Today’s post features a lecture given by Dr. Timothy J. McGrew. He is a Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University, but he also specializes in historical apologetics.
Here are a couple of Dr. McGrew’s videos – with slides! – on alleged errors in the gospels.
Alleged errors in Mark and Matthew:
In this lecture, entitled Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels, Dr. Timothy McGrew critiques seven of the strongest objections to the historical reliability of the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. This is about 55 minutes of content followed by fifteen minutes of Q&A.
In this lecture, entitled Alleged Historical Errors in the Gospels, Dr. Timothy McGrew critiques the strongest objections to the historical reliability of the Gospels of Luke & John. This is about 55 minutes of content followed by thirty minutes of Q&A.
Dr. Timothy McGrew is Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University. He specializes in theory of knowledge, logic, probability theory, and the history and philosophy of science, and he has published in numerous journals including Mind, The Monist, Analysis, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and Philosophia Christi. His most recent publications include the article on “Evidence” in The Routledge Companion to Epistemology (forthcoming), a co-authored anthology in The Philosophy of Science (Blackwell, 2009), and a paper (with Lydia McGrew) on the the argument from miracles in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (Blackwell, 2009).
Always remember not to get bogged down in these low-level issues, though, until you have agreement from the skeptic about the higher order issues, e.g. – does God exist? etc. Scientific arguments first, historical and philosophical arguments second, Bible “errors” last of all. Proiving inerrancy is never the first step in a discussion about Christian theism – always start with God’s existence and the mainstream science. The Bible difficulties should come at the very end of the discussion, once easier matters have been settled.
So, everyone from left to right accepts the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 being dated to 1-3 years after the death of Jesus, even atheists like Crossley, Ludemann and Crossan. The thing is, some people are not sure that the appearances of Jesus to individuals, groups, and skeptics really were physical appearances. They say “well, Paul’s appearance was non-physical, so the other ones must have been, too”.
Let’s take a look.
Here’s a paragraph 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.
If Paul did have a vision then the term “vision” is vague and must be defined. As Licona points out, visions are either objective (i.e., something that is seen without the use of our natural senses) or subjective (i.e., a product of our minds). The real problem is with the vision hypothesis is that it doesn’t explain Paul’s use of resurrection to explain what had happened to Jesus. 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.
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.
Now, I think my view on this, and I’m not sure if Eric would correct me, is that Paul got an objective but non-physical vision of Jesus. There was something there that everyone else could see and hear, in my view. But in my view Paul’s “veridical” vision was post-ascension, and so non-physical. Paul uses the word resurrection to describe what the other eyewitnesses saw (and he met them at least twice, according to Gal 1 and Gal 2), and that means physical resurrected body.
Here we see whatever happened, this was after the ascension. Hence, to say Paul saw the exact same Jesus before he ascended is hard to infer from the text. There simply isn’t enough information here. 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. As Paul Barnett says:
“It is sometimes claimed that the word appeared (ōphthē) means a mystical seeing, as of a vision, and that since this was what Paul “saw” it was what the other apostles “saw.” In other words, after death, Jesus was taken directly to heaven whence he “appeared” to various people, mystically, as it were. This however, is not all the meaning of Paul’s words. First, the word ōphthē, “appeared” is not limited to visionary seeing it is also used for physical seeing. Moreover, the verb raise used in the phrase ‘raised on the third day” is used elsewhere in combination with the words “from the dead” which literally means “from among the corpses.” Thus raised preceding appeared gives the latter a physical not a mystical meaning. Christ, as “raised from the dead” ….appeared.” Furthermore, when Paul asks “ Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”(1 Cor. 9: 1), he is using the ordinary word horan, “to see” for physical sight. If “seeing” the Lord “raised from the dead” qualified others to be apostles, then Paul is, indeed, an apostle. It was no mere subjective vision that arrested Paul en route to Damascus. (8) .
In the end, word studies can’t entirely resolve this issue. We need to remember theetymological fallacy as well. We would have to look at all the texts that speak of resurrection (including the entire 1 Cor. 15 chapter in their entire context as well as the anthropology of the New Testament. We also need to study the resurrection in light of the Second Temple Jewish period. See our reading list here for some resources that may help.
But conservative ancient historian Gary Habermas seems to think that Paul got the physical body as well.
Now, I said before in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul could have chosen to only use the word pneuma. He doesn’t. He does say “spiritual,” but he’s got an adjective there. He also says, soma, “body.” What did Paul mean?
Philippians Chapter 3. It’s a short chapter. There are 21 verses, but Paul says three things in one chapter that indicate he’s talking about a physical resurrection. In the opening verses he says, “I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews” and “as touching the law,” he says, “I was a Pharisee.” Now, it’s very well known that the Pharisee believed in a bodily resurrection. In fact, according to Acts 23, as Paul was being taken captive by the Romans to prevent his being killed, he shouted out to the group of people and said, “Why are you taking me? Because I believe in the resurrection of the dead?” He meant a literal resurrection.
When the Pharisees heard that, they said there’s nothing wrong with this guy. But the Sadducees [who didn’t believe in the Resurrection] didn’t like it. So as a Pharisee, he’s agreeing with the Pharisees.
So, the first evidence is from Philippians 3. As a Pharisee, Paul believes in a physical resurrection.
Secondly, in verse 11 he says, “That I may attain the resurrection of the dead.” Now, the normal Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, but in this passage, Philippians 3:11, he puts a prefix on there, ek anastasis. Ekanastasis, according to all Greek scholars that I know of, is translated in this passage: “The out resurrection from among the dead.” Paul said, “I want to attain the out resurrection.”
Now, to a Jew, “out resurrection” means “what goes down is what comes up.” You come out from death. And then just a few verses later, Philippians 3:20,21, he said, “From Heaven, we look for Jesus who will change our vile soma (body) to be like unto His glorious soma (or body),” when he should have said pneuma, according to this other view.
So he’s a Pharisee who believes in a physical resurrection. Ek anastasis—“resurrection from out among the dead ones.”
Thirdly, Paul says, “He Jesus will change my body to be like His body.”
So right there in Philippians 3 alone, I think the picture of Jesus being some wispy spirit that appeared to him on the road to Damascus doesn’t fit Paul’s own data.
Yes, that’s why Philippians is my favorite book. You can get so much useful theology out of it. Something about the resurrection in Phil 3, something about Jesus’ divinity in Phil 2, and loads of practical advice on stewardship, charity, fellowship, endurance and practical love for others throughout. Some of it takes a little digging, but that’s what commentaries are for, am I right? But I digress.
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”.
What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
How would you define the word “faith”?
Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?
There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).
Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?
This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?
It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue. I’m also surprised that no one asked him why God allows humans to suffer and commit acts of evil.
William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.
Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.
He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, New Testament Studies, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.
William Lane Craig is, without a doubt, the top living defender of Christianity. He has debated all of the most famous atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. as well as academic atheists like Quentin Smith, Peter Millican, etc. if you search this blog, you’ll find many debates posted here, sometimes even with snarky summaries.
James Crossley is my favorite atheist ancient historian, such a straight shooter. He’s on the skeptical left, but he has a no-baloney way of talking that I really like. I was so excited to summarize this, and there’s not a speck of snark in this summary. Crossley dates the gospel of Mark 37-43 A.D., far earlier than most scholars. Justin Brierley does a great job as moderator. Gary Habermas is OK, but he is not familiar with any useful arguments for God’s existence, (kalam, fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion, etc.), and that is a problem in this debate.
Habermas: the minimal facts are the facts that even the majority of skeptical scholars will accept
Habermas list of minimal facts: (near universal acceptance)
Jesus died by Roman crucifixion
After his death, his disciples had experiences that they believed were appearances of the risen Jesus
The disciples were transformed by their experiences and proclaimed his resurrection and were willing to die for their belief in the resurrection
The proclamation of his resurrection was early
James was converted by a post-mortem experience
Paul was converted by a post-mortem experience
Habermas list of widely-accepted facts:
Burial for Jesus in a private tomb
The private tomb found empty
The disciples despaired after Jesus was crucified
The proclamation of the resurrection started in Jerusalem
Changing the worship day from Saturday to Sunday
Crossley’s views on the minimal and widely-accepted facts:
Crossley: I am in broad agreement with what Gary said
Crossley: “the resurrection appearances are some of the hardest, best evidence we have” because it’s in early 1 Cor 15:3-8 creed
Crossley: people were convinced that they had seen the risen Christ
The burial in a private tomb:
Crossley: I have my doubts about the private tomb burial and the empty tomb
Crossley: Mark’s gospel has the burial in a private tomb by Joseph of Arimethea, and Mark is the earliest gospel
Crossley: I don’t have a doubt, it’s just that there are other possible alternatives, and then the tradition was invented later – but that’s just a possibility
Crossley: there is not enough evidence to make a decision either way on the burial
The empty tomb:
Habermas: there are multiple lines of evidence for the empty tomb
Habermas: the reason it’s not one of my minimal facts is because a quarter to a third of skeptical scholars reject it
The transformation of the followers of Jesus:
Crossley: “yes, clearly, I don’t think you can argue with that, it’s fairly obvious”
The conversions of James and Paul:
Crossley: “yes, because it’s based on 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, that report, that was handed on to him”
Where Habermas and Crossley agree:
Habermas: you agree with the 6 facts in the minimal facts list, and you have problems with 2 of 5 facts from the widely accepted list
The empty tomb:
Crossley: Two problems: first, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 doesn’t mention it, but it “probably assumes the idea that Jesus left behind an empty tomb when resurrected, I am convinced by some of the conservative arguments on that one, but it’s not hard evidence for there actually being an empty tomb”
Crossley: Second, “the other early source we have ends with no resurrection appearances”, it makes him a bit skeptical of the empty tomb
Habermas: the empty tomb is not a minimal fact, I want 90% agreement by skeptical scholars for it to be a minimal fact
Habermas: I have never included the empty tomb in my list of minimal facts
Brierley: William Lane Craig puts it in his list of minimal facts
Habermas: It is very well attested, so if that’s what you mean, then it’s a minimal fact, but it doesn’t have the 90% agreement like the other minimal facts
Habermas: I have 21 arguments for the empty tomb, and none of them require early dating of sources or traditional authorship of the gospels, e.g. – the women discovered the empty tomb, the pre-Markan source, the implications of 1 Cor 15 has some force, the sermons summary in Acts 13 which Bart Ehrman dates to 31 or 32 A.D. has putting a body down and a body coming up without being corrupted
Why is 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 more respected as a source than the gospels?
Habermas: There is a unanimous New Testament conclusion, across the board, from conservative to liberal, that in 1 Cor 15:3-8 Paul is presenting creedal data, Richard Bauckham says that this goes back to the early 30s A.D., Paul got this from the eyewitnesses he mentions in Galatians 1 and 2
Crossley: [reads 1 Corinthians:3-8 out loud], now that’s a tradition that’s handed on, this is Paul, we know this is Paul, writing mid-50s, this is kind of gold, this is the evidence I wish we had across the board
Why doesn’t James accept the resurrection:
Crossley: Historians should not conclude that the supernatural is real, concluding the supernatural is outside of history
Crossley: I am more interested in what people believed at that time
Brierley: as a historian, are you required to give an explanation of the commonly-accepted facts
Crossley: yes, historians must give their explanation for the facts
Crossley: we know people have visions, and how the cultural context determines the content of visions, e.g. – the background of martyrdom
Brierley: so you would go for the hallucination hypothesis?
Crossley: yes, but I prefer not to use that word
Should historians rule out the supernatural?
Habermas: let’s not ask what caused the event, let’s just see if the disciples thought they saw him before he died, that he died on the cross, and then believed they saw him after he died, like you might see someone in the supermarket
Habermas: I’m not asking whether a miracle occurred, I just want to know whether Jesus was seen after he died on the cross
Crossley: that sounds like the angle I’m coming at this from
Crossley: the problem is that there is a supernatural element to some of the appearances, so it’s not a supermarket appearances
Brierley: it’s not angels and hallelujah in the sky
Habermas: nothing like that, no light in the early accounts, fairly mundane
Does James agree that people believed they saw Jesus after his death?
Crossley: yes,I think that’s fairly clear that we do
Crossley: but historians cannot prove claims that what happened to Jesus was supernatural
Brierley: your view is so far from what I see on Internet atheists sites, where they say it’s all legendary accumulation, fairy tales
Crossley: I’m perfect comfortable with the idea – and I think it happened – that people created stories, invented stories
Crossley: there are too many cases where people are sincerely professing that they thought they saw Jesus after his death
Would you expect the disciples to have visions of a resurrected Jesus if nothing happened to him?
Habermas: the dividing line is: did something happen to Jesus, or did something happen to his disciples?
Habermas: the view that people were seeing a kind of ghostly Jesus (non-bodily) – a Jedi Jesus – after his death is a resurrection view, but I hold to a bodily resurrection view
Brierley: N.T. Wright says a resurrected Jesus was contrary to expectations – should we expect the disciples to have a vision of Jesus as resurrected?
Crossley: Wright generalizes too much thinking that there was a single view of the resurrection (the general resurrection at the end of the age), there are a variety of views, some are contradictory
Crossley: Herod Antipas thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist returned from the dead, and he knew Jesus was flesh and blood, there is the story of the dead rising in the earthquake in Matthew, there are stories of the resurrection in Maccabees, and this would influence what people expected
Habermas: the earliest Christian view was *bodily* resurrection
Crossley: yes, I think that’s right
Crossley: In Mark 6, they thought Jesus was a ghost, so there is room for disagreement
Why should a historian not rule out a supernatural explanation?
Habermas: to get to supernatural, you have to go to philosophy – it’s a worldview problem
Habermas: he predicted his own death and resurrection
Habermas: one factor is the uniqueness of Jesus
Habermas: the early church had belief in the bodily resurrection, and a high Christology out of the gate
Habermas: you might look at evidence for corroborated near-death experiences that raise the possibility of an afterlife
Crossley: I’m content to leave it at the level of what people believe and not draw any larger conclusions
Crossley: regarding the predicting his own death, the gospels are written after, so it’s not clear that these predictions predate Jesus’ death
Crossley: it’s not surprising that Jesus would have predicted his own death, and that he might have foreseen God vindicating him
If you admit to the possibility of miracles, is the data sufficient to conclude that the best explanation of the facts is resurrection?
Crossley: If we assume that God exists, and that God intervenes in history, and that this was obvious to everyone, then “of course”
Brierley: Are you committed to a naturalistic view of history?
Crossley: Not quite, broadly, yes, I am saying this all I can do
Brierley: should James be open to a supernatural explanation?
Habermas: if you adopt methodological naturalism,it colors how look at the data is seen, just like supernaturalism does
The post describes evidence for the Incarnation and the Trinity in the writings of Ignatius, who was the third Bishop of Antioch from 70 AD to 107 AD.
Here’s the raw quote from Ignatius’ “Epistle to the Ephesians”:
But our Physician is the only true God, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For “the Word was made flesh.” Being incorporeal, He was in a body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.
And TQA discusses the passage:
There are several aspects of this passage which demonstrate that Saint Ignatius held beliefs consistent with the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Dual Nature of Christ. First, he refers to two separate Persons, God the Father and Jesus Christ, yet he calls both of them God.
[…]Second, Ignatius refers to Jesus Christ as begotten “before time began”. This is almost word for word identical to the Nicene Creed, which says, “I believe in. . . one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. . .” Some today claim that the Early Church believed Christ’s being ”begotten” of the Father was in relation to His birth from Mary (specifically, this is an LDS claim). However, Ignatius’ comment here demonstrates that the Early Church’s understanding of Christ’s nature as “only-begotten” was a relationship with the Father that was “before time began” and has nothing to do with His earthly incarnation. It is interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “only-begotten” both here and in the New Testament is ”monogenes”. Monogenes literally means “one of a kind,” and to the Church Fathers it connoted Christ being of the same nature as the Father. . . something that was entirely unique to Him.
In addition to calling Christ God and claiming Him to be the “only-begotten” of the Father “before time began”, Ignatius tells us that “afterwards” Christ “became man”. Ignatius then goes on to point out some aspects that Christ’s becoming man added to His nature. He says that although Christ was incorporeal, He was in a body; although He was impassible, He was in a passible body; although He was immortal, He was in a mortal body; although He was life, He became subject to corruption. These differing aspects of Christ’s nature, aspects that are polar opposites to one another, speak to Christ having two natures, one as God and one as man, and demonstrate that Saint Ignatius understood Christ in this manner. As God, Christ was incorporeal, impassible, immortal, and life itself. However, as man He was corporeal, passible, mortal, and subject to corruption.
Now I think you can pull the Incarnation and the Trinity right out the Bible, but it’s still nice to see such a prominent church father writing about it decades after the events.