Video

How Do We Know Jesus Was Raised From the Dead?

William Lane Craig to RISE Youth Ministry, Berkeley

InterHigh Fellowship, Berkeley, California – April 18, 2010

Dr. Craig speaks to students on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus at InterHigh Fellowship in Berkeley for RISE Youth Ministry. Includes Q&A from the audience.

Transcript

When the pastor asked me to speak to RISE on the resurrection of Jesus, I said to him, “You know, don’t you think we need to pick a more interesting topic?” I don’t normally talk to high school students. I talk to university students. And if I give a lecture on the resurrection of Jesus, how do I know they are going to understand it or they won’t just be bored with it. And he said, “Bill, you don’t understand how smart our high school students are here in Berkeley and at Davis.” So he assured me to give a talk on the resurrection of Jesus and they will understand it and benefit from it. So that is what I want to talk to you about tonight – how do we know that Jesus is risen from the dead?

It seems to me that there are two ways to a knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection. One is the existential or the experiential way. The other way is the historical way. The experiential way means that you know Jesus is risen from the dead because you have had a personal encounter or experience of the risen Lord yourself. The Easter hymn writer says “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.” I think that this personal, existential approach to a knowledge of the resurrection is perfectly valid and legitimate. In fact, the vast majority of Christians in the world and down through history have known that Christ is risen primarily through this experiential way. They neither had the training nor the library resources nor the leisure time to conduct a historical investigation of the resurrection of Christ. Rather, they have known that Christ is alive because they have experienced him as a living reality in their lives. And I think that is perfectly legitimate.

On the other hand, it is also possible to explore the fact of Jesus’ resurrection historically using the ordinary tools of historical research, such as historians use when investigating other claims in ancient Greco-Roman history. And when you explore the Gospels with respect to the resurrection of Jesus using the ordinary tools of historical research then I think a very powerful case can be made for the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

I have got a PowerPoint here tonight that I want to use to walk through some of these points with you, not in a former lecture way but just in a conversational way. In developing a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection, there are two fundamental steps that need to be engaged in. The first of these is to establish, “What is the data to be explained?” Here I want to argue that:

(I) There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis. What are those four facts?

1. Jesus’ burial in the tomb

2. The discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb

3. His post-mortem appearances

4. The origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection

Those are the four fundamental facts that need to be explained.

The second step in developing a case for the resurrection would be to ask, “What is the best explanation of these facts?” Here I am going to argue that:

(II) The best explanation of the facts is that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The skit tonight focused primarily on that second step – what is the best explanation of these facts? But the skit just assumed that the Gospels are reliable in saying that Jesus was buried in a tomb or that that tomb was found empty or that his disciples saw appearances of Jesus alive after his death. How do we know that the Gospels are accurate in saying those things? That is what this first step aims to establish.

So first I want to talk about that first fact:

Fact #1: After his crucifixion Jesus was in fact buried by a man name Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

Among the various reasons that historians give for accepting the reliability of the burial narrative of Jesus in the Gospels are two fundamental points:

1. Jesus’ burial is multiply attested in early, independent sources.

This is one of the most important criteria that historians use for establishing historical events.[1] If an event is reported in early, independent sources then this event is much less likely to have been made up but rather must be historical because two independent, early sources would not have simultaneously make up the same event. In fact, the burial narrative of Jesus is attested in about five different sources such as the Gospel of Mark, the source behind the Gospel of Matthew which is independent of Mark, the source behind the Gospel of Luke which is independent of the other two, the Gospel of John which is independent of the other three Gospels, the sermons in the book of Acts which are also independent of the Gospels, and then finally Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where in chapter 15 he talks about the burial of Jesus. Historians think that they have hit historical pay dirt when you have two independent early accounts of an event. In this case we have at least five independent, early sources that Jesus was buried by a man named Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.

2. As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

According to all of the sources we have, Jesus was placed in a tomb by a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the High Court that had condemned Jesus to the cross for blasphemy. There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the members of the Sanhedrin. After all, they had engineered what amounted to a judicial murder of Jesus in a kangaroo court that sent him to the Romans to be executed for treason. So there was a great deal of hostility toward the members of the Sanhedrin in the early church. Therefore it is almost inexplicable why Christian legend would invent a Jewish member of the Sanhedrin, give him a name, and say that he was the one responsible for honoring and taking care of the burial of Jesus in a proper way by placing him in a tomb. Any later legendary account would have made the disciples bury Jesus properly or Jesus’ family members take care of his corpse. But the fact that it is a member of the Sanhedrin, a despised person who condemned Jesus to the cross, who cares for the body of Jesus and gives him an honorable burial, is best explained by the fact that this is what really happened. Therefore, the wide majority of historical scholars today regard the burial of Jesus of Nazareth in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea as a historical fact.

Fact #2: On the Sunday morning after his crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was in fact found empty by a group of his women followers.

There are a number of reasons that have led most historians to believe that the tomb of Jesus was in fact found empty.

1. The historical reliability of the burial story supports the historicity of the empty tomb.

Now you might say to me, how does the reliability of the burial story show that the tomb was empty? Well very simply in the following way. If the site of Jesus’ grave were known in Jerusalem to both Jew and Christian alike then it is impossible that a movement founded upon the resurrection of the dead man could have originated and flourished in Jerusalem in the face of an occupied tomb. If the corpse of Jesus still lay in Joseph’s tomb then the disciples could never have believed that Jesus was risen from the dead, they couldn’t have convinced anybody else that he was risen, and the Jewish Sanhedrin could have put an end to the whole affair by simply pointing to the occupied tomb of Jesus and if necessary even go to the extreme measure of exhuming the body for all to see that he hadn’t been risen from the dead. Thus, if the bury narrative of Jesus is reliable then it is a very short inference that the empty tomb story is reliable as well. As we have already seen, the wide majority of historians do accept the historicity of Jesus’ burial by Joseph in a tomb which therefore implies that that tomb must have been empty by the time the disciples began to proclaim that Jesus was risen from the dead.

2. The empty tomb story is also independently attested in multiple, independent, early source.

The empty tomb story is also mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, in the source behind Matthew and the source behind Luke, in the Gospel of John, in the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is implied in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church in chapter 15.[2] So, again, we have a broad range of independent sources that are early – some of the earliest materials in the New Testament – that attest to the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb.

3. The tomb was discovered empty by women.

In order to understand this point, you have got to appreciate the attitude toward women in first century Jewish society. First of all, women were not regarded as credible witnesses. According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, the testimony of women should not even be admitted into a court of law because women were regarded as so unreliable that there testimony couldn’t even be admitted into a Jewish court.[3] Moreover, women occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. For example, some early rabbinic sayings are the following: “blessed is he whose children are male, but whoa to him whose children are female!”[4] Or another rabbinical saying every Jewish man would recite the daily prayer, “Blessed art thou, O’ Lord our God, king of the universe, who has not created me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”[5] Similarly, another rabbinic saying said, “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt then delivered to women.”[6] So quite honestly, women were second class citizens in Jewish Palestinian society. Now, in light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of and the principal witnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb. Any later, legendary account would certainly have made male disciples discover the empty tomb – Peter and John, let’s say. But the fact that it is women – whose testimony was regarded as worthless at that time – who are the principal witnesses to the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that, like it or not, they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the Gospel writers faithfully record what, for them, was a rather awkward and embarrassing fact.

4. The story is simple and lacks signs of legendary development.

The story as it is found in the Gospel of Mark, our earliest Gospel, is incredibly simple and unadorned by theological or apologetical motifs that would characterize a later, legendary, or fictional account. There is no word of prophesy that is quoted that is fulfilled, no Old Testament scriptures mentioned, the resurrection of Jesus is not actually described. The tomb is already empty by the time the women get there. There is no reflection of Jesus being the conqueror of death or the destroyer of hell. There is no great titles for Jesus mentioned in the empty tomb narrative. The narrative is extremely simple and reserved describing the women who come to the tomb and find it empty. Now, to get an appreciation for how simple Mark’s story is, all you have to do is compare it to the stories of the discovery of the empty tomb that are found in the apocryphal Gospels. What are the apocryphal Gospels? These were forged Gospels from the second century after Christ. These do contain all sorts of legendary embellishments and theological reflections. So, for example, in the so-called Gospel of Peter, which comes from about AD 150 to AD 200 – about one hundred more years after Jesus’ death – the empty tomb is described in the following way. The tomb is surrounded by a Roman guard, by the Jewish leadership, and by a large crowd from the surrounding countryside who have all come to watch the tomb. Suddenly, in the night, a voice rings out from heaven and the stone over the door of the tomb rolls back by itself. Then two men are seen descending out of heaven and going into the tomb. Then three men are seen coming out of the tomb, two of them supporting the third man. The heads of the two men stretch up to the clouds but the head of the third man overpasses the clouds.[7] Then a cross comes out of the tomb and a voice from heaven asks, “Hast thou preached to them that sleep?” and the cross answers “Yea.” Now, these are how real legends look. They are embellished with all sorts of theological and apologetical motifs – motifs which are conspicuously lacking from Mark’s account which is stark in its simplicity.

5. The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb.

In the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew records the story of the guard at the tomb. And what is interesting for our purposes is Matthew’s final comment about the guard story. He says this story has been spread among Jews until this day.[8] Now what that shows is that Matthew is concerned to exorcise a widespread Jewish rumor or counter-explanation of the disciples’ proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. What were Jews saying in response to the disciples’ proclamation, “He is risen from the dead?” That these men are full of new wine? That Jesus’ corpse still lies in the tomb in the garden? No! They were saying the disciples came and stole away his body. Now think about that for a minute. The disciples came and stole away his body. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was itself an attempt to explain why the body was missing. Thus, we have evidence for the fact of the empty tomb which is absolutely top drawer because it comes not from the Christians but from the very opponents of the early Christian movement who themselves entangled themselves in a hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain away the fact of the empty tomb.

On these five grounds, once again the wide majority of New Testament historians who have written on this subject recognize that in fact the tomb of Jesus was discovered empty by a group of his women followers on the Sunday morning after his crucifixion.

Fact #3: On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

This is a fact which is universally acknowledged today among New Testament critics from liberal to conservatives. Why? For two reasons:

1. Paul’s list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances guarantees that such appearances occurred.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul gives a list of witnesses to post-mortem appearances of Jesus. And scholars have shown that Paul is not writing there freely in his own hand. Rather, he is quoting just as he says an earlier oral tradition which he, himself, received and in turn is passing on to the Corinthian church. This tradition is so old that it has been dated to within five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Some scholars think it even goes back to within 18 months after the crucifixion. Thus it cannot be dismissed as some sort of later, legendary embellishment. Paul’s information makes it certain that there were individuals and groups of people about – still alive – who claim to have seen Jesus risen from the dead.

2. The appearance narratives in the Gospels give multiple, independent attestation of these appearances.

Once again, the appearance stories are not found just in a single source but we have early, independent sources for these resurrection appearances of Jesus. For that reason, all historical scholars are united in the view that, after the crucifixion of Jesus, different individuals and groups of people claimed to have seen appearances of Jesus alive after his death.

Fact #4: The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite having every predisposition to the contrary.

Think of the situation the disciples faced following Jesus’ crucifixion.[9]

1. Their leader was dead.

Jewish messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be humiliatingly executed by them as a criminal. Messiah was supposed to come and restore the throne of David in Jerusalem and rule over Jew and Gentile alike. A Messiah who failed to throw off Israel’s enemies – in this case, Rome – and failed to reign was a contradiction in terms.

2. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising form the dead to glory and immortality before the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the world.

Jewish beliefs about the resurrection of the dead were that, at the end of the world, on the judgment day, God would raise all the righteous dead or all of Israel to judgment and then determine their final destiny. But there was no concept in Judaism of a resurrection of an isolated individual which appeared within history prior to the end of the world. So confronted with the crucifixion of Jesus, at most all the disciples could have done would be to simply preserve Jesus’ tomb as a shrine where his bones might reside in an ossuary – or a bone box – until the resurrection at the end of the world when they and all the righteous dead of Israel would be reunited with their master in the Kingdom of God. But they would not, as first century Jews, have come to believe that he was already risen from the dead in contradiction to Jewish beliefs. Therefore, the question is – how do you explain the origin of the disciples’ belief that Jesus was in fact risen from the dead?

These are the facts. These are not opinions that are simply the views of conservative scholars. These represent the conclusions of the broad mainstream of historical scholarship today.

This puts the skeptical critic in a rather desperate situation. For now you have to ask the question: how do you best explain these facts? That leads to our second point:

(II) The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Here I would argue that the resurrection hypothesis meets all of the standard criteria for being the best explanation. It has great explanatory scope – it explains all four of those facts that I mentioned. It has great explanatory power – it provides sufficient explanation for why each of these occurred. It is plausible – it is not ad hoc or contrived. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. And it far outstrips any of its rival theories in meeting conditions one thru five as our skit so nicely illustrated this evening.

Now, what is the critic supposed to say at this point? Well, I had a very interesting debate a few years ago at the University of California in Irvine on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection with a professor who had written his doctoral dissertation on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.[10] He could not deny the facts of Jesus’ honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, or the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection from the dead. So his only recourse was to come up with some alterative explanation of these facts. And so he argued that Jesus of Nazareth must have had an unknown identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth and nobody knew about. He came back to Jerusalem just at the time of the crucifixion, stole his brother’s body out of the tomb, presented himself to the disciples who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead. Now I am not going to go into how I went about refuting this theory but I think it is instructive because it shows to what desperate lengths skepticism must go in order to explain away the evidence.[11] In fact, did you know that the evidence is so good that one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians – Jewish theologian!– the late Pinchas Lapide who taught at Hebrew University in Israel declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.[12]

So I think we have very good grounds historically for affirming the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

If I might wrap up at this point, I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks this evening that there are really two avenues to a knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection: the experiential and the historical. I think we’ve seen that there are good grounds historically for believing in Jesus’ resurrection. But I think it is also possible to know that Jesus is risen wholly apart from historical arguments through having an immediate experience of the risen Lord. And this is what happened to me. I myself wasn’t raised in a Christian home or even a church going family. But as a teenager I began to ask the big questions in life. Why am I here? Who am I? What is the meaning of my existence? In the search for answers to these questions, I began to attend a church in our local community. But instead of answers, all I found was a social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate. The other students who went to high school with me and pretended to be such good Christians on Sunday lived for their real god the rest of the week which was popularity and they would do anything in order to be popular. This really bothered me because I thought, “Here I am so spiritually empty inside but externally I am leading a better life than they are and they claim to be Christians – they are all just a pack of hypocrites, they are all phonies. They must be just as spiritually empty as I am but they are all putting up a false front to the world pretending to be something they are really not.” So I began to become very bitter and angry toward the people in the institutional church. Soon this attitude began to spread toward other people. As I looked at other people, I thought they were all fakes, they are all phonies. Everybody is holding up a plastic mask to the world and the real person is cowering down inside afraid to come out and be real. So I began to withdraw from other people. I said I don’t need other people. I hate them because of their phoniness and hypocrisy. I don’t want anything to do with them. So I threw myself into my studies and I shunned relationships with other people because I said I despised them. I was on my way, frankly, to becoming a very alienated young man. Yet, in moments of honesty and introspection, when I looked into my own heart, I knew that deep down inside I really did want to love and to be loved by other people. And I realized in that moment that I was just as much a phony as they were. Because here I was putting on this bravado, this brave front, pretending I don’t need other people when deep down in side I knew I really did. So that anger turned in on myself from my own phoniness and hypocrisy. I don’t know if you understand what this is like but this kind of inner anger just gnaws away at your insides making every day miserable, another day to get through.

Well, one day, I was feeling particularly crummy and I walked into my high school German class and I sat down behind a girl whose one of these types, you know, that is always so happy it just makes you sick! I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and I said to her, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about anyway?” And she said, “Well, Bill, it’s because I’m saved!” And I said, “You are what?” She said, “I know Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” And I said, “Well, I go to church.” And she said, “That’s not enough, Bill. You’ve got to have him really living in your heart.” And I said, “Well, what would he want to do a thing like that for?” And she said, “Because he loves you, Bill!” And that thought just hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea that somebody really loved me and who was it but the God of the universe.[13] And that thought just staggered me. That the God of the universe could love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet Earth. I just couldn’t take it in. Well, I went home that night and I found a New Testament and I began to read it. And as I did so, for the first time I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was a ring of truth about his teaching. I had never encountered wisdom like this before. And there was an authenticity about his life that wasn’t characteristic of these people who claimed to be his followers in that local church I was attending. I knew then I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Well, as I read the New Testament I learned what my problem was. Because of the sin in my life – that is to say, the wrong things that I had thought and said and done – I was guilty before God and therefore spiritually separated from God. I was alienated from him. That is why God seemed so unreal to me because the relationship that he had created me to have with him was broken, it was ruptured because of my sin in my life. But the Bible said that God had sent his son Jesus Christ into the world to pay the penalty for my sin. That one the cross he died to pay the death penalty of sin that I deserved. So by accepting him as my savior and Lord, I could receive God’s forgiveness and grace and be cleansed of my sin. And my relationship with God could be restored to what it was supposed to be. What I was created to have. Sandy introduced me to other Christians in the high school. And no matter what these kids said about Jesus, the thing that I couldn’t deny was that they were in contact with a different plane of reality than I was, a reality that imparted a deep meaning and peace and joy to their lives that I really wanted as well.

To make a long story short, I went through about six months of the most intense soul-searching that I have ever been through. And at the end of those six months, I just came to the end of my rope and one night I just cried out to God. And I cried out all the anger and the bitterness that was inside of me and as I did so I felt this tremendous infusion of joy like a balloon being blown up until it was ready to burst. And I remember I rushed outside, it was a warm September Midwestern evening and as I looked up at the sky I could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. And I looked up at the stars and I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!” And that moment changed my whole life because, you see, I had thought enough about this message during those six months to realize that if this is really the truth – if it’s really the truth – then this is the greatest news ever announced. And I could do nothing less than devote my whole life to sharing this message with mankind. So my call to Christian service was simultaneous with my conversion experience.

And that is basically why I am here tonight because I love to share with students who are about the same age as I was when, as a junior in high school, my life was turned upside down through a personal encounter with Christ. I love to share this message with students like that.

If there is anybody here tonight who hasn’t found that personal relationship with Christ in the way that I described, you can do so tonight if you are ready. If you sense that God has been speaking to your heart and you are convinced on the basis of the historical evidence that God has raised Jesus from the dead to authenticate his radical personal claims for which he was crucified as a blasphemer, if you are ready to give your life to Christ tonight and to receive him as your savior and Lord you can do that right now. You can simply bow your head and invite Christ to come into your life. Now, you might not have an emotional experience like I did. Everyone’s experience is different, but we are not saved by emotional feelings. We are saved by placing our faith in Christ, our trust in him as our savior and Lord. And I am convinced that this is the most rational and intellectually responsible choice that anybody can make.[14] So as we close this section of the meeting tonight and before we take your questions, I want us to just bow our heads together in prayer and I am going to pray out loud a prayer of invitation to receive Christ as your savior. If you sense that God has spoken to your heart tonight and you’d like to give your life to Christ to be your savior and Lord, I invite you to pray silently in your heart as I pray verbally aloud. If you are not ready, then don’t pray. But if you are ready, if you are ready to make that commitment tonight, then as we all bow our heads and close our eyes, you pray silently along as I pray aloud.

O God, I really need you. I know I have made a mess of my life and I need your forgiveness. I have done wrong in what I’ve said, what I’ve thought, what I’ve done. And I need you to forgive me and cleanse me. I believe that you sent Jesus Christ into this world to die on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin and you raised him from the dead. And right now in the best way I know how I open the door to my life and I invite him to come in to be my savior and Lord. Lord, come into my life, take control of the throne of my life and make me into the kind of person you want me to be. Change me from the inside out to be like Jesus. And right now, as an expression of my faith, I thank you for hearing this prayer and coming into my life. Amen.

Now, if you prayed that prayer tonight, I want to encourage you – before you leave tonight – to tell somebody else what you’ve done. Tell a Christian friend or one of the youth staff here at the church, “I’ve made a commitment to follow Christ tonight” and they, I am sure, would be happy to give you help in how you can now grow in your new relationship with Christ. You are like a newborn baby that is spiritually born again and you are going to need to be nurtured in order to grow and mature in your relationship with Christ. So before you leave tonight, please tell someone I decided tonight to make a commitment to Christ as savior and Lord.

MODERATOR: Let’s get started. Dr. Craig, here is the first question regarding the resurrection. The question reads this: Why did Jesus only suffer temporarily, that is buried for three days, while the punishment for our sin is eternal? Wouldn’t logic lead us to believe Jesus should suffer eternally?

DR. CRAIG: That is a good question. I would say it is probably due to the dignity of Jesus’ divine person that his death for sin is effective for all of humanity even though that doesn’t involve eternal death for Jesus. He paid the penalty for sin which is death and he paid it for every single person because he was the divine man. He was a divine human person. So I think in virtue of the exalted nature of his person that makes his sacrifice effective for all of humanity.

MODERATOR: Did you guys get that? OK, good, good, good. All right. Question number two, this is off the topic but it is a question I think a lot of young people ask. How does Christianity differ from other religions? I know you can’t talk about all religions but maybe you can talk about the uniqueness of Christianity?

DR. CRAIG: One of the things that sets Christianity apart from many other world religions is that it believes there is a personal God – a personal creator of the universe. That is very different from, say, most forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism – these do not believe that there is a personal being who is distinct from the world and created the world. That belief is part of the great monotheistic faiths like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Just the fact of the existence of a personal God narrows down the field of the world’s religions to just a few which believe in the personal, monotheistic God. Now, beyond that point, Christianity would be different from Judaism and Islam in its belief in the incarnation.[15] Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t just a human person but that he was also divine. He was God in the flesh and as such paid the penalty for all men’s sins so that we might have eternal life and forgiveness through him. That is unique to Christianity.

MODERATOR: Here is another one. How can a good and all powerful God allow suffering? Say, for example, the earthquake in Haiti?

DR. CRAIG: I addressed this question this morning at the seminar that we had. To get an adequate answer to that question, I would really urge you to get the DVD or the recording of that seminar and listen to it. Because any sort of answer I can give here to a profound question like that in thirty seconds is going to be superficial and pat and inadequate. So, please, if you are troubled by that question look at the recording of the session that we had this morning which was about an hour on this question. But, if I had to sum it up in a nutshell, I would say that God’s purpose for human history is to bring the maximum number of people freely into his Kingdom and into eternal life. It is not at all improbable that only in a world which is filled with suffering and evil would the maximal number of people freely come to know God and his salvation. The example of Haiti is instructive because I recently received an email from a missionary in Haiti who has said in the aftermath of the terrible earthquake there revival has broken out in Haiti such as missionaries have never seen in that country before. This missionary said that for months pastors in Haiti have been praying that God would shake that country and bring it to himelf. And in the aftermath of that earthquake, there are thousands and thousands of people turning to Christ. There are prayer meetings going on, there are rallies. He said they couldn’t even move their automobiles sometimes because of the crowds of people praising Jesus – up to 60,000 people in some cases. Scores of voodoo priests have been converting to Christianity. So that would just be one illustration of how God uses horrible suffering in order to bring people freely into a knowledge of himself. So when suffering occurs in the world, I think it is only with a view toward God’s ultimate purposes for human history – which is to bring people freely into his kingdom.

MODERATOR: Here is the next question. It is about the written Gospels. Why are the Gospel sources considered independent? It seems like the disciples could have easily conspired to make up the same story.

DR. CRAIG: Nobody believes in the conspiracy theory anymore. That was a theory that was concocted in the late 1600s and early 1700s but as the skit illustrated tonight nobody dies for a lie which they made up and claims it to be the truth. People die for a falsehood if they believe it is the truth, but they don’t make up falsehoods and then go to tortuous deaths for it. When you read the pages of the New Testament, nobody thinks that this is the result of some sort of a massive conspiracy. Moreover, the theory, at least with regard to the resurrection, is completely anachronistic. Because remember what I said about first century Jewish beliefs about Messiah and about the resurrection. No first century Jew confronted with Jesus’ crucifixion would think to say that he is risen from the dead in contradiction to Jewish beliefs and therefore is the Messiah after all. Messianic movements were a dime-a-dozen in the first century. But right across the first century before Jesus and the century following Jesus in no case do you find the followers of one of these failed messianic movements saying that their leader was risen from the dead and therefore he was the Messiah after all. If your favorite Messiah got himself crucified, you basically had two choices: either you went home, or you got yourself a new Messiah. But it was totally contrary to Jewish thought forms to think that the Messiah is risen from the dead and therefore he is Messiah after all even though he failed to deliver and to reign. So that conspiracy theory is just completely anachronistic and that is why it is not defended by any historical scholar today.[16] In terms of the independence of the Gospel sources, you can tell they are independent because they narrate the story in different ways. Just to illustrate the point. Matthew has the story of the guard at the tomb. But that is not found in Mark. So Matthew is either making up the guard story or he is using an independent source from Mark – he didn’t get it from Mark. But he is not making it up, because the guard story is filled with non-Matthean vocabulary. That is to say it is filled with words that aren’t part of the typical vocabulary that Matthew uses in the rest of the Gospel. That is a tipoff that Matthew is here borrowing or using an oral tradition or prior source and that is why it is filled with these non-Matthean characteristics and tips us off to there being an independent source here. You can do that similarly with the other Gospels as well.

MODERATOR: Is he doing OK? Want some more? All right, OK! This is referring to what you said in your lecture about the professor that you debated in UC Irvine. What was your reply to the evil twin theory?

DR. CRAIG: Oh man. I don’t remember everything that I said. It was some years ago. It is on the website. You can go to reasonablefaith.org and look at it and read the transcript or watch the debate there. It is on our website. But as I recall, I went through those traditional criteria like explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, is it ad hoc, and so forth. And I tried to show how it doesn’t meet those criteria. In particular, the theory is enormously ad hoc. What does it mean to say a theory is ad hoc? It means that it involves all sorts of independent suppositions for which no evidence exists. That is exactly the case with this twin hypothesis. There is absolutely no evidence that Jesus of Nazareth had a twin brother. Since Joseph and Mary would have known if Jesus had a twin brother, what he has to hypothesize is not just that Jesus had a twin, but that somebody else, some other woman, gave birth to Jesus and his twin brother and somehow accidentally Jesus was switched with Mary and Joseph’s baby so that Mary and Joseph thought that Jesus was their baby. And that is how he got separated from his twin brother. And then of course the twin brother comes back to Jerusalem just at the right time and for some inexplicable reason decides to steal the body. The whole thing is just enormously ad hoc. It got even worse in the debate. I said what about the wounds of the crucifixion – how do you account for that? Well, he faked the wounds of the crucifixion with catsup or something. It just gets out of control when you begin multiplying ad hoc hypotheses. So that was one of the worst weaknesses of the theory – it is just the degree to which it is ad hoc or contrived as well as its other weaknesses.

MODERATOR: What about this. The Gospels claim that the disciples saw the risen Jesus, not just a few but hundreds – couldn’t these all be hallucinations?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, that is another hypothesis that wasn’t discussed in the skit interestingly enough. I think it is the only possible alternative to the resurrection. If the disciples did not actually see appearances of Jesus, then you have got to resort to some kind of psychological explanation. You have got to say these were hallucinatory experiences. But that theory faces all sorts of difficulties. One is that it has narrow explanatory scope. The hallucination theory tries to explain the appearances, but you see it says absolutely nothing to explain the empty tomb. So in order to explain the empty tomb you have got to conjoin an independent hypothesis to the hallucination hypothesis in order to explain all the evidence. By contrast, the resurrection hypothesis has broader explanatory scope – it explains all of the evidence without independent hypotheses and therefore is a better explanation. Another difficulty with the hallucination hypothesis is that the disciples didn’t have the sort of psycho-biological preparation for having hallucinations of Jesus.[17] As far as they were concerned, when Jesus was crucified, that was the end of any messianic hopes they might have had for Jesus of Nazareth. There was absolutely no reason for them to hallucinate Jesus alive. In addition to that, if they had hallucinated visions of Jesus alive, then in accord with typical Jewish though forms at that time, they would have hallucinated visions of Jesus in glory in Abraham’s bosom where Jews believed the righteous dead went until the resurrection at the end of the world on the judgment day. So inline with Jewish beliefs, since hallucinations are projections of your own mind, they can’t contain anything that is not already in your mind. So as first century Jews, they would have projected hallucinations of Jesus in glory in heaven in Abraham’s bosom where he went to wait until the final resurrection. But in that case you see it would never have led to their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection. At most they would have proclaimed that God had assumed Jesus into heaven and that is a totally different category in Jewish thinking than resurrection from the dead which is the raising up of the dead corpse in this space-time universe whereas assumption into heaven is the taking of the person out of this world into heaven, into glory. The fact that the disciples proclaimed, not the assumption of Jesus into heaven into glory, but rather his resurrection from the dead shows that these appearances were not mere hallucinatory projections on the part of the disciples. Those would just be some of the difficulties with the hallucination hypothesis – there are many more as well that I have discussed in my published work.

MODERATOR: Here is a question that I get a lot. It is a question I know a lot of the people here have. What happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus and die?

DR. CRAIG: This is the old problem, as we used to call it, what about the heaven in Africa? What about the unevangelized? Again, this is a very, very difficult problem that I have written on, there are articles on the website at reasonablefaith.org that discuss this, but let me try to put it in a nutshell for you tonight. What the Bible says is that God is fair and he only judges people on the basis of the information they have. People who have never heard of Christ will not be judged on the basis of whether they believed in Christ. That would be manifestly unfair – they never heard of him so how can they be judged on the basis of whether they placed their faith in him? Rather, Paul says in Romans 1 and 2 that people would be judged on the basis of their response to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience. Paul says that in the created world around us, all men are responsible for recognizing that there is an eternal and powerful creator of the world and as we look into our own hearts, Paul says, we find there the moral law of God written on our hearts so that all men could know the difference between good and evil and can know that they have sinned against God and need his forgiveness. What Paul says is that people who have never heard of Christ will be judged, not on the basis of their response to Christ, they will be judged on the basis of how they respond to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience. There is much, much more that can be said about this but at least that is a start of the question in a nutshell.

MODERATOR: I think with that we will close the Q&A time.[18]



[1] 5:04

[2] 10:16

[3] cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 8, Section 15, v. 219

[4] cf. Talmud, Kiddushin 82b

[5] cf. Berachos 60b

[6] cf. Talmud, Sotah 19a

[7] 15:01

[8] Matthew 28:15

[9] 20:10

[10] This was a 1995 debate with R. Gregory Cavin titled “Dead or Alive?” Audio of this debate (minus the Q&A session) can be found at http://www.philvaz.com/CraigCavinDebate.mp3 (accessed June 22, 2013) or you can purchase an audio CD of this debate at http://apps.biola.edu/apologetics-store/products/audios/item/craig-vs-cavin-dead-or-alive_CD

[11] 24:59

[12] See Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (Augsburg Publishing, 1983).

[13] 30:00

[14] 35:00

[15] 40:01

[16] 44:59

[17] 49:56

[18] Total Running Time: 54:11 (Copyright © William Lane Craig 2013)