“Was Jesus Bodily Raised from the Dead?”June 2018
William Lane Craig vs. James Crossley
A public debate between James Crossley & William Lane Craig
Chaired by Hugh Pyper
Tuesday 6th March 2007 at Sheffield University
- IntroductionDebate Organiser
- IntroductionHugh Pyper (Chair of the debate)
- Opening StatementWilliam Lane Craig
- Opening StatementJames Crossley
- First RebuttalWilliam Lane Craig
- First RebuttalJames Crossley
- Second RebuttalWilliam Lane Craig
- Second RebuttalJames Crossley
- Closing StatementWilliam Lane Craig
- Closing StatementJames Crossley
- Chairman’s RemarksHugh Pyper
- Chairman’s Closing RemarksHugh Pyper
Okay, it’s around about half past seven so we’re going to begin. Let me just say on behalf of UCCF who are sponsoring the debate this evening we’d like to give you a very warm welcome. Let me offer, at the outset, my thanks to those who are involved in this evening, to those who are debating, to Dr. James Crossley, Professor William Lane Craig, and also to Professor Hugh Pyper who’s kindly agreed to act as moderator this evening. The format of the debate will be as follows: There will be 20 minute opening presentations, 12 minute first rebuttals, 8 minute second rebuttals, and 5 minute closing statements. After the speakers’ closing statements there will be an opportunity for questions from the floor. Questions will be asked to each speaker in turn. Finally, if I could ask you to leave any applause until after the speakers’ closing statements and after the question and answers. This will again allow us to fit in as much as possible and to finish by 9:30pm. I’d now like to hand over to Professor Pyper.
Hugh Pyper (Chair of the debate)
Thank you and welcome. It’s my happy duty to introduce to you the two speakers for tonight, our two doughty debaters. But I do just want to say welcome to all of you and to remind you what an important part you have in these proceedings. Good argument is listened out of people by good and critical attention. And that is what you can bring to heighten the quality of what we’re looking forward to as a really good and enjoyable debate. But now to introduce our speakers.
Professor William Lane Craig, who we are very glad to welcome to Sheffield, is Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham and took a doctorate in theology from the University of Munich. Dr. Craig has lectured and written widely. He has authored or edited over thirty books including his signature work, Reasonable Faith. And he’s written over a hundred articles which have appeared in professional journals of philosophy and theology. Dr. Craig, welcome.
Dr. James Crossley is a lecturer in the Department of Biblical Studies in this University. He did his undergraduate and postgraduate work at the University of Nottingham, and his published work includes a book on the date of Mark’s Gospel, a co-edited book on interdisciplinary approaches to history and religion which is entitled Writing History, Constructing Religion, and he’s written articles on the Semitic background to the Gospels, on historiography, on Mark’s Gospel, the resurrection, and the historical Jesus. He’s recently just published a book entitled, Why Christianity Happened: A Socio-Historical Account of Christian Origins 26-50CE, and he’s also the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar for the British New Testament Society.
Those are our two debaters. In biblical terms, it occurred to me to think: are we looking at a battle of David and Goliath? The experienced Professor and the young upstart? However, Professor Craig may well remember the outcome of that and not be thankful for the analogy, so to balance things as in a good debate it may be that we are more looking at Joab and Absalom – the battle-scarred veteran dispatching the glamorous, but perhaps ultimately frivolous, young pretender. Let’s see what we’re going to get, and I invite you both to listen, attend, and enjoy this debate.
William Lane Craig
Good evening. I want to begin by thanking UCCF for inviting me to participate in this evening’s debate on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And I also want to say that it’s really a privilege to be sharing the podium with Dr. Crossley this evening.
The question before us this evening is, “Was Jesus bodily raised from the dead?” Now, presumably our respective tasks in this debate is not just to answer yes or no to this question but to explain why we would answer yes or no. So in my opening speech I’m going to lay out some reasons why I answer yes to this question. And I presume that Dr. Crossley will lay out his reasons for saying no.
There are at least two avenues to a knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection: the existential and the historical. Tonight I want to focus on the historical case for Jesus’ resurrection. I realise that the vast majority of Christians have not based their belief in Jesus’ resurrection on historical considerations but on a personal encounter with the living Lord himself. And I think that this existential approach is entirely legitimate, but I also think that a good historical case can be made for Jesus’ resurrection as well. So in tonight’s debate I propose to defend two basic contentions. Number one: there are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis; namely, Jesus’ burial, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. And number two: the best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.
Let’s look at that first contention together. I want to share four facts that are widely accepted by the large majority of New Testament historians.
FACT NUMBER 1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. Scholars have established the fact of Jesus’ entombment on the basis of evidence such as the following.
1. Jesus’ burial is multiply attested in early, independent sources.
We have four biographies of Jesus by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which have been collected into the New Testament along with various letters of the apostle Paul. The burial account is part of Mark’s source material for the story of Jesus’ passion. This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and which the commentator Rudolph Pesch dates to within seven years of Jesus’ crucifixion. In fact, Dr. Crossley has himself argued, in his book, The Date of Mark’s Gospel, that the Gospel of Mark as a whole was written within a few years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Moreover, Paul, in his first letter to the church of Corinth, also cites an extremely early source for Jesus’ burial which most scholars date to within a few years or even months of his crucifixion. Independent testimony to Jesus’ burial by Joseph is also found in the sources behind Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John. Thus we have the remarkable number of at least five independent sources for Jesus’ burial, some of which are extraordinarily early.
2. As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin 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. In Christian eyes they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. And 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 other reasons most New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. And based on his published work, I think that Dr. Crossley would count himself among them. After all, according to the late New Testament scholar 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 NUMBER 2: On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. The wide majority of scholars also concur with this fact. Here Dr. Crossley finds himself among that minority of scholars who deny the fact of the empty tomb. Those who deny the empty tomb almost always try to explain the empty tomb story as a late developing legend which arose long after the eyewitnesses had passed off the scene. But given Dr. Crossley’s early dating of the Gospel of Mark that option is not open to him. Therefore he has to regard the empty tomb story as a deliberate fabrication on Mark’s part, an example of creative Jewish storytelling. I can’t think of any other scholar who believes that this hypothesis accurately describes the literary genre of the Gospel of Mark. Mark is an instance of ancient biography, not creative Jewish storytelling. Nor is it easy to understand how people living within a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion would be so foolish as to believe in and be willing to die for a creative fiction. But let all that pass.
The more important point is that the reasons which have convinced most scholars of the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb also go to refute the hypothesis of creative fiction.
1. The historical reliability of the burial story supports the empty tomb.
If the burial account is accurate then the site of Jesus’ grave was known in Jerusalem to Jew and Christian alike. In that case it is a very short inference to the historicity of the empty tomb, for if Jesus had not risen and the site were known, number one, the disciples could never have believed in the resurrection of Jesus. For a first century Jew, the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb would have been a contradiction in terms. Second, even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it’s doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as a corpse lay interred in the tomb a Christian movement in Jerusalem founded on belief in the resurrection of Jesus would have been an impossible folly. Thirdly, the Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair. The quickest and surest answer to the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection would have been simply to point to his grave or, if necessary, even to exhume the body. For these reasons, the accuracy of the burial story supports the historicity of the empty tomb.
2. The empty tomb is multiply attested by independent early sources.
Mark’s passion source did not end with Jesus’ burial but with the story of the empty tomb which is tied to the burial account verbally and grammatically. Moreover, Matthew and John have independent sources about the empty tomb. It’s also mentioned in the early sermons preserved in the Acts of the Apostles, and it’s implied by the very old tradition handed on by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church. Thus we have again multiple, early, independent attestation of the fact of the empty tomb. This shows that the empty tomb narrative was not a fiction created by Mark.
3. The tomb was discovered empty by women.
In patriarchal Jewish society the testimony of women was not highly regarded. In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus says that women were not even permitted to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court of law. In light of this fact, how remarkable it is that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. Any creative, fictional 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 was, for them, an awkward and embarrassing fact.
4. The story is simple and lacks theological embellishment.
Mark’s empty tomb story is uncoloured by the theological and apologetical motifs that would be characteristic of a Christian creation. For example, it is remarkable that in Mark’s account the resurrection of Jesus is not actually described at all. Contrast later forged Gospels in which Jesus is seen by a multitude of witnesses emerging from the tomb in glory. In Mark’s account, there is no proof from prophecy cited, no mention of Jesus’ descent into hell, no heralding of a new eon, no description of or reflection on the resurrection body, not even any use of glorious titles for Christ. The story has the earmarks of a very primitive tradition which is free of theological and apologetical reflection.
5. The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb.
In the 28th chapter of Matthew we find a Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. What were Jews saying in response to the disciples’ proclamation, “He is risen from the dead!”? That his body still lay in the tomb in the hillside? That the disciples were crazy? No. They said, The disciples came and stole away his body. Now think about that for a moment – 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 the testimony of the very adversaries of the early Christian movement supports the historicity of the empty tomb. The empty tomb cannot, therefore, be the result of creative Christian fiction.
I could go on, but I think enough has been said to indicate why, in the words of Jacob Kramer, an Austrian specialist on the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”
FACT NUMBER 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 virtually universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars, including Dr. Crossley, for the following reasons:
1. Paul’s list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances guarantees that such appearances occurred.
Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to his chief disciple, Peter, then to the inner circle of disciples known as The Twelve, then he appeared to a group of five hundred disciples at once, then to his younger brother James who up to that time was apparently not a believer, then to all the apostles. Finally Paul adds, he appeared also to me at the time when Paul was still a persecutor of the early Jesus movement. Given the early date of Paul’s information as well as his personal acquaintance with the people involved, such appearances cannot be dismissed as unhistorical.
2. The appearance narratives in the Gospels provide multiple, independent 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 that it cannot be reasonably denied that the earliest disciples did have such experiences. Thus, even the skeptical German New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann 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 NUMBER 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 facing the disciples following Jesus’ crucifixion. One, their leader was dead, and Jewish messianic expectations had no idea of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal. Two, 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. Dr. Crossley concurs with this conclusion in his published work.
But then the obvious question arises: What caused them to believe such an un-Jewish and outlandish thing? Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University, muses “some sort of powerful, transformative experience is required to generate the sort of movement earliest Christianity was. . . .” And N. T. Wright, an eminent New Testament historian, concludes “that is why, as a historian, I cannot explain the rise of early Christianity unless Jesus rose again, leaving an empty tomb behind him.”
In summary, there are four facts agreed upon by the majority of scholars who have written on the subject: Jesus’ burial in a tomb, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
That brings us then to my second main contention: the best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all of these tests.
1. It has great explanatory scope. It explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw postmortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
2. It has great explanatory power. It explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
3. It is plausible. Given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection served as the divine confirmation of those radical claims.
4. It is not ad hoc or contrived. It requires only one additional hypothesis – that God exists. And even that need not be an additional hypothesis if you already believe in God’s existence.
5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” does not in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
6. It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions (1) – (5). Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered. For example, the conspiracy theory, the apparent death theory, the hallucination theory, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars.
In his published work, Dr. Crossley has adopted the hallucination hypothesis. For my part, I have, in my published work, argued that the hallucination hypothesis fails on numerous accounts. It has narrow explanatory scope, weak explanatory power, it is ad hoc in a number of ways, implausible in various respects, and incompatible with certain accepted truths. But for now, I’ll simply wait for Dr. Crossley to offer an explanation in defense of his theory before voicing any critique. Let me simply say in passing that if he intends to maintain not just that the hallucination hypothesis is a possible explanation, but the best explanation, of the facts then he needs to show how it meets the six criteria more effectively than the resurrection hypothesis. Otherwise he will have failed to justify a negative answer to the question before us this evening.
On the basis of what I’ve said I think we can say with some confidence that a person who believes on historical grounds that Jesus rose bodily from the dead violates no canon of rationality in so doing. Even if the evidence is not sufficient to prove the resurrection of Jesus, it is certainly sufficient to make belief in the historical resurrection reasonable. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.
 John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 131.
 Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.
 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.
Okay, well thank you, Professor Craig. You’ve certainly lived up to your reputation as an excellent public speaker. Great choice, UCCF . . . bad choice now [laughter].
When I said I was doing a debate against someone who claimed that Jesus really was bodily raised from the dead, my mother, whose views on religion are as sane as anybody I’ve ever come across, said quite sensibly, How on earth do you prove a thing like that? Well that, it seems, is good enough for me. But let me see if I can offer you a wee bit more for your free entry fee.
There is a reason why this needs to be discussed in more detail, and the reason is that there have been a couple of recent and prominent arguments, including those of William Lane Craig and the Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, claiming to come as near as ‘dammit’ to proving that the bodily resurrection of Jesus really did happen. Not only that, but you can find arguments claiming that the resurrection was a major causal factor in the emergence of Christianity as a new movement, or a new religion in it’s own right. Now, this may not seem so strange, I guess, for the majority of this audience, but it is for me. My interests involve historical approaches to early Judaism and the origins of Christianity. I don’t think I’m going too far in suggesting that the idea that a human being bodily raised from the dead and causing a new religion might be more or less unheard of in the academic study of any other historical period. And I don’t think it would be taken seriously if someone tried to make such arguments.
The reason why such arguments can be made in New Testament studies and theology is, brute fact, that the overwhelming majority of scholars are Christian. Additionally, there are countless perfectly competent New Testament scholars based at theological and Bible colleges, many of which have clear guidelines on what cannot be said. For example, Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. You could potentially be sacked for saying such things. Now, this of course does not disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and it does not mean that we should purge the discipline of believers, heaven forbid. What it does show is that it’s hardly surprising that a significant amount of scholars believe the issues surrounding the bodily resurrection of Jesus may be historically accurate. Of course you will find many scholars thinking this to be the case. By the same token, if a discipline was full of atheists, agnostics, and non-believers, I would guess that hardly anyone would believe these things. Put another way, a group of vegetarians as a whole would probably think that meat is a bad thing, or eating it at least. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas. It just isn’t a surprise that a majority of scholars believe x, y, or z about the resurrection. And I’m a bit worried about arguments referring to other scholars at the best of times, but in the historical study of Christian origins I think we should look more carefully at the evidence itself, and not be referring to what the majority of Christian scholars think. I’m not sure how much this really counts for anything to be fair.
Now back to the idea of not being able to prove the resurrection. I’m actually going to go one step further and suggest that by the usual judgements of historical research the resurrection stories would be classed as inventions and certainly should not be used to explain why Christianity happened (to paraphrase the title of a recent book). Now, believe what you want, see if I care. I don’t want to persuade any of you that “it didn’t happen in your hearts” and all that kind of stuff. I really couldn’t care less. But only in terms of the historical reconstruction of the bodily resurrection I’m talking about, I think it should be dismissed as a historical event. But I suppose, given the confessional dominance of the discipline, it should be dismissed with arguments, so here they are.
Our earliest and possibly independent sources for the bodily resurrection are, I think, very, very weak witnesses. The earliest and possibly independent sources are: Mark’s Gospel chapter 16 and verses 1-8 and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 verses 3-8.
I’ll start with Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written twenty-odd years after the death of Jesus but, as we’ve seen, contains earlier tradition. I’ll read out from it:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died, then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, last of all as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.
It’s sometimes argued by evangelical scholars that 1 Corinthians 15:4 – “that he was buried, that he was raised” – refers to bodily resurrection. Jesus was literally raised from the very dead. And you’ll be happy to know that not for the first time in my life, I agree with the evangelicals. The Greek probably does imply a bodily resurrection. No doubt about that. So what does that tell us? Well, it tells us that Paul believed that there was a bodily resurrection. But let’s look in a little more detail. You’ll notice that Paul has what seems to be eyewitness accounts of visions of Jesus, including his own vision of Jesus. In contrast, there is no mention of eyewitnesses to the empty tomb. This is just a general tradition, a confession of belief, that’s it. So, there are no eyewitnesses to the empty tomb in Paul’s version. So let’s look at what we do have with Paul’s eyewitness accounts. Well, what we do have is a vision. Paul’s vision is well known, road to Damascus, bright light from heaven, Paul falls to the ground, Jesus says Why are you persecuting me? You know the story. Well, in general terms I don’t think that’s anything new in the cross-cultural study of religion and society. People have visions in countless cultures. Accompanying great lights are pretty common. It does not mean though that anything supernatural underlies such visions. What’s more, it’s quite obvious that the culture dictates the content of a vision. So, in Catholic cultures someone might see the Virgin Mary and not Zeus or someone from the Hindu supernatural world. You know what I mean. Now, in the context of early Judaism there was the idea of martyrs looking forward to being bodily resurrected. See documents such as 2 Maccabees. It seems clear enough to me, at least, that Jesus saw himself as a martyr and that he knew he was going to die. And so this could potentially have been the driving force behind the cultural interpretation of the visions after Jesus’ death. In other words, they were visions interpreted as a bodily raised Jesus. That does not imply something supernatural underlying such visions or stories.
You may counter that such visions may be more ghostly, like Derek Accorah (the man on Living TV) or Scooby Doo, that kind of thing. But in the context of early Christianity there was an overlap in the descriptions between the ghostly and the bodily. As Mark’s Gospel says in the story of the walking on water: when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out (Mark 6:49). Okay, so there’s the first piece of evidence that hardly supports the historical accuracy of the empty tomb and a bodily raised Jesus.
The next is from the Gospel of Mark chapter 16. Mark 16 is the other key piece of information because, as has been implied so far, it’s the earliest Gospel and dated, of course, to the late 30’s-early 40’s, if you believe me. Matthew and Luke are based, in large part, on Mark’s Gospel and it is possible, possible, that John’s Gospel is based on Mark as well. Even if John’s Gospel is not based on Mark, I am of the opinion, like many others, that it is hopelessly inaccurate and has virtually nothing to tell us about Jesus’ life never mind his alleged resurrection from the dead. Mark 16 has a story of some women going to the tomb, wondering who would roll away the massive stone so that they could get in, then they saw that the stone had been rolled away and a young man dressed in white, probably an angel, was there and calmly told the women that the man they were looking for, Jesus, had risen and that the women should go and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going ahead of them to Galilee, and in Galilee they will see Jesus. The frightened women fled and told no one because they were afraid. That’s it, the end. A strange ending, and there are endings added by later writers but they are almost certainly not original to Mark. Some scholars have argued for a lost ending – maybe, maybe not. I don’t know. But positing a lost ending and then guessing what was in the lost ending does not strike me as a very solid basis for reconstructing the historicity of the empty tomb or the resurrection of Jesus. What we are left with is this – they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid, the last verse of Mark. That’s all we have, and I think this could easily be read as a story invented to explain why no one knew of any details of the empty tomb. In other words, the women told no one out of fear and that’s why, Mark explains, no one knows of the whereabouts of the empty tomb. Whatever.
Our early second source is very suspicious. This source has women telling no one of the resurrection while the other source, Paul, has no eyewitnesses in direct contrast to eyewitnesses to visions. This shows, I think, how very, very fragile arguments in favour of the bodily resurrection are. Again, if this was any other academic discipline I think this best available evidence would not be taken seriously as sound evidence favouring the bodily resurrection.
Now, the other Gospel accounts go along the lines of the fantastic and are typical enough, I think, of ancient storytelling. In Jewish traditions, Haggadah was a very common literary practice. Actually, contrary to what Professor Craig says, I actually do think that Mark’s Gospel is a biography. Also, contrary to what Professor Craig said, I’m not the only person who thinks that Haggadah is underlying some of the resurrection narratives. The world’s leading expert on Haggadic practice and Christian origins, Roger Aus, is currently working on this in some detail and has pointed this stuff out for years. In Jewish tradition, this common literary practice involved inventing stories about characters, biblical characters, heroes, rabbis, holy men, and so on. This practice of creative storytelling is not, as some Christians or conservative Christians have suggested, to be equated with lying or a lack of morality. People were more than happy to make up stories about other people and events and did so as they saw fit. More generally, this kind of rewriting of history is everywhere in the ancient world, and there is plenty of evidence that the first Christians were immersed in the world of creative storytelling that had minimal grounding in history. Now, statistically speaking, you might think that the telling of fictional stories would have to be part of the Gospels. They do, after all, talk about there own hero, Jesus. And passages you might judge to be creative writing might include, I don’t know, stories like miracles, resurrected people, eating with people, walking through walls, that kind of thing. You might think that they are invented stories. I’ll leave that open for now.
In fact, we have one relevant passage which is, I think, quite obviously a human invention, and this is Matthew 27:52-53, and this is what it says: “The tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection [after Jesus’ resurrection] they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” Now, my favourite attempt to avoid the blindingly obvious is by the ultra-conservative Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright. He says, “some stories are so odd, they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there’s no way of finding out.” Words like “Elvis,” “fairies,” “vampires,” and “zombies” certainly spring to mind. And it does make you wonder what kind of critical history is left in light of such comments, and it gives you some insight into the strange nature of the discipline. There are good reasons, other than this being a story about several people rising from the dead, to believe that it didn’t happen. It’s not found in Mark. You’d think that Mark might have recorded such a stunningly spectacular event if it had happened; he’d hardly be ignorant of it. This story is not mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. Why? Why isn’t it mentioned? The story of dead people rising from tombs is not found in the work of the first century Jewish historian Josephus. He knew of countless events in Jerusalem, wrote millions of these things down, and it really would have been bizarre if he’d omitted this pretty spectacular story, if it had happened. Now, think of this in terms of a discussion between Josephus and his scribe, okay? Well, Josephus, let’s include a story about two teachers tearing down the decorations of the temple. We’ll have to include the story of the Romans sacking Jerusalem and destroying the temple. Ooh, we’d better include that story about those dead people rising from tombs, hadn’t we? Isn’t it the most spectacular thing you’ve ever heard, Josephus? … No, not that good. I think they’ll find my witty account of the political ranglings in Jerusalem more than stimulating. I mean, come on, this would not be omitted in any historical account if it had happened. The other argument against is that according to Jewish views on bodily resurrection, as outlined by Wright, these dead saints would probably have to be alive today. So, where are they? I don’t know.
But seriously, a key point is that we have a very good piece of evidence that the first Christians were inventing stories about bodily resurrection, a very good example I think. And that alone should warn us that the resurrection stories could involve rewriting of history. Now, look at what we find. After Mark emphatically telling us that the women told no one of such things, Matthew has the disciples suddenly being told what happened. That’s not a little suspicious? Then what do we make of other aspects of the Gospel tradition? Luke’s Gospel and John’s Gospel also have Peter present at the empty tomb. Compare that with Mark. Is it not a little suspicious? Then what do we make of Matthew’s Gospel ending with a story about a resurrected Jesus talking on a mountain about a mission to non-Jews, or Gentiles? The historical Jesus didn’t have any concern really for a mission to Gentiles. He was only really concerned with Jews. But we know for a fact that the early church had an interest in the mission to Gentiles, or non-Jews, and so the obvious conclusion for the historian is that the resurrected Jesus talking of the Gentile mission is an invention by the early church. Remember also that in Mark the angelic man tells the women that Jesus is going ahead to Galilee. In Luke, the appearance in Galilee is virtually eliminated. Luke’s Jesus does not return to Galilee but the angelic kind of epiphany thing refers to what Jesus said in Galilee – it just eliminates the return to Galilee. No surprise then that the resurrection appearances and the resurrected Jesus’ ascension to heaven take place around Jerusalem; not Galilee. Again, what is going on here other than creative invention and a clear re-writing of Mark’s Gospel? John’s Gospel has all sorts of, well it has all sorts generally of invention, but in terms of the resurrection stories plenty of that, too, there. This passage for example: “Thomas said to him ‘my Lord and my God,’” that’s in John chapter 20. And it occurs only in John’s Gospel, and there’s no way I would say that any other Gospel would have omitted something so staggeringly dramatic if such a thing were said. In fact, John’s Gospel is the only Gospel that has anything like the full equation of Jesus and God. And he’s making it up.
By the standards of conventional historical research, then, I think these stories would be regarded as pieces of creative invention, and I think to argue otherwise would be to abandon a useful historical method and it gets very close to letting blind faith take over.
So, in sum, something happened after the death of Jesus and the closest we get to eyewitness accounts suggests that various people had visionary experiences. If something like the resurrection stories were from any other religion ancient historians, I think, would rightly be judging the resurrection stories for more or less what they are: fiction. Thank you.
William Lane Craig
You’ll recall that in my first speech I said that I would defend two contentions in tonight’s debate. First, there are four established facts about Jesus of Nazareth which any responsible historical account must explain. The first of those was the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb. We saw that this was multiply attested and also passed the criterion called embarrassment. Dr. Crossley didn’t offer any refutation for this; indeed in his work he indicates he believes in the historicity of Jesus’ burial in the tomb.
But then I argued on the basis of five lines of evidence for the historicity of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb by a group of his women followers. Here Dr. Crossley asserts that this is an example of creative Jewish storytelling. Even though they knew it was false, they just made it up on the model of, for example, rabbinical anecdotes, where one rabbi will say, Oh, Rabbi Akiba did this miracle or that, or Rabbi Eleazar said this or that. I want to suggest that these rabbinical stories are not at all comparable to the Gospel accounts. Number one, these rabbinical stories are isolated anecdotes. They are not full blown biographies. And as Dr. Crossley admitted in his last speech, in dealing with the Gospels we are talking about a genre of historical writing, namely ancient biography, not anecdotal creative storytelling. Secondly, these rabbinical sources are typically hundreds of years later than the characters they are about. David Instone-Brewer, who is a Research Fellow in Rabbinics in the New Testament writes; “It is significant that the rabbinic miracle stories are consistently recorded much later than the traditions about their legal debates and rulings; that is, a rabbi became famous due to his legal rulings or due to the size of the school he led, and then later, that is a century or two later, a number of stories grew up around him.” He says, “this contrasts hugely with what Dr. Crossley believes about the Gospels. Namely that the miracle stories were among the first things recorded about him and that they weren’t added much later.” So in that sense they’re completely non-analagous to these rabbinical anecdotes. In fact, the analogy would be the apocryphal Gospels. These did arise several hundred years after Jesus was dead and buried, and these do contain all sorts of creative fictions about Jesus, but they are quite different from the canonical Gospels which were all written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses during the first generation after the events, indeed within a few years if Dr. Crossley is correct. Thirdly, these rabbinical stories are crafted as entertainment or illustrations. They are sometimes jokes. They are other times illustrations of points of teaching. They are not written as historical accounts. By contrast, the Gospels purport to be historical accounts of what actually happened to Jesus of Nazareth. Dr. Crossley says, But look at certain things in the Gospels that are clearly fictional and non-historical, and he gives the example of the resurrection of the saints. But as Dale Ellison points out in his response to an article by Professor Crossley on this, “Admitting that there are legendary elements in the Gospels, for example the resurrection of the saints, does nothing to undermine the remaining testimony of the Gospels.” Things like the crucifixion of Jesus, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances. You can’t treat the Gospels with so blunt an instrument as that if you’re going to do significant historical work.
I gave five lines of evidence to show why, in fact, contemporary scholars by and large do not think that these accounts of the empty tomb are creative fiction. The account of the burial supports the empty tomb. No response from Dr. Crossley. It is multiply attested. He agrees that Paul believed in the empty tomb. But notice: if Paul believed in it, that means that Peter and John with whom he spoke just three years after the event also believed in the empty tomb. And the question arises: How could they have believed in the empty tomb if, in fact, there was no such thing as the empty tomb, if it was a creative fiction invented by Mark? But in any case we have multiple attestation of the empty tomb so it cannot be simply a creative story that Mark made up.
Thirdly, as for the women eyewitnesses, he says, This story was invented because no one knew of the empty tomb so they made up the story that the women didn’t tell anybody. I find this hypothesis to be just outlandish. In the first place, the empty tomb story was not unknown. As I showed, it was part of the pre-Markan passion story, and it’s also implied by Paul’s formula. So this was a widespread belief; it wasn’t unknown. But secondly, the hypothesis is ridiculous on the face of it. Are we to imagine that the women said nothing to anybody for years on end? That they remained permanently silent? Mark knows that the disciples did go to Galilee and saw appearances of Jesus as the angel predicts, so the women must have told them what the angel said. What the closing to Mark in verse 8 means is that as the women ran back to where the apostles were staying they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. And then arriving where the apostles were, they told them what they had seen and experienced at the empty tomb. There’s no reason to think that a creative story would introduce the witness of women for this key fact, which was worthless in that society. Any possible function that women might have served would have been better served by male disciples whose witness would have been valuable in that patriarchal society. I suggested that the story lacks any signs of creative embellishment as a creative Christian account would have. And that the Jewish polemic itself presupposes the emptiness of the tomb. And there was no response to those points. So, I think by and large we have quite persuasive evidence that the tomb of Jesus was in fact found empty. This is not a supernatural fact in and of itself. This is an ordinary historical fact which any secular historian can agree to.
Thirdly, I suggested there were appearances of Jesus, and here he agrees that Paul and the disciples had visions of Jesus. That’s right. That’s all that needs to be proved at this point. How we best explain them comes later.
Finally, number four, I argued that the original disciples came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite every predisposition to the contrary. In particular, no one was to rise from the dead to glory and immortality before the end of the world. So the disciples had no reason to believe that this person that they had believed in was the Messiah after all and would rise from the dead.
Now the question becomes: What is the best explanation for these facts? Dr. Crossley says they had visions, that is to say hallucinations, and on the model of the Maccabean martyrs they interpreted these visions of Jesus in terms of resurrection from the dead. Let me point out several reasons why the hallucination hypothesis is inadequate.
Number one: it has too narrow explanatory scope. It tries to explain the appearances, but it does absolutely nothing to explain the fact of the empty tomb. This is really the Achilles’ heel of this hypothesis. But secondly it also cannot explain the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. You see, what the Maccabean martyrs believed in was the resurrection at the end of the world, the resurrection of all the just in which they would share. And if the disciples saw visions of Jesus, they would have believed that God had exalted him to heaven and they would have preserved his tomb as a shrine where his bones could reside until the resurrection at the end of the world when they and all the righteous dead of Israel would be reunited in the kingdom of God. As James D. G. Dunn has written,
It remains an indisputable fact that the earliest believers . . . were absolutely convinced that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. And yet . . . why did they conclude that it was Jesus risen from the dead? – why not simply a vision of the dead man? Why not visions fleshed out with the apparatus of apocalyptic expectation coming on the clouds of glory and the like? Why draw the astonishing conclusion that the . . . resurrection had already taken place in the case of a single individual [within history]?
Thus on the model of Jewish thought forms and thinking, if they had hallucinated visions of Jesus they would not have hallucinated him risen from the dead. They would have hallucinated him in glory, and that would not have led to the belief in the resurrection. And thus the hypothesis has inadequate explanatory scope. It cannot explain all of the four facts that I laid out this evening.
But secondly, even its explanation of the appearances, which it tries to explain, is inadequate. It doesn’t have sufficient explanatory power. Suppose that Peter and the early disciples did have hallucinations of Jesus. Would that go to explain their belief in Jesus’ resurrection? Well, I think not. The diversity of the appearances cannot be explained well by the hallucination hypothesis. You see, Jesus appeared not just one time, but many times; not just to one individual, but to many individuals; not just to individuals, but to groups of people; not at one circumstance and locale, but at many; not just to believers, but to skeptics, unbelievers, and even enemies. For example, James, Jesus’ younger brother who was not a believer in Jesus during his lifetime, to five hundred people at one time, most of whom were still alive in AD 55 when Paul wrote and could be interviewed and questioned, to women whose witness was worthless at that time and so no one would invent an appearance to women, to Paul who was a Pharisee and a persecutor of the early Christian church and was independent of the disciples. The hallucination hypothesis cannot be stretched to accommodate this kind of diversity. These appearances break the bounds of anything found in the case book of modern psychology with respect to visionary appearances or hallucinations. And, therefore, I think it cannot even explain these very well.
In addition to this, I would want to argue that it’s implausible, it’s ad hoc in certain ways, but I’m running out of time, so let me simply address Dr. Crossley’s last point that the resurrection hypothesis would not be taken seriously by scholars in other fields – it’s because people are already Christians that they believe this. Two responses. Number one, that is ad hominem. That is attacking people, not the arguments they give, and you cannot disqualify a position simply because a person is a Christian. You have to deal with the argument. Number two, you should contrast contemporary New Testament studies with nineteenth and twentieth century New Testament studies which were predominantly skeptical about these facts up until around the 1960s. The recent and most advances of New Testament scholars has come back to appreciating the historicity of these facts and of these accounts, in contrast to the skepticism in past generations.
The reason Dr. Crossley doesn’t believe in these events, I think, is very evident. It’s because he’s a naturalist. He doesn’t believe in miracles. But that is a philosophical question about the existence of God which someone who is trained in historical studies or New Testament studies is ill-equipped to address. As a philosopher, I think there are good reasons to believe in the existence of God, and so I have no difficulty in accepting a miraculous explanation like the resurrection which, I think, far outstrips the hallucination hypothesis in terms of its scope, power, plausibility, and so forth. Therefore, I think it is the better explanation of the facts.
 James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), p. 132.
Okay, thank you. Some of the reasons that I didn’t respond to some of them is that I didn’t want my thunder to be stolen in my main paper, so I’ll do it now. Joseph of Arimathea: did he bury Jesus and all that? Well, yes, I could be persuaded of that quite easily, I guess. Maybe he had concerns about corpse impurity or something, maybe he wanted to bury a good Jewish teacher. No problem there; maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe it is very accurate historical tradition, though for every scholar saying it is there are plenty who do not. My problem is, is that even if the Joseph of Arimathea story is true, we don’t have anything else really to go on after that. We have no specifics of the burial, we’re not told where it was really or anything like that. We don’t know what happened to Joseph in the years immediately following, apart from various legendary traditions. And if all this stuff about the bodily resurrection was true, why weren’t the Jewish Sanhedrin converted to it? It would have been blindingly obvious: Well come and see, I’ll show you. So I’m not sure if that tells us too much.
Jews not expecting the idea of a suffering Messiah, we’ll try that one. OK, but I think there is a strong case, as I said, that Jesus knew he would die. John the Baptist had been killed, Jesus must have been aware that he was risking his life by doing something dramatic in the temple. So this changes everything. Jesus no doubt deems himself to be a big figure in Jewish history by his followers and no doubt by himself, but he thought he was going to die. That changes things dramatically. So, you can’t just appeal to the idea of a non-suffering Messiah. You’ve got a historically new situation on your hands; how do you interpret it? Then, maybe, you can go back to Scripture or your tradition, like 2 Maccabees or something like that, and maybe explain why.
Again, there is still a strong overlap between what is considered ghostly and bodily, so it allows the possibility of interpreting hallucinations, as Professor Craig put it, or visions in a way that could be deemed a bodily figure. So, once you’ve got the idea of a bodily figure interpreted in your vision, well of course there’s going to be an empty tomb from that perspective. It just naturally follows if you interpret the vision as a bodily resurrected figure. So therefore everybody would have believed there was an empty tomb – Peter, the lot of them – if they’ve interpreted this as a bodily figure.
Another big argument given was on the women. Now, women were given a relatively prominent role, it seems, in Jesus’ ministry and this, at least, could have made the testimony more acceptable for some. This is what Mark says at the crucifixion:
There were also women looking on from a distance, among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses and Salome, they used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee, and there were many other women who had come up with him from Jerusalem (Mark 15:40-41).
Now, we’ll come to that in a second, but also given the socio-economic upheaval which has been well-documented in Galilee in the time of Jesus was, as many cross-cultural theorists of gender studies and kind of millenarian thought have pointed out, these kind of upheavals can lead to shifts in gender relations, at least in the rhetoric. We even have one Jewish revolutionary at the time of the Jewish revolt with a big female following. Now, some socially advantaged women did have a relatively prominent role in the emergence of Christianity, as an opponent of Christianity also noted. Consequently, the women at the tomb, who were said to be capable of supporting the Jesus movement, may well have been culturally acceptable for Christians to use as witnesses or to give them a prominent narrative role in the story. As ever, we do not have to say that the role of women therefore goes on to imply supernatural explanations for an empty tomb or whatever. Also Jews could, and did, write stories of women, like Esther and Judith, who played much more prominent roles than some might expect in certain contexts. So why couldn’t Christians do the same? Let’s try another explanation of the women. After Jesus’ arrest, clearly as a political threat from the perspective of the Romans, Jesus’ male disciples scatter off out of fear, which is perfectly understandable. One of the first things the Romans could have done at least is kill them all. So it’s quite believable when Jesus gets led away by a couple of bandits with a big Roman cohort, there’ll be no male disciples around. At the same time it’s quite believable that you’ve got a supportive group of female disciples around. Hence, Mark says “the women watched at a distance.” Now think what Mark has left. He has a story where the men have fled but the women remain; the narrative effectively requires the women to be the first witnesses in that context. So again we have what I think is a perfectly reasonable explanation that could explain that someone, somewhere in earliest Christianity, could use women to do things of high importance in the narrative which do not require us to think there’s something supernatural underlying all this.
But then think of Mark’s narrative. You have a man dressed in white, presumably an angel, there at the empty tomb story. That may have been all of the authority Mark needed. You’ve got an angel at the tomb; that’s the first witness really to the empty tomb, and not the women.
Okay, what else? Most of the criticisms at the end about when I criticized the role of Christian scholars, I was actually saying that we shouldn’t be resorting to arguments referring to other scholars because it’s a dominant Christian discipline. It’s going to be no surprise that lots of people think that this happened. I’m referring to these kind of arguments where This is what scholars believe is not a big surprise, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that because it’s a Christian discipline the arguments are wrong. I’m saying that these arguments are no surprise, so let’s just look more at the evidence. As for twentieth century scholarship being particularly skeptical, there’s a very good reason for this. Form Criticism emerges right at the time of fascism and the idea of a Jewish Jesus being culturally acceptable is a real problem. We know now, a well-known fact now, in New Testament scholarship that you have Nazi Jesus’es. And in this context, the idea of form criticism where the early church’s meaning is more important, it’s perfectly understandable, it prevents a Jewish Jesus from emerging. And it took a long time for New Testament studies to recover from this, and there has been a huge evangelical turn in New Testament scholarship in the past at least ten years. Again, that’s why I would say referring to the majority of exegetes isn’t a very strong argument in itself.
As for being a naturalist, I don’t know and I just don’t care quite honestly. Really, I’m just pushing towards where the evidence is going to take us on this, and I do not think we end up having to resort to the supernatural.
Okay, on genre. As for creative storytelling, this crosses all sorts of genres. You can find it in history writings, you find it in biography, you find it all over the place. It’s not a genre in itself. People use this kind of writing. I mean, it’s very, very common. There are all sorts of various rabbis who were written about relatively close to their deaths about spectacular things. They’re not always jokes. You’ve got some very serious stories about rabbis. We’ve also got stuff written about Roman Emperors during their lifetime. People thought they were pretty dramatic figures and would invent legends about them, no problem. People do it. Now, I didn’t refer to these being legendary accounts in the Gospels. What I did say is that we’ve got this very strong tradition of storytelling, and then I gave arguments on why the stories could be secondary. I argued that there was a case for inventing the story of the empty tomb – for example, that nobody really knew where the tomb was. That’s why Mark has to invent a story. And how could they believe this? Well, you’ve got visions interpreted as a bodily resurrection. Again, I say, therefore it assumes an empty tomb.
Any other points? No, okay, well I’m happy to give up there, but if I’ve missed anything just let me know.
William Lane Craig
Let’s look again at those four facts that I think are best explained by the hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection.
First, the burial of Jesus’ corpse by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. Here Dr. Crossley says, Well, yeah maybe this is historical, but it doesn’t give us many specifics. I’m not interested in the specifics, what I’m interested in is that core of the historical narrative which is Jesus’ corpse is given an honourable burial by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. The significance of that is that the site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem was known to Jew and Christian alike. And as I then argued later, given that fact it then becomes impossible for a movement founded on the belief in the dead man to arise and flourish in Jerusalem in the face of a grave containing his corpse.
Dr. Crossley says, With respect to the empty tomb, creative storytelling was common in Judaism. Of course it was, there were many types of creative storytelling in Judaism. There were principally three types: there was the creative retelling of Old Testament stories, Midrash and so forth. Secondly, there were also independent historical romances, novels, such as Joseph and Asanoth for example. And then there were also these rabbinic stories of miracles, anecdotes in the lives of the great rabbis of the distant past. And the point that I made is that none of these captures the literary genre of the Gospels which are closest to the genre of ancient biography and which therefore have a significant historical interest. You can’t write them off as creative fiction. But in particular, you remember I gave five arguments to show that these are not creative fictions.
First, the burial story supports the empty tomb of Jesus as I just explained. Secondly, the empty tomb is multiply and independently attested. This is key to the historicity of the narrative because if there are multiple independent stories about the empty tomb, you can’t write it off as a creative fiction invented by Mark alone. So that is a very powerful point for the historicity of the events. He says with respect to Peter and John’s belief in the empty tomb he says, Of course they believed it. But then the question is how could these people in Jerusalem believe in this if it were not in fact the case given that they were there at the time? I fail to understand this, and I need an answer to it. Thirdly, the women witnesses. Here he has a great deal to say. He offers a plethora of mutually incompatible hypotheses. He says, The women were given prominent roles in Jesus’ ministry. Granted, but nevertheless in a patriarchal culture their witness was not well-received or respected. Any conceivable role or reason that might be given for having women witnesses would be better served by having male witnesses. He says, The disciples had fled the scene, and that’s why the women had to be used as witnesses. There are two responses to that. Number one, it is false that the disciples had fled the scene. That is itself a fiction invented by the critics. The denial of Peter tradition, which I think he would acknowledge as historical, clearly shows that the disciples were still in Jerusalem at that time. They hadn’t fled the scene, so they could be used as witnesses if Mark wanted to. But secondly, fiction doesn’t know any limits like this sort. As Dale Alison says in his critique of Dr. Crossley’s view, “It is the hallmark of legends to sin against established facts, why should Mark be more conscientious? Why not bring Peter and other more important male disciples on stage despite what really happened? Crossley, after all, argues at length that fiction often trumps fact.” So if this is a creative fiction it doesn’t matter that the disciples fled, just invent them there on the scene anyway. Then he says, Maybe the angel gives the authority to the tomb tradition, you don’t need the women. Contrary to this I would say that the angel serves the literary function in the story as interpreting the emptiness of the tomb. The empty tomb is ambiguous in itself. It doesn’t lead to faith. The angel serves the role of interpreting it. He is not here; he is risen. But the angel is not like a witness who could later be questioned by interested inquirers. Males rather than women would serve that role much better, and therefore it still remains inexplicable why women would be invented to serve this role. That’s why the majority of scholars think, in fact, that Jesus’ tomb was found empty by women.
I pointed out that the story lacks legendary or creative embellishment that we would expect in a creative fiction and that the Jewish polemic, the very enemies of the early Christian movement, attest to the emptiness of the tomb. So we’ve got good grounds for believing in the empty tomb and that, you’ll remember, will be the Achilles heel of the hallucination hypothesis because the hallucination hypothesis can’t explain that fact.
We both agree that the disciples had appearances of Jesus. We both agree that the Christian faith suddenly originated. He says, But Jesus had predicted his death. Granted, but that would at best lead them to think that he could be a Jewish martyr along the lines of the Maccabean martyrs. It wouldn’t explain how he could still be Messiah and especially the un-Jewish and outlandish idea that he was already risen from the dead.
Now, what is the best explanation of these facts which are broadly agreed upon by scholars today and, by the way, not just Christian scholars? I would point out people like Geza Vermes, Pinchas Lapide, and other Jewish scholars also accept these facts of the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb. These are not just the property of conservative Christian scholars. Now, what is the best explanation? Well, I gave several arguments against the visionary hypothesis. It has narrow explanatory scope. It can’t explain the empty tomb. And especially, this is so critical, it can’t explain the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Given their Jewish thought forms, if they were to hallucinate visions of Jesus, they would see him exalted in glory and that would at best lead to the view that Jesus now was in Abraham’s bosom or at God’s right hand. It would not lead to belief in his physical bodily resurrection from the dead. Secondly, I suggested that the theory has weak explanatory power because it cannot explain the diversity of the resurrection appearances. It breaks the bounds of anything in the casebooks of modern psychology about visions or hallucinations. Given those arguments against the hallucination hypothesis, as well as others that I might give, the only argument against the resurrection hypothesis would be a philosophical argument for naturalism, namely that “miracles don’t happen.” But Dr. Crossley says in his last speech, I don’t know if naturalism is true and I don’t care if it’s true. Well, fine. Then I would say that you need to be open to the explanation that the earliest witnesses themselves gave, namely that God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Why not believe such a thing? Given the facts, why not think that the God of Israel revealed and preached by Jesus of Nazareth has vindicated the radical personal claims for which Jesus was crucified by raising his Son from the dead? I can’t see any reason apart from an arbitrary presupposition of naturalism for thinking that that hypothesis is not as plausible as the hallucination hypothesis which faces all of the problems and more that I laid out in my speeches tonight.
Well, I’m open to any other explanations, but the reason I don’t believe is that so many of these kinds of explanations are made in a variety of contexts. Various different religions make all these claims and plenty can be rejected for fairly conventional historical reasons and are rejected for fairly conventional historical reasons. We will come back to that in a moment.
Genre, again, I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. The genre of history, the genre of biography writing, the genre of whatever, can incorporate and almost always does incorporate legendary storytelling. It’s very, very common. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jewish; doesn’t matter if it’s Roman; doesn’t matter if it’s Greek. Very, very common. And this includes biography like the Gospels. There are plenty of ancient biographies that include invented stories and everybody accepts that when, of course, it’s in non-Christian traditions.
As for the multiple attestation – well, maybe. Let’s just say that it is true. I’m not convinced that they are not just creative storytelling by the Gospel writers after they found what the end of Mark is. All you’ve got is multiply attested tradition. That takes you back to a belief in a bodily raised Jesus. Well, most of the earliest Christians did believe that. So multiple attestation doesn’t really get us very far. It just takes you back to the belief. There’s been some interesting studies done on this in comparing it with various visionary experiences around the first World War. We’ve got multiple, millions of different independent traditions, but nobody really thought that ghosts were really at the heart of that or anything supernatural. It just takes you back to belief. If you’re going to use multiple attestation of sources, you should combine it with other methods, various other ones, implausibility, blah, blah, blah. But multiple attestation, stressing it and stressing it and stressing it, gets you nowhere. It just tells you that lots of people believed it before the Gospels were written. That’s all.
Peter and Paul’s belief – how did it become so if it was not the case of the empty tomb and so on? Well, again, all you have to do is interpret these visions as a bodily raised figure. That’s all they have to do, and then the assumption of the empty tomb is there. There’s no stories about the empty tomb. Why didn’t they go back and see the empty tomb and prove it for everyone to see? Why not do that? Turn it on its head. Why didn’t they go, Look at this, he must have risen? Well, there’s no evidence for that.
On the role of the women, prominent roles, they’re culturally different and all that – well, some of my arguments weren’t addressed, I didn’t think, for example Judith, Esther. These women get prominent narrative roles. None of the socio-economic circumstances were addressed where we know that, rhetorically at least, and sometimes in actuality, various roles among genders can change.
Why didn’t Mark bring in various figures? Well, one of Mark’s main objectives may have been to explain why no one knew where the empty tomb was if you’ve interpreted the vision as a bodily raised figure. The whole key thing of Mark 16:1-8 would be therefore to be: Well, this is the reason why we don’t know; the women fled, told no one out of fear, and so on. I’m still not sure that dismissing the angel like that gets rid of the idea that the angel is the big authority for Mark anyway. And as for the role of the men, the disciples, fleeing. We don’t know where they fled to. They could well have fled to the environs of Jerusalem. They could have hid. That was only a plausible explanation. I’m not saying I think it’s necessarily true. I’m just saying you could explain it that way. Why do you have to resort to the supernatural when that is at least plausible? You don’t. There’s a great Sherlock Holmes thing that says just because loads of people have written and talked about dragons and fairies and things like that doesn’t mean to say they all exist.
As for embellishments, or lack of them, in the empty tomb story – well, I would think of an angel as an embellishment. I would also think of the possibility of the stone being rolled away could be classed as an embellishment. The implication that a man had been raised from the dead could be classed as an embellishment. I’m not saying they are, but these are things that would be classed as storytelling in any other historical context. So I don’t think you can get away that easily saying there’s no real embellishment. As compared to what? What are you comparing with? You need something before to say there’s been any embellishment done, really. There’s nothing really there before to compare it to. There might have been absolutely nothing but to say Jesus died. The rest of it could be a complete embellishment in that case. We can explain this in a number of different ways I think.
As for the visions and multiple visions, I’m not sure that they’re unparalleled. I’ve read various things in anthropology and things about people having multiple visions together. I think Dale Allison even talked in his latest book about the possibility of multiple visions appearing to different people. As for the If everything was the case that Jesus would have been seen as an exalted kind of figure, not as a bodily raised figure – no. I think once you’ve got a different situation when someone’s predicted their death it changes things dramatically. What do you do? Well, maybe you can go back to the Maccabean tradition and reinterpret. Maybe you can’t. There’s one possible explanation. You can’t say, It might have done this otherwise, therefore it’s the supernatural. I just don’t think that works as an argument. Also, remember, people did see things in an overlapping sense. People could think that things were, well, they could see a ghost, but Was it a man? Is it a ghost? Is it a person? I don’t know. This is what happens with Jesus walking on water. The disciples think they’ve seen a ghost. But in Mark’s narrative context it’s clearly a human figure, it’s Jesus. So you can confuse the two categories quite easily I think.
I think I’ll end there. I think I’ve responded to most of the main points.
William Lane Craig
In my closing statement I’d like to draw together some of the threads of this debate and see if we can draw some conclusions from them. First of all I’ve argued that there are four facts about the fate of Jesus of Nazareth which we ought to accept and which any historian who deals with Jesus needs to explain: his burial, his empty tomb, the postmortem appearances to the disciples, and the origin of the Christian faith.
Now, I want to clear up a misconception that Dr. Crossley has brought up again and again. He says, I see no reason on the basis of the evidence to appeal to supernatural facts or supernatural explanations. Note that none of these facts are supernatural. These are simple non-supernatural, non-miraculous facts: that Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb, that the tomb was found empty, that there were visions of Jesus, and that the original disciples came to believe in his resurrection. These are facts which any secular historian could accept and that they do accept. So this is a red herring when he says, I don’t see any reason to believe in supernatural things. That will only come when you get to my second contention: what is the best explanation of these facts? But in terms of a tomb being found empty, that is not a miraculous fact in and of itself. That is something that is open to historical inquiry.
Now, I think we’ve seen that there are good grounds for believing that Jesus was buried and then you’ve got a real problem as to how a belief in his resurrection could arise and flourish in Jerusalem. With respect to the empty tomb, I’ve laid out five lines of evidence for that. And I showed that these are not comparable to rabbinical anecdotal stories. He says, But historical writing has legends in it. I can grant that, but the point is, he’s argued that the resurrection accounts are comparable to these anecdotes told by rabbis about one another, creative Jewish stories. And I showed that they’re not at all analogous. These rabbinical stories come hundreds of years later. They’re used as sermon illustrations and entertainment. They’re not comparable to historical writing. So I think that explodes the idea for his hypothesis that these are creative instances of Jewish story writing.
With respect to the empty tomb, I argued for the historicity of the burial, the multiple attestation. He says, The multiple attestation only gets you back to the belief itself. No, what it shows you is that this wasn’t made up. If you have multiple independent witnesses to a fact then you can’t say it was just the product of Mark’s creative storytelling which is his hypothesis. He says, You’ve got to combine multiple attestation with other methods. I do! I used the criterion of embarrassment, the criterion of dissimilarity to show multiple lines of evidence for the empty tomb.
With respect to the women, he insists that women were prominent in Judaism like Judith, for example. But notice that these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Any conceivable role for having women be the witnesses to Jesus’ tomb would have been better served by men.
With respect to the lack of embellishment he says, The angel is an embellishment. I’ll grant him the point for the sake of argument, but all of those other elements listed do not appear, for example describing Jesus rising from the dead. He says, Compared to what is this account primitive? Compared to the apocryphal Gospels like the Gospel of Peter where Jesus comes out of the tomb supported by two angels with their heads reaching up to the clouds and his head beyond the clouds, and then a cross follows them out of the tomb, and then a voice says from heaven, Has thou preached to them that sleep?, and the cross answers, Yea. Well, these are how real legends and creative stories look. By contrast, the Gospels are stark in their simplicity.
He’s never answered the point about the Jewish polemic itself presupposing the empty tomb.
So I think we’ve got good grounds for all four of those facts.
Finally is, then, the best explanation of these facts: hallucinations or is it resurrection? With respect to hallucinations, I showed that it has narrow explanatory scope. He said, But they could interpret it as bodily resurrection. Not in time and space in history. Bodily resurrection at the end of the world, yes; and Jesus predicted his death, yes. But that would only lead to belief in him as a Jewish martyr who would be raised from the dead at the end of history. And as Dr. Crossley has emphasized, visions and hallucinations are simply projections of the mind and express the thought forms of their percipients. Given their Jewish frame of thinking, they would hallucinate Jesus in heaven, in Abraham’s bosom, not literally bodily, physically raised from the dead. So apart from naturalism, I see no good reason to deny the hypothesis of the resurrection of Jesus.
Tonight I focused on the historical angle and approach to the resurrection. But there’s also that existential angle. I think that one can know that Jesus is risen from the dead simply through knowing the living Lord himself, and so through both of these avenues I think a knowledge of the resurrection is open and is rational to the thinking person today.
Thank you, but please reserve your applause ‘til the end [crowd laughs].
On the supernatural explanation, yes this is exactly what I’m saying – that underlying it you’ve got to go for this supernatural explanation. I say you do not have to. The empty tomb itself, if historically accurate (which I don’t think it is, and I gave some arguments on that – why it wasn’t), could still be explained in other different ways. The body could have been stolen. We know these kinds of things happen. I also said that Mark 16:1-8 explained why no one knew where the empty tomb was. As for creative stories being hundreds of years later – we have some that weren’t hundreds of years later. We have some that were in the lives of individuals as well. We have some in the general Roman world as well.
Multiple witnesses. If I even think these are independent stories, are being compared to what? I was saying being compared to earlier traditions. It’s no good comparing them to later traditions. If you want to see if there’s embellishment, you need to compare it really with earlier, and there is nothing earlier by which we can compare it. So we just don’t know in one sense the extent of any embellishment or not.
As for Jewish polemic, you’re right, I didn’t answer that. There are plenty of parallels to this. You can find polemics aimed at Jews and the Moses story, the Exodus story. It assumes the ability of the Jews coming out of Egypt, but it just says it’s due to them being lepers and things like this. They agree that the underlying story is correct then they go and give a different explanation.
I want to end by telling myself off a little bit. People like me, I think, are wasting a lot of energy on showing that the obviously fictitious is obviously fictitious. More broadly, if this energy went into providing more and more conventional historical explanations for Christian origins, we might be able to do something genuinely progressive with the historical study of Christian origins. Now in The Last Vampire, a TV adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sussex Vampire, the late Jeremy Brett, as Sherlock Holmes, was reluctant to take up a case supposedly involving vampires because it was all too superstitious for his this-worldly rational mind. With all the allegations levelled at the so-called Vampire Stockton – easily explained, Holmes said, in a this-worldly manner. But he took the case nonetheless in order to prevent an innocent man having a stake driven through his heart. Now, such an analogy with the historical study of Christian origins may seem a wee bit farfetched and I would not dream of comparing myself to the great Jeremy Brett! But it seems to me that there may be a regrettable need for people to keep showing that there are perfectly normal explanations for the resurrection in order to prevent the underlying supernatural explanations hindering the more conventional explanations for Christian origins or, if you like, to prevent a stake being driven through the heart of the historical study of Christian origins.
In historical terms anyway we have seen, at the very least, that evidence for the bodily resurrection hardly demands that it really did happen with God intervening in history. Among the many things that worry me about Professor Craig’s argument is that when he thinks, I think wrongly, to have shown an unlikely argument to explain the details surrounding the bodily resurrection has occurred, he effectively has to say, If that is unlikely, then let’s really go to the supernatural. There are loads of different ways of explaining this data. So instead of finding a range of possible historical explanations the divine, something we don’t know, something we can’t see, does creep in as a somehow superior explanation. I don’t think so. If some of the this-worldly arguments explaining the empty tomb and the resurrection stories are speculative, how speculative are arguments that say, Oh well, supernatural explains all?
Now, remember Sherlock Holmes and Jeremy Brett. He was involved in a case where the local villagers think that all the evidence points towards Stockton being a real vampire from the old Sinclair family of vampires. And there’s even the unusual instance of Sherlock Holmes having a vision or hallucination! But thankfully our hero doesn’t give in to supernatural explanations and he is sure and is vindicated that there is a rational, this-worldly explanation for all. All is explained, even when everyone else thought otherwise. Most entertainingly, Sherlock Holmes suggests to the local vicar that the reason word got round about all these strange stories of the supernatural is because of the church, the fount of all gossip. Now, whose example do you really want to follow? The supreme rationalist or the villagers believing in vampires without seriously trying to seek alternative explanations?
I’m teasing a little bit, but the kinds of issues here have wider implications for the historical study of Christian origins. What a debate over the historical accuracy of the empty tomb often boils down to, and the resurrection, are two different approaches to history that are close to being irreconcilable. To give us a contemporary slant, do we want to find whatever naturalistic causes are possible in the historical explanation? Leaving questions of the divine completely to one side? Or do we want to take the pseudo-scientific route of Intelligent Design and creationism and say that supernaturalism can be shown to be directly intervening in history? Take your pick.
Well, first, thank you to our two debaters who have striven mightily and given us a great deal to chew over and to ponder on. So can I ask for your first question to Professor Craig, and who would like to kick off?
Q to WLC: The Matthew 27 account seems to be problematic to you. You made the point that you don’t have to believe it to believe in the resurrection. So, I want to ask, do you believe it? Why do you believe it? And what happens to the dead people, as Mr. Crossley suggested, and the lack of Josephus evidence.
WLC: I don’t know what to think about this passage. Actually, I think on Dr. Crossley’s view he ought to take it as historical because it’s very easy to understand how a community that believed that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead, and therefore hallucinated visions of him, might have a whole chain of hallucinatory experiences, of seeing Old Testament saints risen from the dead. And that Matthew then reports this fact; that people in the city saw these Old Testament saints and they appeared to them. So it would be very easy on his hypothesis to think of this as being an historical account of what people in Jerusalem experienced. I’m not sure what to think. My reservation is that it could be part of the apocalyptic imagery of Matthew which isn’t meant to be taken in a literal way. This would be part of the typical sort of apocalyptic symbolism to show the earth shattering nature of the resurrection and it needn’t be taken historically literally. But the one thing that I want to close with on commenting on this is note that this is not attached to a resurrection narrative. This story about the Old Testament saints is attached to the crucifixion narrative, so that if you try to say that because Matthew has this unhistorical element in his crucifixion account that therefore the whole account is worthless, you would be led to deny the crucifixion of Jesus which is one indisputable fact that everyone recognizes about the historical Jesus. So it really doesn’t have any implications for the historicity of the burial story, the empty tomb story, or the appearance accounts. It’s connected to the crucifixion narrative.
JC: Is this a vision? Well, I doubt it. Nobody else records this story, just Matthew. And tying it to the crucifixion is meaningless. All this shows is that people make up stories about resurrection. That’s what this story shows, which we know that the first Christians could invent a story about resurrection. Therefore we might want to see if there are other reasons behind why they could have invented other stories about resurrection perhaps. But still, it just shows that people can make up these stories and that they were making up stories about bodily resurrection, that’s the key point.
Q to JC: Hi there, question to Dr. Crossley. Just in relation to what Dr. Craig was saying towards the end. Do you or do you not agree with him that Jesus’ death, empty tomb, and the disciples’ belief are not supernatural events? That those things in themselves are not supernatural events? That was what he was arguing, and I didn’t hear any response to that from you.
JC: Of course, I don’t. Why would an empty tomb be a supernatural event? Of course I don’t think that. I think when you start saying, You’ve got these issues, and then you say that you have to go back to a supernatural underlying cause is what I was saying. Now, also, I did add that if the empty tomb story was historically accurate, if the empty tomb was historically accurate, which I don’t believe, but if it was it can be explained in various other ways. Maybe it was stolen, maybe it was done this way, maybe it was done that way. Why do you have to resort to Jesus being bodily raised from the dead to do that? You could potentially explain it in different ways. The fact, fine, it’s not a supernatural event in itself obviously, but going from that to a supernatural event is a problem.
WLC: Well, I appreciate that admission on Dr. Crossley’s part. I think that’s extremely important. What that means is that a person, even a non-Christian, can accept my contention one about these four facts and then simply say with respect to contention two, I’m agnostic about what the best explanation of these facts are. Therefore, it is simply not the case that these are accepted as facts because people are Christians or because they believe in the resurrection of Jesus or any such thing because there are plenty of folks who believe that these four facts belong to our portrait of the historical Jesus, but then they do not take that extra step of saying the best explanation of these is the miraculous explanation. Many of them feel that as historians they can’t do that; that historians have to use a kind of methodological naturalism. So I think it is important to keep these issues distinct lest somebody be skeptical about these four facts because they don’t believe in miracles; that would be a red herring.
Q to WLC: Yes, this is a question about in your part two you had six criteria by McCullagh, I think it was. One of them was “plausible,” and I wonder how it’s very useful to use that here when the plausibility, maybe the possibility for the sake of argument, could be granted, but the plausibility of resurrection. And one of the others was contrivance. Would you admit that, at least for the sake of the argument, there are elements of contrivance, for example, the sealing of the tomb and the posting of the guard in some of the stories.
WLC: Okay, now let’s be clear again. The notion of being ad hoc or contrived is with respect to the explanation. Is the hypothesis of the resurrection contrived or ad hoc? McCullagh defines being ad hoc in terms of how many extra hypotheses do you have to adopt in order for this one to be true. And as I said, there is one extra hypothesis that you have to adopt for the resurrection hypothesis to be true, and that is that God exists. Now that’s a huge hypothesis, but if you already believe in the existence of God, say on other grounds as I do, then that’s not an insurmountable obstacle. I think the hallucination hypothesis is ad hoc in quite a number of other ways, so that the resurrection hypothesis doesn’t have a great deficiency here in terms of its ad hoc-ness. Now with respect to plausibility, the reason I mention it is because I want to be honest about what McCullagh’s criteria are. These are the criteria he lists, and it may well be the case that the resurrection hypothesis is very high, say, in explanatory power and explanatory scope, but it might be very weak in terms of plausibility. And the historical craft, the art of the historian, is to assess these criteria, their weaknesses and strengths, and to see which one best passes them. My argument is, though, that the resurrection isn’t really implausible given the historical context of Jesus’ own radical claims and life and crucifixion, that it fits in very nicely with his claims to be the harbinger of the Kingdom of God, the absolute revelation of God the Father, the unique Son of God, and Son of Man revealed to mankind. The resurrection fits in with that context and therefore isn’t implausible in that way. And it’s not implausible by being miraculous because what is implausible is merely that anybody should rise naturally from the dead; that is implausible. But I don’t see any implausibility in saying that a miracle has occurred.
JC: Well, I would say again, I’ll just give you the alternate explanation: maybe there was a vision, they interpreted the vision as a bodily raised figure. There you go, a plausible explanation. You’ve got an empty tomb, Mark explains why no one knew where the empty tomb was, there’s another explanation. Which one do you choose? And presumably you can make other explanations. As for me, I just want to qualify on Jesus’ claims. I don’t think he said anything that radical in terms of Son of God and Son of Man. Son of Man is an ordinary Aramaic term for human being which can be used with reference to the individual and a group. As it happens we do have one of the experts on the Son of Man problem in the audience who would agree with that I strongly suspect. Son of God can just be interpreted as “good Jew.” And interestingly, say, in Mark, Matthew, and Luke is that you don’t get anything quite like what you get in John’s Gospel when it comes to terms of Son of God. Son of God means something like “strongly divine” and you get Jews throwing stones at Jesus because of it. You don’t get that in Mark, for example. Why not? You only get it used within the common enough use in Judaism. So the term Son of Man and Son of God were not used that radically by Jesus, I don’t think. So I think that undermines that claim a little bit.
Q to JC: This is a very simple question for Dr. Crossley. Does he believe that Jesus gave the Great Commission, the so-called Great Commission, before or after the so-called resurrection?
JC: He just didn’t give it. The Great Commission, you’re talking about the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus didn’t have any mission to Gentiles really. I mean, he may have had some contact with them. He had a mission to Jews and more or less Jews alone, maybe Gentiles came in when all the Kingdom came and all that. So, I am very, very skeptical that Jesus would have given anything like the Great Commission. Is that what you’re on about at the end of Matthew? Yeah, well Jesus didn’t give it so it doesn’t matter whether he was dead or alive or whatever.
WLC: What I would say in response to that is however Matthew may have worded it in his own theological language, the notion that Jesus did commission the disciples to go out and preach and foresaw Gentile mission is multiply attested in the Gospels and, I think, therefore belongs to the portrait of the historical Jesus that we ought to accept on the basis of the evidence.
Q to WLC: I just want to ask how do you try and reconcile the differences between the accounts in the Gospels of what happens after the resurrection which, I think, Professor Crossley touched upon and also, the idea of the resurrection would have to have come from Mark, from his source, but the traditions between Mark and, say, 2 Corinthians are different. As in 2 Corinthians says that Jesus appeared to Peter first, Mark says he appeared to the women first. So obviously the traditions aren’t harmonious. Neither are they within the context of the Gospels.
WLC: My argument is based upon the historical core of these narratives and is not in any way undermined by saying that there are divergences in details. Now, in fact, I do think that the appearance narratives are completely harmonizable and can be listed in the order in which they occurred. Actually, it’s in 1 Corinthians that Paul lists the appearances, listing Peter first. It’s not in Mark, it’s in Matthew that the appearance occurs to the women. And what I would say is what most New Testament scholars would say. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is not listing the appearances of Jesus, he is listing the principle witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. And given that women were worthless as witnesses to historical facts in a patriarchal culture, he simply omits the mention of the women in his list. He begins with Peter, the chief disciple. So I would say that although there is an appearance to women first, it wasn’t used in the apostolic preaching, in the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel. They would list the male witnesses rather than the women witnesses who saw Jesus at the tomb. So I think they are harmonizable, but I don’t think that that’s all that important really because I’m not basing the argument upon any particular details or sequence of the appearances. So I would say they appeared first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee, then back in Jerusalem again as the disciples followed the pattern of Jewish feasts of going to and from Jerusalem.
JC: It is an interesting point. But I think it can be harmonized if you want to do that, as Professor Craig said, and maybe because Paul is still in a very patriarchal context he does want to eliminate this if he knew of this tradition. But I don’t think any of the arguments are ultimately based on this point at all, although it is a very interesting point nonetheless.
Q to JC: My question is on the reliability of any source material. Given your hypothesis that really a lot of it is legendary and myth and creative storytelling, can we trust any other material at that time, like Josephus? And are there examples of other source material that are so legendary as you claim that the New Testament documents are?
JC: Actually, I don’t go that far. I’m actually quite fundamentalist at times when it comes to things like Mark’s Gospel. I mean, I believe quite a lot of it is historically accurate, and some people have told me that I’m a conservative evangelical because of it! Not true though; don’t get your hopes up. But I think Josephus contains plenty of what we might call legendary or invented material. But he also contains plenty of material we can reconstruct first century or whatever century history with. I think in Mark’s Gospel and, to a certain extent, in Matthew’s Gospel and Luke’s Gospel you can reconstruct quite a lot, I think, about the historical Jesus. John’s Gospel? Not a chance, other than that he lived and died. That’s it on John’s Gospel, but I’m quite open on the Synoptics.
WLC: I think what is novel about Dr. Crossley’s view and makes it different from others is his claim that certain aspects of the Gospels, though written within ten years after Jesus’ death, he dates the Gospel of Mark so early, as well as Matthew and Luke, that the hypothesis of legend really becomes precluded because the window of opportunity for legendary accrual is so narrow, and therefore he writes them off in certain cases as this Jewish creative storytelling on the analogy of Jewish historical romances or rabbinical anecdotes. And as I contemplated this proposal it occurred to me that most of the arguments that are typically given for the historicity of the burial, the empty tomb, and so forth already preclude that sort of hypothesis. And that was why I tried to craft my arguments tonight using the traditional criteria of dissimilarity, embarrassment, multiple attestation, and so forth.
Q to WLC: Professor Craig, I can appreciate that you’ve separated your argument in the two sections and the first section of that relying a lot on cultural and literary probability. It’s the second aspect of that, that bodily resurrection, that I think I would get a little hung up on especially in regards to plausibility and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And, of course, the claim that someone who was dead, who they made sure was really dead, rose from the dead is a pretty extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence. And you said that the one hypothesis that you need to accept to believe that is believing in God, is a belief in God. But it’s not just that, it’s a belief in a particular kind of God. A kind of God that would want to have interacted with the world in this way; it’s not just any God. It’s a Christian God, a Judeo-Christian God. So it brings with it an entire tradition of theological baggage, if you will, with it. How do you respond to that?
WLC: Well, let me say first of all that this slogan that you have repeated that sounds so common-sensical, so reasonable, that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence is actually false, and it is demonstrably false. When you look at the probability calculus for how to determine whether or not a highly improbable event occurs, it is not true that highly improbable events require highly, highly extraordinary evidence. Probability theorists have shown that even if an event is extraordinarily improbable relative to our background information, nevertheless if the alternatives to it are very, very improbable then that counterbalances out any sort of intrinsic improbability in it. So that it’s actually false that extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence.
With respect to the resurrection, however, I think you’re quite right in saying it’s not just any old God that is required; that it does bring with it this tradition. So what I would say is that if, as part of your background information you have belief in a personal God who is a creator and designer of the universe and the source of moral values, that it is not at all implausible that this God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, and is the God of Judaism, in fact. So, you’re right, that is part of the background belief that I would say one would bring to the table. If you find that impossible or unlikely, that will reduce the probability of the resurrection hypothesis, certainly. But I don’t find that improbable. In fact, since I find it actually probable that such a being exists, I think that increases the probability of the resurrection hypothesis.
JC: It may be a slogan, it may be a bit over the top, but it is an important point because we don’t have all the details around this time. We don’t know what happened to Joseph of Arimathea, we don’t have all the intricate details from the year 30 or whatever, and things like this. And we can explain it in multiple, in various different ways; they may be plausible, they may not be so plausible, but they can function as explanations. That’s what worries me when people say, Well, it’s doubtful, therefore the supernatural is the best explanation. I just don’t think that’s the case.
And the other question about the theology, Judeo-Christian theology, is it does raise an interesting question about what do we do with claims made by other religious traditions? What do we do with claims made about Roman Emperors for example? People could invent stories in the lifetime of Roman Emperors like that [clicks fingers]. It doesn’t take ten years to invent a story. You can invent a story like that [clicks fingers again], and people did. We know this. They did it in the lifetime of Alexander or Augustus or whatever. They did this. So what about those claims? They’re very early, exceptionally early in fact. Are they true? I would guess probably not, but why not? Why don’t we debate those in more detail?
Well, unfortunately that brings us to the witching hour of 9:30 and I know, being mostly a student audience, you are already well passed your bed time. And we have had our money’s worth, especially considering it was free, from our two speakers. So I think we owe it to them to allow them to rest their voices and their brains a little. But I’m sure you would like to join me in thanking them very much in bringing a wealth of scholarship, a wealth of rhetorical prowess, and a wealth of ingenious and more or less plausible invention to this very interesting debate which will probably leave you with a lot to think about from now on. Thank you very much both of you.