bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 4

Part of Geisler’s case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” is based on the spear-wound story, which is found only in the historically unreliable Fourth gospel.
One general reason for doubting the historicity and reliability of the spear-wound story is this:
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
(GR3) is supported by various cautions and doubts expressed by Raymond Brown (a leading N.T. scholar who is an expert on the Passion Narratives) in the opening pages of The Death of the Messiah, Volume 1 (hereafter: DOM1).
1. Yet Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account. (DOM1, p.4)
There are no eyewitness accounts of the trials and crucifixion of Jesus. That is to say, the Passion Narratives in the four gospels are NOT accounts written by eyewitnesses to the events described. Nor are the accounts hearsay evidence based on reports or testimony of eyewitnesses of the events.
2. Available to us are four different accounts …in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John…(DOM1, p.4)
There are contradictions and inconsistencies between the Passion Narratives of the four gospels, so we know that most of the PNs are less than 100% accurate and reliable.
3. Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John…(DOM1, p.4)
There is a significant gap of time–a number of decades–between the events described in the Passion Narratives and the writing of the Passion Narratives. That is time for memories to fade or to become distorted and time for oral tradition to evolve and develop, creating non-historical events and details in the process. That is time for oral traditions to shape and influence memories of eyewitnesses of the events and alter the memories of others about the oral testimony of eyewitnesses.
4. …the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations. (DOM1, p.4)
Brown is indicating that not only are the authors of the gospels NOT eyewitnesses, but that these authors got their information from oral and written traditions, i.e. from people who were also NOT eyewitnesses.
5. That intervening preGospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content. When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating. (DOM1, p.4-5)
To get back to historical facts about Jesus, we must go through two layers of speculation: (1) speculation about the contents of preGospel tradition based on careful analysis of the PNs, (2) speculation about actual historical events and details concerning Jesus’ arrest, trials, and crucifixion (based on the speculative reconstruction of preGospel tradition behind the PNs).
6. The overall view of the passion presented by each evangelist [i.e. author of a gospel] is a major factor in our study. Comparing the four PNs, we see a general similarity in narrative sequence but considerable difference in content. Each evangelist has organized the material to serve a different presentation of the passion. Interpreting that view must take precedence over speculation about earlier tradition or the situation of Jesus. Thus, for instance, Mark/Matt, Luke, and John report three different sayings as Jesus’ last words from the cross. (DOM1, p.5)
It is not clear in this paragraph WHY interpreting the “overall view” of an author of a PN “must take precedence” over speculation about preGospel tradition or the historical facts behind the preGospel tradition. However, Brown is indicating here that when the contents of the PNs differ this is often attributable to differences in beliefs or purposes between the different authors of the PNs. This shows that the contents of the PNs are significantly shaped by bias on the part of the authors.
One reason why understanding the bias or “overall view” of the passion held by a particular author of a PN should take priority over historical speculation is that the attempt to reconstruct a preGospel tradition ought (if one is interested in historical truth and objectivity) to take into account the general viewpoint and BIAS of the author of each PN. When a particular event or detail fits rather neatly with the BIAS of the author of a PN, that is a red flag, an indication that we should suspect that particular event or detail is fictional or a possibly a distortion of information derived from the bias or views of the author.
7. The evangelists wrote some nineteen hundred years ago in a social and thought world quite different from our own.  Literalist interpreters of the Bible seem to think that the Gospel texts can be read as if Jesus were addressing himself to audiences of today.  In fact, however, Jesus was a Jew of the first third of the 1st cent. AD who spoke, thought, and acted as such. …we cannot understand it [Jesus’ mindset] in the way we understand our own thought world.  The same would be true of our relationship to the evangelists, although with added difficulties, for we know more of Jesus than we know of them.  For instance…whether they were Jews or Gentiles we are not sure. (DOM1, p.6)
In order to reconstruct the preGospel tradition behind the PNs, we need to take into account the beliefs, experiences, biases, and purposes of the authors of the gospels. But we don’t know who wrote the gospels and we have very little solid information about the authors of the gospels. This makes it more difficult to determine which events or details in the PNs were likely to have been invented or distorted by the authors of the gospels. Also, because we don’t know who wrote the gospels, we don’t have independent data on the honesty, integrity, reliability, rationality and objectivity of the authors. Any such character traits must be inferred from careful reading and comparison of the gospel texts.
 8. Readers of this commentary will be reminded repeatedly that we are dealing with narratives. The division of the commentary into acts and scenes is meant to underline my view that the passion accounts are truly dramatic narratives. …Indeed, at times John even supplies elements of staging, e.g. , in the outside-inside organization of the Pilate trial. …That fact must play a role in our interpretive judgments. For instance, an impressive number of happenings occur in threes.  In Mark/Matt in Gethsemane, he first comes with the body of disciples and speaks to them; second, he takes along Peter, James, and John and speaks to them; last, he goes off by himself and speaks to God.  After he has prayed, Jesus returns three times to find the disciples sleeping. In all the Gospels Peter denies Jesus three times.  In Mark the crucifixion scene involves the third, sixth, and ninth hours; and in the Synoptics Jesus is mocked three times as he hangs on the cross, even as in John three groups of people deal with the crucified Jesus.  The use of “three” is a well-known feature of storytelling, most familiar to English-speaking audiences in jokes (English-Irish-Scot, priest-minister-rabbi; etc.). Scholars rightly assume that it is unlikely that everything happened so conveniently in threes, and so seek to reconstruct the preGospel history.(DOM1, p.11-12)
In other words, some events and details of the PNs are fictional and serve literary or dramatic purposes. Brown is suggesting that the PNs be viewed as something like plays. In a play about an historical figure, we do NOT expect every event and every detail in the play to be historical and accurate. In such plays we expect the author of the play to take a certain amount of liberty with the facts and data in order to create a good play, to keep our attention, to move the audience, and to make some significant points, or raise significant issues. Brown is suggesting that the authors of the Gospels intended the PNs to be treated something like plays, not to be treated like careful and objective news reports.
9. Neglecting the narrative form of the passion can give rise to questions that miss the mark, e.g. how can the evangelist know what the Synoptic Jesus prayed for in Gethsemane when the disciples were asleep? Such a question…fails to understand the literary nature of what is being related. In most narratives the omniscient narrator tells the readers things about the protagonist without ever explaining where this information was gained. …a memory that Jesus cried out to God when facing death (Heb 5:7) may, to suit the conventions of narrative, have been filled in dramatically from memories of Jesus’ style of praying. (DOM1, p.12)
Because the PNs are dramatic narratives that are similar to a play, the words of Jesus (and others) may in some cases be invented by the author, who, based the invented words on information or beliefs about things that Jesus (or other figures) said at other times and at other places.
There were no tape recorders or video cameras in first century Palestine, and very few people could read and write. So, preserving the actual specific words spoken by a person at a specific time and place was extremely difficult and unlikely. This fact in conjunction with Brown’s point about the literary and dramatic nature of the PNs means that we can place little confidence in the words attributed to Jesus and other people who speak in the PNs. The words may have simply been invented by the author of the PN or by the storytellers who passed on the preGospel tradition upon which the PN was based. The author or storyteller may have only intended to provide words that are fitting or appropriate for Jesus to have spoken, based on things that they believe Jesus said on other occasions.
10. In this commentary I shall work with the understanding that the Gospels are distillations of earlier Christian preaching and teaching about Jesus. The individual evangelists organized what they took over from such a background in order to communicate to their audiences an interpretation of Jesus that would nourish faith and life (as John 20:31 states explicitly). (DOM1, p.13)
The Gospels are not based on transcripts from the trials of Jesus, nor on interviews of eyewitnesses to the trials or crucifixion of Jesus. They are based on “Christian preaching and teaching about Jesus”. In short, they are based on religious propaganda. Furthermore, the authors of the Gospels were not attempting to carefully analyze this propaganda to separate out fact from fiction, history from legend; they themselves were engaged in creating religious propaganda.
So, we have a double-helping of bias here. The source is religious propaganda which is then organized, revised, and edited in order to produce texts that are themselves religious propaganda. So, we start out with what is presumably already a mixture of fact and fiction, and then make significant changes to that “information” which reshape the questionable materials on the basis of Christian beliefs, theological views, and for the sake of dramatic and literary purposes that have nothing to do with constructing an accurate historical account of the events.
I think the above ten points are sufficient to show that even the somewhat conservative views of Brown about the PNs are fairly skeptical and that if we take Brown’s scholarly conclusions and views seriously, we ought to have significant doubts about the historical reliability and accuracy of the PNs.
Anyone who is interested in the question of the historical accuracy and reliability of the PNs should read at least Section 1 of DOM1 (p.4-35).
Christian apologists such as Geisler, are like the Sales & Marketing department of Christianity. N.T. scholars such as Brown, are more like Engineering & Manufacturing. You will find a great deal more honesty and straight talk about the Bible from leading mainstream N.T. scholars than you will ever find among Christian apologists.

bookmark_borderWhy I am Not Concerned about Christian Theist Philosophers of Religion

One reason I am not concerned about the prevalence of Christian theists in the field of philosophy of religion is that they do a nice job of arguing against each other.
William Lane Craig’s favorite argument for the existence of God is the Kalam cosmological argument. I’m happy that there are some atheist philosophers who challenge this argument, but there are good objections raised against this argument by Christian theist philosophers.
For example, Richard Swinburne rejects this argument (as well as all other deductive proofs of the existence of God), and has put forward some significant objections to the argument in The Existence of God (2nd edition, footnote 10 on p.138-139). Swinburne objects that Craig’s argument for the premise “a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist” is based on a false assumption, and further that IF the assumption were true this would imply that the inference from that assumption to the premise was an invalid inference.
Another favorite argument of Craig’s for the existence of God is the Moral Argument, which goes something like this:
1. There are objectively true fundamental moral principles.
2. There are objectively true fundamental moral principles ONLY IF God exists.
Therefore:
3. God exists.

Swinburne rejects all such deductive proofs for the existence of God and argues that there are no sound deductive proofs of God. Furthermore, Swinburne raises a specific objection to this argument. He agrees with premise (1), but firmly rejects premise (2), on the grounds that God is a logically contingent being, while objectively true fundamental moral principles are necessary truths, truths that hold in all possible worlds. The existence of a logically contingent being cannot explain or cause the existence of a logically necessary truth. Thus, premise (2) is false.
Craig’s favorite argument for the truth of the Christian faith is the argument from the resurrection of Jesus to the conclusion that Jesus is the divine Son of God. One of the best and most neglected objections to Craig’s case for the resurrection comes from Norman Geisler, a fellow Evangelical Christian theist philosopher.
Geisler clearly asserts that in order to establish the claim that “Jesus rose from the dead”, one must first prove that “Jesus actually died on the cross.” I call this requirement “Geisler’s Criterion”. Since Craig has utterly failed in his attempt to prove the latter claim, Geisler’s Criterion will lead any truth seeker to reject Craig’s case for the resurrection.
Swinburne’s case for God and also his case for the resurrection are both dependent upon a key insight about miracles: in order to show that a miracle has occurred, one must show that God has certain specific purposes that would be satisfied by performing the miracle in question. I believe that Swinburne is absolutely correct on this point, and also that this opens the door to a potentially powerful skeptical argument: How do we know what are the specific purposes of God?
Sure we can all agree that “God is a perfectly morally good person” by definition. But it is far from clear that this very general and abstract notion can be used to rationally justify claims like “In such-and-such circumstances, God would be likely to…” In any case, I think Swinburne’s attempt to make that sort of move fails, and it remains an open question whether anyone else can succeed where he has failed.
So, I’m not concerned about the prevalence of Christian theists in the philosophy of religion, because they do a pretty good job of pointing out the flaws and errors in each other’s arguments. I have learned about many skeptical arguments and objections from Richard Swinburne, including many such arguments and objections that he puts forward and supports.

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 3

In previous posts I have argued that only two of Geisler’s eight reasons for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” are worthy of serious consideration. One of those two reasons is based on the spear-wound story, which is found ONLY in the historically unreliable Fourth gospel (John 19:31-37).
There are many reasons to doubt the historicity and reliability of the spear-wound story, but I have started with four general reasons:
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
GR4. The Passion narrative of the Fourth gospel is historically unreliable
(GR1) and (GR2) were covered in Part 2.
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
Two books that I would recommend on this subject are Who Killed Jesus? by John Crossan, and The Death of the Messiah, Volume 1 by Raymond Brown. Crossan takes a more skeptical position on the Passion Narratives (PNs) than does Brown:
“Basically the issue is whether the passion accounts are prophecy historicized or history remembered,” said John Dominic Crossan, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago. “Ray Brown is 80 percent in the direction of history remembered. I’m 80 percent in the opposite direction.” (New York Times, March 27, 1994, National section)
[quoted in Who Killed Jesus, p.1]

I other words, Crossan believes that most of the content of the PNs is fictional, because it was derived from interpretation of Jewish scripture, not from memories nor from eyewitness testimony about the events, while Brown (allegedly) believes that most of the content of the PNs is historical, because it was derived from memories or reports of people who were followers of Jesus who were present during the events of Jesus’ final week.
One reason why Crossan is more skeptical than Brown is that they have different views about the Fourth gospel. Crossan believes that the PN in John is based on Mark’s PN:
That general understanding of John’s composition means that, for me, he is independent of the Synoptics for the miracles and sayings of Jesus but not for the passion and resurrection stories. …The result is that I find only a single independent source, Mark, behind all four of the New Testament passion stories. I remind you that journalistic ethics and historical reconstruction must tread very carefully when they have but a single independent source. In looking at anything from John’s passion (and resurrection) story, I emphasize with equal force both Synoptic dependence and Johannine creativity. (Who Killed Jesus, p.22)
Brown, on the other hand sees the PN of the Fourth gospel as a second source that is independent of Mark’s PN. However, Brown acknowledges that scholars disagree on this issue: “Yet there are many scholars who argue for Johannine dependence on Mark [in terms of John’s PN]…” (The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 1, p.55)
Brown is more conservative than Crossan in his views about the PNs, but I think Crossan may be exaggerating the difference between his skepticism and the views of Brown. In the opening pages of Volume 1 of The Death of the Messiah, Raymond Brown expresses many cautions and doubts about the historical reliability of the PNs. Brown may be less inclined to see stories and details in the PNs as fictional, but he takes a fairly skeptical view of the PNs as sources for historical information. If Geisler had read and taken seriously the points and cautions made by Brown in the first 35 pages of The Death of the Messiah, then Geisler would probably never have put the spear-wound story forward as being a strong reason for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
John P. Meier, a leading Jesus scholar, called Raymond Brown’s work The Death of the Messiah (Vol. 1 & 2) “The benchmark by which any future study of the Passion Narratives will be measured.” (from back cover of paperback edition of The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 1). N.T. Wright also has high praise for these volumes by Brown: “Massive, hugely learned, yet clear and accessible. This will be a landmark for at least a generation.” (The Original Jesus, p.152). Anyone who is interested in the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?” ought to read at least the first section of The Death of the Messiah, Volume 1.
There are 877 pages in Volume 1 of The Death of the Messiah (hereafter: DOM1), and 731 pages in Volume 2. Section 1 of Volume 1 actually begins on page 4, and the second paragraph of section 1 is perhaps the most important paragraph in the entire massive commentary:
The subject for discussion is the passion of Jesus. Understandably there is a desire to know what Jesus himself said, thought, and did in the final hours of his life. Yet Jesus did not write an account of his passion; nor did anyone who had been present write an eyewitness account. Available to us are four different accounts written some thirty to seventy years later in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, all of which were dependent on tradition that had come down from an intervening generation or generations. That intervening preGospel tradition was not preserved even if at times we may be able to detect the broad lines of its content. When we seek to reconstruct it or, even more adventurously, the actual situation of Jesus himself, we are speculating. (DOM1, p.4-5)
Thus one of the world’s leading N.T. scholars, a scholar who knew more about the PNs than almost any other scholar in the history of mankind, tells us that whenever we try to infer or reconstruct the preGospel tradition that lies behind the PNs in the four gospels “we are speculating” and that attempting to get to actual historical facts about Jesus based on such inferences about preGospel tradition is even more speculative. Furthermore, we are told this right up front, on the opening page of Section 1 of a commentary on the PNs that spans over 1,600 pages.
If Geisler had just read the first couple of pages of DOM1, and if he had taken Brown’s view of the PNs seriously, he would have been much more hesitant and cautious about the historicity of the spear-wound story, which is found only in the gospel of John.
In the next part of this series I will lay out many of the cautions and doubts put forward by Brown in the opening pages of DOM1.
Read more: https://secularoutpost.infidels.org/2014/07/20/norman-geislers-case-for-the-death-of-jesus-part-2/#ixzz38eU6dAmd

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

In When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler presents eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. In my previous post on this subject I argued that six of those reasons should be quickly set aside as weak or defective reasons. In my view, only two reasons out of the eight reasons are worthy of serious consideration.
Both of the remaining two reasons are related to various alleged wounds and injuries of Jesus that supposedly occurred just prior to or during the crucifixion. First let’s consider the third reason:
3. When His side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death. The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around the heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids. Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross and probably before this wound was inflicted. … The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (v.34).
(When Skeptics Ask, p.121)
The quick-and-dirty objection to reason (3) is that the story about the spear wound to Jesus’ side is found ONLY in the historically unreliable Fourth gospel (John 19:31-37). This fact gives us good reason to doubt that the spear wound story is true. But there are other problems with the spear wound story, and since reason (3) is widely used in Christian apologetics, I’m going to take a bit more time to beat this particular deceased horse.
First, there are some general reasons to doubt the spear wound story:
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
GR4. The Passion narrative of the Fourth gospel is historically unreliable
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
(GR1) is a big topic that would take a book, or at least a few chapters in a book, to cover properly. But I’m just going to quote from a leading N.T. scholar, to show that this is more than just the opinion of a skeptical atheist with an ax to grind against the Christian faith.
According to N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders is “Probably the most influential NT scholar in the English-speaking world.” (The Original Jesus, p.155). If you look up “Jesus Christ” in the Encyclopædia Britannica, you will find an article written by E.P. Sanders. So, I think it worthwhile to give serious consideration to Sanders’ view of the gospels and of the effort to figure out what Jesus actually said and did:
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obliged to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom obtained. A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such a warning. We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime. They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and in any case the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved. We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him. Today we do not have good documentation for such out-of-the-way places as Palestine; nor did the authors of our sources. They had no archives and no official records of any kind. They did not even have access to good maps. These limitations, which were common in the ancient world, result in a good deal of uncertainty.
Recognizing these difficulties and many others, New Testament scholars spent several decades – from about 1910 to 1970 – saying that we know somewhere between very little and virtually nothing about the historical Jesus. Excess leads to reaction, and in recent decades we have grown more confident. Confidence, in fact, has soared, and recent scholarly literature contains what I regard as rash and unfounded assertions about Jesus – hypotheses without evidence to support them.
My own view is that studying the gospels is extremely hard work. I sympathize with the scholars who despaired of recovering much good evidence about Jesus. I also think, however, that the work pays off in the modest ways that are to be expected in the study of ancient history.
(from the Preface to The Historical Figure of Jesus[hereafter: HFJ], p.xiii)
Sanders is not a skeptic, nor is he an atheist looking for a way to attack the Christian faith. He is a leading mainstream N.T. scholar who warns us of the historically problematic nature of the gospels and that only with “extremely hard work” can we expect even “the modest” sort of results common to investigations of ancient history, and that there will unavoidably be “a good deal of uncertainty” concerning the words and deeds of the historical Jesus.
I am not as optimistic as Sanders is about discovering the historical Jesus through hard scholarly work. I am more of a Jesus agnostic, who has serious doubts about the possibility of “knowledge” about the words and deeds of Jesus and the events that he experienced (if he in fact existed). But Sanders view of the gospels is much more sane and reasonable than that of Norman Geisler.
Geisler simply makes all sorts of speculative claims about the crucifixion of Jesus based on the assumption that every detail found in the Fourth gospel is absolutely true, historical, and accurate. In doing so, Geisler shows that his views are completely outside of the mainstream of N.T. scholarship, and even outside of any resemblance of scholarship of any sort that deserves to be called such. E.P. Sanders would gag upon reading the crap that Geisler spews in his case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, although I am more skeptical than Sanders, my views are much closer to those of mainstream N.T. scholarship than are the views of Geisler (and other Christian apologists who make similar naive bible-thumping arguments).
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
Again, it would not be difficult to write an entire book on this one issue. So, I cannot do this topic justice here and now, but I will simply quote E.P. Sanders once again, to show that my skeptical views about the Fourth gospel are closer to mainstream N.T. scholarship than the naive and unreasonable views of Geisler.
Here is Sanders’ conclusion concerning the use of John as a source of information about Jesus:
The synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] are to be preferred as our basic source of information about Jesus. Yet their authors too were theologians and were capable of creativity. …There are no sources that give us the ‘unvarnished truth’; the varnish of faith in Jesus covers everything. Yet the synoptic authors did not homogenize their material, as John did. The joints and seams are visible, and the contents are quite diverse. There is nothing like the sameness of the Johannine monologues. The synoptic authors, that is, revised traditional material much less thoroughly than did John.
(HFJ, p.73)
Sanders discusses some differences between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Fourth gospel (John):
1. Narrative Outline/Framework
2. Contents – Jesus’ activities
3. Contents – Jeasus’ teaching
Sanders says these differences “are very substantial” (HFJ, p.66). After spelling out some differences in the narrative outlines, Sanders sums up his view about these differences between the synoptics and John:
The synoptic framework is at least as plausible as John’s, and it may have a slight edge.
This discussion may seem to imply that we must accept one or the other: either John (three Passovers; early cleansing of the Temple; informal trial) or the synoptics (one Passover; late cleansing; semi-formal trial). It is tempting to alternate between them on the basis of plausibility or intrinsic probability, while compromising on the question of duration: a ministry of eleven to twenty-five months (compromise); cleansing of the Temple near the end (synoptics); informal trial (John). We must, however, entertain another possibility altogether: perhaps none of the authors knew what took place when (except, of course, the trial and crucifixion). Possibly they had scattered bits of information, from which they constructed believable narratives that contain a fair amount of guesswork. Or perhaps they did not care about chronological sequence and arranged the material according to some other plan (for example, by topic). This would have resulted in chronological clues being scattered at random, and we could not draw good inferences from them.
(HFJ, p.69)
Both the synoptic gospels and John have somewhat plausible narrative frameworks. There is no clear winner here, and as Sanders admits, it might well be the case that neither narrative framework is based on actual history; the frameworks might be largely “guesswork” by the authors, or might be based on non-historical considerations, such as arranging events by topic.
The specific contents of the synoptics vs. John are what drives the judgement that the synoptics are a better source of information about Jesus. Sanders notes a couple of significant differences in terms of Jesus’ activities:
(1) In the synoptics many of Jesus’ healings, in fact some of those on which the story turns, are exorcisms. In John there are no exorcisms. …
(2) In the synoptics, when asked for a ‘sign’ of his authority, Jesus refuses to give one (Mark 8:11f). Among the most prominent aspects of John is a series of ‘signs’ of Jesus’ status and authority (John 2.11, 23; 4.48, 54; 6.2, 14; 7.31; 9.16; 11.47; 12.8, 37; 20.30).

(HFJ, p.69)
Although Sanders does not say this explicitly, N.T. scholars favor the historical reliability of the synoptics over John in terms of the above two significant differences in the activities of Jesus.
Sanders goes on to point out several significant differences between John and the synoptic gospels concerning the content and style of Jesus’ teaching (HFJ, p.70). Sanders then draws the following conclusions:
It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and that there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said, and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps.
Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them.
(HFJ, p.70-71)
Sanders then argues that in at least some cases, the narrative outline in the gospel of John is “as strongly determined by the author’s own theology as its discourse material…” (HFJ, p.72). He concludes that, “…we can say neither that John was creative only with the teaching material, nor that he had a good source for his narrative and that he followed it faithfully.” (HFJ, p.72)
To be continued…

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus

Let me cut to the chase: Geisler’s case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” is crap. It might be marginally better than William Craig’s case, but it is most definitely a hot steaming pile of crap. As with Craig’s case, part of the reason Geisler’s case fails is that he tries to make his case in just a few pages. (This appears to be a common form of mental illness among Christian apologists.)
I’m tempted to work my way slowly through Geisler’s case, as I did with Craig’s case, going sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, exposing each instance of ignorance, credulity, bias, and bad reasoning. But that seems to be giving his pitiful effort too much respect and credibility. So, I will be a bit more quick-and-dirty in my critique of Geisler’s case for the death of Jesus.
Geisler has quite correctly stated a necessary condition for a successful case for the resurrection of Jesus:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that he really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120)
It would not be enough, of course, to simply show that Jesus died at some time or other in some way or other. Showing that Jesus drowned when he was just twelve, for example, would be of NO USE for proving the resurrection of Jesus. One must show that “Jesus actually died on the cross” on Good Friday, as an adult (in Jerusalem around 30 C.E.).
I agree with this criterion for a successful case for the resurrection. Let’s call this Geisler’s Criterion. On the basis of Geisler’s Criterion, I judge William Craig’s case for the resurrection to be a failure, because Craig has utterly and completely failed to show that Jesus actually died on the cross. But Geisler has also failed to show that Jesus actually died on the cross, so his case for the resurrection is also clearly a failure.
Geisler gives eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. We can set aside three of those reasons immediately, because they are clearly NOT evidence for this claim:
1. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was drugged. …(WSA, p.120)
This is an objection to one specific version of the Apparent Death Theory. But raising a weak objection to one particular version of one alternative theory does not provide positive evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. I have almost never been drugged, and yet somehow I have managed to avoid dying day after day for many decades. Also, the fact that I have rarely been drugged does not indicate that it is likely that some day I will be crucified nor that I will die while on a cross. This “reason” should be flushed down the drain immediately.
5. Jesus was embalmed in about 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages… . He could not have unwrapped Himself, rolled the stone back up the side of its carved-out track, overcome the guards, and escaped unnoticed…(WSA, p.122)
This “reason” is not only based on various dubious historical claims, but it is also just another objection to a specific version of the Apparent Death Theory. A weak objection to one particular version of an alternative theory does not provide positive evidence for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”. The difficulty of escaping from being wrapped up in spices and bandages on a Sunday morning has no relevance to whether the person in question had previously died on a Friday afternoon. This “reason” should be flushed down the drain immediately.
7. If Jesus had managed all this, His appearance would have been more like a resuscitated wretch than a resurrected Saviour. It is not likely that it would have turned the world upside down. (WSA, p.123)
This is probably the most common objection to the Apparent Death Theory, an objection that comes from David Strauss. I call this the “Sickly Jesus Objection”. There are many problems with this objection, but the main problem in this context is that an objection to one particular version of one alternative theory does NOT provide positive evidence in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. The Apparent Death Theory has many implications, and specific versions of it have additional implications. Showing that one or more such implications is false or questionable, does not provide positive evidence for the death of Jesus. This reason should be immediately flushed down the drain.
In fact, in some instances, refuting an implication of the Apparent Death Theory would also refute the Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead. For example, the Apparent Death Theory assumes that Jesus was crucified. If someone could show that Jesus had NOT been crucified, or that it was doubtful that Jesus had been crucified, this would refute or cast doubt on the Apparent Death Theory. But such an objection would ALSO refute or cast doubt upon the Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead (after being crucified). So, raising objections to the Apparent Death Theory does not necessarily provide support for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
Three down, five more reasons to go.
Two other reasons are relevant but are clearly weak reasons, and should both be quickly tossed aside:
4. The standard procedure for crucifixion was to break the victim’s legs… Yet the Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking his legs (v.33). There was no doubt in their minds. (WSA, p.122).
6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead before releasing the body for burial. (WSA, p.122)
Both of these reasons are based on questionable historical assumptions, historical assumptions for which Geisler has provided either no historical evidence or dubious historical evidence. Geisler points us to an alleged event (the breaking of the legs of the other crucified men but not Jesus) that is found only in the Fourth Gospel, a Gospel which is considered to be an unreliable historical source by most leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Gospels cannot be relied upon to provide accurate details about what Pilate said on any specific occasion. We don’t know that Jesus was buried, nor do we know that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, nor do we know whether Joseph of Arimathea actually went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. We certainly do not know Pilate’s specific words and actions in relation to the release of Jesus’ body.
But even if we assume that Pilate did ask a Roman officer “for assurance that Jesus was really dead” this does not mean that Pilate actually received such assurance, and if he did receive assurance from a Roman officer that Jesus was already dead, this is still weak evidence. We don’t know the name of this officer. We know almost nothing about the intelligence, character, and background of this Roman officer. What we do know is that scientific medicine would not come into existence until more than a thousand years later, and that the Roman officer was supremely ignorant about the biology and physiology of the human body, as was everyone else in that period of time.
We have weak evidence for the claim that one or more Roman soldiers were very confident on Friday afternoon that Jesus had died on the cross (on the same day that he was crucified), and the assumption that one or more Roman soldiers were very confident that Jesus had died on the cross provides only weak evidence for the conclusion that Jesus actually died on the cross. So, although these reasons are relevant to this conclusion, they provide only weak support for it.
Five reasons down, three more to go.
Reason number eight can be set aside, because it reflects the same sort of ignorance and credulity that Geisler displays in the two other remaining reasons. Also, the content of reason number eight overlaps the content of the other two reasons, so if I can show that the other two reasons are weak or defective, that will also suffice to show that reason eight is weak or defective.
8. In the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” the Journal of the American Medical Society concluded: “Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted…” (WSA, p.123)
Setting aside the purely medical assumptions and claims in this article, it is clear that this article is based on naive, ignorant, and credulous views of the New Testament. In other words, the historical scholarship in this article sucks. It is almost on the level of William Craig’s childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus. In any case, if I can show that there are serious problems with the remaining two reasons given by Geisler, this will also serve to show that this Journal article from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 256) has serious problems. So, we can set this reason aside and focus our attention on the two remaining reasons given by Geisler.
Six down, two more to go.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderThe Case for the Death of Jesus

I have written several posts about William Craig’s “case” for the death of Jesus in his book The Son Rises. In those posts I showed that Craig made about 81 historical claims, but failed to provide any historical evidence for 85% of those claims, and provided only weak and dubious historical evidence for the other 15% of claims. In short, Craig provided solid historical evidence for ZERO of the 81 historical claims he makes in his “case” for the death of Jesus. He completely failed to show that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, and thus his case for the resurrection is also a complete failure.
However, I can imagine a response to my objection to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
You are right. William Craig has generally ignored the issue of whether Jesus died on the cross, and his case for the death of Jesus in The Son Rises is pathetic. But the problem here is that Craig does not take this issue seriously, and so he does not make a serious effort to prove that Jesus died on the cross. In his view, the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross was settled long ago, and there is no need to re-hash the issue.
However, other Christian apologists take this question more seriously, and they make a more serious effort to build an historical case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, defeating Craig’s half-hearted effort in The Son Rises is something bordering on a Straw Man fallacy. You need to consider the cases made by other apologists. There are other Christian apologists who do a better job on this issue, such as Norman Geisler, Michael Licona, and Gary Habermas. Until you consider the cases made by these apologists, you have only refuted one of the weakest cases available.
I think this is a reasonable response to my objection to Craig’s case for the resurrection. So, I plan to move on to examine cases for the death of Jesus by Geisler, Licona, and Habermas. I believe they in fact do a better job building a case for the death of Jesus than Craig has, so their cases deserve serious examination and consideration.

bookmark_borderWhy William Lane Craig Has Not Seriously Argued for Jesus’ Death

It is difficult, of course, to get into someone else’s mind and to figure out why that person thinks the way they think. But I can make some educated guesses as to why William Lane Craig rarely argues in support of the death of Jesus on the cross, and why when he does so (e.g. in The Son Rises, hereafter: TSR), he does not make a serious intellectual effort (i.e. he rattles off dozens of historical claims without providing actual historical evidence to support those claims).
I think there are at least a couple of reasons for this: (1) Craig believes that the Apparent Death Theory (hereafter ADT) was soundly refuted long ago, and (2) Craig believes that the refutation of the Apparent Death Theory is sufficient to establish the Christian view that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday. However, Craig is wrong on both points.
One reason why Craig thinks that ADT was refuted long ago, is that he thinks that David Strauss refuted ADT in the 1800’s, especially in Strauss’s book The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, which was published in the 1830s:
The full original title of this work is Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet (Tübingen: 1835-1836), and it was translated from the fourth German edition into English by George Eliot (Marian Evans) (1819–1880) and published under the title The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined (3 vols., London, 1846). (“David Strauss” Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Strauss)
Here is Craig’s general view of ADT:
Strauss’s critique really put the nails in the coffin for the apparent death theory. Again, I want to emphasize that no contemporary scholar would support such a theory; it has been dead over a hundred years. Only in propaganda from behind the Iron Curtain or in sensationalist books in the popular press does such a theory still find expression. (TSR, p.40)
But Craig fails to fully grasp the logic of Strauss’s position on ADT. In Strauss’s day, there were two main camps on Jesus: traditionalists who believed that Jesus performed miracles as described in the Gospels, and skeptics who believed that Jesus did more-or-less what the Gospels claimed but that Jesus did NOT perform any miracles. Strauss rejected the views of both the traditionalists and of the anti-supernaturalist skeptics. He did so by rejecting an assumption that was held by both traditionalists and skeptics: the Gospels provide historically accurate and reliable reports about the life and ministry and death of Jesus.
Strauss argued that the Gospels contained a healthy dose of fiction and myth, and that we should not take them at face value as accurate and reliable historical accounts. Against the skeptics of his day, Strauss argued that IF one assumes the Gospels to provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, then one cannot reasonably deny that Jesus performed miracles. But such arguments were NOT intended to persuade the skeptics to believe that Jesus performed miracles; the arguments were intended to persuade skeptics to abandon the assumption that the Gospels provided reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus.
In view of this background information, one can view Strauss’s criticism of ADT in a similar fashion: IF you ASSUME that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the trials, crucifixion, burial of Jesus, and of the discovery of his empty tomb, and of the appearances of Jesus to his disciples on Easter Sunday, then you cannot avoid the conclusion that a miracle occurred, that Jesus rose from the dead. Specifically, IF you ASSUME that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, then you cannot reasonably accept ADT.
This seems like a reasonable position to me. But the point was NOT to disprove ADT nor to prove the resurrection, but rather to prove that it is logically inconsistent to hold BOTH of the following beliefs:
(1) The Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the life of Jesus.
(2) ADT is true.

Strauss’s view is that belief (1) ought to be rejected. But if a skeptic agrees with Strauss, and rejects (1), then there is no longer any strong reason to reject (2), because the logical inconsistency has been resolved by rejecting (1).
Now Strauss may have also rejected (2) as well as (1), but if a person embraces Strauss’s skepticism about the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts, that undermines almost all of the reasons given for rejecting (2). So, Strauss in NO WAY refuted ADT, but rather showed the way to refute most of the objections that have been raised against ADT, including the objections raised against ADT by Strauss himself.
The most often quoted objection to ADT from Strauss is what I call the Sickly Jesus Objection (hereafter: SJO). If Jesus was beaten and scourged before being crucified, and then he was nailed to the cross, then even if Jesus survived crucifixion and managed to escape from the stone tomb and find his way to the disiples, he would have been weak, and bloody, and cut, and bruised, and limping, and would have looked like warmed-over death on Easter Sunday, and such an appearance could not have inspired his disciples to develop a strong faith that Jesus had risen from the dead.
But this scenario depends heavily on the assumption that the Gospels provide historically reliable accounts of the details of Jesus’ trials, crucifixion, burial, and appearances to his disciples. What if Jesus was NOT beaten up or scourged prior to being crucified? What if Jesus had been tied rather than nailed to the cross? What if the first post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus took place two or three weeks after the crucifixion, rather than 48 hours after it? The force of Strauss’s most famous objection to ADT rests on the very assumption that Strauss was challenging: the assumption that the Gospels provide us with accurate and reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus. If your reject this assumption, then the force of Strauss’s best-known objection to ADT is seriously diminished.
Craig might also believe that refuting ADT is sufficient to show that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday. But this involves a confusion about the logical relationship between ADT and the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday” (hereafter: DOC). DOC and ADT are mutually exclusive ideas:
If DOC is true, then ADT is false.
If ADT is true, then DOC is false.
However, these two ideas do not jointly exhaust all of the logical possibilities:
If DOC is false, then ADT might be true or might be false.
If ADT is false, then DOC might be true or might be false.
What Craig may not fully realize is that ADT is a fairly complex idea. ADT makes more than a dozen assumptions and assertions:
1. There was an historical Jesus.
2. Jesus was crucified on Good Friday.
3. Jesus appeared to die on the cross on Good Friday, but he was actually still alive.
4. Jesus was judged on Good Friday to have died on the cross by the Roman soldiers who crucified him.
5. (4) happened because of (3).
6. Jesus was removed from the cross on Good Friday.
7. Jesus was burried in a stone tomb on Good Friday at about sunset.
8. The tomb where Jesus was burried on Good Friday was empty on Easter Sunday.
9. Jesus’ disciples experienced appearances of a living Jesus on Easter Sunday.
10. Jesus’ disciples developed a firm conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead on or shortly after Easter Sunday.
11. Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday.
12. (11) happened because of (3) and (4).
13. (8) happened because of (11).
14. (9) happened because of (11).
15. (10) happened because of (8), (9), and (11).

DOC and ADT are logically incompatible because of claim (3) above. So, one possible objection to ADT is to show that DOC is true. But there are many other claims and assumptions that are part of ADT. For example, if I challenge the assumption (1) that Jesus was an historical person, that would be a challenge to both ADT and DOC. If I challenge claim (2) that Jesus was crucified, that is a challenge to both ADT and DOC.
If I challenge claim (9) that Jesus’s disciples experienced appearances of a living Jesus on Easter Sunday, that would be a challenge to ADT. If I could prove that (9) was false, that would be showing that one of the claims of ADT was false. But showing that (9) is false would NOT prove that Jesus actually died on the cross. In fact, if (9) was proven false, that would cast significant doubt on the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts, and thus would undermine the primary evidence used to support the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. So, objections to ADT, do not necessarily provide support for DOC, and may actually provide evidence against both ADT and DOC.
If I challenge the claim (7) that Jesus was buried in a stone tomb, that would challenge ADT but not DOC. However, if it could be proved that (7) is false, that would refute ADT, but would NOT establish that Jesus actually died on the cross. Jesus could have been crucified, and survived crucifixion, but was rescued from the cross at night by a friend or a disciple, and thus was NOT burried in a stone tomb on Good Friday. In that case both ADT and DOC would be false.
Because ADT is a complex idea, a theory, it encompasses a number of claims and assumptions, and only ONE of those assumptions is that Jesus did NOT die on the cross. So, there are lots of logical possibilities besides ADT vs. DOC. In short, refutation of ADT as a way of supporting DOC commits the fallacy of false dilemma. There are more alternatives than just these two possibilities. An objection to ADT might not provide any support for DOC, and in some cases objections to ADT also work as objections to DOC.

bookmark_borderAn Open Letter to Dr. William Lane Craig

Dear Dr. William Lane Craig,
Let me be honest: I am opposed to Christianity. I am an enemy of Christianity. My life (or at least my free time outside of work) is dedicated to attacking and destroying the Christian faith.
However, though I hate the faith, I love the believer. I don’t hate you or any other Christian apologist. In fact, I admire you and your life-long dedication to the defense of Christianity. I think you have the potential to be the best Christian apologist of the 21st century, and even of the modern era. As an undergraduate, my plan was to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and do graduate study in Christian apologetics under your guidance. But I left the Christian faith about the time I graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy, so my original plan did not work out.
As an enemy of Christianity, I must admit to a certain degree of pleasure in taking apart the arguments of Christian apologists, such as your arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. But, frankly, I’m tired of knocking down the straw men that you and your fellow apologists so steadily put forward. I’m not committing the Straw-Man Fallacy when I do so; there just are no ‘real men’ out there to challenge, no real, intellectually serious cases for the resurrection of Jesus that exemplify scholarly excellence.
I don’t want to win the war against Christianity simply because you and your fellow apologists are too lazy to make a real and honest intellectually serious effort to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. I want to win only after having come face-to-face with a powerful and scholarly and well-thought-out case for the resurrection, and I think you are the one who could actually pull this off. But you have not done so yet.
David Hume was a skeptic who challenged the intellectual complacency of Immanuel Kant. As a young man, Kant thought that Christian metaphysics was in the bag, a done deal, a settled matter. Kant was wrong. It took the skeptic David Hume to wake him from his dogmatic slumber. I want to perform a similar service for you and your fellow apologists. There is no real, intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus, no case that exemplifies excellent historical scholarship and careful analytic thinking. I want to wake you up from your dogmatic slumber on this issue.
Although we are on opposite sides of the fence concerning Christianity, you and I agree on some important issues. We agree that everyone, at least every American and every European (and Canadian, Mexican, Central American, and South American), ought to take a stand for or against the Christian faith. Nobody should be a Christian just because their parents were Christians, or just because their friends or neighbors were Christians. Just like nobody should be an atheist just because their parents were atheists, or just because their friends or neighbors were atheists. Each person should make up his or her own mind and take a stand on this important issue.
We also agree that, although there are many different beliefs and practices associated with Christianity, there are a few basic issues that constitute the heart-and-soul of the Christian faith: Who was Jesus? Was Jesus just a wise Jewish teacher? Or was he a true prophet, the divine Son of God, and the savior of humankind? Anyone who denies that Jesus was a true prophet, or that he was (and is) the divine Son of God, or that he was (and is) the savior of humankind, is not truly a Christian, no matter what other specific Christian beliefs or values he or she may have adopted (e.g. the Golden Rule, charity towards the poor, etc.).
Finally, you and I agree that a key question to consider, before taking a stand for or against Christianity, is this: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? And an essential part of what one needs to think about to answer that theological question, is to think about these historical questions:
1. Did Jesus actually die on the cross on Good Friday?
2. Was Jesus alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday (after Good Friday)?
Unfortunately, you and your fellow apologists have failed to deal with Question (1) in an intellectually serious way.
Dr. Norman Geisler has clearly spelled out a fundamental principle on this matter:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120).
I believe that Geisler is correct. This seems like common-sense to me. It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of your various books, articles, and debates, you simply ignore this issue. For that reason, I’m convinced that your case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
You do make a brief attempt in The Son Rises to make a case for the death of Jesus on the cross (p.37-39). But you make dozens of historical claims in just a few paragraphs and offer almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence to support those claims. This “case” is crap. I know it is crap, and you know it is crap. It is a joke to even use the word “case” to describe the five paragraphs filled with unsupported historical claims. Geisler does a better job than this in his general handbook of apologetics (When Skeptics Ask, p.120-123). But, to the best of my knowledge, your pathetic “case” for the historicity of the death of Jesus simply reflects the general intellectual laziness of Christian apologists concerning Question (1). You are not alone.
Here are my recommendations:
1. Confess the Truth (i.e. Geisler’s principle)
If you agree with Geisler’s principle that the historicity of Jesus’ death must be proven in order to prove the resurrection, then admit this principle. If for some reason you disagree with Geisler’s principle, then say so publically, and make your best and strongest case against Geisler’s principle in public and in writing.
2. Confess the Sin (i.e. the intellectual shortfall)
If you agree with Geisler’s principle, then take the next step and admit that your case for the resurrection (as well as the case made by each of your fellow Christian apologists) is a failure because you have not (yet) made an intellectually serious case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross, a case that exemplifies excellent historical scholarship and careful analytical thinking.
As a young man, Richard Swinburne looked around and noted that one of the biggest challenges to the Christian faith was in the apparent conflicts between science and faith, particularly between science and the Christian faith. He also noted that this was the elephant in the living room, that Christian theologians and intellectuals had failed to seriously address this problem. He then dedicated his life to understanding both science and the Christian faith, and to making a serious intellectual effort to reconcile science with the Christian faith. As with alcoholism, it is essential to recognize and admit that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
3. Repent (i.e. fill the intellectual void)
I know you are a sharp person who has knowledge and skill in N.T. scholarship, and in the history of Christian apologetics, and in philosophical analysis. I have faith in you. I believe that you have the potential to fill a huge gap in Christian apologetics and to be the only modern apologist to make an intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus.
So, no more of the crappy two-page “cases” for the historicity of the death of Jesus. Just say ‘NO’ to such intellectual sloth. Take your own good advice to heart:
The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier [than philosophical apologetics] is because they do it superficially. But, of course, one can do philosophical apologetics superficially too! My point is that if we are to do a credible job in our apologetics, we need to do the hard thinking and the hard work required, or at least to rely on those who have.
(Reasonable Faith, p.253)

On my bookcase is a two-volume set by Raymond Brown titled: The Death of the Messiah. The first volume is 877 pages. The second volume is 731 pages. Both volumes are densely-packed with intellectually serious work that exemplifies excellence in historical scholarship and careful analytical thinking. Brown is focused mainly on the meaning and significance of the Passion narratives, and pays less attention to historical issues. But there is plenty of good material there to make use of in building an intellectually serious case for the historicity of the death of Jesus.
But I’m NOT asking you to write a massive two-volume work spanning 1,600 pages in defense of the actual death of Jesus on the cross (although I wouldn’t complain if you did). What I’m asking is that you treat Question (1) with at least as much intellectual seriousness and effort and care as you have treated Question (2).
Please write a book or a long scholarly article defending the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross.” One hundred pages would be a good start. A 200-300 page book could really do the trick.
Sincerely,
Bradley Bowen
Skeptic and Enemy of Christianity

bookmark_borderThe Failure of William Craig’s Case for the Resurrection

According to the Christian apologist Norman Geisler:

Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.
(When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, p.120)
After making this common-sense point, Geisler then proceeds to lay out eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”(the title of this sub-section of the Chapter “Questions about Jesus”).
Geisler’s case for this claim is made on pages 120, 121, 122, and the top of page 123. There is a large illustration on page 121, so there is less than half a page of text on that page. There is another illustration on page 122, so there is only about a half page of text on that page. In total, the eight points represent a little less than two full pages of text. This is a childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus, but at least Geisler made an effort to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, and at least Geisler admits that he bears the burden of proof on this question.
One further point to mitigate the absurdity of trying to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross in a little under two pages is the fact that the book When Skeptics Ask covers a wide variety of topics in Christian apologetics: the purpose of apologetics, the existence of God, alternatives to theism, the problem of evil, miracles, Jesus, the inspiration of the Bible, science and evolution, life after death, the nature of truth, and morality. This is NOT a book devoted exclusively to the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. It is about 300 pages and covers many different topics and issues. However, as far as I am aware, the case for the death of Jesus in this book is the best and most in-depth case for this claim that Geisler has ever made.
William Craig, on the other hand, has specialized in making the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Craig has debated others on this issue on a number of occasions, and he has written books and articles specifically to present a case for the resurrection. So, if Craig understands and accepts Geisler’s common-sense point that in order to “show that Jesus rose from the dead” Christian apologists “need to show that He really did die”, then we should expect that Craig would do a much better and more thorough job of dealing with this historical question.
But Craig does NOT do better than Geisler in showing that Jesus really did die on the cross. In fact, more often than not, Craig simply ignores this issue. Therefore, I conclude that Craig does NOT understand and agree with this common-sense point made so clearly by Geisler. Craig does not understand that when he asserts that “Jesus rose from the dead”, he takes on the burden of proof to show that Jesus really did die on the cross.
The clearest evidence for my view of Craig’s failure to understand and accept Geisler’s common-sense point is in Craig’s book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. If Craig understood and agreed with Geisler’s point, then at least one-fourth of this book should be devoted to the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?”.
To answer this question, Craig would need to carefully examine the passion narratives of the four Gospels, and to discuss the historical reliability of the details in those narratives. Craig would need to discuss the Roman practices regarding crucifixion, and he would need to talk about the medical aspects of crucifixion, and Craig would need to discuss the various alleged wounds of Jesus (beating, scourging, nailing to the cross, spear wound), and the medical implications of these alleged wounds.
Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus is 420 pages long, and (obviously) it is dedicated to nothing but the issue of the resurrection of Jesus. So, clearly Craig, if he accepted Geisler’s point, would devote much more than the pathetic two pages that we get from Geisler on this key question.
It is reasonable to expect that at least 100 pages, and perhaps as much as 200 pages, of this 420-page tome would focus on the whether Jesus really did die on the cross. But, alas, Craig does not write 200 pages arguing for the death of Jesus, nor does he write 100 pages on the death of Jesus. Does he write 50 pages on this question? No. 25 pages? No. Out of 420 pages, Craig writes exactly ZERO pages on the question “Did Jesus actually die on the cross?”
Amazingly, in a 420-page tome that is dedicated to nothing but the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Craig somehow manages to do a worse job than the childish and pathetic efforts of Norman Geisler, even though Geisler was making his case in a 300-page book that covers more than a dozen different topics in Christian apologetics.
In the first 347 pages ofAssessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Craig discusses in detail the N.T. evidence that he thinks is relevant to the question ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’. In the final 70 pages (p.351-420), Craig assesses the evidence. The assessment is divided into three chapters:
Chapter 9: The Evidence for the Empty Tomb
Chapter 10: The Evidence for the Resurrection Appearances
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Christian Way (i.e. belief in the resurrection of Jesus)
There is no chapter devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no subsection devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is not even one page devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
Also, EACH of the three items above provides evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
If we assume that Jesus was in fact buried in a tomb on Good Friday, and that the tomb was in fact found empty on Easter Sunday morning, then this is evidence that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday. But if Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then that is powerful evidence that Jesus either was NOT crucified on Friday, or that he survived crucifixion. The resurrection appearances are also evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, but if Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then that is powerful evidence that Jesus did NOT die on Good Friday.
Finally, if we assume that Jesus’ disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, presumably this is evidence that they believed they had seen Jesus alive after he had allegedly died. But again, if we take this as evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, then it is evidence that Jesus did NOT die on Good Friday.
Craig has not only failed to make a case FOR the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday, but ALL of the evidence that he does put forward appears to make a strong case AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross on Good Friday.
Craig has participated in a number of debates on the resurrection. In his debate with Gerd Ludemann, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with John Crossan, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No.
Here is how Craig summarizes his case in the debate with Ludemann:
In summary, there are four facts agreed on by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects that any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. (Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?, p.34)
Of these four “facts” the last three are actually evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross, because evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday is evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross on Good Friday.
The only “fact” here that might be used to support the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross is the burial of Jesus. But Jesus could have been buried in a tomb either as the result of a conspiracy (in which one or more persons knew that Jesus was alive when he was buried) or the result of an honest mistake (Jesus could been alive but appeared to be dead). Furthermore, the burial of Jesus shows, at best, that some people believed Jesus had died, but it does not show they believed Jesus had died on a cross. So, the burial of Jesus is hardly solid proof that he died on the cross. Furthermore, Craig makes no inference from the burial to the death of Jesus. He never argues (in the debate) that the burial is evidence for the death of Jesus.
The same is true of Craig’s debate with John Crossan. Here is Craig summarizing his case for the resurrection:
Now Dr. Crossan realizes that once you agree to these four facts–namely, Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his resurrection appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection–then it’s very difficult to deny that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation.(Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, p.29)
Craig makes the same points in his debate with Bart Ehrman:
In conclusion, then, I think that there is good historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. Specifically, I’ve staked out two basic contentions for discussion tonight:
I. There are four historical facts which must be explained by any adequate historical hypothesis: Jesus’ burial, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, and
II. The best explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose from the dead.
Transcript of Debate with Ehrman
viewed 5/23/14
Craig makes the same case for the resurrection in Jesus Under Fire:
What, then, is the relevant body of evidence pertinent to the alleged resurrection of Jesus? It can be conveniently grouped under three main headings: (1) Jesus’ empty tomb, (2) the postmortem appearances of Jesus, and (3) the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. (“Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Jesus Under Fire, p.146)
Again, each of these items provides evidence AGAINST the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
In a journal article titled “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” Craig offers the same three points:
These three great facts–the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith–all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.(Truth 1 (1985): 89-95)
Online Copy of Article
viewed 5/23/14
In his general book on apologetics, Craig emphasizes the same evidence:
The case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus seems to me to rest upon the evidence for three great, independently established facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith. (Reasonable Faith, p.272)
Geisler came up with eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” in his 300-page handbook on Christian apologetics (When Skeptics Ask), but Craig does not even attempt to prove the death of Jesus on the cross. The closest he comes to this in Reasonable Faith, is on page 279, where Craig lists three objections to the Apparent Death Theory. Only the first objection concerns evidence for Jesus’ death:

1.It is physically implausible. First, what the theory suggests is virtually physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived the crucifixion and entombment.

There you have it. That is Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, as given in his handbook on apologetics. Geisler gives us eight points in four pages, and Craig gives us just two scrawny sentences: one sentence stating his conclusion, and one sentence stating his reason. Unbelievably, Craig makes a case for the actual death of Jesus on the cross which is weaker and even more pathetic than the childish and pathetic case presented by Geisler.
In fairness to Craig, there is one book in which he does present a couple of pages of evidence and reasons in support of the actual death of Jesus. I will examine those two pages in a future post. At best, Craig comes up to Geisler’s lowly level of argumentation in that book, and does so in only that one instance, as far as I know. In most other books, articles, and debates, Craig has virtually nothing to say in defense of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross.”
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Copan, Paul, ed. Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998. Print.
Copan, Paul, and Ronald Tacelli, eds. Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? : A Debate between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000. Print.
Craig, William. Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989. Print.
Craig, William. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1994. Print.
Craig, William. “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” Jesus Under Fire. Ed. Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995. Print.
Reasonable Faith website. “Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?: William Lane Craig vs. Bart D. Ehrman.” Reasonable Faith.org. (College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States – March 28, 2006). Web. Accessed 5/24/14.
Geisler, Norman, and Ron Brooks. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook of Christian Evidences. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1990. Print.

bookmark_borderSome Skeptical Thoughts on the Resurrection

I met a fellow skeptic at a Starbucks a month or two ago. We recently bumped into each other, had a brief chat, and I found out that he was also interested in questions about the historical Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the historicity of Jesus. He was especially interested in my thoughts about the resurrection, so I did a quick brain dump of some of my skeptical thoughts about the resurrection.
Here is what I jotted down as a quick summary of some of my thinking on this issue:
1. Geisler vs. Craig
Norman Geisler makes an excellent point in his book When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences (co-authored with Ron Brooks):
Before that we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.(WSA, p.120)
If you accept this fairly simple and obvious point by Geisler, then you can immediately toss William Craig’s case for the resurrection into the garbage. Craig never makes any attempt to prove that Jesus really did die on the cross. Craig may make some good points in support of the resurrection of Jesus, but there is a huge gaping hole in his case, that makes it a clear failure as it stands.
2. My Version of Hume’s Objection
The implications of the ECREE principle (Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence) have not be fully understood by Christian Apologists, and perhaps not even by most skeptics. One must prove both of the following claims with solid evidence and arguments to have any hope of showing that the resurrection of Jesus really happened:
(D) Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
(A) Jesus was alive and walking around (without any assistance) about 48 hours after being crucified.
But it is extremely difficult to prove BOTH of these claims based on a single body of evidence, because if (D) is proven to be true, then (D) provides very powerful evidence for the view that (A) is false, and similarly if (A) is proven to be true, then (A) provides very powerful evidence for the view that (D) is false.
The evidence for (A) is weak and dubious, which means that the ECREE principle cannot be satisfied.
But if a skeptic very generously sets aside this huge problem, and grants for the sake of argument that (A) is true, then the skeptic is entitled to use (A) as a key piece of evidence for the falsehood of (D). While the evidence for (D) is better than the evidence for (A), it is nowhere near being strong enough to overcome the contrary evidence of (A). If Jesus was truly alive and walking around without assistance about 48 hours after being crucified, then this is powerful evidence that Jesus did NOT die on the cross, but survived crucifixion. Furthermore, a close examination of the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross reveals that it is just as dubious and as questionable as are most other historical claims about Jesus.
3. We Only Know about God’s Motivation
A basic problem with all miracles claims is that because of the divine attributes that define the concept of God, about the only relevant evidence that we have is God’s motivation or purposes, which makes it very difficult if not impossible to identify God as the cause of a particular event.
When a detective investigates a murder, the detective looks at possible motives of various suspects, but this is not the only evidence required to connect a suspect to a murder. More evidence is required than just establishing that Smith had a motivation to kill Jones. Other kinds of evidence may be available:
(1) eyewitness testimony or a video recording about the event of the murder (possibly a description of, or even an identification of, the person who did the killing),
(2) DNA or hair from the suspect found at the scene of the murder or on the body of the victim,
(3) evidence of possession or ownership of the weapon used to perform the killing,
(4) fingerprints of a person on the weapon used to perform the murder,
(5) footprints of people at or near the scene of the murder,
(6) eyewitness or video camera evidence concerning the location of the suspect at or around the time of the murder,
(7) evidence about the character and personality of the various suspects,
(8) conversations of the suspects with others concerning motivation, means, opportunity, or even an admission of having committed the murder.

Suppose God is a suspect in the killing of Jones. There can be no eyewitness description of God performing the murder, because God is an invisible spirit, so God cannot be seen. God has no hair, no fingers, no blood, no saliva, so God cannot leave hairs, fingerprints, drops of blood or saliva.
God does not need to purchase a gun or a knife, because he can make one instantly ex nihilo (and God can also instantly make a gun or knife vanish into nothingness). Furthermore, God does not need to use a gun or a knife or any tool at all in order to kill a person. God can simply will it to be the case that a person dies in a certain way, and that is exactly what will happen.
God’s location at the time of the killing is irrelevant, since God is omnipresent. God is present at all locations in space, because God knows everything that is happening at every point in space (God is omniscient), and God can affect any events he chooses to at any point in space (God is omnipotent).
Since God is an invisible bodiless person (a ‘spirit’), we cannot observe God’s behavior and learn about his character by means of observation. We also cannot listen to God’s conversations. Even if God chooses to make the sound of a voice which announces his thoughts, the claim that this voice represents the words and thoughts of God will itself be a miracle claim, a claim that suffers from all of the problems of lack of evidence that have just been outlined.
It is difficult to see how a detective could ever build a strong case for the claim that “God killed Jones”, because most of the kinds of evidence that we rely on to make such cases is unavailable in relation to God.
The same reasoning appears to apply to the resurrection. How could a detective ever build a strong case for the claim that “God raised Jesus from the dead”? We can think about God’s being a perfectly morally good person and whether that divine attribute makes it likely that God would want to raise Jesus from the dead, but aside from motivation, we have none of the other ordinary kinds of evidence available to connect God to this particular event.
4. Skepticism about God’s Motivations
Because empirical information does not provide us with knowledge about God’s character and motivations, all we have to work from is the concept of God, which implies that God is a perfectly morally good person. But in order to build a case for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead, we need to have more specific information about God’s purposes and motivations.
Swinburne’s case for the resurrection quite correctly focuses in on identification of more specific purposes and motivations of God, but it is difficult to see how Swinburne derives various fairly specific divine motivations and purposes from the very general and abstract idea that God is a perfectly morally good person.
In Swinburne’s case for the resurrection there appears to be a fairly serious problem concerning God’s motivations….
5. Sociocentrism and Circular Reasoning
What is surprising (and even a bit jarring) in Swinburne’s case for the resurrection is how quickly and easily he arrives at the conclusion that God is very concerned about sin and atonement. But these are clearly Christian-based ideas which reflect Christian values and a Christian worldview. It is as if Swinburne was saying: the life of Jesus fits very nicely with Christian beliefs and values, and God who is a perfectly morally good person must have Christian beliefs and values, so Jesus’ life clearly reflects God’s beliefs and values.
But such thinking is circular reasoning. Christian beliefs and values are supposed to be grounded in the authority of Jesus, which is grounded in the belief that Jesus is God Incarnate, which is in turn (it would appear) grounded in Christian beliefs and values.
Sociocentrism is the tendency to view your in-group as being good, right, and normal. Outsiders are bad, wrong, and abnormal. Another aspect of sociocentrism is the failure to notice that one even HAS a point of view: “We don’t have a point of view; we simply see the world as it really is.” Because one’s point of view has generally been adopted in childhood, it seems ‘natural’ to see the world from that point of view, and to assume that one is simply seeing the world as it really is. But worldviews are NOT natural; they are artificial; worldviews are systems of beliefs and values that have been constructed by human beings.
Swinburne’s hasty leap in attributing concerns about sin and atonement to God appears to be a clear case of sociocentric bias in which he fails to notice the operation of his own Christian worldview in shaping his reasoning and assumptions.
If one tries to set aside the Christian worldview for a few minutes, and to think like, for example, a Buddhist thinks, then one would arrive at very different conclusions about the motivations of God. God’s primary concern would NOT be with sin and atonement, but rather with suffering and unhappiness and anxiety that humans experience as a result of ego attachment to things and people and circumstances.
All is change, everything changes, and thus (in a sense) everything dies. In order to get beyond the typical human condition of suffering, unhappiness, and anxiety, one must become enlightened and fully grasp the reality that everything changes, and reconcile oneself to this unalterable reality.
In short, a Buddhist would attribute a different set of motivations to God than what a Christian would attribute to God. And, very likely, if anyone is to be recognized as an incarnation of God it would be Buddha, if one assumes that God has the sorts of concerns and motivations that a Buddhist would likely attribute to God. But clearly, that would beg the question; it would be circular reasoning to start from a Buddhist worldview and attribute Buddhist beliefs and values to God, and then conclude that Buddha is the most likely candidate for being God Incarnate.
The same objection applies to Swinburne.
6. Jesus was a False Prophet
This objection is somewhat in conflict with the previously argued skepticism about our knowledge of God’s specific motivations. However, I am drawing upon common Christian beliefs about God’s motivations, so this could be viewed as an argument concerning an internal inconsistency within Christianity.
CORE ARGUMENT
1. Jesus was a false prophet.
2. If Jesus was a false prophet, then God would not either perpetrate nor permit Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Therefore,
3. God would not either perpetrate nor permit Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (1)
4. Jesus claimed to be a prophet.
5. Jesus encouraged others to worship and obey a false god.
6. Anyone who claims to be a prophet but encourages others to worship and obey a false god is a false prophet.
Therefore,
1. Jesus was a false prophet.
ARGUMENT FOR PREMISE (5)
7. Jesus encouraged others to worship and obey Jehovah.
8. Something is God only if it is a perfectly morally good person.
9. Jehovah is NOT a perfectly morally good person.
10. If Jehovah is NOT God, then Jehovah is a false god.
Therefore,
5. Jesus encouraged others to worship and obey a false god.