Peter J. Williams is the Warden (CEO) of Tyndale House and a member of the Faculty of Divinity in the University of Cambridge. He received his MA, MPhil and PhD, in the study of ancient languages related to the Bible from Cambridge University. After his PhD, he was on staff in the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University (1997–1998), and thereafter taught Hebrew and Old Testament there as Affiliated Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic and as Research Fellow in Old Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge (1998–2003). From 2003 to 2007 he was on the faculty of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he became a Senior Lecturer in New Testament and Deputy Head of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. In July 2007 he became the youngest Warden in the history of Tyndale House. He also retains his position as an honorary Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Aberdeen.
Summary of the lecture:
What if the stories about Jesus are legendary?
were the gospels transmitted accurately?
were the gospels written in the same place as where the events happened?
do the gospel authors know the customs and locations where the events happened?
do the gospels use the right names for the time and place where the events took place?
do the gospels disambiguate people’s names depending on how common those names were?
how do the New Testament gospels compare to the later gnostic gospels?
how do the gospels refer to the main character? How non-Biblical sources refer to Jesus?
how does Jesus refer to himself in the gospels? do the later Christians refer to him that way?
how does Jesus teach? do later Christians teach the same way?
why didn’t Jesus say anything about early conflicts in the church (the Gentiles, church services)?
did the writers of the gospels know the places where the events took place?
how many places are named in the gospels? how about in the later gnostic gospels?
are the botanical details mentioned in the gospels accurate? how about the later gnostic gospels?
And here are the questions from the audience:
how what about the discrepancies in the resurrection narratives that Bart Ehrman is obsessed with?
what do you think of the new 2011 NIV translation (Peter is on the ESV translation committee)?
how did untrained, ordinary men produce complex, sophisticated documents like the gospels?
is oral tradition a strong enough bridge between the events and the writers who interviewed the eyewitnesses?
what does the name John mean?
why did the gospel writers wait so long before writing their gospels?
do you think that Matthew and Luke used a hypothetical source which historians call “Q”?
which gospel do critical historians trust the least and why?
I really enjoyed watching this lecture. He’s getting some of this material from Richard Bauckham’s awesome book “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, so if you aren’t familiar with it, you can get an idea of what’s in it. Peter Williams is a lot of fun to listen to – an excellent speaker.
There is not much snark in this summary, because Crossley is a solid scholar, and very fair with the evidence.
William Lane Craig’s opening speech
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 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
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
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
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
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?
I’ve read anthropology literature that has some cases where people have hallucinations as groups
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
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
the gospels are not analagous to these rabbinical stories, the purpose and dating is different
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
as long as there is any other other possible naturalistic explanation, we should prefer that, no matter how unlikely
some of these creative stories appear within the lifetimes of the people connected to the events (none mentioned)
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
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
One of the leading naturalistic attempts to account for Jesus’ death, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the early proclamation of the resurrection is that the disciples had individual and group hallucinations. In this case, the New Testament authors would not have meant that the resurrected body of Jesus was physical. But is that what they recorded?
We’ll look at the words for 1) resurrection, 2) body and 3)
Here’s a quotation from my friend Eric Chabot, from his blog Think Apologetics. He explains why Paul’s use of the word “resurrection” to describe what the other witnesses saw means bodily resurrection.
The two words are used for resurrection in the New Testament “anastasis” (rising up) and “egersis” (waking up), both imply a physical body. Furthermore, the use of the word “opethe” (the Greek word for appeared) shows the Gospel writers did believe that Jesus appeared physically. “There you will see (opethe) him” (Matt. 28:7); “The Lord has risen and has appeared (opethe) to Simon” (Luke 24:24). When they used “opethe” here, it means that He appeared physically to them.
OK so all the words they used for resurrection imply a physical body.
But what about the word for body. Do they imply a physical body?
So when Paul gives his list of appearances in 1 Cor. 15, the issues becomes whether the appearance to him is the same as it was to the disciples. There is no doubt the post resurrection body of Jesus (after the ascension) had to be somewhat different than the body the disciples saw. Also, whenever the New Testament mentions the word body, in the context of referring to an individual human being, the Greek word “soma” always refers to a literal, physical body. Greek specialist Robert Gundry says “the consistent and exclusive use of soma for the physical body in anthropological contexts resists dematerialization of the resurrection, whether by idealism or by existentialism.”  Furthermore, in N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God shows that the Greek word for resurrection which is “anastasis” was used by ancient Jews, pagans, and Christians as bodily in nature.
What about the nature of Paul’s appearance? Was that a hallucination, or seeing some objective reality? Did the people with Paul see or hear anything?
The Bible says, “they heard” the same voice Paul did ” (Acts 9: 7). But they “did not see anyone ” (Acts 9: 7). Notice Paul was physically blinded by the brightness of the light. One way or the other, the experience involved something that was external to Paul. It wasn’t something that was the same thing as a vision that Paul talks about in 2 Cor. 12:1. Furthermore, the phrase “he let himself be seen’” (ōphthē , aorist passive, ), is the word Paul uses in 1 Cor. 15:7 to describe of his own resurrection appearance as the other ones in the creed.
Paul didn’t get a bodily resurrection appearance, but he got an objective appearance that people nearby could see (as a bright light) and hear. His appearance, coming 5-8 years after the appearances to the disciples, should not be seen as overriding their appearances, which were appearances of the bodily resurrected Jesus.
If you want to read something a little more challenging, I found a paper from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) from their journal, where it talks more about soma and anastasis. If you want a bit of a challenge, download the PDF and read it. It’s by Kirk R. MacGregor and the title is “1 Corinthians 15:3B–6A, 7 And The Bodily Resurrection Of Jesus”.