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The Existence of God (Resurrection of Jesus)

June 24, 2007     Time: 00:10:40
The Existence of God (Resurrection of Jesus)


Conversation with William Lane Craig

KEVIN HARRIS: Can faith and reason work together, or are they somehow mutually exclusive? What role do facts and evidence play when it comes to the Christian faith? This is Reasonable Faith – Conversations with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. On behalf of Dr. Craig, I want to welcome you to this discussion as Dr. Craig examines apologetics, reason, faith, and philosophy. Today we are examining some of the evidence for the existence of God.

Dr. Craig, when we are talking about arguments for the existence of God there is one we can’t leave out because of its importance, and that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think it's evidence that a miracle has occurred in human history. Of course, if a miracle has occurred then this is evidence for the existence of God. So I do think that the resurrection is pertinent to a full-blown case for Christian theism.

KEVIN HARRIS: Now, when we talk about the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, what kind of things are we going to talk about?

DR. CRAIG: We're going to talk primarily about the literary testimony to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In so doing we're going to treat the documents of the New Testament not as some religious inspired holy book but it's what they originally were – just a bunch of separate documents written in the Greek language handed down out of the middle of the first century telling this remarkable story about Jesus of Nazareth. And we're going to ask ourselves the question: how reliable are these documents?

KEVIN HARRIS: You believe the documents are inspired, but you don't necessarily need to enter that into the argument.

DR. CRAIG: No. That would, in fact, be question-begging if you assume their reliability in order to prove their reliability. So we're going to treat them as the historian would treat the writings of Thucydides or Plutarch or any other ancient historian.

KEVIN HARRIS: When we do that, we can gain knowledge on the reliability of the New Testament and uncover some facts about the alleged resurrection.

DR. CRAIG: That's right. What I want to say is that there are certain aspects of these narratives that we can demonstrate using the historical method to have actually occurred to a high degree of probability. And the best explanation of those facts will be that God raised Jesus from the dead.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let's talk about those facts. How many facts do you like to usually spell out?

DR. CRAIG: Usually I spell out three, and these would be:

1. After the crucifixion of Jesus, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers on Sunday morning.

2. Various individuals and groups of people on different occasions and under different circumstances experienced appearances of Jesus alive after his death.

3. The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite having every predisposition to the contrary.

KEVIN HARRIS: These three facts that you just related are agreed to by New Testament scholars?

DR. CRAIG: They are agreed to by the majority of New Testament scholars.

KEVIN HARRIS: When we say “New Testament scholars,” we mean scholars of all stripes – liberal, conservative.

DR. CRAIG: That's correct. I'm talking about the broad spectrum of New Testament historians who have investigated the historical Jesus and this aspect of his career. It is a remarkable fact that is not widely appreciated outside of New Testament studies that the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection are recognized as facts by the majority of New Testament historians writing on these subjects today. Now, it's by no means unanimous. There is, of course, a radical fringe represented by groups like the so-called Jesus Seminar. But they are the fringe. The broad mainstream of New Testament scholarship acknowledges the historicity of these three facts so that incredibly the Christian finds himself appealing to evidence that is very widely accepted.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is interesting because when we take these three facts that you just mentioned and then we look at what is the best explanation for these three facts we come to some remarkable conclusions.

DR. CRAIG: I believe that when we weigh the various live options for explaining these facts that the option that will prove to be the best explanation is the hypothesis given by the original eyewitnesses themselves, namely that God raised Jesus from the dead. And so I propose to weigh the various alternative explanations by the standard criteria that historians use in assessing historical hypotheses – things like explanatory scope, explanatory power, plausibility, degree of being contrived, degree to which it disconfirms accepted beliefs, and so forth. When you stack up the resurrection hypothesis against its rival hypotheses I think you'll find consistently that the resurrection hypothesis has greater explanatory scope, greater explanatory power, greater plausibility, and so forth, so that it emerges as the best explanation of these facts.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, clear something up for us because somebody might think that we're being circular here and that we're saying God raised Jesus from the dead and that's a proof that God exists. But it's just that if a miracle occurred, if we have a divine miracle on our hands, then that strongly points to God.

DR. CRAIG: That's the reason. That's exactly right. In other words, the statement “Jesus rose from the dead” is ambiguous. Do we mean by that Jesus rose naturally from the dead? That all of the cells in Jesus’ body spontaneously came back to life again and he suddenly woke up? Well, that would be, I think, a hypothesis of absurdly improbable proportion. Nobody believes . . .

KEVIN HARRIS: It just doesn't happen.

DR. CRAIG: No. That’s medically, biologically impossible. So what we want to say is that Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead; that is to say, a miracle occurred. God raised Jesus from the dead. And that of course entails that God exists. So we're saying the best explanation of these facts is a supernatural explanation that entails that God exists.

KEVIN HARRIS: When you take all three of these that you mentioned, obviously various objections have come up regarding each one. For example, if we have an empty tomb then someone can just say that's because they went to the wrong tomb or the disciples stole the body. Each one of these has an objection to it.

DR. CRAIG: Certainly. That's correct. As I say, there will be a pool of live options as to what is the best explanation, and you will assess these rival hypotheses by the criteria I mentioned. Just to take an example. The hallucination theory says that after the crucifixion the disciples projected hallucinations of Jesus and therefore mistakenly thought he was risen from the dead. When you assess that theory for its explanatory scope you find that it has inadequate explanatory scope. It tries to explain the appearances of Jesus, but it says absolutely nothing about the empty tomb. In order to explain the empty tomb you have to conjoin an independent hypothesis to the hallucination hypothesis to explain that aspect of the evidence. By contrast, the resurrection hypothesis has broader explanatory scope. It explains both the empty tomb and the appearances as well as the origin of the Christian Way and therefore is the preferable explanation.

KEVIN HARRIS: You know, I'm really convinced by your third fact, and that is how sincerely the disciples came to believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite them having every predisposition to the contrary.

DR. CRAIG: This is a point which has been, I think, demonstrably shown by N.T. Wright in his new book The Resurrection of the Son of God – a massive study of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus focusing on the transformation of the disciples and the origin of this very un-Jewish and peculiar belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead.

KEVIN HARRIS: They expected a resurrection at the end of the world, and they didn't expect the kind of resurrection that we find in Christ.

DR. CRAIG: That's precisely correct. That's just one of the factors that would predispose them not to believe in the resurrection. In Jewish thinking, a resurrection of the dead (properly speaking to glory and immortality) never occurred within human history. It always occurred after the end of the world on Judgment Day. Therefore, given Jesus’ crucifixion and death, the disciples would at most have preserved their master’s tomb as a shrine where his bones would reside and could be preserved until the resurrection at the end of the world when they and all the righteous dead of Israel would be raised from the dead and reunited with him in the kingdom of God. But they wouldn't have come to believe the outlandish and un-Jewish belief that he was already risen from the dead. N. T. Wright argues that there is really no plausible explanation of the origin of the Jesus movement with their belief in the resurrection of Jesus apart from the fact of the resurrection itself. Wright actually concludes that the evidence for the empty tomb and the appearances of Jesus is so strong that those events can be regarded as virtually certain, as firmly established as the death of Augustus Caesar in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.[1]


[1]          Total Running Time: 10:40 (Copyright © 2007 William Lane Craig)