Jesus Under Fire

Jesus Under Fire

Was Jesus wrong about divorce? What about imperialism? Was Jesus merely a legend?

Transcript Jesus Under Fire

KEVIN HARRIS: Jesus under fire. Dr. Craig, there are three articles here that listeners have sent me that disturbs them. They are from secular bloggers.

DR. CRAIG: You mean that people who sent these to you were really disturbed by these things?

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. Possibly just disturbed by the title. But you have to read them, too.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. When you read them they are almost ludicrous rather than disturbing. I hope this isn't a reflection of how superficial many Christians are, that they would find this sort of material disturbing rather than ludicrous.

KEVIN HARRIS: This first article is from David Madison who has a PhD in biblical studies from Boston University. “Jesus Got It Wrong, Really Wrong.” That is going to be inflammatory right there and somebody is going to say, We got to send this to Dr. Craig. Well, did you read it? No. What this says is that Jesus got it wrong about divorce. He says, “Jesus is guilty of a grievous logical fallacy in his pronouncement on divorce.”

DR. CRAIG: That is really interesting. It is not just that he disagrees with Jesus' teachings on divorce. That would be a perfectly reasonable thing to say. I could imagine why people would disagree with Jesus of Nazareth on divorce. Fine. But now here is the claim that he makes a logical fallacy. I am wondering how could you even do that. How could you have teaching on divorce that would involve a logical fallacy? So let's see what he says.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let me just give you a sneak preview. I didn't see it!


KEVIN HARRIS: There is no logical fallacy. He says,

Why do men and women get married? Jesus sees the “natural order” as God’s idea, and said this to the Pharisees:

“Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." (Matt. 19:4-6)

If you operate within a theological context, there’s nothing wrong with the idea that God arranged for men and women to hook up, but it doesn’t follow at all that God has actually arranged all marriages, picking each woman for each man, ever since humans began cohabitating.

DR. CRAIG: That is an astonishing claim on his part. How in the world does the teachings of Jesus that you just quoted imply that God has picked each particular woman for each man? Yet this is the blogger's view. He asks later on, “Did Jesus really think that it is God who makes all of the matches, so many of which are disastrous?” This is not at all entailed by Jesus' teaching. In fact I know Christians, for example our friend Greg Koukl, his view of divine providence is that God doesn't in any way pick a particular mate for you, but he has given you the freedom to use your wisdom and discretion to choose to marry whomever you want. There is nothing in Jesus' teaching here that would show that to be incorrect. That would be a question of your doctrine of providence and guidance but not teaching on divorce by Jesus. What Jesus is teaching is the permanence of the one-flesh union that whomever you choose to marry, once you have done so and married, become one flesh, that is a permanent union that you are not free to separate except on grounds of adultery. There is no logical error here nor does it teach that God arranges every individual marriage.

KEVIN HARRIS: It doesn't mean that at all.

DR. CRAIG: No! It is astonishing! This guy has a PhD and yet he infers this from Jesus' teaching on divorce.

KEVIN HARRIS: I like Greg Koukl there. Pray about it and pick a good one.

DR. CRAIG: I don't agree with that view. I'm just saying that that is a view that some Christians hold. I think that God does guide you in your choice of a marriage partner.

KEVIN HARRIS: That is why you should be prayerful about it.[1]

DR. CRAIG: That is an implication of my doctrine of divine providence and middle knowledge, but it is not an implication of Jesus' teaching on divorce in Matthew 19 that you read.

KEVIN HARRIS: I would rather focus – rather than the mistakes that this man is making here – take marriage seriously. Our listeners, take marriage seriously. Jesus has a high standard on marriage, and it points to God's order. People think that your soulmate is out there somewhere, and if you miss them because they are in Peoria and you are in Tampa you are going to miss them somehow and then you will marry the wrong one. That is such futile thinking.

DR. CRAIG: But it probably can happen. Christians who are living in disobedience or sin may well make disastrous mistakes and marry a person whom they are poorly matched with and ill-suited. But that doesn't change Jesus' teaching that once that union has been made, now you have the responsibilities of a husband or wife to love that other person and to care for them and to discharge your duties as that person's spouse.

KEVIN HARRIS: I guess what I am saying is: I agree with that. But God can make that person your soul mate. He can make soul mates out of you.

DR. CRAIG: That is a very good point. It needn't be hopeless.

KEVIN HARRIS: All right. So much for that.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, that was pretty bad.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Hector Avalos, whom you've debated, has written a short article here on “Jesus Was Not Against Imperialism.”

DR. CRAIG: Now if the last blog we looked at was bad, this one is just funny! So go ahead.

KEVIN HARRIS: He says, “The portrayal of Jesus as an anti-imperialist pervades the scholarly literature of New Testament ethics.” I think we probably need to talk about what imperialism is.

DR. CRAIG: What he is talking about there is the claim by people like N. T. Wright and even John Dominic Crossan that in proclaiming the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in his person, Jesus was implicitly saying Caesar is not king. God is king. Jesus taught that we should obey Caesar and do our duties as citizens. He says, when they tried to ask him the question about taxes (is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?), Jesus says, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, but then he says, Render to God the things that are God's. The idea that Jesus was anti-imperialist is the claim that he did not regard the authority of the Roman Empire and of Caesar in particular as ultimate. Ultimate authority lodged in God. He called people to be members of God's Kingdom first and foremost. But he wasn't anti-imperialist in the sense of fomenting a revolution against Rome. Quite the contrary. He seemed to teach a kind of peaceful co-existence with Rome.

KEVIN HARRIS: The article continues,

However, portraying Jesus as an anti-imperialist actually betrays a pro-imperialist Christian agenda on the part of many New Testament ethicists. Usually, the main evidence cited is Jesus’ resistance to the Roman empire. However, anti-imperialism should properly describe an ideology that is against any empire. Jesus’ endorsement of the Kingdom of God, which is envisioned as an empire, should certainly disqualify him from being an anti-imperialist. In addition, many prominent New Testament ethicists are Euro-Americans with no indigenous ancestry, and so are themselves part of an empire occupying Native American lands.

DR. CRAIG: This is really incredible. He says that Jesus was an imperialist because he preached and taught the kingship of God and the Kingdom of God. That is right, if you are going to construe imperialism so broadly then, right, Jesus was an imperialist because he taught the Kingdom of God. Fine. What's the problem? When these New Testament ethicists say Jesus was an anti-imperialist they are obviously talking about earthly kingdoms, human kingdoms. But of course Jesus thought that we were members of God's Kingdom and that God is the king over all. God is the sole ultimate reality. So of course he is the king. As for the fact that many New Testament ethicists are Euro-Americans has just absolutely nothing to do with their claim that Jesus was an anti-imperialist with regard to human earthly kingdoms.[2]

KEVIN HARRIS: That is the distinction that Avalos is failing to make – earthly kingdom, heavenly kingdom.

DR. CRAIG: Right. Exactly.

KEVIN HARRIS: Richard C. Miller, who has written a book called Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity, considers the trilemma that we are all familiar with – “liar, lunatic, or legend.” That is a different take on the trilemma that we usually refer to which is “Lord, liar, or lunatic.” Is Jesus Lord? Is he . . .

DR. CRAIG: Right. And he does refer to that from C. S. Lewis with whom he became familiar as a student.


I first began my quest to understand the origins of Christianity under the inspiration of the popular 20th-century Oxford scholar and radio apologist C. S. Lewis more than 30 years ago. I must admit, I was altogether taken with his bold certitude and quasi-rational approach to questions regarding the veracity of the fundamental claims of the religion. He, like no other, had convinced me that Christianity would ultimately withstand and indeed triumph over any honest and thorough academic scrutiny.

I recall first considering his most famous apologetic argument, his “trilemma,” namely that all who evaluate the claims of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels are left with but three viable options: Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or he is Lord . . . . I recall merrily heading off to graduate study in New Testament, fully confident that any careful study of the evidence would, of course, bear out option #3. . . .

Following the best, most modern practices of academic method, we conclude that Lewis had left out a fourth alternative, the correct answer: the earliest Christian authors textualized Jesus in the Gospels as a literary vehicle, the legendary founding emblem of earliest Christian cult and philosophy.

DR. CRAIG: This is really shocking. What he seems to be arguing is that Jesus in the Gospels is not a historical figure but merely a literary figure – just a literary vehicle for expressing early Christian practices and philosophy. Honestly, in all objectivity, this is not following the best modern practices of academic method. There would be scarcely any New Testament critics – even skeptics like John Dominic Crossan or Marcus Borg or Gerd Ludemann – who would think that Jesus of Nazareth was not a historical figure but is just a sort of literary creation. Yet, Miller says that a look at these early Christian narratives and their production “illuminates the matter beyond dispute.” When somebody uses language like that you know you are not dealing with serious scholarship because clearly these things are not beyond dispute. In fact, the view that he enunciates here is one that has been considered and rejected by not just the vast majority of New Testament scholars but by almost everybody. The drift of contemporary New Testament criticism is not simply that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure who actually lived and wrought, but in fact the Gospels are pretty good records of the life and teachings of this man Jesus of Nazareth. That is the case even if you deny his deity and supernatural miracles and the resurrection of Jesus. Still, scarcely anybody thinks that this is just a literary creation. So Miller here is, I think, really misleading his readers.

He claims that all of the early Christian narratives are fictional in their nature. Just take the book of Acts, for example. The book of Acts in the New Testament overlaps with secular history of the first century to a good deal. Again and again the historicity of the book of Acts has been confirmed so that classical historians like A. N. Sherwin-White have said that classical historians have long regarded the book of Acts as historically reliable. To doubt what it says even in matters of detail, he says, would be absurd. The book of Acts, of course, is simply the second half of the double-work Luke-Acts. So the idea that we are dealing here with literary fiction, I think, is just completely incredible.[3]

[1] 5:00

[2] 10:16

[3] Total Running Time: 15:32 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)