William Lane Craig: was Jesus crucified for being a political threat to the Romans?

Let's investigate the historical facts
Let’s investigate the historical facts

I blogged previously about William Lane Craig’s appearance on the Ben Shapiro show. One thing that didn’t seem to come up was Ben’s own explanation for the rapid belief among the followers of Jesus in his bodily resurrection, and his identity as the Jewish Messiah. I guess Dr. Craig did some digging and found out Ben’s view, because he posted a response to Ben on Facebook.

Here it is:

NOTE ON THE BEN SHAPIRO INTERVIEW

I’m grateful to Ben Shapiro for inviting me to appear on his program and for his excellent interview. Prior to going on the show, I prepared a brief on his view that Jesus was a political revolutionary who got himself crucified. As it turned out, the issue never came up, and the brief, like most of them I prepare, remained unused. But I share it here with you in case this issue ever comes up in your conversations.

Jesus as a Violent Revolutionary

This view was suggested by SGF Brandon back in the 1960s but has been virtually universally rejected by scholars. Why?

Four reasons:

1. It would require us to regard as inauthentic all of Jesus’ moral teachings concerning non-violence, turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemies, etc.

John Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 3, pp. 566-67:
“Jesus’ inclusive outreach to all of Israel in the end time, his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, his rejection of retaliation, and his exhortation to love even one’s enemies lay at the opposite end of the Palestinian-Jewish spectrum from violence-prone zealotry.”

2. Roman authorities never regarded Jesus or his followers as enemies.
When Messianic pretenders or prophets arose, the Roman authorities acted pre-emptively, decisively, and ruthlessly to destroy them. For example,
A.D. 36 a Samaritan prophet led people up Mt. Gerizim. Pilate immediately sent cavalry and infantry to attack them and destroy them.
A.D. 45 a man named Theudas led people to the Jordan River to part the waters. Fadus sent cavalry in a surprise attack and killed and captured many.
A.D. 50s a prophet called the Egyptian led followers to the Mt. of Olives to watch the walls of Jerusalem fall. Felix sent Roman troops to slaughter all of them.
But Roman troops were never sent to attack the followers of Jesus, either during his lifetime or after his death.

3. During Jesus’ ministry Palestine was at relative peace.
All of the above examples occurred after Jesus’ death. During Jesus’ lifetime Palestine was basically at peace.

John Meier: “the fatal flaw of this approach is its presupposition that there was one or more organized and armed groups of Jewish revolutionaries active in Palestine c.a. A.D. 28-30. . . . But, as far as the historical record permits us to judge, there were no organized, armed groups of Jewish revolutionaries active during Jesus’ public ministry.”

So obviously Jesus did not lead such a group.

4. The evidence is that Jesus rejected being the Messiah in a militaristic sense.
I agree that Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah, but not in the military sense of a warrior-king.

James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 653: Jesus ignored or refused or rejected the dominant current understanding of the Messiah as a royal and military power like Herod the Great.

Jesus ran contrary to the chief priests’ and the people’s expectations. Mk 15.31-2: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

Most Jewish people I talk to don’t really have a thought out explanation for the basic historic facts about Christianity. They tend to treat the New Testament as forbidden, and just keep the bare historical facts about Christianity at arm’s length. So, even if I put forward a minimal facts case for the resurrection, for example, they tend to not want to engage with it. They won’t deny facts, and they won’t put up an alternative explanation. The best response I’ve heard is the one Ben gave: Jesus didn’t achieve the things that Jews expected the Messiah to achieve, so we’re still waiting on the real Messiah. And Dr. Craig’s response to that was, well if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, and God raised him from the dead, then God thinks that he’s the Messiah.

What I’ve noticed in listening to my favorite Jewish conservatives like Dennis Prager, Ben Shapiro, etc. is that Jews don’t put as much emphasis on testing religious claims as evangelical Protestants do. I have had evangelical Prostestants write to me about all kinds of scientific breakthroughs and historical discoveries, asking me what impact this or that has on the truth of Christianity. In my opinion, even conservative Jews don’t invest as much time into that sort of thing. They seem to be respectful of all religions that produce people who keep to the general moral teachings of the Old Testament. This is nice for me, because I do take those moral teachings seriously. But I remember someone asking Dennis Prager how to choose a religion, and his first rule was not to disrupt your family or community. That is something that no Christian like me could say.

After all, we have this from the founder of Christianity:

Matthew 10:34-38:

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—

36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Just to be clear, that sword is meant to divide, not do violence, OK? I actually told that verse to my mother when I was breaking with the Islamic religion she was trying to push me into when I was young. She did not like it!

Also, Christians have this:

John 18:36-37:

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

So, Christianity is a truth-centered religion. Getting the beliefs correct comes first, and the good actions follow from that. It’s not primarily about feeling good, about family acceptance, not about community cohesion, or even being a “good person”. It’s about recognizing Jesus for who he is – Lord and Savior – and giving Jesus acknowledgement and respect in your priorities and actions.

5 thoughts on “William Lane Craig: was Jesus crucified for being a political threat to the Romans?”

  1. The topic is a large one and can cover a long range of discussions to lay out the beliefs here.
    One interesting point I find is the romans did execute other possible messiahs. Those zealot leaders stayed dead., as Jews expected them to. And the movement died out.
    It was an entirely logical plan in Roman society. Not much different than trying to wipe out social accounts of people the government doesn’t like today as a means to destroy any movement they don’t like.
    In Jesus day he wasn’t a full Roman citizen so killing of a jew wasn’t that bad of a thing of it promoted peace and kept down anothee possible rebellion of the Jews thst resented their Roman occupiers

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I fail to see how anyone can think this when Pilate himself claimed that he found no fault in Jesus and was more than happy to let the Jews deal with him. He only had him scourged at the behest of the Jews and washed his hands of the whole thing. The Romans saw no threat in Jesus, otherwise Pilate would most certainly have made a very public spectacle in hopes to garner favor with Caesar.

    Liked by 1 person

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