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#656 Was God Deceiving His People by Raising Jesus?

November 10, 2019

Dear Dr.Craig,

It seems that the core validation of Jesus is based on the historicity of the resurrection. That is, if we have a rational basis to believe the resurrection narrative is historical, it would seem to be a vindication of Jesus's claims of messiahship and divinity. Being that most of your debate opponents are naturalists, they would presumably agree; if Jesus was indeed raised from the dead, it would inevitably lead to theological consequences. That is why most of your discussions on the issues have revolved around the historical verification of the event and the possibility for naturalistic explanations.

One issue with this is that it presupposes that there is no super-naturalistic explanation. However, In Deuteronomy 13:1-6 (In the KJV it is 12:32-13:6) it states as follows:

Be careful to observe only that which I enjoin upon you: neither add to it nor take away from it. If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner and he gives you a sign or a portent, saying, “Let us follow and worship another god”—whom you have not experienced—even if the sign or portent that he named to you comes true, do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. For the Lord your God is testing you to see whether you really love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. Follow none but the Lord your God, and revere none but Him; observe His commandments alone, and heed only His orders; worship none but Him and hold fast to Him. As for that prophet or dream-diviner, he shall be put to death; for he urged disloyalty to the Lord your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt and who redeemed you from the house of bondage—to make you stray from the path that the Lord your God commanded you to follow. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst.

As I read these verses, it seemed like a gaping hole in the resurrection narrative from a Jewish perspective; as certainly the resurrection was to serve as a sign:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

I reached out to an Orthodox Jew, and as I expected, the response went something like this: God revealed himself at Sinai and established a covenant with us. He told us explicitly how to vet a potential false prophet; if he tells you to worship a god you nor your fathers have known – he is a false prophet – supernatural feats notwithstanding. The Jews certainly did not know nor worship Jesus or a triune god in the desert!

The first verse in Deuteronomy 13:1 (12:32 in KJV) cast even more doubt on Jesus as the sum total of Christianity requires an overhaul of the Mosaic law. In my correspondence with Christians they are quick to point out that Jesus was not coming to abolish the mosaic law: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17) But surely from a Jewish perspective, you can see why this would be rejected. Call it “fulfilling” if you want, the bible was abundantly clear; “…observe only that which I enjoin upon you: neither add to it nor take away from it…”.

To a Jew, I’m sure you can understand why Christianity would be viewed as a detraction. Why is a Jew to believe this is anything other than what God warned against? Christians are also quick to point out that Jesus did not claim to be a different god, rather he was a manifestation of the same God Israel had known. But this too is easily deflected; why should a Jew believe that Jesus is the same God? Jesus is an unknown mediator in their eyes!

In an attempt to answer this, Aron Wall, the author behind the “Undivided Looking” blog comments:

Suppose I instead use the evidence for the resurrection to argue that the resurrection happened. Do you take seriously the possibility that God did raise Jesus from the dead, but as a test for Israel? It seems from Deut 32:39 that only God would have the power to produce this particular sign. That might correspond to the literal words of Deuteronomy 13 if one interprets "testing" to mean that God himself produced the sign. But that would be a pretty strange religious worldview...

This answer seems wholly inadequate for a few reasons: 1) God seems to have clearly indicated that he will in fact test Israel: .“..do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. For the Lord your God is testing you to see whether you really love the Lord…” 2) In Deuteronomy 32:39 it also states “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life” Are we to believe that only God can kill? Surely, I can murder at will! 3) “Testing” Could be defined as God giving those he doesn’t condone abilities to perform supernatural stunts. Balaam would be a good example of this.

Others claim that resurrection is an exception and therefore not included in Deuteronomy 13. This seems like special pleading to me. As one blogger put it: “Deut 13 explicitly grants the possibility of miracles in false traditions and says, "Do not hearken unto that prophet." It says nothing about surviving an execution as an exception or some big standard. Why do Christians think the resurrection cancels/changes the Torah? According to what standard?” Seems reasonable to me. The only way I see the resurrection playing a role is if there is a priori reason to believe that Jesus is divine and is the messiah of the Old Testament. I have paid close attention to that discussion via the debates and writings of Dr.Michael Brown and Rabbi Tovia Singer etc. and it is far from a clear matter. Awaiting your response.


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Photo of Dr. Craig.

Dr. craig’s response


Your question, Ayal, must have been one that troubled Jews of Jesus’ day, including his own disciples, especially prior to Jesus’ resurrection. Why follow this iconoclastic, would-be Messiah, rather than reject him as a blasphemer, just as many of the chief priests and lawyers did? Well, if God really did raise Jesus from the dead, then God seems to have unequivocally vindicated his allegedly blasphemous claims. In Judaism only God can raise the dead to eternal life and glory, so Jesus’ resurrection would be seen in a Jewish context as a mighty act of God. But, you say, maybe God raised him from the dead just to test the faith of loyal Jews, and the truly faithful will resist this temptation. 

Well, it seems to me that the question is pretty straightforward: which hypothesis is more plausible? I think it is far more plausible to think that God has the sovereign freedom to do something new and unexpected in Jesus than to think that He has the character of a Deceiver such as you describe. How confident are you that you’ve got it all sewed up so nice and neat that you know that God would not bring along a Messiah like Jesus? Maybe you’re mistaken about that. How can you be so sure? Part of the difficulty here is that I don’t think we have any good reason to think that the God of the Hebrew Bible exists apart from Jesus and his resurrection. It’s because I believe in Jesus that I believe in the Jewish God. For that reason, it’s not correct to equate Jesus with a false prophet who says “Let us follow and worship another god” (Deuteronomy 13.1), for the God worshipped and proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth was the God of the Hebrew Bible! It’s because of Jesus that I believe in the Jewish God. But take away Jesus and his resurrection, and what’s left? Then we must ask, why believe that the God of the Old Testament exists? There just aren’t many proofs of Judaism apart from Jesus. So it’s hard to see why, if Jesus was a deceiver or a fanatic, one should be Jewish.

On the other hand, to admit that God, the God of the Hebrew Bible, actually raised Jesus from the dead but was just testing people strikes me as rather desperate. It reminds me of saying that God placed the alleged fossil remains of prehistoric life in the rocks in order to test our faith in a 6,000 year old creation. Neither the God of the Bible nor of natural theology is that kind of Deceiver. Think of what you’re implying about the character of God! Would God mislead billions of the world’s people to believe in Jesus by raising him from the dead, knowing that they thereby be alienated from the life of God and His covenant? This is not the God of the Hebrew Bible but the Satan, the adversary of God’s work in the world.  The God of the Bible promises to bless all mankind and wants the Gentiles, too, to come to know Him. The very God, in whose name you reject Jesus, is incompatible with such a worldwide deception of mankind as you envision. By contrast, by seeing the resurrection as God’s vindication of Jesus, we see that by means of Jesus and his resurrection God has brought it about that belief in the God of Israel has become the faith of billions of people throughout the world.

- William Lane Craig