VIDEO INTRODUCTION: We welcome you to the media ministry of Denton Bible Church. What follows is a debate organized and co-sponsored by Denton Bible Church and held on the University of North Texas campus on October 22, 2001. The debate is between Dr. William Lane Craig and Dr. Marcus Borg. We will also hear responses from Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Daryl Schmidt. We are joined now by the moderator, Mr. Kirby Anderson.
MODERATOR, KIRBY ANDERSON: Good evening. I will be your moderator for this evening and we are going to, I think, have a very robust debate on a very important topic. I might just mention as we begin that there will be some breaks along the way in case you need to leave. I hope that you will all stay for the entire program but I understand, given some of the constraints, that some of you may do so. Please try to stay in your seat until we get to one of those breaks, and we will do our best to try to accommodate you appropriately.
It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps it is true also that unexamined faith is not worth believing. Tonight we are looking at, I think, one of the most important issues of faith, certainly for those who would call themselves Christians. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 says that the resurrection is the very cornerstone of a Christian’s faith and yet at the same time as I travel on university campuses I have noticed especially during Easter time what might be called the battle of the newspaper ads. For a number of years there have been Christian professors on various campuses during the Easter period that will sign their name and say that they believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. That has lead to a flurry of counter ads suggesting that Jesus did not rise from the dead, or was buried in a common grave, or actually did not die, or these were a series of hallucinations. And many of those issues are going to be on the table tonight.
So for no other reason than for you college students this is an important topic. But for any of us that watch television, we recognize that this is an issue that also has been in the news quite a bit. Peter Jennings had an ABC special looking at the historical Jesus, and one of the foundational issues that was addressed that evening is the very topic that we are going to be talking about tonight.
So for many reasons I think that this is going to be a very informative debate; a debate among individuals who know each other fairly well. A while back there was a debate that William Lane Craig did with John Dominic Crossan, and one of the respondents was Marcus Borg. It has been said that for those of us in the local media every time we hear from one Darrell we hear from the other Daryl, whether it is Darrell Schmidt and Daryl Bock. They are going to be providing responses tonight.
I think you are going to have an opportunity to not only hear from scholars in the field, the people that know each other know each other’s arguments and will probably take that to the next level.
If you have your handout I want to just help you get a pretty good sense of what we are going to do tonight. In our first major segment, we are going to hear from first Dr. Borg and then Dr. Craig, each will have 20 minutes for their presentation. Then that will be followed by a rebuttal from each of them. Then we will have a two minute break – that will give you a chance to stand up and stretch. We encourage you to stay at your seats, but again that is at least one of the breaks we have built in. Then we will hear from Darrell Schmidt and Daryl Bock – they will be giving a response as well. After those responses we will have another break, and we will do two various items in our final segment. One will be a crossfire section – we will put chairs out here and I will ask them questions and try to get some interaction between them as well. We will also give you, as you will notice microphones in the audience, a chance to ask questions. Please let me hasten to add right now we are looking for questions not sermons and are quite willing if we need to to cut a microphone off if it gets too long. So be thinking of your question now and we will do our best to try to give you some material. We will then close with Dr. Craig and Dr. Borg and I will have some final comments. I thank you for taking out a Monday evening – I know there are many other things you can do. I am glad that you are here, and I think that you will be very glad that you have come as well.
Let me introduce our first presentation tonight from Dr. Marcus Borg. He holds a PhD. from Oxford University and is a Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. A matter of fact I just read the other day that he is the first person in the college of liberal arts to be distinguished in that way. Also, he has been named outstanding teacher at that University and received almost all of OSU’s major teaching awards. He is the author of such books as Jesus: A New Vision and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. He has lectured widely in this country as well as overseas in England and Austria, Germany, Belgium, Hungry, Israel, and South Africa. His books have been translated into German, Dutch, Korean, and French. I mentioned that Peter Jennings special, perhaps some of you have saw him on that television program. Will you please welcome, Dr. Marcus Borg.
DR. BORG: Well, I want to begin tonight by saying that it is nice for me to be here. This is the first time I’ve been in Denton. I’ve been in Texas a number of times but not here before and thus of course also the first time I’ve been on your campus. Because our time limits are tightly controlled tonight I am not going to say anything more to sort of charm you or endear myself to you but get right down to the point.
As I see tonight’s debate, I trust that it is not really about winning or losing though it is possible that some of you are hoping for a food fight. Rather I see it as about deepening our understanding of where we agree and where we disagree, what is at stake in these disagreements, and most importantly about deepening our understanding of Easter. There will be three main parts to my opening statement. Part one will be a prologue in which I speak briefly about the nature of the Bible and the Gospels, part two the historical ground of Easter – what do I think happened – and part three the central truth claims of Easter.
So I turn to part one – a crucial prologue. A foundational issue for our subject tonight, namely the question of how we see the Bible and the Gospels. Are we to see the Bible and the Gospels as a divine product or as a human product? Now, if you see the Bible as a divine product having some kind of divine guarantee to be factually true or if you see it as inerrant or infallible as inspired by the Holy Spirit in such a way so that the Bible is historically accurate in what it reports then in an important sense the debate is over. Or more precisely, the debate needs to be about the nature of the Bible.
Now a very important qualifying remark: I am not attributing this view to Bill Craig. From his published statements, I gather that he does not think of the Bible this way. Though if he wants to correct me on that, he is most welcome to, of course. So this remark is really addressed to you as an audience and not to Bill in particular.
Because of the importance of this question, the rest of my prologue concerns how I see the Gospels, very compactly in two statements. The first statement: they are a developing tradition. And I mean two things by that. On the one hand I mean that all four of the Gospels of the New Testament are written in the last third of the first century – Mark the earliest Gospel around the year 70, Matthew and Luke probably in the 80s and John probably in the 90s. Thus, Mark tells us how the story of Easter was being told around the year 70, Matthew and Luke tell us how the stories of Easter were being told in the 80s, John tells us how the stories of Easter were being told in the 90s.
The second thing I mean when I say they are a developing tradition is that the traditions about Jesus grow and develop from the time of his death around the year 30 until the Gospels are written. They are added to in part because of the early Christian communities ongoing experience of the risen, living Christ and added to as well as the early Christian movement moves beyond the Jewish homeland and into the broader Mediterranean world. That means that the Gospels have both earlier layers of traditions and later layers of tradition. Or to change the metaphor slightly, that means that the Gospels contain minimally two voices – the voice of Jesus on the one hand and the voice of the early Christian communities interpreting the significance of Jesus, offering their testimony and witness to Jesus and so forth.
Second statement about the nature of the Gospels – and by the way, what I am saying here is broadly shared by mainline scholars, these views are not idiosyncratic to me. I am reporting out how this is seen within what we might call moderate to liberal biblical scholarship.
Second statement – the Gospels combine memory and metaphor, or they combine history and metaphor, or the same thought expressed with two more phrases. The Gospels are a combination of history remembered on the one hand and history metaphorized on the other hand; and yet one more statement, the Gospels are a combination of historical memory and metaphorical narrative. Now what do I mean by that language? What I mean by history remembered is I trust transparently clear. Some of the things reported in the Gospels really happened, some of the things that are said about Jesus having said them were really said, and so forth, and the community preserved the memory of those things having happened or having been said.
What I mean by history metaphorized needs a bit more explanation. I divide history metaphorized into two subcategories. The first subcategory – kind of an ugly word coming at you here – the metaphorization of something that happened. A quick example – Jesus really did make a final journey to Jerusalem. That is the history part of it. But the way Mark, followed by Matthew and Luke, tells the story of that final journey to Jerusalem gives it a metaphorical meaning as well. As Mark tells the story, it becomes a story about discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus and so forth. That is history metaphorized. The other subcategory of history metaphorized is what I call purely metaphorical narratives. Here there is not a particular historical incident behind the story but the whole story works metaphorically or symbolically.
So to put this together, stories in the Gospels including the Easter stories can be of three kinds: history remembered, history metaphorized, or purely metaphorical narratives. Now very importantly, metaphorical language can be true, and I need to emphasize that because many people in our culture devalue metaphor. Many of my undergraduates for example will often times say, “You mean it’s only a metaphor?” or “It’s only a symbol?” as if symbols and metaphors are somehow less than facts. So I want to emphasize that metaphor and symbol can be true.
Two further comments about metaphor. Metaphor is the more-than-literal meaning of language. It is not less-than-factual but more-than-literal. The second comment consists of a Swedish proverb that I ran into about a year ago that I have become very fond of. I am going to modify it slightly but first I will quote it directly. In its original form it goes like this: “Theology is poetry plus, not science minus.” What I understand that to mean is that theology is more than poetry in that it makes a truth claim but it is not a language that is somehow inferior to science or the language of factuality. To apply that to tonight, “Biblical metaphor is poetry plus, not somehow inferior to historical reporting.” The reason this matters, of course, is that I see some of the Easter stories as metaphorical narratives and not as straight forward historical reports, but for me that in no way lessens their meaning.
I move to part two. The historical ground of Easter. What do I see as the central historical claim of Easter? Put very simply, directly, and compactly: the followers of Jesus continued to experience him as a living reality after his death. I take the New Testament reports of such experiences very seriously. I don’t mean simply that they remembered him and continued to be moved by him or that his spirit lived on as we might speak of the spirit of Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln living on. I don’t mean that. What I do mean is that they experienced him, and I think they experienced him in a variety of ways. Some of these experiences were clearly visions. Visions really happen and not all of them are psychotic and not all of them are hallucinations. Visions I might note not only will involve a visual sense of a person appearing but they can even involve a tactile sense – a sense of touching and being touched. Thus I affirm the truth of the statement “Jesus appeared to them.”
I also think there were non-visionary experiences. I think they continue to experience him as a presence in a non-visionary way, as a presence in the community, as a presence in the breaking of the bread. And I think they continue to experience the power that they had known in him during his life as a historical person. The power of healing, the power to transform lives, the power to create new forms of community.
Moreover, and for me this is critically important, I am convinced that these kinds of experiences go on to this day. To this day, many Christians continue to experience Jesus as a living reality. This is why, for me, whether or not the tomb was empty doesn’t matter. Whether something happened to the corpse of Jesus doesn’t matter. For as I understand things, Easter is not primarily about something spectacular happening to Jesus on a particular day in the past, it is about the continuing experience of Jesus after his death. This, in my judgment, is the historical ground of Easter.
To relate this to the stories of Easter in the Gospels, I don’t think of the stories of Easter as reporting the kinds of events that could have been photographed or videotaped or seen by a disinterested observer who happened to be present. I see them as metaphorical narratives expressing these kinds of experiences and this conviction. Some of them may reflect specific experiences, some of them may be parables of the resurrection.
I turn now to part three – the central truth claims of Easter. Here I am going to mention three that seem most important and most central to me. I will state each in a short sentence and then briefly explain it. The first of the central truth claims of Easter – Jesus lives. This is what I have just spoke about. He is a figure of the present, not simply a figure of the past. A living reality who continues to be known in the experience of Christians.
The second central truth claim of Easter – all of these based on the New Testament – God has vindicated Jesus. Easter is God’s “yes” to Jesus and God’s “no” to that which crucified him. Note that I did not say “no” to those who crucified him but to that who crucified him. Namely, to use my colleague Walter Wink’s very useful shorthand phrase, what crucified Jesus was the domination system of his day. And of course that domination system was represented by Pilate as the local representative of imperial power and by the temple elite, a small group of people at the very top of the Jewish aristocracy at the time. But basically they were the embodiment of the domination system of his day, a domination system consisting of an economically exploitative system, a politically oppressive system, and all of this legitimated in the name of religion. Easter is God’s “yes” to Jesus and God’s “no” to the domination system.
The third of the central truth claims of Easter – a three word sentence: Jesus is Lord. This is closely connected to my previous claim. God has not only vindicated Jesus, but in the words of a hymn that Paul quotes in the second chapter of Philippians, God has exalted him and given to him the name that is above every name; namely, Lord. Thus this claim Jesus is Lord makes a further claim as well. The risen Jesus is one with God. He is, to use a New Testament phrase, at God’s right hand and participates in the power and being of God. Easter is not simply about people having experiences of Jesus after his death as a surviving spouse might have experiences of a deceased spouse after his or her death. 50% of surviving spouses typically have one such experience. But they do not conclude that their deceased spouse is Lord. There must have been something about the early Christian movement’s experience of the risen Christ that led them to draw the conclusion that Jesus is one with God, a spiritual reality who shares in the power of God, a spiritual reality who like God can be everywhere present, present in more than one place at the same time. The risen Christ is one with God, at the right hand of God, is Lord.
I want to underline as I conclude this point that the affirmation that Jesus is Lord has both a religious and political meaning in its first century context. Because there were other Lords in that world. One of the titles of Caesar was “kurios” – Lord. Caesar was also called Son of God, savior of the world, the one who brought peace on earth and so forth. So when the early Christian movement proclaims that Jesus is Lord, they are saying very concretely the domination system is not, Caesar is not, Jesus is Lord. I think the affirmation Jesus is Lord continues to this day to have both a theological and a political edge to it.
So I move to my conclusion. These then are what I see as the central truth claims of Easter: Jesus lives, God has vindicated Jesus, Jesus is Lord. So I would say as a Christian and as a historian the stories of Easter are really true even though I am skeptical myself that the tomb was empty, even though I am skeptical myself that anything happened to the corpse of Jesus. I would say the stories of Easter are really true even though they may not be literally true. Thank you very much.
DR. CRAIG: I want to begin by thanking the venue for sponsoring this important debate, and I want to say how honored I feel to be sharing the platform with Marcus Borg in particular. Dr. Borg is not only an esteemed New Testament scholar but he is also a very nice guy as you probably already can see. I hope that nobody tonight will interpret my sharp disagreement with his position as in any way denigrating to his person. The discussion tonight is not about personalities but about competing positions. It is not just about sharing those positions either but about the reasons or the arguments in support of those positions, and in Dr. Borg’s opening speech we heard very clearly his position enunciated but we didn’t hear yet any evidence or argument in support of that position. So I hope that in the course of the debate tonight we will hear more about his reasons for adopting the position he laid out.
For my part, I am going to defend tonight two basic contentions. First of all, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims to divinity and, secondly, that if Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead Christianity is a delusion which no rational adult should believe.
Let’s look at that first contention together – that Jesus rose bodily from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims to divinity. Most New Testament critics today agree that the historical Jesus deliberately stood and spoke in the place of God himself. The German theologian Horst Georg Pöhlmann reports, “Today there is virtually a consensus . . . that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority, namely the authority of God. The authority to stand in God’s place and speak to us and bring us to salvation.” Jesus’ radical, personal claims are blasphemous if they are not true. But the earliest followers of Jesus gave a good reason for thinking his claims to be true – namely, his resurrection from the dead. Tonight I want to share with you four facts about the historical Jesus which are widely accepted by New Testament historians and which, together, provide inductive evidence for his resurrection.
In his book, The Meaning of Jesus, Dr. Borg argues that if any event in Jesus’ life is attested by at least two independent sources one of which is early then that event ought to be accepted as historical. He writes, “The logic is straightforward: if a tradition appears in an early source and in another independent source, then . . . it is unlikely to have been made up.” But it is relatively easy to show that all four of the key facts undergirding the resurrection of Jesus have independently attested, early sources, and therefore, by Professor Borg’s own criterion, ought to be accepted as historical.
Fact #1: After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
Researchers have established the fact of Jesus’ entombment on the basis of evidence such as the following.
1. The burial story was part of a very old source used by Mark in writing his Gospel.
Behind Mark’s story of Jesus’ suffering and death lies an earlier source which included the story of Joseph’s laying Jesus’ corpse wrapped in linen in a tomb late Friday afternoon. Mark is the earliest of our Gospels and so his source is even earlier still. In fact the commentator Rudolf Pesch dates this source to within seven years of Jesus’ crucifixion.
2. Jesus’ burial is independently attested in the very old information handed on by Paul.
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes,
For I delivered to you . . . what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve.
This information has been dated to within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. The second line refers to Jesus’ burial. Comparison of this four line formula to the Gospel narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other reveals that the second line is a summary in outline form of the story of Jesus’ burial in the tomb. Thus, in Mark and Paul, we discover extremely early independent evidence of Jesus’ burial.
3. As a member of the Jewish high court that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.
There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders who, in Christian eyes, had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.
For these and many other reasons most New Testament critics concur that Jesus was in fact buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”
Fact #2: On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
Among the reasons that have lead most scholars to this conclusion are the following:
1. The empty tomb story is also part of Mark’s very old source material.
Mark’s source did not end with Jesus’ burial but with the empty tomb narrative which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically. Thus we have very early attestation of the fact of the empty tomb.
2. Mark’s account of the empty tomb is multiply and independently attested by other sources.
Dr. Borg assumes that the only primary source we have for the empty tomb is Mark’s Gospel. But this is almost certainly wrong. Matthew and John have independent sources about the empty tomb. It is also mentioned in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles and it is implied by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:4. According to the eminent biblical critic Klaus Berger, “The reports about the empty tomb are related by all four Gospels (and other writings of early Christianity) in a form independent of one another. . . . we have a great abundance of reports, which have been separately handed down.” Thus we have multiple, independent attestation of the fact of the empty tomb.
3. The tomb was probably discovered empty by women.
In Jewish society, the testimony of women was regarded as so unreliable that according to Josephus they were not even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law. Now, in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later legendary account would certainly have made male disciples, like Peter and John, discover the empty tomb. The fact that it is women rather than men who are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the Gospel writers faithfully record what, for them, was a rather awkward and embarrassing fact.
I could go on but I think enough has been said to indicate why, in the words of Jacob Kremer, an Austrian specialist on the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”
Fact #3: On different occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death.
This is a fact which is virtually universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars for the following reasons.
1. The list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances which is quoted by Paul guarantees that such appearances occurred.
The old formula quoted by Paul goes on to say, “he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, . . . Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all . . . he appeared also to me.” Given the early date of this information as well as Paul’s personal acquaintance with the people involved, such appearances cannot be dismissed as merely legendary.
2. The appearance narratives in the Gospels provide independent, multiple attestation of the appearances.
For example, the appearance to Peter is attested by Luke and Paul. The appearance to the twelve is attested by Luke, John, and Paul. The appearance to the women is attested by Matthew and John. The appearance narratives span such a breadth of independent sources in the Gospels that it cannot reasonably be denied that the earliest disciples did have such experiences. Even the skeptical German New Testament critic, Gerd Lüdemann, therefore concludes, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”
Fact #4: The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.
Think of the situation that the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion.
1. Their leader was dead.
Jewish messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed as a criminal.
2. According to Old Testament law, Jesus’ execution exposed him as a heretic, a man literally accursed by God.
3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection at the end of the world.
Nevertheless, the original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief. Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University states, “Some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was.” N. T. Wright, an eminent British scholar, concludes, “That is why, as an historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”
In summary then, there are four facts which are agreed upon by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects. Jesus’ burial in the tomb, his tomb’s being found empty, his postmortem appearances, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief. There is no plausible, naturalistic explanation of these four facts. Therefore, it seems to me that we are justified in believing that Jesus rose bodily from the dead and thus was who he claimed to be.
But that brings us then to our second main contention that I wanted to talk about tonight. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christianity is a delusion which no rational adult should believe. This seems to me to be just common sense and yet, remarkably, Marcus thinks that Christianity can and should go on quite nicely without the literal resurrection. He disagrees in effect with the apostle Paul who said if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless and you are still in your sins. But Dr. Borg makes a sharp distinction between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter Jesus, he says in his writings, was merely a human being who is now “dead and gone.” The post-Easter Jesus, he says, is “what Jesus became after his death.” The post-Easter Jesus lives on in the experience and tradition of the church.
But we have got to be very careful here. What Jesus literally became after his death on Dr. Borg’s view was a rotting mass of flesh. What Dr. Borg means by the post-Easter Jesus is what Jesus became in the thinking and imagination of the Christian church. It is crucial to understand that on Dr. Borg’s view, there really isn’t anybody out there called the post-Easter Jesus who exists objectively, independently of our experience and imagination. The best analogy for this that I can think of is the relationship between Santa Claus and the original fourth-century bishop, St. Nicholas. Nicholas was the real person who lived and died. Santa Claus is an imaginary figure who, though very real in the experience of small children, does not actually exist. Now, while rational adults might believe in some of what this imaginary figure symbolizes, like, say, the spirit of giving, we wouldn’t believe in him. In the same way, if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, we might believe in what the post-Easter Jesus symbolizes, say, love for others, but we wouldn’t believe in him. We wouldn’t worship him or pray to him or think that he loves us because that would be letting ourselves be deluded by our own imaginations.
Despite his very misleading Christian language, I think that, on Dr. Borg’s view, the post-Easter Jesus is just a symbolic figure. When Dr. Borg affirms “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus lives” or “God has vindicated Jesus,” he doesn’t regard these statements as literally true. Rather, these statements are metaphorical and Dr. Borg says, “I affirm these metaphors to be true.”
But now we come to real problems. Think with me now – stick with me here. What is required for a metaphor to be true? If I come in out of the rain and say, “It is raining cats and dogs out there” what does it mean to say that this metaphor is true? Well, it means that there is a literally truth which this metaphor figuratively expresses; namely, that it is raining hard outside. Without such a literal truth at its core, a metaphor is just a meaningless combination of words. If I come in and say, “It is raining zebras and armadillos outside” then, unless I can state some literal truth which these words figuratively express then they are not a metaphor at all but just nonsense. Thus, metaphorical truth presupposes literal truth. No literal truth, then no metaphorical truth either.
So, the crucial question is: what literal truth is expressed by statements about the post-Easter Jesus like “Jesus is risen” or “Jesus loves me” or “Jesus lives”? Well, here Dr. Borg faces what I think is an insuperable problem. For he says that there are no literal truths about God. He thinks God is ineffable, meaning “beyond all rational thought.” He writes, “God is ineffable. . . . God is beyond all images, physical and mental. . . . All our thinking about God . . . are attempts to express the ineffable. The ineffable is beyond all our concepts, even this one.” But that entails that there is no literally truth expressed by his affirmations about the post-Easter Jesus. Therefore, they are not metaphors, they are nonsense.
But it gets even worse. For it is incoherent to say that God is beyond all our concepts. For if none of our concepts applies to God then even the concept of ineffability does not apply to God. But if the concept of ineffability does not apply to God then God is not ineffable after all. Thus, Dr. Borg’s view is self-refuting. If it is true, then it is false! Dr. Borg seems to realize this when he says God is beyond all our concepts even this one. But if the concept of ineffability does not apply to God then it is not the case that God is ineffable as Dr. Borg affirms. Thus it seems to me that this position is hopelessly incoherent – it is self-refuting and cannot be rationally affirmed.
Fortunately, however, there is no need to engage in such theological salvage operations. The historical facts undergirding the bodily resurrection of Jesus are well established and generally agreed upon. The post-Easter Jesus is the pre-Easter Jesus, risen from the dead and gloriously alive today.
 Horst Georg Pöhlmann, Abriss der Dogmatik, 3d rev. ed. (Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1980), p. 230.
 Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus (San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1999), p. 12.
 1 Corinthians 15:3-5
 Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994), 2: 1240-1.
 John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 131.
 Klaus Berger, "Ostern fällt nicht aus! Zum Streit um das 'kritischste Buch über die Auferstehung'," Idea Spektrum 3 (1994): 21-22. Cf. idem, "Die Auferstehung Jesu Christi," in Fand die Auferstehung wirklich statt?, p. 48.
 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.
 1 Corinthians 15:5-8
 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.
 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 136.
 N. T. Wright, “The New Unimproved Jesus,” Christianity Today (September 13, 1993), p. 26.
 cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19
 Marcus Borg, "Seeing Jesus: Sources, Lenses, and Method," in The Meaning of Jesus, by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright (San Francisco: Harper-Collins, 1999), p. 7.
 Ibid., p. 54.
 Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew (San Francisco: Harper-San Francisco, 1997), pp. 48-9.
DR. BORG: I want to begin with two relatively quick comments and then launch into a more extended exposition of something. The first comment is this: several times during Bill Craig’s presentation he spoke of most New Testament scholars, the majority of New Testament scholars, etc. I can quote as many authorities as he does. We read different people and that is because what you are seeing here is a debate or a dialogue between, and I should let you label the branch of scholarship that you are most familiar with, I don’t know if you would speak of it as conservative scholarship or how you would label it. I represent moderate to liberal scholarship. In my reading, the majority of New Testament scholars agree with me. I don’t think there is any real point in citing contemporary authorities and counting up noses and so forth. We could each do that ad nauseam and it wouldn’t be very interesting to you.
Second quick comment, he also has said I’ve offered no evidence or argumentation for my position. I simply want to note that we have tightly constrained time limits and for me, for example, right now to try to respond to his points one by one with any degree of analysis would be absolutely impossible in ten minutes. So to with a mustering of all the reasons for seeing the Gospels as I see them. We are dealing with two different paradigms for seeing the Gospels, and that is what the big difference is here.
Now to move to the more extended exposition. It is very important for you all to realize that our differences are both historical and theological. To say something about the historical differences first. As I listen to what he was saying, it seems to me that our primary historical difference is on the question, “Was the tomb empty?” I think we both agree that Jesus appeared to his followers, I certainly affirm that myself and I heard him affirming that, too. It would be interesting, and I would love for you to respond to this if you would, Bill – do you imagine that if you had been there with a camera that you could have gotten photographs of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene or Jesus appearing in the upper room to Thomas and the rest of the disciples and so forth? When you say Jesus rose bodily from the dead, are you implying that it is that kind of event that could have been photographed, could have been videotaped? I see that on a continuum with his strong defense of the historicity of the empty tomb that we are talking about the transformation of a corpse here on Bill’s understanding. I think that is our primary historical difference. I am not here arguing that I know for certain that the tomb was not empty. I have no interest in trying to prove that the tomb was not empty. My point is the more subtle but important one that as I see things whether or not the tomb was empty is irrelevant to the truth of Easter. I would go on to say I think affirming that the tomb was empty and that the cause of that is a supernatural intervention by God that transformed the corpse of Jesus in a way that has never happened anywhere else or to anyone else, I think that affirmation does create problems. But again, what I am trying to sharpen here is that as I see it the primary historical difference is “Was the tomb empty?” Did something happen to the corpse of Jesus? That is the historical difference.
The theological difference is this. How much does that matter? And you heard Bill say that if the tomb wasn’t empty then Christianity is a delusion. It matters very much indeed theologically on his analysis. For me it really doesn’t, and I don’t know if you can quote Paul, as Bill has just done, to support his position at this point. In that same chapter, 1 Corinthians 15 where he says in verse 14, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” in that same chapter Paul speaks of his own experience of the risen Christ which was clearly a vision and he even puts his own experience in a list with the experiences of the others implying that they have similar kinds of experiences to his own. Then later in the chapter when Paul addresses the question, “with what kind of body are the dead raised?”, Paul explicitly denies that it is the physical body – the flesh and blood body – and speaks instead of a spiritual body. So Paul unambiguously affirms a bodily resurrection but says it is a spiritual body. I am very, very comfortable with that.
Bill has also suggested that my understanding of metaphor kind of doesn’t work. Let me affirm as strongly as I know how, metaphor is about something. I am not saying the risen Christ is a metaphor. I am saying the Easter stories are metaphorical narratives, and what they are about is that they are about that affirmation “Jesus is a figure of the present not of the past.” Jesus is a living, spiritual reality. To the extent that we can use literal language about this, that is the literal meaning as I see it of the metaphorical narratives about easter.
Let me use my remaining three minutes to illustrate that concretely by reminding you of the story of the Emmaus Road. You all (most of you anyway) kind of know how it goes. It is the day we call Easter Sunday. Two followers of Jesus are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village about seven miles away according to Luke. As they are walking they are joined by a stranger. Now, we as the readers know the stranger to be the risen Christ but they don’t know that. They walk together for several hours; they talk, they converse and the two followers share with the risen Christ their hopes that they had had for Jesus and now he has been crucified and so forth. They talked about Scripture together, and after journeying together for several hours (no recognition yet) they arrive at the village of Emmaus. It is getting late; it is getting dark. The stranger is about to leave them and they say to this stranger, “Stay with us. For it is evening and the day is far spent.” Or in the words of the King James Version, “abide with us, fast falls the eve tide. The darkness is coming on, stay with us.” So the stranger agrees; they go in, they still haven’t recognized him, they sit down for a meal, the stranger takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and then we are told their eyes were opened and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. And then you know what happens. He vanishes from their sight. Now, if you had had a video cam, do you think if you had been there you could have photographed the three of them traveling together and recorded the conversation and so forth? You only have to ask that question I think to begin to wonder, maybe it is not that kind of story. Maybe it is a metaphorical narrative, a symbolic story. And the truth of that story, I would say, is this: the risen Christ journeys with us whether we know it or not, believe it or not, realize it or not, and yet there are those moments of recognition. According to the story itself, those moments sometimes come through Scripture, they sometimes come through communion, Eucharist, the Mass, whatever you call it in your tradition, and they come in other ways as well. The literal truth of that story is the risen Christ is a figure of the present who continues to be known to this day. Thank you.
DR. CRAIG: In my opening remarks, I said I would be prepared to defend two contentions tonight and I want to review those at this time. First, that Jesus rose bodily from the dead in confirmation of his radical, personal claims to divinity. Dr. Borg didn’t respond to my point that Jesus had made such radical claims that would be blasphemous unless they were true. But then I listed four facts that go to support the truth of his resurrection from the dead – his burial in a tomb, the discovery of the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ faith. Now, Dr. Borg first leads off with a general comment saying, “Well I can quote different authorities from you, and that doesn’t prove anything.” Of course, authorities don’t prove anything in and of themselves, but the point that I was making that the people I was quoting from were not conservative scholars! They were people like John A. T. Robinson, Gerd Lüdemann, Jacob Kremer, and they were saying that when you look at the bulk of New Testament research on these areas, these four facts are agreed upon by the majority of New Testament scholars.
But I didn’t leave it at that. I gave at least three lines of evidence for each of these three facts. For example, remember that Dr. Borg said in The Meaning of Jesus that multiple, independent attestation is a sufficient condition for historicity all things considered. But then I showed that the burial in the tomb is part of Mark’s passion source, that it is independently attested in Paul, and that there are good reasons to think that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus. I then discussed the empty tomb and showed how it was also part of Mark’s source, was multiply attested in the Gospels, and that the empty tomb was probably discovered by women. So I have given specific evidence that needs to be addressed if we are to think that these are in fact not true.
Now, Dr. Borg says that the main difference between us is the historicity of the empty tomb. He agrees with the appearances. I think that is a fair statement partially but realize what that implies. It also implies that Dr. Borg disagrees with the burial narrative of Jesus. Because if Jesus was buried in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea then the site of Jesus’ grave was known in Jerusalem to Jew and Christian alike. It would have been impossible for a movement founded on belief in the resurrection of a dead man to arise and flourish in Jerusalem in the face of a closed tomb, an occupied tomb. Therefore he has got to deny not only the historicity of the empty tomb but also the burial story. Moreover, he has got to give some sort of account of the origin of the disciples’ belief that Jesus was risen. It is not enough just that they experienced the continuing presence of Jesus with them. Where did they come up with this outlandish and un-Jewish idea that this man was risen from the dead in contradiction to Jewish beliefs. It is all part of a cumulative case, and though we may agree on the appearances of Jesus there are these other three important facts that still need to be accounted for.
Well, we’ve not seen any reasons to deny or any refutation of the evidence I gave for the burial in the tomb or for the empty tomb. Dr. Borg merely asserted that the empty tomb is irrelevant. Well, I think not. Even if it were true that a resurrection doesn’t require an empty tomb, and I think probably Dr. Bock will have something more to say about that, whether or not a resurrection requires that something happen to the corpse, but let’s concede that point that a resurrection doesn’t require an empty tomb. Does that mean that therefore the empty tomb is irrelevant to the resurrection? Well, not at all. Imagine, by illustration, you find the master of the house lying in a pool of blood with a knife sticking out of his back. Now, for the butler to have been the murderer, it is not required that the butler’s fingerprints be found on the knife, but does that mean that therefore it is irrelevant that the butler’s fingerprints are found on the knife? Well, hardly! The evidence of the butler’s fingerprints on the knife is evidence in favor of the butler’s being the murderer. In exactly the same way, the empty tomb, if historical, is evidence for a physical bodily resurrection of Jesus and thus it is crucially relevant in the discussion tonight.
As for the appearances, Dr. Borg agreed that these occurred but he asks merely “Could these appearances have been photographed? Do you think that they could have been photographed?” I do, yes. As the Gospels present them, Jesus was physically alive and physically present. Dr. Schmidt, himself in a video that I watched in preparation for this debate, says that in the Gospel portrayals Jesus is presented as physically, corporally present. But that is not crucial to my case tonight. I am quite willing to allow for the case tonight that these were visionary appearances. That doesn’t affect the argument materially in any way. Why? Well, because in Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection body, the resurrection body – the spiritual body – is historically continuous with and therefore numerically identical with the body that was crucified and laid in the tomb. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses the metaphor of sowing and raising. Four times he says, It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. There is numerical identity. He uses four times the pronoun “this.” This perishable nature must put on the imperishable. This corruptible must put on incorruption. Showing again continuity. Paul also says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” He says in 1 Corinthians 15:52, “The dead will be raised.” He means by this the dead in the graves. These are the object of the resurrection.
Notice also that in the Old Testament, the resurrection is always the resurrection of the mortal body, especially the bones. That is why Jewish funerary practices were to preserve the bones of the dead until the resurrection at the end of the age.
So even if you have purely visionary appearances, nevertheless it implies a physical resurrection of Jesus because the resurrection body is numerically identical and historically continuous with the earthly body.
Finally, the origin of the disciples’ belief. Again, Dr. Borg showed no way in which the disciples’ shattering experience of the crucifixion could have been overcome without these transformative experiences of Jesus being alive from the dead.
So I think we’ve got good inductive grounds for believing in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
What about my second contention? If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is just a delusion which no rational person should believe. Here I argue that metaphorical truth presupposes literal truth. But on Dr. Borg’s view, there are no literal truths about God, and therefore there are no metaphorical truths about God either, and specifically no truths about the post-Easter Jesus. Here Dr. Borg seems to be backing away from his position that there are no literal truths about God. He says, “A metaphor is about something.” Well, yeah, statements about Santa Claus, for example, are about something. But what literal truth lies behind them? In his writings, Dr. Borg is very clear about this. For example, in his book God at 2000 written just last year, he says, “I have learned that God is ineffable – that is beyond words. The sacred is beyond all our concepts and images. No language is capable of expressing the mystery that is God. God is beyond all words and concepts. If you can name it, if you can put it into words, you are no longer talking about it.” It is very difficult to me to understand what literal truth is expressed in these statements about the post-Easter Jesus like “Jesus lives” or “Jesus loves me” or so forth. Is Dr. Borg ready to back away from his claim that there are no literal truths about God and to affirm there is a literal truth behind these metaphors.
If he is, then this is the followup question I want to ask. How do you know what is the literal truth behind these metaphors? How do you know that you’ve got the right interpretation of these metaphors? Dr. Borg compares in one writing the appearances of Jesus to Elvis appearances. What is the difference between Elvis appearances and Jesus’ appearances? This is what he says. “What differentiates the experience of Jesus after his death from Elvis sightings is that there is something about the experience of the risen Christ that leads to the affirmation ‘Jesus is Lord.’” Notice the difference is not that there is an objective reality in one case but not the other. Neither experience has an objective referent. The only difference lies in the quality of the experience itself. One leads you to make these metaphorical statements that Jesus is Lord. But of course the other one leads you to metaphorical statements that Elvis is the King! So what is the difference between these two types of statements? I fail to see how you can find what the literal truth is behind them.
Apart from the historical resurrection of Jesus, it is very difficult to see why we should prefer Dr. Borg’s Jesus to David Koresh’s or Jim Jones’ or any sort of Christian cult that gives its own interpretation of these metaphors of the post-Easter Jesus. N. T. Wright, I think, has aptly said that historical facts prevent faith from becoming fantasy. That is exactly what is lacking, I think, in Dr. Borg’s interpretation of the post-Easter Jesus.
MODERATOR: We now move to our response section. We will have first an opportunity to hear from Dr. Darryl Schmidt. He is the chairman of the Religion Department at Texas Christian University.
DR. SCHMIDT: I side with Mark Borg’s commitment to take it seriously. I’ve tried to think of some metaphors, some analogies, some ways of understanding that. I read the New York Times when I want to find out about the news, not that I completely distrust the local Dallas, Fort Worth papers, but I am a New York Times reader. I take it seriously. I think there is accurate reporting, especially on the front page. But I also like to read the columnists. I appreciate the difference between what I am told and what I am reading in those two kinds of materials. While I may agree with both, likewise I find as a biblical scholar and especially a scholar of the Gospels, that there is wisdom in the tradition preserving for me four different Gospels. Gospel of course means “Good News.” This is not a simple claim that we are merely reporting something and happened to have seen it differently.
To take the four Gospels seriously is to appreciate the different kind of narratives that they are. How those narratives came to us is important to acknowledge. Jesus was not an author. We don’t know what he, himself, directly would have put down had he been scribal. Rather, his followers, his disciples, remembered his best memorable sayings and repeated them. But they also experienced events associated with Jesus. But another colleague has taught me an important lesson in creating a little aphorism: whereas sayings get repeated, events get reported, and the reports get repeated. So we do not have the same kind of multiple independent versions getting back to an event that we do with a saying. So when the Gospels have different details it is not necessarily at all independent testimony that they have additional information, but rather that their narrative is being told from their own understanding of the truth of the Gospel. Their voice speaks to me the truth of their understanding.
Luke’s preface, in fact – Luke was not a disciple, was not himself a direct follower of Jesus – and says that many others had attempted to compile a narrative. He studied these things closely for some time beginning with eyewitnesses and ministers who passed this on. So in fact he claims to benefit from being a second generation Christian. In hindsight he wants to put together an account that makes sense for him, thus in Professor Borg’s use of the Emmaus narrative. This is totally unique. There is no other testimony in any other traditional about this. Luke is giving us his insight that the disciples had not understood what this was about. When they saw the crucifixion they left town disappointed, Luke says. Only after the experience they had in which their mind was opened to interpret the Scripture, they had that “wow” experience that Jesus’ death did not negate what he was about – it affirmed what he was about; the kind of insight that Professor Borg suggested. The resurrection is about confirming what Jesus was about. God’s “yes” to what the Roman’s said “no” to. In fact, Jesus himself then is recorded as reporting that we are to leave the dead to bury the dead. Jesus had been killed, and the disciples were leaving Jerusalem disappointed.
The other source of our insight about this is the apostle Paul. In fact, one might say that what we need to do at this stage is to follow closely Paul’s body language. Paul makes much of the metaphor of body, but he tells us we need to be careful what we understand that to mean because Paul was clearly aware that there were Christians who were saying, or opponents who were saying, or whoever the sometimes called Gnostics were, we all know that corpses decay. We know that the dead are not literally raised. That is what Paul is responding to when he says, Ah! People will ask with what kind of body. In Paul’s rhetoric he calls them foolish ones because everybody knows what you bury perishes. But the experience of the – what? – reality that Paul wants to talk about requires that he uses the metaphor of body as well.
What he then talks about is his faith in the Creator whose creation is all in bodily form. So Paul is in fact not making the connection between the direct continuity between the two, but if one believes in the general resurrection of the dead (which Paul did) that requires that surely to participate in that we must have transformed bodies to be present with God. The metaphor there is “heavenly” - to be with God in heaven. That is going to require transformed bodies. I think it is quite clear from 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul is in no way imagining the same body. In fact, Paul is pretty clear – flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. Paul is not interested in the material substance – the flesh and blood material substance – of these bodies. He is interested in using body as a way of talking about what for him is the reality of the resurrection. It is as real for him in his thinking about it as the flesh and blood. That is a real metaphor for Paul.
What does he base this on? The reality of his own visionary experience. We need to appreciate that for Paul that was approximately two years after what we call Easter. Yet Paul says that was the same experience that Peter had, the Gospel of John says that Mary had. Paul puts himself in continuity with their experience. Much different kind of experience, much later, but yet at the same time the same experience. Paul, in presenting this to us, knows nothing about an empty tomb, no evidence for that tradition until much later. Paul is interested in the reality of Jesus alive in his life which he experienced later in continuity with Emmaus Road experience. A unique experience told in Luke. The Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene in the garden – unique to the Gospel of John. In fact it is each author’s creative ability to express the reality of what that means for their community of faith. They present the truth of the experience they have of that reality.
How should I, as a Christian, respond to the difference in all of these accounts – the four Gospels and Paul? Not that somehow a generation or two later they managed to have taken notes on the same kind of something in the past, but rather giving expression to the truth of their experience of this reality as their communities have made this experience real for them. Thus, it seems to me the difference at the beginning point is whether or not one is willing to allow Paul’s language itself to live and convey the truth that Paul sees in the experience he has had.
DR. BOCK: I want to begin the rebuttal by agreeing with Dr. Borg about something. And that is the issue is, in my judgment, a paradigm difference. But I want to disagree with the way he wants to handle it, and also from the response from Dr. Schmidt.
I think we have to distinguish between what a person believes and what they think they can show about what they believe. I think tonight is about the second and not the first. We are attempting to argue that a strong and solid case for historicity exists for the basic elements of the crucifixion-resurrection account. This approach is far more plausible than the claim that the language is metaphorical or a poetry-plus or that the historicity of these events does not matter. What I am arguing for here is something I believe we can show is going on. I also want to start off by talking about the nature of Scripture, and the claim that traditions about Jesus grow and develop as they are written to address different audiences. I will note that the early audiences were Jewish and the subsequent audiences were primarily Greek. There are two voices in the material – the voice of Jesus on the one hand and of early Christian communities that are reflected in those texts. I think that description is broad in its truth, and there is a wide variety and great diversity in how that mechanism is seen. That is why we had the earlier exchange about the nature of authorities.
But what I am arguing here is the seed of this tradition – where it starts, its growth – comes from a historical starting point – not a metaphorical starting point. That contrast is purposeful because the seed is historical and then the explanation develops around that seed which is historical. That seed developed in a Jewish context. That brings me to my next point.
You see, one thing that hasn’t been said yet tonight is that in Judaism there was not a belief previous to Jesus’ resurrection that an individual would be resurrected in history and in time apart from a belief in a generalized resurrection for all at the end of time. That is unique. There is no Jewish text that we have that creates the metaphor of the mere poetry-plus approach on a historical ground that we know of.
A resurrection was not the general term for life after death. There were various approaches to resurrection. There was the option of immortality of the soul. This is mentioned by Philo and on Abraham 258. It is mentioned in Josephus in his Jewish War 3:372 when he talks about the immortality of the soul, and he says he is talking like a philosopher. It is mentioned in 2 Maccabees as well. We also have the picture of bodily resurrection. Bodily resurrection is noted in the metaphor of Ezekiel 37, the teaching of Daniel 12:2, and texts like 2 Maccabees 7, 9, 11, 22, 23, 29. I want to mention these historical texts because it is important that when we construct metaphors and worldviews we understand the context in which they were constructed. Let me repeat again there is in Judaism no view that one person would receive the resurrection while the rest of history continued unchecked. And never is the word resurrection used in Judaism for something essentially non-concrete. Which gets to the nature of the body question.
Let me say it another way. There is a very graphic passage in 2 Maccabees in which a fellow named Razis, dying, stabbed, pulls out his entrails and then the text goes on to talk about the motivation for doing it was because he longed for the day when God would restore him back to life, if you will, entrails and all. That is a very physical picture of resurrection.
My first point is that the seed from which any explanatory poetry would come from out of Judaism does not exist for the uniqueness of what Jesus is proclaimed to have done. So if we would have had a created story, we would not have created the kind of story we get in the resurrection accounts. If we would not have created the kind of story we have in the resurrection accounts then the question begs to be answered: where did it come from? It came from some event apparently that moved the disciples to create in effect a new theological category from which to view not only the life and ministry of Jesus but also their own lives and their own process and journey. So the message of the resurrection is not merely that Jesus is with us and is journeying along with us through time. The message of the resurrection then becomes that Jesus is a rather unique figure on the scene of history.
The effect of that was not just that people moved themselves (now I’m shifting here my attention to the idea of theology or a poetry-plus). What I want to say about that is theology is about poetry-plus. It is about poetry-plus-history. It is about poetry along side the seed that explains it. That history is important to generating the nature of the poetry that we see in the resurrection accounts. What we get is not a Christianity that emphasizes that we are to ally ourselves to some type of ideology or ethic that says “no” in a Jesus vindication to some type of domination system. Although there are elements to that in Jesus’ teaching, that is not the primary emphasis. What we get as a result of resurrection is not ideology, not ethic, but worship. Where does that come from if the metaphorical view is correct?
Let me wrap up. I can say much more, but I think those two points say a lot. Let me wrap up by saying it this way. The affirmation of how Jesus lives and how he is Lord is variously defined by the two sides. In my mind it is not entirely clear how Jesus functions as living and as Lord other than as some kind of indictment as an authoritative prophetic example calling me to reject the domination system. That is what I’m hearing in summary from Dr. Borg. It leads me to the question – how does Jesus actually function as Lord? What does he do? What is the content of that affirmation theologically? I am not talking here about historically. I am talking about the theological content of that affirmation. Why does it lead to worship? On the other hand, I think what Dr. Craig and I are saying is the emphasis is on allegiance to him as a raised person. I would say about the idea that the corpse is irrelevant and whether we could photograph it, I think I would say bring your cameras. The tomb is empty. That is the declaration. More than that I would say that however we interpret the metaphor of the Doubting Thomas, what is behind the metaphor is “touch this.” It is the opposite of the old Hammer rap song “Can’t Touch This.”
Now, please, the point is not to be funny. The point is that these metaphors in these texts are communicating something very concrete about what took place that transformed a former persecutor like Paul into someone who followed Jesus. I guarantee you if there had been a corpse in a tomb or a body that could have been produced that the persecutor Saul would have never become the apostle Paul. That is another important point in this discussion.
What we are saying is this. Our emphasis is on an allegiance that is connected to him because of a unique set of vindicating events. I agree that God has vindicated Jesus. That is the point of the resurrection. That is how I can see his claims that I otherwise could not prove. They are a step on the way to leading me to faith. As a result we have an accountability to him as his creatures, and we worship him as Christians, and we sing to him and not merely to his cause or merely to his ethic.
MODERATOR: Let me begin by bringing this question to Dr. Craig or Dr. Bock. Just a few minutes ago we heard Dr. Schmidt talk about the fact that often times we have an event then we have the recording of the event, and from that point in time it is the repeating of the record. I think what he was trying to imply, and certainly what I heard Dr. Borg saying, if Mark was written in the 70s and then all the other Gospels written in the 80s and John written in the 90s, that there was enough time for embellishment, for other kinds of metaphorical discussions to take place. So either to Dr. Craig or Dr. [Bock], I would like to give you a chance to respond to that and talk about how you would deal with that particular question.
DR. BOCK: Let me open up by saying that although my timeframe for the authorship of these events is slightly tighter than the suggestion of 70s to 90s – I think we are probably looking at 60s or late 50s for Mark to 90s – I don’t think that is the major point at issue. What we have between the various accounts in the Gospels, it seems to me, are reflections grounded in tradition. I like to use this illustration. If you talked to my wife and I about our courtship, we don’t always share the same details about what led up to our getting married. I may see certain things as important; she may see certain things as important. It isn’t automatically the case that the mere nature of differences simply indicates that someone has created or embellished or told their story in a creatively fresh metaphorical way. It can simply be the fact that one person either recorded or recalled other elements about the event vis-a-vis another person. The same can be true in the tradition. We have clearly various strands working the tradition. All people working on the New Testament recognize this. They are commonly isolated into four groupings when we talk about the Synoptics: Mark, Q, M, and L. Mark for the material unique to Mark. Q for the teaching material shared between Matthew and Luke. M material – material unique to Matthew. L – material unique to Luke. Everyone is working with that, although when we come to the passion material and the Easter material, there is also recognition among most New Testament scholars (and I don’t think this is debated as conservative or liberal issue) that there is a history in that tradition of development that is somewhat distinct from what we see in the rest of the Synoptic Gospels. I make the point about those details simply to say that it is not merely the case that we have one account and someone comes along and says, You know what? I am not happy with Mark, so I am going to slap in some additions and say something more. I think the development of the tradition or the reflection of the tradition is more complex than that, and has tradition strands that we have to take into account or operate and apply.
DR. CRAIG: I would just want to add to that that is why in the case as I presented it I kept trying to drive back to the sources behind the Gospels to press these as early as possible. The source that Mark used for the burial and empty bomb narratives, the information Paul hands on in 1 Corinthians 15. By driving back to these sources behind the New Testament documents you close that window during which legend has opportunity to develop. Also, the four facts that I mentioned are concerned only with the core of these narratives, not the secondary or circumstantial details. So it is quite consistent with what I shared that you might have embellishment in the secondary circumstances of the narratives. But the historical core is preserved.
MODERATOR: While we are talking about the historical narratives, maybe for Dr. Borg and Dr. Schmidt, as I understand, Dr. Craig was making a statement that at least the source for Mark could go all the way back to within, say, seven years within the resurrection. If indeed you accepted that, how would that affect your view? It is a little difficult to imagine someone carrying on a story that seven years ago during the Clinton administration that five thousand were fed on the south lawn of the White House by a little boy’s lunch box. Can you respond?
DR. BORG: A couple of comments here. Again, a reflection of the different scholars we read. I must admit I have never read a scholar who has argued that Mark is using an early source that we can push back to within ten years or so. Any reconstruction of a pre-Markan source for the Easter story is highly speculative – as speculative as anything you think I might have done tonight. Second comment is this. I agree completely that if my wife and I shared our stories of our courtship we would tell it slightly differently and all of that. But it wouldn’t deny the fact that there was a courtship and a lot of this stuff happened. But with the story of the empty tomb, the issue is (again, I can’t demonstrate one or other of these and I don’t think you can either) not “do we have several different people remembering the empty tomb?” or “is the story of the empty tomb itself created as a parable of the resurrection?” When I say “a parable of the resurrection” what I mean is how do you say “Jesus is not a figure of the past?” “Jesus is not in the land of the dead.” One marvelous way you could do that is to tell a story about going to his tomb and they find the tomb empty. In Mark’s Gospel the message of the angel (and in biblical stories, almost always the function of an angel is to tell you what is going on in the narrative), the angel says, “He is not here. He is risen.” That is what the story of the empty tomb as a parable of the resurrection would mean. You won’t find Jesus in the land of the dead. He is a figure of the present, of living reality, who continues to be known. Again, I want to underline, I think the only significant historical difference between me and Darrell and Bill is: is the empty tomb crucial? I realize that is a theological question, too, but I think that is the big issue. I’ll just stop with that.
DR. BOCK: Just the remark about whether there are any scholars who push the tradition back, Raymond Brown’s magisterial study on the death of Jesus, about the empty tomb tradition tied to Joseph of Arimathea, argues that it reflects a tradition that goes back a decade or two decades within the time.
DR. BORG: I heard “source” - as “written source?” Did I misunderstand what you said?
DR. CRAIG: Are you saying you don’t think there was a pre-Markan passion story?
DR. BORG: I am just asking for a clarification. When you said “source” I heard you to mean written source?
DR. CRAIG: It could be oral tradition.
DR. BORG: That would change my statement that I’ve never read a scholar who has argued that.
DR. BOCK: In regard to the other matter, the nature of the material, we are in total agreement that one of the key points of difference between us is the importance of whether or not the empty tomb was empty. That is the point of all the Jewish evidence that I brought forward. It was to say that if we created a story out of the historical background we are talking about, we would not create an empty tomb story that ends with the note “he is risen” because we don’t get an individual raised by himself apart from the general resurrection at the end time in Judaism. There is no context to create that story. I am arguing that that is an evidentiary basis for arguing that it is more plausible to think we have a historical account on our hands than we have if – I want to take your language seriously – than that we have poetry-plus.
DR. BORG: Just to clarify, you are saying they wouldn’t use the language of resurrection unless the tomb were empty?
DR. BOCK: My point is to say they wouldn’t create a story of the empty tomb that says he is risen without a category for which that makes sense unless there was an event behind it.
DR. BORG: But was my statement also OK that you can’t explain why they would use the language of resurrection unless the tomb was empty. Is that part of your argument?
DR. BOCK: That is part of my argument. Yes.
DR. CRAIG: Could I qualify that? I think what you want to say is that they wouldn’t have believed in the resurrection unless they at least believed the tomb was empty.
DR. BORG: What do you make of the statement “raised to God’s right hand?” That is independent upon Jewish understanding of resurrection at the time.
DR. BOCK: That is true, but the question is: what kind of understanding existed in that language before we got to the time of Jesus? It is my recollection about Jewish understanding of these texts that they were applied to the possibility that some kingly figure of some kind would be given some position of authority at the time of the resurrection at the end. We are still in the same cycle, if you will. Hezekiah, for example, is suggested in the Midrash to Psalm 110 as the referent to that text. So in Jewish thinking we are still in the same world, and we are not where we are at with Jesus being raised.
MODERATOR: Let me give Dr. Schmidt an opportunity to respond.
DR. SCHMIDT: Two comments. One would be, again, the earliest account we have is Paul. No where does Paul have any mention of a tomb. While silence itself doesn’t prove it couldn’t have been, it surely suggests that is not the founding event that started this whole tradition. Paul knows nothing about a tomb. What Paul knows is the experience he had. The paradigm Paul has to interpret that is his belief in the resurrection. Nowhere in Judaism is talk of resurrection of the body. Paul uses the body metaphor to explain the reality of what he has experienced. The Gospel accounts that come along later – if one just pays attention to the detail – everybody abandons Jesus. Nobody watches him die. So in Mark there are no appearance stories at the end. The parable that Mark refers to – actually it is a misnomer to call them empty tomb stories. There is always somebody there. When the women go to the tomb in Mark the neaniskos is there – there is a young person. The message is if you are looking for Jesus basically you are in the wrong place. He is not here. He is back in Galilee. He is risen. He is alive back in Galilee. You have to be very careful about how you read that. The successive stories then express that truth differently. In Matthew you have the angel that literally rolls the tomb away. In Luke you’ve got behold two figures are here probably like Moses and Elijah from the transfiguration. Every writer, ever teller of the truth of this, imagines this and pictures it differently. There is no – what? – irreducible core that lies behind these.
DR. CRAIG: I’d like to come back on part of what you said on the point about Paul not mentioning the empty tomb. This kind of argument from silence, I think, is extremely tenuous. For example, if certain Corinthians hadn’t been abusing the Lord’s table so that Paul was required to reprimand them, we would have no reference in Paul’s extent literature to the Lord’s Supper, and there would probably be modern theologians who would say Pauline churches didn’t celebrate the Lord’s Supper. But because by historical accident these Corinthians were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper we have a reprimand from Paul and so we know he knew about it. In the case of the empty tomb, as I said, I think that Paul implies the empty tomb in two ways in 1 Corinthians 15. First of all, in saying “and he was buried, and he was raised” in the mind of a first century Jew implies that the grave was vacant. No first century Jew would have thought in saying “and he was buried, and he was raised” that the corpse still lay in the tomb. Secondly, when he says “he was raised on the third day” we need to ask ourselves where did this third day motif come from? Very briefly summarized, I think of all of the different explanations, the most plausible one is that this is theologically charged language for the date of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women on the third day following the crucification. It is a time indicator pointing to the empty tomb. When you compare this four line formula in 1 Corinthians 15 to the Gospel narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other, that four line formula is an outline – a skeletal outline – of the narratives of the crucification, the burial by Joseph, the discovery of the empty tomb, and then the appearances. So I think you have in Paul implicit the empty tomb.
DR. BORG: I am not sure of the rules here. Can I ask them a question? All right. Great. To either of you or both of you. It is a two-part question, and I hope the answer to the first part is real quick so you can get to the second part because that is what I am interested in. In am wondering in what state you think the resurrected body of Jesus exists? Would you say it is a physical body? Would you speak of it as transformed physicality? That is the first question. The second question is do you think he still exists in that same state?
DR. BOCK: Very good questions. The language of resurrection does not use the language of body because it uses the language “raised from the dead.” The Greek phrase is ex necron – out of death. So we have a resurrection into some kind of a state. Before we get . . . I am answering your second question . . . before we get to 1 Corinthians 15 we have 1 Corinthians 6 in which there is a discussion about committing immorality with the body. Paul makes the argument in that chapter that it does matter what you do with your body. It matters an awful lot what you do with your body, because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and he is looking forward to the day when you will be raised just as Jesus was raised. So my answer is this. You have a transformed body that still has an element of physicality in it. That is the point. Actually, the contrast of 1 Corinthians 15 is not between physical body and spiritual body, the actual language of the contrast is between soul-ish body and spiritual body. That is an important difference because English translations mess that up. What we are talking about is a body that emerges transformed that still has some element of continuity and connection to what the body was . . .
DR. BORG: Continuity and connection I have no problem with. Transformed physicality – is that . . .
DR. BOCK: Yes, because what we are talking about is the clothing that takes on immortality. That is also the language of the Pauline text – 2 Corinthians 5, etc.
DR. BORG: I have a follow-on question, but do you have anything to add to Darrell?
DR. CRAIG: Only, I know that this is a question, Marcus, that you’ve raised before and that troubles you. I wonder what you would think of this. Because this is a philosophical, not a New Testament type question.
DR. BORG: It is a question of the imagination, too.
DR. CRAIG: What would you think about this? Why couldn’t a person say that in his risen state Jesus of Nazareth has a human nature, and that when he is present in this four-dimensional space-time manifold, that human nature manifests itself in a physical body. But when Jesus exits this four-dimensional space-time manifold, that physical body isn’t manifested in any way. It doesn’t appear. An analogy would be like a tuning fork which, when it is plucked, you hear the sounds and the vibrations. If you put that vibrating tuning fork in a vacuum jar it is still vibrating but it won’t manifest itself in the form of any sound. Why couldn’t you say something like that with respect to the human nature of Christ?
DR. BORG: Would you be happy with this way of putting what you’ve just said? The risen Christ, when not present in this four-dimensional space-time manifold (I’m trying to use your language here) that the risen Christ, when not visible here, then exists in a non-physical kind of way but sometimes manifests as a presence that can be seen and even touched in this world.
DR. CRAIG: Like in the resurrection appearances you mean?
DR. BORG: Yeah, but is that a fair paraphrase?
DR. CRAIG: I think so. That is what I am suggesting. Why wouldn’t that be a plausible view?
DR. BORG: That is fine with me. I’ve got no problem with that at all. But I don’t think that is a physical body.
DR. CRAIG: Well, yeah, because when Christ is present here then it is manifested as a physical body that has a weight, extendedness, material, and so forth.
DR. BORG: So you could weigh the risen Christ manifesting himself?
DR. CRAIG: Yeah! That’s right.
DR. BORG: Even today?
DR. CRAIG: Darryl Schmidt in his video on the resurrection, talks about how in these appearances Jesus eats fish in front of the disciples. Darryl says at that point, “This is too weird for me!” It is very clear that this is a physical body. So why not think of it that way? That seems to me to make sense.
DR. SCHMIDT: Except that at the same time it – what? – moves through doors, walls, appears, disappears. This is not the language of how you and I eat.
DR. CRAIG: Right. We all agree that the resurrection isn’t the resuscitation of the corpse. We all agree that this is a transformation into what Paul called a glorious, powerful, immortal, resurrection body.
MODERATOR: Let me step in real quickly. Let us, if we can, raise the house lights and we will give some of you a chance to ask a question. If you want to line up at those two microphones, we will do so. While that is happening, let me just have one question for Dr. Borg and Dr. Schmidt. One of the things that I heard Dr. Craig speak to is the unusual accounts that the empty tomb was discovered by the women. Dr. Bock talked about the seed, the historical starting point, that there was nothing in the Jewish context of resurrection. Either Dr. Borg or Dr. Schmidt, what do you make of those interesting anomalies if indeed these are metaphors?
DR. SCHMIDT: The recent scholarship that I read talks a lot about the tradition both in the Jewish world and in the Roman world of women naturally go to look for the buried one in order to perform the rituals that are associated with burial. So if one is looking for testimony in court, that is a different sort of thing. But if you are going to describe a story in which you picture somebody looking for the dead “on the third day” that is as much describing the custom that happens in the culture of the time and is clearly a role that women fulfilled as part of the burial custom of the culture.
DR. BORG: To which I would add very simply (and I don’t know this at all; this is just speculation) it could reflect the historical fact that the first appearances of the risen Christ were experienced by women. I am agreeing with what Darryl said and adding that.
DR. BOCK: We may be moving closer to one another.
DR. BORG: But I don’t think the tomb was empty.
DR. BOCK: The question is: where were they going to?
DR. BORG: I am just saying the fact that they are the first witnesses to the resurrection could very well mean women were the first to experience the risen Christ.
QUESTION: My question is not a new question. My question is for Dr. Borg or Dr. Schmidt. If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, but as you say rose in a spiritual sense, then what makes the claims of Christianity different than, say, the claims of Mohammad in Islam where you don’t have a physical resurrection? All you have is a spiritual manifestation.
DR. BORG: Listen carefully. The words are very precisely chosen. Christians – this is my definition of Christians, I’ve got a couple but this is one I use a lot – are people who find the decisive revelation of God in Jesus. Muslims are people who find the decisive revelation of God in the Qur’an. Jews are – and you can start filling in the blanks yourself. What differentiates Christians from Muslims, Jesus from Muhammad, it is not so much that God did something utterly spectacular for Jesus that God has never done for anybody else – namely, raising his physical body from a tomb – but I would say what differentiates Christians from Muslims is where they see the decisive revelation of God. But I don’t see one tradition as manifestly superior to the other. I affirm that God the sacred is known in all of the enduring religious traditions of the world. The word “enduring” is important there.
QUESTION: My question is also for Dr. Borg. It appears that we are stuck on the issue of whether or not the tomb was empty. I took note of how you use a sense of rhetoric where it appears as though you are very similar to both Dr. Bock and Dr. Craig in that you accept a resurrection. You said his resurrection vindicates his Lordship. But he has left his person, his body, in the tomb. I, like Dr. Craig, see no difference between that and fancying yourself into molding a Lord that is very similar to Santa Claus where you are subjecting yourself to your own flights of fancy. You created a Lord yourself, because he, in fact, did not resurrect if his remains are still in his grave.
[At this point, the video cuts off and ends.]