need to reject your apostasy.

    2. I feel the same way when I watch the weather channel on TV. The weatherman talks about “sunrise”, but fails to mention that the earth rotates, exposing different areas to the sun over time. He should know the sun doesn’t actually rise. If I follow Gary’s line of logic, it’s reasonable to reject the rest of the weather report because he got the part of the sun rising wrong.

  16. Come on, guys. The Emperor is not wearing any clothes. Stop believing all the fancy explanations by the “experts” that have convinced you that naked flesh is really the finest clothing ever made!

    Use your common sense!

    Just as donkeys do not fly, zombies do not come out of their graves…EVER!

    1. Gary, in view of this anti-intellectual comment attacking historical Jesus scholars – including the atheists I cited, you are done commenting in this thread. We will continue to respond to you, but you’re finished.

    2. Gary,

      So what you are really saying to us is:

      1.) You are of the opinion that miracles cannot occur and have seen no evidence for them, so …
      2.) if we Christians want to make the claim that one has occurred, we need to show you some evidence to support that claim, but …
      3.) none of our evidence can be valid support for anything miraculous because …
      4.) miracles cannot occur, therefore,
      5.) there is no evidence for anything miraculous.

      Can you say textbook circular reasoning? I sure can.

      And I’d think twice about using the phrase “common sense” in light of your fanciful lost “book” story.

      JMG

      1. I think we need to frankly look on his opinions as just ranting and not scholarly in the least. He quotes no scholars, we quote atheist scholars for the minimal facts, and he is just off on the fringe somewhere outside the rules of history (multiple attestation, early attestation, criterion of embarrassment, criterion of dissimilarity, etc.). Look, liberal Jewish ancient historians like Geza Vermes accept the empty tomb as a minimal fact, for the arguments that Craig made for it. But if people like Gary are not reading evidence from even Jewish ancient historians for the minimal facts, it’s not going to be convincing. We can’t go any further naturalist/left than people like Crossley and Vermes. If he can’t accept their reasons, he is on the fringe and we need not care what he rants about. We are into scholarship here. Anybody can believe anything once they decide that “common sense” is more important than historical analysis and scholarly publications.

        1. Well said, WK.

          Truly, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

          And you can lead a skeptic to evidence, but you can’t make him think.

          JMG

  17. Just wanted to point out that oftentimes arguments about the way the world is is framed as either or propositions. It’s this way. No, it’s that way; oftentimes they are both. There are subjective and objective aspects of our lives. For example, objectively, the earth rotates around the sun but subjectively we experience the opposite. Is our subjectivity wrong? Depends what you claim about from it. The sun does rise and cross the sky. That is one of the wonders of Creation. It takes a marvelous astronomical bundle of events to provide the experience of a stable life. We are on a rapidly spinning planet, and yet, not. We are mostly water but we are solid. We are living creatures but our protective interface with the world consists of dead cells… skin. Everyone knows and knew back then that the dead do not rise but then again, He did. God is Grand.

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