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Questions on the Evidence for the Resurrection

July 12, 2011     Time: 00:17:50
Questions on the Evidence for the Resurrection


Questions on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

Transcript Questions on the Evidence for The Resurrection


Kevin Harris: This is the Reasonable Faith podcast with Dr. William Lane Craig. I'm Kevin Harris. Dr. Craig, we have so many resources on the resurrection of Jesus at, and we try to answer some questions that come in from time to time that want some further elaboration on your work. And so let's do some questions that have come in on the resurrection. This one says,

Dr. Craig, I've listened to many of your presentations through the Veritas forum and very much appreciate your work. However, I have a nagging question regarding one of your main arguments for the historicity of the resurrection. You say that in the Jewish mindset of the time the disciples had no expectation of a resurrection prior to the general resurrection at the end of the age; therefore Jesus' disciples would not be expected to fabricate such a story soon after his death. I have no reason to doubt you on this point, but what bothers me is the story of the guard at the tomb in Matthew 27 and 28. I've read your treatise on this subject but I'm still somewhat bothered that Pharisees understood his predictions but the disciples did not, or that Jesus may have surreptitiously informed the Jews. Can you elaborate any further on this subject?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think it's important, first of all, Kevin, to understand that this whole issue of the guard at the tomb is of only marginal importance apologetically. It doesn't play any role in the case that I present for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. It's a story that's found only in Matthew, and I think probably most New Testament scholars would regard it as unhistorical. I think the majority of New Testament scholars would say that the story of the guard at the tomb is a legendary feature that has worked it's way into the Matthean narrative and wasn't an historical feature. So it's not something that I think plays a role in a modern apologetic for the historicity of the empty tomb, or any of the other facts that go to be explained in the case.

But taken at face value I don't argue or maintain that Jesus may have surreptitiously informed the Jewish authorities about his impending resurrection—I'm puzzled that he would say that; that's not my view. He's questioning why is it that the Pharisees would understand Jesus' predictions so as to request the setting of a guard, whereas the disciples did not? Now, what the critic who is skeptical of the historicity of this story would say is that this represents an after-the-fact creation, that they – having already come to believe in Jesus' resurrection – now it's easy to make up a story where the Pharisees believed that Jesus had predicted it, and so they try to prevent it by setting the guard; so that would be easy to explain in that way. If you take it to be historical, on the other hand, then I think what one would say is that the Pharisees didn't believe these predictions any more than the disciples did. The disciples – when Jesus predicted his resurrection – thought that he was talking about the resurrection at the end of the world. That's why when they come down from the Mount of Transfiguration they're discussing among themselves what rising from the dead could mean, and they say to Jesus, “Why do the scribes say Elijah must come first?” Elijah was going to come to herald the great and terrible day of the Lord prior to God's final judgment, and then the resurrection of the dead would occur. So they took Jesus' predictions of his own resurrection to be talking about the resurrection at the end of the age, which is when every righteous Jewish person would be raised by God to new life, to go into the Kingdom. But the Pharisees didn’t think, or the chief priests didn't think, that Jesus' predictions were true—they were afraid that somebody might steal the body and then say he's risen from the dead, much in the way perhaps Herod thought that John the Baptist was risen from the dead, or the way Lazarus was raised from the dead, not that he was risen to eschatological life and glory and immortality; that doesn't take place until the end of the world. But they thought that somebody might have a hoax of a resurrection like, say, Lazarus' or like Herod postulated of John the Baptist, and so they want to have a guard set to prevent anybody from stealing the body and having such a hoax. So they don't believe that Jesus is going to rise from the dead, and they don't take him, perhaps, to be speaking of the eschatological resurrection in the way that the disciples did, because they did believe and thought that was what he was talking about.

Kevin Harris: Ah.

Dr. Craig: Is that clear? [1]

Kevin Harris: Yes, and I know that people who hold to inerrancy may be somewhat disturbed by what you say about scholars who would say that this is not historical.

Dr. Craig: I'm just reporting on the state of current scholarship. I'm not endorsing it—I'm just reporting it.

Kevin Harris: Yeah. So, Bill, is that to say that you don't then use something that's in dispute in the academic world simply because it would take you on too many side roads.

Dr. Craig: That right, because it would be too controversial and accepted by too few people. In giving a sound apologetic you want to appeal to commonly accepted facts. And so the strength of the case that I present for Jesus' resurrection is based on the fact that it appeals to facts that are granted by the wide majority of New Testament historians today. And people in the free thought community find this incredible – they find this hard to believe – and they try to write this off as saying, 'well, these New Testament historians are all biased.' Well, the fact that they don't believe in the guard at the tomb shows that that allegation is simply spurious. The contemporary New Testament scholars are quite ready to reject an element in the New Testament narratives when they think it isn't up to par historically. And the guard at the tomb would be one such example of that. But these same scholars accept the historicity of the burial, the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciple's belief in Jesus' resurrection, which forms the basis for the inference to his resurrection from the dead.

Kevin Harris: Despite the current consensus on the historicity of this account can a Christian still maintain his or her inerrant view and hold to inerrancy?

Dr. Craig: Yes, as the reader here remarks, I have written on this subject and attempted to argue at least for a position of neutrality with regard to the historicity of the guard at the tomb. There are some factors that weigh in favor of it, and then I do try to answer these objections that can be raised against it, such as this one, that the disciples didn't understand Jesus' predictions but apparently his Jewish opponents did; and that's thought to be anomalous in some way.

Kevin Harris: You know, the guard at the tomb doesn't come up in regards to the resurrection – the events surrounding the resurrection – as an objection, as much as the resurrected saints who came out of the graves and went into the city and visited the city after Christ's crucifixion.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, that's a little bit odd – isn't it? – when you think about it. That's odd that that doesn't come up. But I think probably that just reflects the unfamiliarity of the free thought community with contemporary New Testament scholarship.

Kevin Harris: Sure. But the argument often, Bill, is that if something like that happened we'd be reading about it in other accounts.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and I think when you compare Mark's account and Matthew's account it's not at all impossible, Kevin, that the guard was already gone by the time the women got there. And that's why you don't have it included in Mark. Mark gives an account of the women's visit to the tomb, what they saw. And when they got there the stone was rolled way, the tomb was empty, there was no one there except for this angelic appearance, and that's what Mark reports. So I suspect that the reason it's not in Mark is because he gives the report given by the women, and the guard by that time had already fled into the city.

Kevin Harris: Yeah. But, Bill, I'm actually talking about even something further. They think that a momentous event like that (or even the slaughter of the innocents – Herod when he killed the children and everything), that that would show up in other accounts because that would be big news. But that doesn't follow at all. I mean, we're talking about a far region of the Roman empire. There was no internet, there was no CNN, and it may have been written up in other accounts, but we don't have it.

Dr. Craig: That's absolutely true, Kevin. When people say that I like to ask them: what other accounts are you referring to . . .

Kevin Harris: Newsweek?

Dr. Craig: . . . that don't have this in it? The fact is we've got almost nothing from the first century other than Josephus. So if it doesn't appear in Josephus . . . I mean, it's not as though there are all these first century histories that are missing these events—the sources are very sparse.

Kevin Harris: Can I put you on the spot and ask you a tough question while we're talking about this? Why do you think that John's Gospel is the only Gospel that records the resurrection of Lazarus? It seems like such a crowning miracle as that – such a profound miracle as that – would show up in the other Gospels. Have you ever thought about that?

Dr. Craig: Only a little bit, Kevin, I haven't studied it in any detail. Here's one interesting hypothesis, though: I think it's Richard Bachaum has recently talked about historical anonymity of certain figures in order to protect them because the sources are so early. And he thinks that in certain cases people are unnamed in the earlier sources because their anonymity needs to be protected, [2] otherwise they could be the subject of reprisals. Now, you think of a person like Lazarus. John says that the Pharisees were planning on killing him in addition to Jesus—they wanted Lazarus' hide, too, because he had been raised by Jesus. Well, John is a very late Gospel compared to the other three; it comes last. What if there's a kind of protective anonymity in Mark and some of these earlier Gospels of not mentioning Lazarus so as to just kind of leave him out of the narrative so that it protects him against reprisals. And by the time John writes then Jerusalem has been destroyed, it's after A.D. 70, he can write about this without endangering anyone. And so that might be an explanation for why someone like Lazarus is missing in Mark's narrative.

Kevin Harris: Another question:

Dear Dr. Craig, I'm studying theology in the U.K. and I admire and use your work often in conversation. In my studies on the Gospels I notice that the synoptics record a tradition of people, including Herod, speculating that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. I know that N. T. Wright as well as others like yourself use the apparent oddness of the emergence of the disciples' one-man-mid-history-resurrection belief – that is, before the end of the world – as evidence best explained in conjunction with the empty tomb and appearances by Jesus' bodily resurrection from the dead. However if Jews could, according to the Gospel, expect John the Baptist to be raised mid-history, surely the resurrection belief of the first Christians is not so surprising and ceases to need explanation in an actual resurrection in quite the same way? I must add that I do believe in the resurrection, but I'm just puzzled by why scholars like yourself and N. T. Wright would still think this is a good line of evidence in light of the Gospel's own evidence of Jewish post-death possibilities even in this age. Does the solution lie in the kind of raising?

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: “Can you help me resolve this question?”

Dr. Craig: Yes, this is related to the first question we talked about. We need to differentiate here between a revivification and a resurrection, properly speaking. Revivifications would be returns of a dead person to the earthly life, to this mortal existence. And this is attested in the Old Testament—Elijah raised people from the dead. It's in the New Testament—Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus. Jesus raised the widow of Nane's son to life, he raised Jirus' daughter back to life. It's the revivification of Lazarus . . .

Kevin Harris: Because he died again.

Dr. Craig: Yes, he died later on.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, okay.

Dr. Craig: It's the return to mortal existence. But resurrection in the Jewish sense is resurrection to glory and immortality, and it is that that never occurs to an isolated individual within history. The resurrection to glory and immorality is always an end time event that takes place at the general resurrection of the dead, when people are ushered into the Kingdom of God and judged.

Kevin Harris: No telling what Herod thought. I mean, talk about Ghost Busters. He was probably thinking ghosts, reincarnation, and just a host of things.

Dr. Craig: Yes, and in fact in the case of Herod it may be not a case of literal revivification because Jesus and John were contemporaries after all, they lived at the same time. So it may be that this was being used in the sense that the mantle of John the Baptist had now fallen on Jesus; that John – his power and spirit – have now come to be embodied in Jesus, and in that sense Jesus is John the Baptist risen from the dead. Not that John's body – which was decapitated – got up out of the grave and was walking around.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, and speaking of Lazarus, even Martha said – when Jesus said, “He'd be raised again,” she said, “We know he'll be raised at the end time.” There will be a resurrection then.

Dr. Craig: Yes. She thought that Jesus was talking about the resurrection at the last day.

Kevin Harris: Okay.

Dear Dr. Craig, doesn't your argument for the resurrection prove too much? If it is true that people willing to endure persecution are such solid witnesses to their claims, to have eye-witnessed truth, then what about the claims of the witnesses of the golden plates in Mormonism? Even if the plates were a forgery, what motivation would Joseph Smith have had for carrying on his claims in the face of persecution? If he had none, but did it anyway, why couldn't the apostles have done the same?

Dr. Craig: Well, now here it's important to understand what the argument is intended to prove. This argument from the disciples' willingness to die for the truth of the message they proclaimed is only meant to show that they sincerely believed what they said. [3] It's not meant to prove that what they said was true, but simply that they sincerely believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. And then we want to ask the question, well, what is the best explanation of the origin of that belief? So the claim here that's being made is very modest, namely that these men sincerely believed that Jesus was risen from the dead. And I don't know anybody who would doubt that—any historical scholars. Now with respect to the witnesses to the plates – I'm not an expert on Mormonism – but as I understand it I think the original witnesses did recant and claim that they didn't see the plates after all. It's not true that they persisted.

Kevin Harris: Yeah.

Dr. Craig: And as for Joseph Smith, he had obvious motivations for carrying on this ruse in view of the fact that he was the leader of the cult and it gave him a position of power and prominence that he enjoyed. So I don't have any problem with saying that Smith could well have been insincere in his claims.

Kevin Harris: Yeah, not the best analogy, then, to the resurrection.

Dr. Craig, you mentioned certain peculiarities about the statements in the Gospels of the days surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ. Just to note one example, you stated in an article entitled “The Guard at The Tomb,”

According to Matthew's version, on Saturday, that is, on the Sabbath, which Matthew strangely circumnavigates by calling it the day after the day of Preparation [4]

My question is, could these peculiarities mentioned in the Gospels be reconciled by a Wednesday or a Thursday crucifixion hypothesis, instead of the traditional Friday hypothesis?

Dr. Craig: No, I don't think that that's plausible. People are motivated to have an earlier date of the crucifixion in order to have a literalistic interpretation of Jesus' saying about Jonah being in the belly of earth for three days and three nights, and so the Son of Man will be in the earth for three days and three nights. And I think that that's to fail to realize that these are just Jewish idioms that shouldn't be taken in a wooden kind of way, and there isn't any grounds for thinking that Jesus was not in fact crucified on Friday, as all of the narratives state. That would have been either April 3rd A.D. 30 or April 7th A.D. 33, that would be the dates that would be a Friday Passover.

Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, we have some new questions on problem of evil. We'll talk about that next time on Reasonable Faith, right here with Dr. William Lane Craig. [5]