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A Youtube Response to the Resurrection, Part Two

July 15, 2019     Time: 25:49


An atheist YouTuber critiques Reasonable Faith's animated video on The Resurrection with his own animation!

KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. We are looking at a YouTube video from an atheist who is criticizing the Reasonable Faith animated video on the resurrection. We will pick it up where we left off last time. Here's where we are in the Reasonable Faith video:

And some of these are among the earliest materials to be found in the New Testament

If the earliest is the most reliable, let's review the chart. This first one doesn't mention the tomb. The second one doesn't mention the tomb. The third one has a tomb but doesn't have Jesus appear to anyone. These ones copied from Mark, but then added in some supposed appearances. By the time we get to this last one, it has all kinds of appearances and miracles and divine attributes – what scholars call a high Christology. This isn't early sources telling us about a resurrection. This is a pattern of legend that is growing over time.

DR. CRAIG: The fact that we are dealing here with multiple, independent and extremely early sources for the burial and empty tomb of Jesus shows that we are not dealing here with legend. In this conclusion the majority of New Testament historians have come to concur. Back in the 1930s and the 40s in the heyday of positivism many New Testament scholars did regard the empty tomb story as a late legendary development. That view now has been decisively overthrown on the basis of things like the discovery that Paul is quoting a pre-Pauline formula that goes back to within the first five years of Jesus’ death, the pre-Markan passion story which is an extremely early source. The empty tomb narratives are not late accruing legends. Rather they are there from the very beginning.

KEVIN HARRIS: This high Christology that we find in John.

DR. CRAIG: That's again an old chestnut that has now been, I think, largely invalidated. The high Christology is to be found right in Mark – right in the earliest of the Gospels. John involves a high Christology, yes, but it's not one that isn't found in the other Gospels.

KEVIN HARRIS: Wouldn’t we expect a development in the later sources of even inspiration, I mean from a theological standpoint?

DR. CRAIG: I suppose, and certainly there's nothing wrong with later authors reflecting more deeply theologically on what they've come to believe. But fortunately, remember I'm not appealing to John with respect to Jesus’ self-understanding or things of that sort. What we're looking at principally now is the fact of the empty tomb. Some people have noticed that John's account of the empty tomb is arguably the most primitive, the most simple, and unembellished. This is in fact one of the remarkable things about the empty tomb stories – is how uncolored they are by theological and apologetical motifs. The resurrection of Jesus is not narrated, there's no proof text from prophecy, there's no description of the risen Lord. The women simply come to the tomb and find it empty, and that's all.

KEVIN HARRIS: The cross doesn't come out and speak?

DR. CRAIG: No, no, exactly – as in later legends like the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. If you want to see the way a legendary account of the empty tomb looks, look at the later apocryphal Gospels which arose in the second half of the second century after Christ and later. There you do have these sorts of features like the resurrection of Jesus itself being witnessed by a crowd of hostile witnesses and a Roman guard and all the rest. By contrast, the empty tomb story in the Gospels is stark in its simplicity which speaks to its historical credibility.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Continuing with the video:

This is important because when an event is recorded by two or more unconnected sources, historians’ confidence that the event actually happened increases.

But since the alleged sources for the empty tomb aren’t sources at all and are most certainly not unconnected, shouldn't that arrow point downward as we lower our confidence?

DR. CRAIG: Even on his own account he hasn't shown that these aren't sources at all. I think it's worth making the point for our listeners that the so-called criteria of authenticity cannot be used negatively to dispute the historicity of a saying or event in the life of Jesus which is what he tries to do here. If a saying or story in the Gospels is attested in multiple independent sources, that increases historians’ confidence that it took place. Similarly, if a story is dissimilar to both antecedent Judaism and later Christianity, that increases their confidence that this is reliable. If it shows signs of events that are embarrassing or awkward for the early Christian movement, that would increase the historians’ confidence in its historical reliability because such an account would be unlikely to be invented by the later church. So all of these criteria are positive signs of credibility. But obviously if a narrative is not dissimilar, not embarrassing, not independently attested, that doesn't decrease one's confidence that it's historical. It leaves it an open question. Something attested in a single source or not embarrassing or is similar could well be historical. So the critic here does not understand how the criteria of authenticity are to be properly used. You can't use them negatively in the way that he suggests here.

KEVIN HARRIS: Continuing:

Moreover, the Gospels indicate that it was women who first discovered that Jesus' body was missing.

The Gospels indicate or the Bible tells me so.

DR. CRAIG: Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking at these earliest sources for the life of Jesus and finding that they record that it was women who discovered Jesus’ tomb empty, and we want to know: Is that a historical fact? Is that plausibly what really happened? It's not a matter of saying the Bible tells me so.

KEVIN HARRIS: Does he seem to be penalizing the New Testament documents here?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, clearly. That's clearly right. He's prejudiced against it, and so characterizes it by saying “the Bible tells me so” which just shows he doesn't understand how New Testament historians work. Can you imagine approaching the writings of Tacitus or Suetonius and saying, “Yes, Tacitus tells me so. Suetonius tells me so.”

KEVIN HARRIS: They don't have their own song.

DR. CRAIG: No one would do such a thing. And similarly with respect to the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke. You approach this as you would any other source for ancient events.

KEVIN HARRIS: Continuing.

This is likely historical because in that culture a woman's testimony was considered next to worthless.

Well, in a court of law situation, women could not provide testimony. That doesn't mean that women were of no influence when it came to communal matters. We have no records to speak to this either way, but if we believe the early church history presented in the Bible women were of great influence in the Christian community.

A later legend or fabrication would have had men make this discovery.

The Gospel stories weren't crafted to convince a court of law. They were attempting to present a believable narrative that would be spread among common people. In the Gospel stories the women were the first to discover the tomb for the same narrative reason crime dramas have early morning joggers discover bodies in the park or maid service discovering problems in hotel rooms. That's who we would expect to be first on scene. It was the responsibility of women, not men, to tend to the bodies, and according to the narrative the disciples had fled. So for what reasonable purpose would random upstanding court-worthy men have been the first to go visit a sealed and guarded tomb? That would have made no sense. An immediate flag that the story was false. To have had men making the discovery would have made the story sound fabricated.

DR. CRAIG: The discovery of the tomb by women is one of the features that has been most persuasive to modern scholars in coming to regard the empty tomb as a historical fact. The critic here simply doesn't appreciate how counter-cultural this is. Women, as he admits, were not regarded as reliable witnesses. The reason that they weren't permitted to bear testimony according to Josephus in Jewish courts of law is because he says of their levity and their unreliability. Women were not regarded as credible witnesses. Secondly, this is a patriarchal culture in which women, frankly, were second-class citizens. The rabbinical sources will often speak of women in this sort of second-class way. For example, “Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female,” “Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women” says another rabbinical tradition. So in this light it really is remarkable that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb. I don't know what he's talking about when he says that women were prominent in the early church. Any prominence that they might have enjoyed would perhaps been because they were the discoverers of the empty tomb. The idea that they were first on the scene because this is what women did is, again, I think just simply historically false. He presents the women's visit to the tomb as though this were the sort of normal thing that women would do to the body, but in this case the tomb was sealed. It was shut. They had no way of knowing if they could get in. Certainly, men could come to the tomb to remember their departed friend. The point is that by having male witnesses to the empty tomb, this would have increased the credibility of the narrative. Any reason for thinking that women discovered the empty tomb would have been better served by having male witnesses to the empty tomb. In fact, you do have in the Gospels Peter and John running to the tomb upon hearing the women's report to check it out and see if it really did happen. So I think he just fails to appreciate how really counter-cultural these narratives are in making female disciples discover the empty tomb of Jesus rather than having this done by men like Peter and John.

KEVIN HARRIS: Continuing:

Our confidence in the empty tomb is further increased by the response of the Jewish authorities. When they heard the report that the tomb was found empty, they said that Jesus’ followers had stolen his body.

Not only is this alleged response by Jewish authorities completely and entirely for the Bible tells me so, it's not even one of the details attested in multiple Gospels like the kind Craig thinks we should have confidence in. This plan to blame the disciples for stealing the body is mentioned only in Matthew 28.

DR. CRAIG: Again, the critic shows that he hasn't read what I've written on this and what is merely summarized in the video. Matthew is the only one who has the guard at the tomb story, but this is not a Matthean invention or creation. Matthew's narrative is filled with non-Matthean vocabulary which indicates that he's passing on a prior tradition. This is especially evident in the final line of the account: “This story has been spread among Jews to this day.” That shows that Matthew was constrained to refute a widespread Jewish counter-explanation of the empty tomb. What the Jewish authorities were saying in response to the disciples’ proclamation that “He has risen from the dead” is that the disciples came and stole his body away while the guard slept – a palpably absurd story. So what we're dealing here again is with a pre-Matthean tradition or source that I have argued is very early and goes back prior to the destruction of Jerusalem to the first days of disputes between Jewish Christians and Jewish non-Christians.

KEVIN HARRIS: I knew that he was going to start showing clips of zombie movies when we got to this, and sure enough here it comes.

In the chapter before, Matthew 27, we get the one-and-only report about Jerusalem zombies.

The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus' resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

Perhaps one could make excuses why Jesus' resurrection isn't covered by any historians at the time, but does it make any sense at all that many people came out of their tombs, started wandering around a major city, and appeared in public to many people, and the historical documents of the day say nothing about such an event? Does William Lane Craig think that this event took place?

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.

He does not, yet we are supposed to take the conspiracy story with the guards at face value in the very next chapter? How is the Gospel writers supposed to have even been on hand to hear these exact quotations from those perpetrating the cover-up? This isn't a fact to be explained, it's a for the Bible tells me so story element.

DR. CRAIG: Now that is a misunderstanding. The argument here is not for the historicity of the guard at the tomb, rather the argument is that there was an anti-Christian polemic by the Jewish authorities which alleged that the disciples came and stole the body away at night while the guard slept. Matthew is exercised to try to refute this widespread Jewish counter-explanation of the resurrection. It doesn't matter if the guard is fictional or not. The point is that this was the story that was being told at the time that Matthew wrote and which he wants to refute. What this story implies is that the body was missing. The Jewish polemic did not say that the body is there in the tomb and remains to be seen or that these men are madmen or they're full of new wine as it says in the book of Acts. No, instead what the Jewish authorities were saying was the disciples came and stole away his body. So the earliest attempts to counter the preaching of the resurrection themselves presupposed that the body was missing. Thus we have evidence from the very enemies of the earliest Christian movement of the fact of the empty tomb. This is not about the historicity of the guard and certainly not about the historicity of the resurrection of the saints that is recorded in this earlier pericope. Let me just say with respect to that, I did not affirm that this was non-historical. I said that that's a possible interpretation – that you could take this to be part of the apocalyptic imagery of Matthew and that would be a legitimate explanation. But even if you regarded this as non-historical, notice that that story of the resurrection of the saints is not attached to the resurrection narratives of Jesus. It's part of the crucifixion narrative in Matthew, and nobody thinks that that would therefore lead you to deny the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ crucifixion is an indisputable fact of history even if Matthew appends to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion this account of the resurrection of various saints. So this is simply irrelevant to the question that we're considering – whether or not there's good evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. The point here is that the very opponents of the earliest Christian movement, as evidenced in the dispute about the guard, themselves did not deny that the tomb was empty but rather entangled themselves in a series of absurdities trying to explain why the body was missing.

KEVIN HARRIS: Can you say something about this allegation that if a significant event had occurred at this time that all the historians would have made a record of it?

DR. CRAIG: I would simply ask our critic what historians is he talking about? Who does he think should have recorded such an account? I don't know. Josephus? There's no reason to think that he would . . .

KEVIN HARRIS: And if they did, why would we still have it? I mean, we just don't have everything from the ancient world.

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. Yes. That's what I want to know. What are the sources that he thinks ought to include this? We're lucky that Josephus says anything at all about Jesus of Nazareth, and yet he does. He's mentioned in Josephus. But only in a very summary way – that he was a teacher and generated a great following and so forth. But obviously we know that in Jerusalem in the first century there was this Christian movement that believed in his resurrection from the dead and was following him. And yet details of this are not given by Josephus. There's no reason to think that if following Jesus’ resurrection various people in the city claim to have visions or appearances of Old Testament saints that this would be somehow recorded somewhere. In fact, I don't find it at all implausible that there would have been, say, a chain reaction of such sightings following the resurrection of Jesus. I don't think we can be confident that these sort of appearances didn't occur in Jerusalem at that time. They're not like the cartoon here of dead zombies roaming about the streets of Jerusalem. I hope our listeners are more sophisticated than that. We would be talking here about appearances of glorified persons to various individuals.

KEVIN HARRIS: Here's toward the end of his segment on the empty tomb.

Most scholars by far hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.

That certainly sounds compelling, but I have this habit of wanting to check the context of a quote before I make an assumption about what it means. But I had a bit of trouble finding this one because the video inexplicably decided to change it. It was in William Lane Craig’s own book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics that I found Kremer’s comment: “by far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.”[1] Why did the video deliberately change exegete to scholar? What is an exegete? It's someone whose job it is to interpret Scripture. Would it come as any surprise that a Scripture interpreter affirms the statement in Scripture? These are people who start off accepting the text as divine and from there are trying to discover theological nuance within it. Should we be asking what historians think about this alleged historical fact?

DR. CRAIG: This is just embarrassing for the critic. It shows that he doesn't understand what biblical exegesis is. Biblical exegesis is not starting off believing that it's true and then trying to explain what the Bible says. Rather, biblical exegetes are precisely these historical scholars who investigate the New Testament and try to figure out its meaning and what it says. The quotation from Kremer (if he looks at the footnote in Reasonable Faith) is in German. Kremer's book is in German, and it was I who translated the word in the German exegeten as either “exegetes” or, since most laypeople don't know what that is, “scholars.” It is a matter of communicating to laypeople what Kremer was talking about. So in Reasonable Faith (which is somewhat more scholarly) I give a more literalistic translation of exegeten as “exegetes” but in, I think, probably On Guard or in a video like this for laypeople just translate the word as “scholars.” It means the same thing. We're talking here about biblical or New Testament scholars.


Like many, Craig's books defer to the expertise of Gary Habermas, possibly the world's most prolific author and researcher of all things resurrection and champion of the minimal facts argument for the resurrection. But in a 2012 paper for the Southeastern Theological Review, Habermas insists that he does not consider the empty tomb to be an established historical fact: “I have never counted the empty tomb as a minimal fact. It is very obvious that it does not enjoy the near unanimity of scholarship. From the very beginning of my research, I have been very clear about this.” I just quoted someone, so you should please, please investigate for yourself to see if I used it in context. So why does William Lane Craig, a philosopher, go against the leading scholarships who are on his side? The empty tomb is not a fact. It's in the category of the Bible tells me so.

DR. CRAIG: I don't take what Habermas calls a minimal facts approach to the historical Jesus. For Habermas, for something to be what he calls a minimal fact (that's a technical term for Habermas) virtually everybody has to agree that it is historical. But what Habermas’ own surveys show, as I point out, is that around 75% of the scholars that he surveys in the literature written on this topic agree with the historicity of the empty tomb. That is exactly what Kremer says: by far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb. So Kremer is on exactly the same ground as Habermas. By far most scholars (somewhere around 75%) agree with the historicity of the empty tomb. So there's no inconsistency here whatsoever.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. What about Gary's quote there that he doesn't use the empty tomb as part of his minimal facts?

DR. CRAIG: Right, because the empty tomb is not agreed to by, say, 99% of scholars. So Gary doesn't use it, and I think that's a mistake. I don't see any reason to deny well-attested historical facts about Jesus when we're trying to figure out what happened to Jesus after the crucifixion. Here is a fact which has won the firm commitment of 75% or more of scholars and for which there is very good evidence which I lay out. This isn't an appeal to authority. It's simply to say, contrary to Paulogetics here, that the majority – the wide majority – of New Testament historians have found the evidence that I summarize here to be convincing.

KEVIN HARRIS: We can say this in summation: that this animated video that Reasonable Faith has produced has certainly already begun to garner response and people are viewing it and checking it out on YouTube.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and for that I am very grateful.[2]


[1]           Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches

            Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.

[2]           Total Running Time: 25:48 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)