bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 11

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
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 William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10 I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In this post I will point to some more specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the historical Jesus.
Although Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar look beyond the four canonical gospels for data about the historical Jesus, the four canonical gospels are still our primary souce of information about Jesus, especially about his alleged arrest, trial(s), crucifixion, death, and burial.  If the four canonical gospels provide historically unreliable information and stories about Jesus, then we simply cannot be certain that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified.  We also cannot conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified, if the four canonical gospels are historically unreliable sources.
Funk clearly views the Gospel of John as a highly unreliable source of information about the historical Jesus:
For all these reasons [see pages 125-127], the current quest for the historical Jesus makes little use of the heavily interpreted data found in the Gospel of John.  (Honest to Jesus, p.127)
For one thing, Funk and the Jesus Seminar have examined every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, and there is only ONE SINGLE SENTENCE attributed to Jesus in the entire Gospel of John that the Jesus Seminar thought was probably from the historical Jesus:
A prophet gets no respect on his own turf.  (John 4:44, The Five Gospels, p.412)
So, according to the Jesus Seminar, not only does the Gospel of John fall short of providing reliable information about the words and teachings of Jesus, but rather it is a very reliable source of FALSE information about Jesus.  Almost all of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John were marked as “black” by the Jesus Seminar, meaning:
black:  Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.  (The Five Gospels, p.36)
In layman’s terms, the Gospel of John’s accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are bullshit.  They are almost completely fictional.  Since, the Gospel of John is filled from start to finish with fictional accounts of what Jesus said and taught, we have very good reason to believe that the other aspects of this Gospel are also historically unreliable and are in most cases fictional.
Funk puts the nail in the coffin of the Gospel of John, with the following comment:
The crucifixion of Jesus must have been a disappointment to his first followers.  It certainly frightened them, to judge by their response.  With his arrest and crucifixion they fled from Jerusalem, returned to Galilee, and resumed their humble lives as fishermen and peasants. (Honest to Jesus, p.40)
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples remained in Jerusalem after Jesus was crucified, and the risen Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples, minus doubting Thomas, in Jerusalem on Sunday two days after his crucifixion, and he appeared to them again in Jerusalem a week later, with doubting Thomas present (John 20:19-29).  Thus, Funk believes that two very important stories about Jesus in the Gospel of John, namely two of his resurrection appearances to his gathered disciples, are FICTIONAL stories.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, almost all of the words and teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are FICTIONAL and unhistorical, and according to Funk, two very important stories in the Gospel of John about Jesus’ resurrection appearances are also FICTIONAL and unhistorical.  This gives us good reason not only to have doubts about information in the Gospel of John, but to infer that other events and details in this Gospel are probably FICTIONAL and unhistorical too.
Furthermore,  our degree of certainty about the death of Jesus on the cross depends to a significant degree on historical claims that are supported ONLY by the Gospel of John.  Specifically: (1) the use of nails in the crucifixion of Jesus (as opposed to binding Jesus to the cross), and (2) the alleged spear wound to Jesus’ side.  Since these important details about the crucifixion are only provided in the Gospel of John, Funk’s view that the Gospel of John is historically unreliable seriously undermines the case for Jesus’ death on the cross (especially his death on the same day that he was crucified).
So, Funk’s skeptical view of the Gospel of John could BY ITSELF provide sufficient reason to have serious doubt about the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and thus make it very difficult, if not impossible, to establish that it is very probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
However, Funk’s skepticism about the Gospel accounts is not limited to the Gospel of John, so there are futher reasons that cast significant doubt on the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 8

I have one final objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence”.  I have been using the phrase “the devil is in the details” to summarize a number of problems with, or objections to, Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to establish some key claims about Jesus.  But there are some specific DETAILS about the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that I have not yet mentioned but that represent more such details that raise doubt about the claim that “Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.”
First of all, we don’t know how crucifixion CAUSES a person to die.  There are various theories, of course, but it would be unethical to put those theories to a full scientific test, because it would be unethical to crucify human beings and to carefully observe their deaths in order to answer this historical/medical question.  However, one popular theory is that crucifixion kills a person by asphyxiation, but actual scientific tests of crucifixion (where subjects were strapped, not nailed, to crosses) have indicated that, contrary to the asphyxiation theory, people can breathe without difficulty while hanging from a cross.  The subjects, of course, were only attached to the crosses for a few minutes, not for several hours, so the asphyxiation theory has not been disproved, but it has been cast into doubt.
Because we don’t know how crucifixion causes death, we can hardly be certain that it caused Jesus to die in a matter of just a few hours (Jesus was crucified around 9am according to the synoptic Gospels and around noon according to the Gospel of John.  The  Gospels agree that Jesus was buried before sundown on the day he was crucified, around 6pm, so his apparent death would have been sometime in the late afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm).  If Jesus had been on the cross for several days, that would make his death highly probable because people usually died after three or four days.  But since Jesus was allegedly on the cross for between about three hours (noon to 3pm) and eight hours (9am to 5pm), the fact that he was hanging from a cross for a few hours is not sufficient to confidently conclude that he died on the cross.
One important detail is the use of NAILS.  Most paintings and sculptures of the crucifixion show Jesus as nailed to the cross, but the synoptic Gospels do not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing.  The synoptic gospels only say that Jesus was crucified, and crucifixion was often carried out by binding the victim to the cross, without using nails.  The Gospel of John also does not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing in the description of Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, in the story of Doubting Thomas, which is found ONLY in the Gospel of John, we are told that the risen Jesus had marks in his hands/wrists from nails.  Since nails are mentioned ONLY in the Gospel of John and in the dubious story of Doubting Thomas which also occurs ONLY in the Gospel of John, the evidence for the use of nails in Jesus’ crucifixion is weak and questionable. (Note: The Doubting Thomas story says nothing about nail wounds in Jesus’ feet, only in his hands.)
If Jesus had been bound to the cross rather than nailed to the cross, then that would mean that instead of having a serious wound in each hand/wrist and in each foot/ankle, he would have had no serious wound in each hand/wrist and no serious wound in each foot/ankle, meaning that four of the serious wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus, might be fictional rather than factual.  If  Jesus had been bound rather than nailed to the cross, this would significantly reduce the probability that he would die after just a few hours of hanging on the cross.
One other very important wound that Jesus allegedly received while on the cross is the SPEAR WOUND to his side.  The story of the spear wound, however, is found ONLY in the historically dubious Gospel of John.  None of the synoptic Gospels record this event, and none of the other Gospels ever mentions a wound in Jesus’ side.
Furthermore, there is good reason to suspect that this spear wound incident was created on the basis of an O.T. prophecy, which is specifically mentioned in the Gospel passage that relates this story (John 19:36 & 37):
36. These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  
37. And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The author of this Gospel might have accepted these scripture passages as divinely inspired prophecy which MUST be fulfilled, and on this basis INFERRED that Jesus MUST have been stabbed with a spear while on the cross, and then created the story about the spear wound, without any thought or intent to deceive the readers of this Gospel, being fully confident in the inspiration of the O.T. and in his interpretation of these ‘prophetic’ passages.
I, however, am quite confident that the O.T. was NOT inspired by God, and even if it were inspired by God I have no good reason to trust or rely upon the interpretation of these O.T. passages by an unknown first-century Christian author.  Since there is a good chance that the story was created on the basis of the O.T. passages, there is a good chance that the spear-wound story is fictional and false.  If the spear-wound story is fictional and false, then one of the most serious and important wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus was NOT actually inflicted on Jesus.   If there was no spear-wound to Jesus’ side while he was hanging on the cross, then that would significantly reduce the probability that Jesus would die after just a few hours on the cross.
Within the general constraints of the Gospel accounts, but allowing for some dubious details to  be fictional, it is quite possible that Jesus was merely tied to the cross (not nailed), that he hung from the cross for just a few hours (from noon to 3pm), and that there was no serious spear-wound inflicted on Jesus while he was on the cross.  Given that we simply do not know how crucifixion causes death (other than by dehydration, starvation, and exposure over a period of days),  the fact that Jesus was crucified fails to show that the death of Jesus on the cross is highly probable.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.