William Lane Craig - Reasonable Faith- Christian Truth and Apologetics (2008 Crossway Books)

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Reasonable Faith

Christian Truth and Apologetics THIRD EDITION


“It is hard to overstate the impact that William Lane Craig has had for the cause of Christ. He is simply the finest Christian apologist of the last half century, and his academic work justifies ranking him among the top 1 percent of practicing philosophers in the Western world. Besides that, he is a winsome ambassador for Christ, an exceptional debater, and a man with the heart of an evangelist. I know him well and can say that he lives a life of integrity and lives out what he believes. I do not know of a single thinker who has done more to raise the bar of Christian scholarship in our generation than Craig. He is one of a kind, and I thank God for his life and work.” —J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology “In admirably clear prose, Professor Craig presents important philosophical and historical issues relevant to Christian beliefs. With extraordinary erudition, he sketches the arguments of major thinkers of both past centuries and recent times, and he presents his own reasons for concluding that traditional Christian doctrines about God and Jesus are credible. His replies to those skeptical of the existence of God, of historical knowledge, of the occurrence of miracles, and in particular of the resurrection of Jesus, take debates over those difficult topics an important stage further. Here is an admirable defense of basic Christian faith.” —C. Behan McCullagh, Philosophy Program, La Trobe University “Reasonable Faith is a much-needed book for our times. It overflows with cogent and compelling argument presented in accessible and irenic language. University and seminary students will find this book especially helpful in exposing the fallacies and lack of evidence in the many and various challenges that have been leveled against historic Christian claims. Craig offers solid, convincing argument for and evidence of the trustworthiness of the New Testament Gospels and the ancient, credible witness of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I highly recommend this book.” —Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College; author, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels “Although my philosophical predilections often differ from Dr. Craig’s (as they do from those of everyone else I know), I have found that he is very knowledgeable about science and current cosmological ideas. He provides interesting insights into their implications for our shared Christian beliefs.” —Don Nelson Page, Professor of Physics, University of Alberta

Crossway books by William Lane Craig: Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar: Redeeming the Soul, Redeeming the Mind (co-editor) Hard Questions, Real Answers Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time

Reasonable Faith Christian Truth and Apologetics

Third Edition


7 F C G G K5M  6 C C ? G K .5 indicates some positive probability of a statement or event and Pr(not-M&E|B).27 Sobel’s rendering of “the falsehood of the testimony” as Pr(not-M&E|B) is controverted,28 but his formula does state a necessary condition of Pr(M|E&B) > 1/2. But there is nothing in this formula to show that it is in principle impossible to establish the occurrence of a miracle. One might think that relative to our background knowledge a miracle is always more improbable than the miracle’s not occurring and the evidence’s being as it is. But that is by 27. Jordan Howard Sobel, Logic and Theism: Arguments for and against Beliefs in God (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 316. 28. Earman takes it more plausibly to be Pr(not-M|E & B) or Pr(E| not-M & B). He concludes, “Hume’s Maxim is just the unhelpful tautology that no testimony is sufficient to establish the credibility of a miracle unless it is sufficient to make the occurrence more probable than not” (Hume’s Abject Failure, 40).


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no means the case. Remember that the evidence itself may be extraordinary in the Pickwickian sense of being, like the miracle, highly improbable relative to the background information alone, so that Pr(not-M&E|B) < Pr(M|B). Ironically, the skeptic’s own slogan returns to bite him, for the evidence may well be extraordinary, that is, highly improbable relative to our background knowledge, so that Sobel’s condition is met. In order to show that no evidence can in principle establish the historicity of a miracle, Hume needs to show that the intrinsic probability of any miracle claim is so low that it can never be overcome. This takes us back to the first part of Hume’s argument, that miracles are by definition utterly improbable. Hume claimed that the uniform experience of mankind supports the laws of nature rather than miracles. Now such an assertion appears at face value to be question-begging. To say that uniform experience is against miracles is implicitly to assume already that all miracle reports are false. Earman interprets Hume to mean, not that uniform experience is against miracles, but that up to the case under investigation, uniform experience has been against miracles; that is to say, as we come to some alleged miracle claim, we do so knowing that all past miracle claims apart from this one have been spurious. Earman interprets Hume to construe Pr(M|B) in terms of frequency. Miracles are utterly improbable because they diverge from mankind’s uniform experience. But Earman points out that the frequency model of probability simply will not work in this context. For trying to construe the probabilities in Bayes’ Theorem as objective frequencies would disqualify many of the theoretical hypotheses of the advanced sciences. For example, scientists are investing long hours and millions of dollars hoping for an observation of an event of proton decay, though such an event has never been observed. On Hume’s model of probability such research is a waste of time and money, since the event will have a probability of zero. Earman concludes that in the case of Pr(M|B) the guidance for assigning probability “cannot take the simple minded form” of using the frequency of M-type events in past experience; that frequency may be flatly zero (as in proton decay), but it would be unwise to therefore set Pr(M|B)=0.29 How we assess the intrinsic probability of M will depend on how M is characterized. Take the resurrection of Jesus, for example. The hypothesis “Jesus rose from the dead” is ambiguous, comprising two radically different hypotheses. One is that “Jesus rose naturally from the dead”; the other is that “Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead,” or that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” The former is agreed on all hands to be outrageously improbable. Given what we know of cell necrosis, the hypothesis “Jesus rose naturally from the dead” is fantastically, even unimaginably, improbable. Conspiracy theories, apparent death theories, hallucination theories, twin brother theories—almost any hypothesis, however unlikely, seems more probable than the hypothesis that all the cells in Jesus’ corpse spontaneously came back to life again. Accordingly, that improbability will lower greatly the probability that 29. John Earman, “Bayes, Hume, and Miracles,” Faith and Philosophy 10 (1993): 303.

The Problem of Miracles


“Jesus rose from the dead,” since that probability will be a function of its two component hypotheses, the one natural and the other supernatural. But the evidence for the laws of nature which renders improbable the hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally from the grave is simply irrelevant to the probability of the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead. Since our interest is in whether Jesus rose supernaturally from the dead, we can assess this hypothesis on its own. Let us ask, then, what is the intrinsic probability of the hypothesis R= “God raised Jesus from the dead.” How we assess Pr(R|B) will depend on whether our background knowledge B includes the facts which support the arguments of natural theology for God’s existence, such as the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, objective moral values and duties, and so forth. If it does not, the Pr(R|B) will be lower than if it does, for then our evidence E will have to carry the full burden of justifying belief in God’s existence as well as Jesus’ resurrection. If we let G = God’s existence, the Theorem on Total Probability tells us: Pr(R|B) = [Pr(R|G&B) × Pr(G|B)] + [Pr(R|not-G&B) × Pr(not-G|B)]

Now Pr(R|not-G&B) is 0, since it is impossible for God to raise Jesus if God doesn’t exist! So Pr(R|B) reduces to just Pr(R|G&B) × Pr(G|B). As we have seen, the classical defenders of miracles did not treat them as arguments for God’s existence; rather God’s existence was taken to be implied by facts already included in B. So let’s include in B all the facts that go to support the premises of the arguments of natural theology. On this basis let’s suppose that the probability of God’s existence on the background knowledge of the world Pr(G|B) is at least 0.5. The remaining probability to estimate is Pr(R|G&B), the probability that God would raise Jesus from the dead, given that God exists. We may think of this probability as the degree of expectation that a perfectly rational agent would have that, given G&B, God would raise Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. God has never before intervened to do such a thing, so far as we know, and there are other ways he could vindicate Jesus, should he want to, if he even wants to. So how would a perfectly rational agent assess the risk of betting in this case that, given G&B, God would raise Jesus from the dead? In estimating this probability, we mustn’t abstract from the historical context of Jesus’ own life, ministry, and teaching, insofar as these can be included in our background knowledge. When we include in B our knowledge of the life of the historical Jesus up to the time of his crucifixion and burial, I don’t think we can say that God’s raising Jesus is improbable. So just for the sake of illustration let’s say that Pr(R|G&B) = 0.5. In that case Pr(R|B) = 0.5 × 0.5 = 0.25, or one out of four. Such an intrinsic improbability is easily outweighed by the other factors in Bayes’ Theorem. Now in fact I think that it is impossible to assign a value to a probability like Pr(R|G&B) with any sort of confidence, and so Pr(R|B) will remain inscrutable. The difficulty here is that we are dealing with a free agent (the Creator of the universe), and how do we know what he would do with respect to Jesus? But I


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think we can say that there is no reason to think that Pr(R|G&B) is terribly low, such that Pr(R|B) becomes overwhelmingly improbable. We certainly cannot take Pr(R|G&B) to be terribly low simply because of the infrequency of resurrections, for it may be precisely because of the resurrection’s uniqueness that it is highly probable that God would choose so spectacular an event as a means of vindicating Jesus. In any case, I think it is evident that there is no “in principle” argument here against miracles. Rather what will be at stake, as our example of Jesus’ resurrection illustrates, is an “in fact” argument that handles a putative miracle claim in its historical context, given the evidence for God’s existence. So the Humean skeptic has failed to show that any possible miracle claim has an insuperably low intrinsic probability. Couple this result with our earlier conclusion that even incredibly low intrinsic probabilities can be outweighed by the other factors in Bayes’ Theorem, and it is evident why contemporary thinkers have come to see Hume’s argument as a failure.30 Although the fallaciousness of Hume’s reasoning has been recognized by the majority of philosophers writing on the subject today, still a widespread assumption persists that if historical inquiry is to be feasible, then one must adopt a sort of methodological naturalism as a fundamental historiographical principle. According to this outlook, historians must adopt as a methodological principle a sort of “historical naturalism” that excludes the supernatural. Antony Flew, while acknowledging the failure of Hume’s argument, has sought to defend the presumption against miracles in historical studies. He writes: It is only and precisely by presuming that the laws that hold today held in the past and by employing as canons all our knowledge . . . of what is probable or improbable, possible or impossible, that we can rationally interpret the detritus of the past as evidence and from it construct our account of what actually happened. But in this context, what is impossible is what is physically, as opposed to logically impossible. And “physical possibility” is, and surely has to be, defined in terms of inconsistency with a true law of nature. . . . Our sole ground for characterizing a reported occurrence as miraculous is at the same time a sufficient reason for calling it physically impossible.31

This viewpoint is simply a restatement of the nineteenth-century German theologian Ernst Troeltsch’s principle of analogy. According to Troeltsch, one of the most basic historiographical principles is that the past does not differ essentially from the present. Though the events of the past are obviously not the same events as those of the present, they must be the same kind of events if historical investigation is to be possible. Troeltsch realized that this principle was incompatible 30. I’m indebted to Tim and Lydia McGrew, epistemologists who specialize in confirmation theory, for very interesting and illuminating discussions of Hume’s “in principle” argument. 31. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Miracles.”

The Problem of Miracles


with the miraculous events of the Gospels and therefore held that they must be regarded as unhistorical. In our own day, however, Wolfhart Pannenberg has persuasively argued that Troeltsch’s principle of analogy cannot be legitimately employed to banish all nonanalogous events from history. According to Pannenberg, analogy, when properly defined, means that in an unclear historical situation we should interpret the facts in terms of known experience. Troeltsch, however, uses analogy to constrict all past events to purely natural events. But, Pannenberg maintains, the fact that an event bursts all analogies to the present cannot be used to dispute its historicity. When, for example, myths, legends, illusions, and the like are dismissed as unhistorical, it is not because they are unusual but because they are analogous to present forms of consciousness to which no historical reality corresponds. When an event is said to have occurred for which no present analogy exists, we cannot automatically dismiss its historicity; to do that we must have an analogy to some known form of consciousness to which no reality corresponds that would suffice to explain the situation. Pannenberg has thus reformulated Troeltsch’s principle of analogy in such a way that it is not the lack of an analogy that shows an event to be unhistorical, but the presence of a positive analogy to known thought forms that shows a purported miracle to be unhistorical. Hence, he has elsewhere affirmed that if the Easter narratives were shown to be essentially secondary constructions analogous to common comparative religious phenomena, if the Easter appearances were shown to correspond completely to the model of hallucinations, and if the empty tomb tradition were shown to be a late legend, then the resurrection should be evaluated as unhistorical. In this way the lack of an analogy to present experience says nothing for or against the historicity of an event. Pannenberg’s use of the principle preserves the analogous structure of the past to the present or to the known, thus making the investigation of history possible without thereby forcing the past into the mold of the present. It would therefore seem that Hume’s “in principle” argument fares no better than Spinoza’s objections. “IN FACT ” ARGUMENTS

If, then, there is no “in principle” objection to the identification of miracles, what may be said of Hume’s “in fact” arguments? All of his points have force, but the fact remains that these general considerations cannot be used to decide the historicity of any particular miracle. They serve to make us cautious in the investigation of any miracle, but the only way the question of historicity can be solved is through such an investigation. Hume’s fourth point (that miracles occur in all religions and thereby cancel each other out) does try to preclude an investigation, but it still remains an empirical question whether the evidence for any miracle supporting a counter-Christian claim is as well (or better) attested as the evidence for Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. And if the latter should prove to be genuine, then we


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can forgo the investigation of every single counter-Christian miracle, for most of these pale into insignificance next to the Gospel miracles.

Conclusion Hence, I think that for the most part the Christian apologists argued correctly against their Deist opponents; and it is sad that the nineteenth century failed to discern this fact. The presupposition against miracles survives in theology only as a hangover from an earlier Deistic age and ought now to be once for all abandoned. Practical Application Like the contents of the last chapter, the material shared in this chapter does not, I must confess, admit of much practical application in evangelism. I’ve never encountered a non-Christian who rejected the gospel because of an overt objection to miracles. Nevertheless, this section is extremely important because the presupposition of modern biblical criticism has been the impossibility or unidentifiability of miracles, so that an open-minded approach to the Scriptures necessitates a prior defense of the rationality of belief in miracles. For example, the infamous Jesus Seminar, a group of radical New Testament critics committed to reforming the church’s view of Jesus, has dismissed most of the New Testament witness to the life of Jesus as unhistorical. In explaining the presuppositions with which its Fellows work, the Jesus Seminar is remarkably candid about its presupposition of the impossibility of miracles. Their Introduction to The Five Gospels states: The contemporary religious controversy turns on whether the worldview reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith. . . . the Christ of creed and dogma . . . can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo’s telescope.32

But why, we might ask, is it impossible in a scientific age to believe in a supernatural Christ? Here things really get interesting. According to the Seminar, the historical Jesus by definition must be a non-supernatural figure. At this point they appeal to D. F. Strauss, the nineteenth-century German biblical critic. Strauss’s epochal book The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined was based squarely in a philosophy of naturalism. According to Strauss, God does not act directly in the world; he acts only indirectly through natural causes. With regard to the resurrection, as we have seen, Strauss states that God’s raising Jesus from the dead “is irreconcilable with enlightened ideas of the relation of God to the world.”33 Now look carefully at what the Jesus Seminar says about Strauss: 32. R. W. Funk, R. W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, “Introduction” to The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 2. 33. David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, trans. George Eliot, ed. with an introduction by Peter C. Hodgson, Lives of Jesus Series (London: SCM, 1973), 736.

The Problem of Miracles


Strauss distinguished what he called the “mythical” (defined by him as anything legendary or supernatural) in the Gospels from the historical. . . . The choice Strauss posed in his assessment of the Gospels was between the supernatural Jesus—the Christ of faith—and the historical Jesus.34

Anything that is supernatural is by definition not historical. There’s no argument given; it’s just defined that way. Thus we have a radical divorce between the Christ of faith, or the supernatural Jesus, and the real, historical Jesus. Now the Jesus Seminar gives a ringing endorsement of Strauss’s distinction: they say that the distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith is “the first pillar of scholarly wisdom.”35 But now the whole quest of the historical Jesus becomes a charade. If we begin by presupposing naturalism, then of course what we wind up with is a purely natural Jesus. This reconstructed, naturalistic Jesus is not based on evidence, but on definition. What is amazing is that the Jesus Seminar makes no attempt to defend their naturalism; it is just presupposed. Gerd Lüdemann, who is the leading German critic of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, takes it for granted that a historical approach to Jesus of Nazareth must be a naturalistic approach. “Historical criticism,” he states, “does not reckon with an intervention of God in history.”36 Thus, the resurrection cannot belong to the portrait of the historical Jesus. So what justification does Lüdemann give for this crucial presupposition of the impossibility of miracles? All he offers is a onesentence allusion to Hume: “Hume . . . demonstrated that a miracle is defined in such a way that ‘no testimony is sufficient to establish it.’”37 In my 1997 debate with Lüdemann on the campus of Boston College, when I challenged him on this point, he showed himself impotent to provide any defense of his presupposition apart from his own incredulity.38 Similarly, Bart Ehrman, a best-selling New Testament scholar and vociferous ex-Christian, naïvely reiterates the argument of Hume against the identification of miracles, apparently without even knowing its provenance. With respect to Jesus’ resurrection, he states, “Because historians can only establish what probably happened, and a miracle of this nature is highly improbable, the historian cannot say it probably occurred.”39 In other words, in calculating the probability of Jesus’ 34. Funk, et al., “Introduction,” 3. 35. Ibid., 2–3. 36. Gerd Lüdemann, “Die Auferstehung Jesu,” in Fand die Auferstehung wirklich statt? ed. Alexander Bommarius (Düsseldorf: Parega Verlag, 1995), 16. 37. Gert Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 12. 38. See William Lane Craig and Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection: Fact or Figment? ed. Paul Copan with responses by Stephen T. Davis, Michael Goulder, Robert H. Gundry, and Roy Hoover (Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000). See especially Davis and Hoover’s discussion of this issue, along with my final response. 39. Bart Ehrman, “The Historical Jesus,” (The Teaching Company, 2000), pt. 2, p. 50.


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resurrection, the only factor Ehrman considers is the intrinsic probability of the resurrection Pr(R|B). He overlooks all of the other factors in the probability calculus. Moreover, he just assumes that the intrinsic probability of Jesus’ resurrection is insuperably low, which surely requires some sort of justification. But it gets even worse. For Ehrman offers another version of his objection which is even more obviously fallacious. He asserts, “Since historians can establish only what probably happened in the past, they cannot show that miracles happened, since this would involve a contradiction—that the most improbable event is the most probable.”40 In truth, there’s no contradiction here at all because we’re talking about two different probabilities: the probability of the resurrection on our total evidence Pr(R|E & B) versus the probability of the resurrection on our background knowledge alone Pr(R|B). It’s perfectly possible for the former probability to be high and the latter probability to be low. In any case, there is no contradiction here at all. When I pointed out these faux pas to Ehrman in our 2006 debate on the resurrection at Holy Cross, rather than correct his mistake he pooh-poohed my explanation of the probability calculus as a “mathematical proof for the existence of God.”41 He did not seem to understand that I was not using Bayes’ Theorem to prove God’s existence or even Jesus’ resurrection but rather to explain to him why his own argument based on the improbability of miracles is demonstrably mistaken. It was clear that he understood neither Hume nor Bayes’ Theorem. Ironically, Ehrman sought to defend his position by claiming that because the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” is a statement about God, it “is a theological conclusion . . . not a historical one.” Since “historians have no access to God,” they “are unable to establish what God does.” This claim, whatever it is worth, is logically contradictory with his claim that the resurrection is intrinsically improbable. For if the historian cannot say anything about God, neither can he say that it is improbable that God raised Jesus. The historian would have to say that the probability of Jesus’ resurrection is simply inscrutable. Thus, Ehrman’s position is literally self-refuting. Hume had an excuse for his abject failure because the probability calculus hadn’t yet been developed in his day. But today New Testament theologians no longer have any excuse for using such fallacious reasoning. Moreover, I’ve been surprised to find how often Deistic thinking underlies the flowering dialogue between science and religion on the contemporary scene. For example, in a conference I attended a few years ago at the University of Notre Dame on “Science and Religion in the Post-Positivist Era,” Arthur Peacocke claimed that modern cell biology has “radically undermined” the credibility of the virgin birth because it would require God’s making a Y-chromosome de novo in Mary’s ovum—in other words, it would have to be a miracle! Similarly, the stern 40. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 229. 41. See the transcript at www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=debates_main.

The Problem of Miracles


remonstrances one often hears from theologians and physicists against inferring a supernatural cause for the origin and order of the universe often conceal a presuppositional bias against miracles, since such acts of God are essentially miracles on a cosmic scale. The presupposition against miracles tends to dominate the science and religion dialogue today, and yet neither the scientists nor the theologians involved whom I have read or talked to about this issue, not being themselves trained in philosophy, are typically able to muster any robust defense of this presupposition. In addition, I do think that people to whom we talk about Christ do sometimes have covert problems with miracles. They do not formulate their misgivings into an argument; they just find it hard to believe that the miraculous events of the Gospels really occurred. Insofar as we sense this is the case, we need to bring this presupposition out into the open and explain why there are no good grounds for it. Show unbelievers that they have no reasons for rejecting the possibility of miracles and challenge them with the thought that the universe may be a much more wonderful place than they imagine. In my own case, the virgin birth was a stumbling block to my coming to faith—I simply could not believe such a thing. But when I reflected on the fact that God had created the entire universe, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be too difficult for him to create the genetic material necessary for a virgin birth! Once the non-Christian understands who God is, then the problem of miracles should cease to be a problem for him.

Literature Cited or Recommended Historical Background Brown, Colin. Miracles and the Critical Mind. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984. Clarke, Samuel. A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation. London: W. Botham, 1706. Diderot, Denis. “Philosophical Thoughts.” In Diderot’s Early Philosophical Works, translated by M. Jourdain. Open Court Series of Classics of Science and Philosophy 4. Chicago: Open Court, 1916. Hahn, Roger. Pierre Simon Laplace 1749–1827: A Determined Scientist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005. Houtteville, Claude François. La religion chrétienne prouvée par les faits. 3 vols. Paris: Mercier & Boudet, 1740. Hume, David. Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. 3rd ed. Edited by P. H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975. Chapter 10 of the first enquiry constitutes his case against miracles. Le Clerc, Jean. Five Letters Concerning the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. London, 1690. Less, Gottfried. Wahrheit der christlichen Religion. 4th ed. Göttingen: Georg Ludewig Förster, 1776.


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Paley, William. A View of the Evidences of Christianity. 2 vols. 5th ed. London: R. Faulder, 1796; repr. ed.: Westmead, England: Gregg International, 1970. Sherlock, Thomas. The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus. London: J. Roberts, 1729. Spinoza, Baruch. Tractatus theologico-politicus. Trans. Samuel Shirley, with an introduction by Brad S. Gregory. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989. Stephen, Leslie. History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century. 2 vols. 3rd ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World; Harbinger, 1962. Turretin, J. Alphonse. Traité de la vérité de la religion chrétienne. 2nd ed. 7 vols. Translated by J. Vernet. Geneva: Henri-Albert Gosse, 1745–55. Voltaire, Marie François. A Philosophical Dictionary. 2 vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World; Harbinger, 1962. See particularly the article on miracles.

Assessment Bilinskyj, Stephen S. “God, Nature, and the Concept of Miracle.” Ph.D. dissertation. University of Notre Dame Press, 1982. Craig, William Lane and Gerd Lüdemann. The Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Edited by Paul Copan with responses by Stephen T. Davis, Michael Goulder, Robert H. Gundry, and Roy Hoover. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000. Dickens, Charles. “A Christmas Carol.” In Christmas Books, by Charles Dickens. Introduced by E. Farejon. London: Oxford University Press, 1954. Earman, John. “Bayes, Hume, and Miracles.” Faith and Philosophy 10 (1993): 293–310. ———. Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument against Miracle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Definitive treatment of Hume’s argument. Ehrman, Bart. “The Historical Jesus.” The Teaching Company, 2000. ———. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Encyclopedia of Philosophy. S.v. “Miracles,” by Antony Flew. Freddoso, Alfred J. “The Necessity of Nature.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11 (1986): 215–42. Funk, Robert, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. “Introduction.” In The Five Gospels. New York: Macmillan, 1993. Geivett, R. Douglas and Gary Habermas, eds. In Defense of Miracles. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1997. Hesse, Mary. “Miracles and the Laws of Nature.” In Miracles, edited by C. F. D. Moule. London: A. R. Mowbray, 1965. Lüdemann, Gerd. “Die Auferstehung Jesu.” In Fand die Auferstehung wirklich statt? Edited by Alexander Bommarius. Düsseldorf: Parega Verlag, 1995. ———. The Resurrection of Jesus. Trans. John Bowden. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994. Mill, J. S. A System of Logic. 2 vols. London: 1843.

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McGrew, Lydia and Timothy McGrew. “The Argument from Miracles: The Historical Argument for the Resurrection.” In Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. London: Blackwell, forthcoming. Moreland, J. P. and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2003. Pannenberg, Wolfhart. “Jesu Geschichte und unsere Geschichte.” In Glaube und Wirklichkeit. München: Chr. Kaiser, 1975. ———. Jesus—God and Man. Translated by L. L. Wilkins and D. A. Priebe. London: SCM, 1968. Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. 3rd ed. Translated by W. Montgomery. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1954. Sobel, Jordan Howard. Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Strauss, David Friedrich. The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Translated by G. Eliot. Edited with an introduction by P. C. Hodgson. Lives of Jesus Series. London: SCM, 1973. Swinburne, Richard. The Concept of Miracle. New York: Macmillan, 1970. ———. ed. Miracles. Philosophical Topics. New York: Macmillan, 1989. Zabell, S. L. “The Probabilistic Analysis of Testimony.” Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference 20 (1988): 327–54.

Part 5

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7 The Self-Understanding of Jesus

The Christian religion stands or falls with the person of Jesus Christ. Judaism could survive without Moses, Buddhism without Buddha, Islam without Mohammed; but Christianity could not survive without Christ. This is because unlike most other world religions, Christianity is belief in a person, a genuine historical individual—but at the same time a special individual, whom the church regards as not only human, but divine. At the center of any Christian apologetic therefore must stand the person of Christ; and very important for the doctrine of Christ’s person are the personal claims of the historical Jesus. Did he claim to be divine? Or did he regard himself as a prophet? Or was he the exemplification of some highest human quality such as love or faith? Who did Jesus of Nazareth claim to be?

Historical Background Before we explore this problem, let’s take a brief look at the recent historical background of Jesus research. Life of Jesus Movement During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, post-Enlightenment European theology strove to find the historical Jesus behind the figure portrayed in the Gospels. The chief effort of this quest was to write a life of Jesus as it supposedly really was, without the supernatural accretions found in the Gospels. One after 287


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another of these lives of Jesus appeared, each author thinking to have uncovered the real man behind the mask. Early lives of Jesus tended to portray him as a spiritual man who was forced to make claims about himself that he knew were false in order to get the people to listen to his message. For example, Karl Bahrdt in his Ausführung des Plans und Zwecks Jesu (1784–1792) maintained that Jesus belonged to a secret order of Essenes, dedicated to weaning Israel from her worldly messianic expectations in favor of spiritual, religious truths. In order to gain a hearing from the Jews, Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, planning to spiritualize the concept of Messiah by hoaxing his death and resurrection. To bring this about, Jesus provoked his arrest and trial by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Other members of the order, who secretly sat on the Sanhedrin, ensured his condemnation. Luke the physician prepared Jesus’ body by means of drugs to withstand the rigors of crucifixion for an indefinite time. By crying loudly and slumping his head, Jesus feigned his death on the cross, and a bribe to the centurion guaranteed that his legs would not be broken. Joseph of Arimathea, another member of the order, took Jesus to a cave, where he resuscitated Jesus by his ministrations. On the third day, they pushed aside the stone over the mouth of the cave, and Jesus came forth, frightening away the guards and appearing to Mary and subsequently to his other disciples. Thereafter, he lived in seclusion among the members of the order. Similar to Bahrdt’s theory was Karl Venturini’s life of Jesus in his Natürliche Geschichte des grossen Propheten von Nazareth (1800–1802). As a member of a secret society, Jesus sought to persuade the Jewish nation to substitute the idea of a spiritual Messiah for their conception of a worldly Messiah. But his attempt backfired: he was arrested, condemned, and crucified. However, he was taken down from the cross and placed in the tomb alive, where he revived. A member of the secret society, dressed in white, frightened away the guards at the tomb, and other members took Jesus from the tomb. During forty days thereafter he appeared to various disciples, always to return to the secret place of the society. Finally, his energy spent, he retired permanently. Much of the early Life of Jesus movement was spent in trying to provide natural explanations for Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. The high water mark of the natural explanation school came in H. E. G. Paulus’s Das Leben Jesu (1828), in which Paulus devised all sorts of clever explanations to explain away the substance of the Gospel miracles while still accepting the form of the factual accounts. But with his Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet (1835), D. F. Strauss sounded the death knell for this school. According to Strauss, the miraculous events in the Gospels never happened; rather they are myths, legends, and editorial additions. Jesus was a purely human teacher who made such an impression on his disciples that after his death they applied to him the myths about the Messiah that had evolved in Judaism. Thus, out of the Jesus of history evolved the Christ of the Gospels—the Messiah, the Lord, the incarnate Son of God. Though such

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a mythological Jesus never actually existed, nevertheless the myth embodies a profound truth, namely, the Hegelian truth of the unity of the infinite and the finite, of God and man—not, indeed, of God and the individual man Jesus, but of God and mankind as a whole. Strauss was a self-confessed pantheist, and it was this truth that the myth of the God-man embodied. The reaction in Germany against Strauss was virulent, but the Life of Jesus movement did not return to a supernatural view of Jesus. The question of miracles was dead, and the chief issue that remained was the interpretation of the man behind the myth. With the rise of liberal theology in the second half of the nineteenth century, Jesus became a great moral teacher. The kingdom of God was interpreted by Albrecht Ritschl and Wilhelm Herrmann as an ethical community of love among mankind. Although Jesus employed apocalyptic language, his real meaning, according to Ritschl, was ethical. He lived in complete devotion to his vocation of founding this kingdom and therefore serves as the model of the ethical life for all people. According to Herrmann, Jesus completely identified with the moral ideal of the kingdom of God and is thus God’s unique representative among men. Up until this point all of the researchers shared the optimistic view that a purely human Jesus was discoverable behind the Gospel traditions, that indeed a life of Jesus was possible. By this time New Testament criticism had evolved the two-source hypothesis—that is, that the synoptic problem was to be solved by postulating Matthew and Luke’s use of Mark and another source of sayings of Jesus, arbitrarily designated Q. It was believed that in these two most primitive sources the true, historical Jesus was to be found. This optimism received a crushing blow at the hands of William Wrede in his theory of the “Messianic secret.” Wrede was exercised by the question, why does Jesus, according to Mark, always seek to conceal his identity as the Messiah, commanding people to tell no one who he really is? Wrede’s ingenious answer was that since Jesus never made such divine claims about himself, Mark had to come up with some reason why people are unaware of Jesus’ messianic claims, which the Christian church had written back into the Gospel traditions and had asserted were made by Jesus. To get around this problem Mark invented the “Messianic secret” motif, that is, the notion that Jesus had tried to conceal his identity, and Mark wrote his Gospel from the perspective of this motif. The consequence of Wrede’s theory was that it now became clear that even the most primitive sources about Jesus were theologically colored and that therefore a biography of the historical Jesus was impossible.

Albert Schweitzer and the End of the Old Quest Thus, according to Albert Schweitzer, the historian of this intriguing movement, the old Life of Jesus movement ground to a halt in nearly complete skepticism. The liberal Jesus who went forth proclaiming the ethical kingdom of God and the brotherhood of man never existed but is a projection of modern theology. We do


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not know who Jesus really was, says Schweitzer; he comes to us as a man unknown. What we do know about him is that he actually believed the end of the world was near and that he died in his fruitless attempt to usher in the eschatological kingdom of God. Schweitzer intimates that Jesus may have been psychologically deranged; hence his eschatological expectation and suicidal course of action. Schweitzer thus not only pronounced the final rites over the liberal Jesus, but he was instrumental in the rediscovery of the eschatological element in Jesus’ preaching. The net result of the old quest of the historical Jesus was the discovery of theology in even the earliest sources of the Gospels. This was taken to imply that a biography of the man Jesus could not be written. The theology of the early church had so colored the documents that it was no longer possible to extract the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.

Dialectical and Existential Theology This conviction characterized theology during the first half of the twentieth century. For dialectical and existential theology, the Jesus of history receded into obscurity behind the Christ of faith. Karl Barth took almost no cognizance of New Testament criticism regarding Jesus. It is the Christ proclaimed by the church that encounters us today. The events of the Gospels are geschichtlich, but not historisch, a distinction that could be rendered as historic, but not historical. That is to say, those events are of great importance for history and mankind, but they are not accessible to ordinary historical research like other events. Even though the later Barth wanted to place more emphasis on the historicity of the events of the Gospels, he never succeeded in placing them in the ordinary world of space and time. What really mattered to him was not the historical Jesus, but the Christ of faith. Similarly, Bultmann held that all that could be known about the historical Jesus could be written on a 4 x 6 index card1 but that this lack of information was inconsequential. Like Strauss, he held the Gospel narratives to be mythologically colored throughout. And he, too, sought by demythologizing to find the central truth expressed in the myth. He turned, not to Hegel, but to Heidegger for the proper interpretation of the Christ-myth in terms of authentic existence in the face of death. It was this Christ-idea that was significant for human existence; as for the historical Jesus, the mere “dass seines Gekommenseins”—the that of his coming—that is to say, the mere fact of his existence, is enough. The New Quest of the Historical Jesus Some of Bultmann’s disciples, however, such as Ernst Käsemann, could not agree with their master that the mere fact of Jesus’ existence was enough to warrant our acceptance of the meaning of the Christ-idea as constitutive for our lives today. Unless there is some connection between the historical Jesus and the Christ of 1. As Bultmann finely put it, “In my opinion, of the life and personality of Jesus we can now know as good as nothing” (Rudolph Bultmann, Jesus [Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1951], 11).

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faith, then the latter reduces to pure myth, and the question remains why this myth should be thought to embody a truth that supplies the key to my existence. Thus, New Testament criticism heralded a “new quest of the historical Jesus,” but this time considerably more cautious and modest than the old quest. Those pursuing the new quest are painfully conscious of the presence of theology in the Gospel narratives and are reluctant to ascribe to the historical Jesus any element that may be found in the theology of the early church. Indeed, James Robinson actually differentiates between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of history. The latter is the Jesus who really lived; the former is the Jesus that can be proved as a result of historical research. Robinson says that the new quest concerns only the historical Jesus, not the Jesus of history. Accordingly, Robinson believes that because of the presence of theology in the Gospels, the burden of proof rests on the scholar who would ascribe some fact to the historical Jesus, not on the scholar who would deny that fact. In other words, we ought to presuppose that unless some putative feature of the historical Jesus can be proven to be authentic, we ought to regard it as inauthentic, as a product of Christian theology. Robinson’s distinction between the historical Jesus and the Jesus of history is one that has been made in so many words by a number of prominent Jesus scholars. For example, John Meier, whose voluminous and ongoing study of the life of Jesus, A Marginal Jew, has made him perhaps the most eminent Jesus researcher, differentiates between the historical Jesus and the person who actually lived. According to Meier the historical Jesus or the Jesus of history (Meier uses the terms synonymously) “is a modern abstraction and construct. By the Jesus of history I mean the Jesus whom we can ‘recover’ and examine using the scientific tools of modern historical research.”2 Meier notes that “this definition is not some arbitrary invention of mine; it is the commonly accepted one in present Jesus-of-history research.”3 Meier contrasts the historical Jesus with what he calls “the real Jesus.” The opening lines of Meier’s first chapter of his first volume cleanly distinguish the two: “The historical Jesus is not the real Jesus. The real Jesus is not the historical Jesus.”4 Now we might think that by “the real Jesus” Meier means the human person who actually lived and wrought. But that would be a mistake. For Meier the real Jesus is also a modern abstraction and construct, but a fuller one. Meier characterizes the real Jesus as “a reasonably complete record of public words and deeds” of Jesus.5 Later he refers to the real Jesus as “a reasonably complete biographical portrait.”6 So neither the historical Jesus nor even the real Jesus are for Meier the person who actually lived. In addition to these two abstractions, there is a third abstraction lurking in the wings which Meier calls the “total reality” of 2. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 25. 3. Ibid., 1:34. 4. Ibid., 1:21. 5. Ibid., 1:22. 6. Ibid., 1:24.


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Jesus, which is “everything he . . . ever thought, felt, experienced, did, and said.”7 Since even this is not a living, flesh-and-blood person but a description, one cannot help but wonder what has happened to the actual person Jesus of Nazareth. Robinson’s further claim that there exists a differential burden of proof upon Jesus researchers, such that only those who regard some element of the Gospels as authentic are required to provide evidence in support of their assertion, seems to underlie a great deal of New Testament criticism, although it has been sharply criticized.8 For example, the only way in which the scholars involved in the much publicized Jesus Seminar of the Westar Institute can make the judgment that so much of the Jesus tradition in the Gospels is doubtful or inauthentic would seem to be by presupposing an approach much like Robinson’s.9 Otherwise, the greatest percentage of the tradition would have to be classified under the unexciting but straightforward label “cannot be proven authentic or inauthentic” (a category which the Seminar does not countenance). For almost all of the typical “criteria of authenticity” employed in such studies to detect historical sayings and events in the life of Jesus—such as dissimilarity to Christian teaching, multiple attestation, linguistic Semitisms, traces of Palestinian milieu, retention of embarrassing material, coherence with other authentic material, and so forth10—can only be properly used positively, to demonstrate authenticity. In other words, the criteria state sufficient, not necessary, conditions of historicity. Treating the criteria of authenticity as necessary rather than sufficient conditions of historicity would lead to the reconstruction of a historical Jesus who was utterly unaffected by the Jewish milieu in which he was raised and who had no impact whatsoever on the early church which followed him, which is crazy. The criteria are therefore not designed to be employed negatively. Failure to meet the criteria does not imply the inauthenticity of a saying or event—unless, that is, one is tacitly presupposing Robinson’s principle that Jesus traditions are to be assumed to be inauthentic unless and until they are proven to be authentic. More specifically, one of the more celebrated members of the Seminar, John Dominic Crossan, seems to presuppose Robinson’s methodology in his much discussed work The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991). After sorting out Jesus traditions into various strata from early to late and determining the number of times a saying of Jesus is attested, Crossan chooses to “bracket the singularities”—that is, to ignore any saying only singly attested, even if it is found in the earliest, first stratum. The reason he gives for this procedure is that the saying could have been created by the source itself. But by the same token it 7. Ibid., 1:21. 8. See Morna Hooker, “On Using the Wrong Tool,” Theology 75 (1972): 570–81. 9. See Robert W. Funk and Roy W. Hoover, eds., The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? (New York: Macmillan, 1993). 10. For helpful discussions, see Robert H. Stein, “The Criteria for Authenticity,” in Gospel Perspectives I, ed. R.T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980), 225–63; Craig A. Evans, “Authenticity Criteria in Life of Jesus Research,” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 6–31.

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could very well be authentic. Multiple attestation of a saying counts positively in favor of its authenticity, but the want of multiple attestation cannot be taken as a strike against authenticity—unless one is assuming that sayings are presumed to be inauthentic until proven authentic. Without this assumption there can be no grounds for thinking that the historical Jesus which Crossan reconstructs on the attenuated basis of multiply attested material alone, while bracketing or ignoring all other traditions about him which are not multiply attested, will not be but a pale shadow or lopsided distortion of the person who actually lived. Or again, Bart Ehrman, a best-selling New Testament scholar, while explaining factors like multiple attestation and dissimilarity positively as critieria of authenticity, repeatedly inverts them to try to demonstrate inauthenticity. For example, he renders the negative verdict, “Some of the best known traditions of Jesus’ birth cannot be accepted as historically reliable when gauged by our criteria,”11 when at most he should have said that these traditions cannot be positively proven to be historical when gauged by these criteria. In fact, the Virgin Birth and Jesus’ being born in Bethlehem are multiply and independently attested, but Ehrman doubts their historicity because they are not more widely attested. Similarly, he rejects the historicity of such events as the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ claiming to be the Son of Man, his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, his passion predictions, and the crowd’s calling for Jesus’ crucifixion—all of which are multiply and independently attested—on the grounds that they are not dissimilar to early Christian beliefs.12 So to argue is to pervert the criteria; for while multiple attestation and dissimilarity are positive evidence for authenticity, single attestation and similarity to Christian beliefs are not evidence of inauthenticity—unless, once more, one is assuming that the Gospels are inauthentic until they are proven to be authentic on some point. During the previous generation the assumption enunciated by Robinson that Jesus traditions are to be ascribed to the theological activity of the early church unless they can be positively proven to have originated in Jesus’ life and ministry took on the status of a sort of methodological dogma of critical scholarship. But increasingly this dogma has been called into question. Most scholars today would be reluctant to adopt such a methodological approach to the Gospels, even given their theological coloring. Such an approach assumes that history and theology are mutually exclusive categories, such that wherever theology is present in the Gospels, that automatically counts against their historical accuracy. But what justification is there for this assumption? Some feature of the Gospel portrait of Jesus, such as the dividing of his garments at the crucifixion or the piercing of Jesus’ side, could be both historical and regarded by the evangelist as pregnant with theological significance. Since one cannot assume a priori that history and theology are mutually exclusive, the only way to justify that conclusion with respect to the Gospels 11. Bart Ehrman, “The Historical Jesus,” (The Teaching Company, 2000), pt. 1, p. 53. The context makes clear that Ehrman means that these traditions should be regarded as historically unreliable. 12. Ibid., pt. 1, p. 49; pt. 2, pp. 37, 38, 48.


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would be to carry out a historical examination of the Gospels. But since such an investigation aims to discover whether the presence of theology in the Gospels precludes their historical credibility, this examination cannot itself be based on the assumption that these categories are mutually exclusive in the Gospels. Of course, Robinson would contend that such an examination was carried out in the first quest and yielded a negative verdict concerning the compatibility of history and theology in the Gospels. But such an examination was far from conclusive. The Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White has compared the Gospels quite favorably with Roman history with respect to external confirmation of narrated events.13 In the book of Acts, he asserts, the historicity of the narrative is indisputable.14 Yet Acts is just as much propaganda as the Gospels. Moreover, in the Gospels wherever Jesus comes into the Jerusalem orbit, the external confirmation inevitably begins. Therefore, in Sherwin-White’s judgment, the historical trustworthiness of the accounts of the Galilean ministry, which is by nature less susceptible to external confirmation, ought to be presumed. Thus, according to Sherwin-White’s analysis, not only are the categories of history and theology not mutually exclusive, but the Gospels enjoy such external confirmation that their trustworthiness ought to be presumed even in cases where specific confirmation is lacking. It can be safely concluded that the assumption that the Gospels’ status as theological documents militates against their also being historically reliable narratives has not been substantiated and that therefore the methodological principle of “inauthentic until proven authentic” is unfounded. The pursuit of such a methodology threatens to construct a theoretical and historical Jesus which is in fact very unlike the man who actually lived—in which case the whole enterprise becomes rather pointless.

A Third Quest In recent years some biblical scholars have spoken of a third quest of the historical Jesus, a quest which one observer has aptly characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”15 One has reference to a movement of increasing momentum among Jewish scholars studying the New Testament which assesses Jesus appreciatively and seeks to reincorporate him as far as possible into the fold of Judaism. Spearheaded by the work of men like C. G. Montefiore (The Synoptic Gospels, 1909), Israel Abrahams (Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, 1917, 1929), and Joseph Klausner (Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching, 1922), the movement has 13. A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), 186–89. 14. Sherwin-White’s contention has been powerfully driven home by the epochal study by Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, ed. Conrad H. Gempf, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 49 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1989). Through a painstaking analysis of papyrological, epigraphical, and other evidence Hemer demonstrates convincingly the wealth of historical material contained in the book of Acts and thus, by implication, Luke’s care as a historian. 15. Donald A. Hagner, The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1984).

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swelled in recent years and includes among contemporary scholars Samuel Sandmel (We Jews and Jesus, 1965), Schalom Ben-Chorin (Bruder Jesus: Der Nazarener in Jüdischer Sicht, 1967,) David Flusser (Jesus, 1969), Pinchas Lapide (Der Rabbi von Nazareth, 1974), and, perhaps most significant, the Qumran scholar Geza Vermes (Jesus the Jew, 1973; The Religion of Jesus the Jew, 1993). A number of non-Jewish scholars have also devoted themselves to demonstrating the rightful interpretation of Jesus in the context of Jewish thought and culture, principally E. P. Sanders (Jesus and Judaism, 1985). Confluent with this movement is the Scandinavian school of thought headed by Birger Gerhardsson (Memory and Manuscript, 1961), which sees rabbinic models of teaching and transmission of tradition as the key to understanding Jesus’ teachings, and its extension by the German New Testament scholar Rainer Riesner (Jesus als Lehrer, 1981), who shows that memorization and recitation were commonly employed techniques in the home, synagogue, and elementary school, and finds many typical mnemonic aids in Jesus’ teaching, which would facilitate its accurate preservation. Jewish scholars have for the most part concentrated their attention on the ethical teachings of Jesus, with a view toward emphasizing his continuity, rather than rupture, with Judaism. The New Questers’ criteria of authenticity are generally eschewed, the Gospels’ record of Jesus’ teaching being treated with much more trust, especially in light of its consonance with Jewish ethical teaching. But even the assimilation of this single facet of the historical Jesus, namely, Jesus as ethical teacher, to first-century Judaism has not been without its difficulties for Jewish scholars. Jesus’ sense of personal authority to correct the Torah and contradict Jewish tradition goes down hard for faithful Jews. As Ben-Chorin admits, “The sense of the unique, absolute authority that is evident from this way of acting remains deeply problematic for the Jewish view of Jesus.”16 When Jewish scholars do consider the personal claims or self-understanding of Jesus, the majority conclude that Jesus did believe himself to be the Messiah, though, of course, they consider him to have been tragically deluded in this opinion. Another interesting feature of contemporary scholarship’s understanding of Jesus to which the third quest has contributed significantly is what one critic has called “the eclipse of mythology.”17 From Strauss through Bultmann, the category of myth was taken to be key to the Gospel portrait of Jesus, and any historical reconstruction would have to proceed by means of “demythologizing” this portrait. Today, however, scarcely any scholar thinks of myth as an important interpretive category for the Gospels. The Jewish reclamation of Jesus has helped to make unnecessary any understanding of the Gospels’ portrait as significantly shaped by mythology. Although contemporary scholars may be no more prepared to believe 16. S. Ben-Chorin, Jesus in Judenthum (Wuppetal: R. Brockhaus, 1970), 41, cited in Hagner, Reclamation, 105. 17. Craig A. Evans, “Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology,” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 3–36.


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in the supernatural character of Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms than were scholars of previous generations, they are no longer willing to ascribe such stories to the influence of Hellenistic divine man (theios anēr) myths;18 rather Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms are to be interpreted in the context of first-century Jewish beliefs and practices. Vermes, for example, has drawn attention to the ministries of the charismatic miracle workers and/or exorcists Honi the Circle-Drawer (first century b.c.) and Hanina ben Dosa (first century a.d.), and interprets Jesus of Nazareth as a Jewish hasid or holy man. In contrast to Schweitzer’s assessment of the place of miracle with respect to the old quest, today the consensus of scholarship holds that miracle-working and exorcisms (bracketing the question of their supernatural character) most assuredly do belong to any historically acceptable reconstruction of Jesus’ ministry.

Assessment As we enter the twenty-first century after his death, Jesus of Nazareth, now as always, continues to exert his power of fascination over the minds of men and women. From sensational films and popular-level speculations to scholarly debates in academic societies, journals, and monographs, Jesus is a matter of controversy. Who did this first-century Galilean take himself to be? A political or social revolutionary? A practitioner of magical arts? A sort of social gadfly, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek cynic philosopher? A Jewish rabbi or prophet? The Messiah? The Son of God? Who did Jesus think that he was? The Historical Jesus In asking such a question, I take for granted that we want to know what Jesus thought about himself. The primary object of the quest of the historical Jesus is Jesus himself, not some abstraction manufactured by the historian. To regard Meier’s abstractions as the object of historical inquiry is at best misleading and implies some bizarre conclusions as well. Neither Meier’s “total reality of Jesus,” nor “real Jesus,” nor “historical Jesus” is a flesh-and-blood human being who actually lived. The entities referred to by Meier are in fact collections of propositions or statements. The total reality of Jesus seems to be the collection of all true propositions about Jesus. The real Jesus seems to be the collection of all true propositions about the public life of Jesus. The historical Jesus seems to be the collection of all propositions about Jesus which can be rendered probable by historical research. What is evident is that these collections of propositions are none of them persons and, as such, are not the object of the historian’s study. Rather historians study the persons and events referred to by those propositions. If “Jesus” refers, not to 18. For a critique, see Barry L. Blackburn, “‘Miracle Working’ in Hellenism (and Hellenistic Judaism),” in Gospel Perspectives VI, ed. David Wenham and Craig Blomberg (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1986), 185–218; see also Edwin Yamauchi, “Magic or Miracle? Diseases, Demons, and Exorcisms,” in Gospel Perspectives VI, 89–183.

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the man Jesus, but to the abstraction called “the historical Jesus,” then virtually every sentence about Jesus in Meier’s massive volumes turns out to be false. For the historical Jesus, contrary to Meier’s assertions, was not born in Nazareth, did not speak Greek, and did not die by crucifixion. As a collection of propositions the historical Jesus is not a human being and so was never born, never spoke any language, and could not die. Only a person can do such things, and on Meier’s account the historical Jesus is not a person. As such the historical Jesus is not the object of the historian’s inquiry. What Meier and the rest of us really want to know is whether the person Jesus of Nazareth was born in Nazareth, spoke Greek, was executed by crucifixion, and so forth. Meier states that the failure to distinguish between the real Jesus and the historical Jesus has led to “endless confusion” in the quest of the historical Jesus.19 In fact, it is the distinction as drawn by Meier which is terribly confused. As a good historian Meier is really after the Jesus who actually lived, and to assign Jesus’ proper name to collections of propositions can only lead to confusion.20 Now, obviously, there is some sort of distinction to be drawn between what Jesus was actually like and what historical inquiry can establish about Jesus; but it is not a distinction between two Jesuses. We try to find out what Jesus was actually like by means of what historical inquiry can establish about Jesus. Because historical inquiry is uncertain, our conclusions will be provisional. But they will be conclusions about Jesus, that is, about the actual person who is the referent of our descriptive statements. In both ordinary language and in the history of research, phrases like “the historical Jesus” and “the real Jesus” typically refer to the individual who actually lived, and to use them as names of classes of propositions is misleading. We can draw the needed distinctions in a more philosophically discriminating and less confusing way. By so doing we shall avoid the illusion that in investigating Jesus historically we are not studying the real Jesus who actually lived and wrought. 19. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1:21. 20. For similar confusion see James D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making I (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003), 126–27, 130–31, 827, 876, 882. Dunn recognizes that although the historical Jesus is always identified as a construction of historical research, in practice the phrase is used to refer to Jesus himself. It seems to me that this slide is inevitable and unremarkable for any historian who is not a narrative non-realist. For his part Dunn distinguishes between Jesus himself and Jesus remembered—as though accurate memories of Jesus would not be memories of Jesus himself! Although Dunn asserts that the only reasonable objective for a quest of the historical Jesus is Jesus remembered, he inconsistently goes on to argue that from the impact Jesus made on the traditions about him, we can, in fact, discern something of the person who made that impact. This leads Dunn to the bizarre conclusion that “the Jesus tradition is Jesus remembered. And the Jesus thus remembered is Jesus . . .” (p. 335), from which it follows that Jesus himself is a tradition! Once again the person Jesus of Nazareth has disappeared from view. What Dunn should say, and wants to say, I think, is that in the Synoptic tradition we find preserved memories of what Jesus said and did; those memories are largely accurate; we can, therefore, know a good deal about Jesus; and there is no competing portrait of Jesus that is as historically credible as the one delivered to us by the tradition and that can be used to overturn the conclusions drawn on the basis of that tradition.


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As we have seen, scholars involved in the quest of the historical Jesus have enunciated a number of so-called criteria for detecting historically authentic features of Jesus. It is absolutely crucial to the study of the historical Jesus that these criteria be correctly stated and applied. As already mentioned, it is somewhat misleading to call these “criteria,” for they aim at stating sufficient, not necessary, conditions of historicity. This is easy to see: suppose a saying is multiply attested and dissimilar but not embarrassing. If embarrassment were a necessary condition of authenticity, then the saying would have to be deemed inauthentic, which is wrong-headed, since its multiple attestation and dissimilarity are sufficient for authenticity. Of course, the criteria are defeasible, meaning that they are not infallible guides to authenticity. They might be better called “Indications of Authenticity.” Had the expression not already been appropriated, the medieval “Signs of Credibility” would have been the perfect cognomen for the criteria. In point of fact, what the criteria really amount to are statements about the effect of certain types of evidence upon the probability of various sayings or events. For some saying or event S, evidence of a certain type E, and our background information B, the criteria would state that, all things being equal, Pr (S⏐E&B) > Pr (S⏐B). In other words, all else being equal, the probability of some event or saying is greater given, for example, its multiple attestation than it would have been without it. What are some of the factors that might serve the role of E in increasing the probability of some saying or event S? The following are some of the most important: (1) Historical congruence: S fits in with known historical facts concerning the context in which S is said to have occurred; (2) Independent, early attestation: S appears in multiple sources which are near to the time at which S is alleged to have occurred and which depend neither upon each other nor upon a common source; (3) Embarrassment: S is awkward or counterproductive for the persons who serve as the source of information for S; (4) Dissimilarity: S is unlike antecedent Jewish thought-forms and/or unlike subsequent Christian thought-forms; (5) Semitisms: traces in the narrative of Aramaic or Hebraic linguistic forms; (6) Coherence: S is consistent with already established facts about Jesus. Notice that these “criteria” do not presuppose the general reliability of the Gospels. Rather they focus on a particular saying or event and give evidence for thinking that specific element of Jesus’ life to be historical, regardless of the general reliability of the document in which the particular saying or event is reported. These same “criteria” are thus applicable to reports of Jesus found in the apocryphal Gospels, or rabbinical writings, or even the Qur’an. Of course, if the Gospels can be shown to be generally reliable documents, so much the better! But the “criteria” do not depend on any such presupposition. They serve to help spot historical kernels even in the midst of historical chaff. Thus we need not concern ourselves with defending the Gospels’ general reliability or every claim attributed to Jesus in the Gospels; if even some of his radical personal claims are authentic, that will be enough to give us insight in Jesus’ self-understanding.

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Denial of Christ’s Divine Claims In 1985 a prominent New Testament scholar named Robert Funk founded a think tank in Southern California which he called the Jesus Seminar. The ostensible purpose of the Seminar was to uncover the historical person Jesus of Nazareth using the best methods of scientific, biblical criticism. In Funk’s view the historical Jesus has been overlaid by Christian legend, myth, and metaphysics and thus scarcely resembled the Christ figure presented in the Gospels and worshiped by the church today. The goal of the Seminar is to strip away these layers and to recover the authentic Jesus who really lived and taught. In so doing, Funk hopes to ignite a revolution which will bring to an end what he regards as an age of ignorance. He blasts the religious establishment for “not allowing the intelligence of high scholarship to pass through pastors and priests to a hungry laity.”21 He sees the Jesus Seminar as a means of disabusing laymen of the mythological figure they have been taught to worship and bringing them face-to-face with the real Jesus of history. The degree to which the Gospels have allegedly distorted the historical Jesus is evident in the edition of the Gospels published by the Jesus Seminar. Called The Five Gospels because it includes the so-called Gospel of Thomas along with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, their version prints in red only those words of Jesus which the fellows of the Seminar determine to be authentic, actually spoken by Jesus. As it turns out, less than 20 percent of the sayings attributed to Jesus are printed in red. The real, historical Jesus turns out to have been a sort of itinerant, social critic, the Jewish equivalent of a Greek Cynic philosopher. He never claimed to be the Son of God or to forgive sins or to inaugurate a new covenant between God and man. His crucifixion was an accident of history; his corpse was probably thrown into a shallow dirt grave where it rotted away or was eaten by wild dogs. These conclusions play havoc with the popular apologetic for Christian faith based on the claims of Christ. According to popular apologetics, Jesus claimed to be God, and his claims were either true or false. If they were false, then either he was intentionally lying or else he was deluded. But neither of these alternatives is plausible. Therefore, his claims cannot be false; he must be who he claimed to be, God incarnate, and we must decide whether we shall give our lives to him or not. Now certainly the majority of scholars today would agree that Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic; but that does not mean that they acknowledge him as Lord. Rather, many would say that the Jesus who claimed to be divine is a legend, a theological product of the Christian church. Thus, the dilemma posed by traditional apologetics is undercut, for Jesus himself never claimed to be God. Defense of Christ’s Divine Claims Obviously, Jesus of Nazareth didn’t go about Palestine introducing himself to people as God. The Gospels do not portray him in such a way, nor is it consistent 21. Robert Funk, “The Issue of Jesus,” Forum 1 (1985): 8.


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with the Christian doctrine of the incarnation, which holds that Jesus as a man had an ordinary human consciousness, even if it was supernaturally informed. Rather Jesus’ divine self-understanding is evident explicitly in the Christological titles he used by way of self-reference and implicitly by his teaching and behavior. THE CHRISTOLOGICAL TITLES

Those who deny that Jesus made any personal claims implying divinity face the very severe problem of explaining how it is that the worship of Jesus as Lord and God came about at all in the early church. It does little good to say that the early church wrote its beliefs about Jesus back into the Gospels, for the problem is the very origin of those beliefs themselves. Studies by New Testament scholars such as Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh, Martin Hengel of Tübingen University, C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge, and others have proved that within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christology proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed. How does one explain this worship by monotheistic Jews of one of their countrymen whom they had accompanied during his lifetime, apart from the claims of Jesus himself? The great church historian Jaroslav Pelikan points out that all the early Christians shared the conviction that salvation was the work of a being no less than Lord of heaven and earth and that the redeemer was God himself. He observes that the oldest Christian sermon, the oldest account of a Christian martyr, the oldest pagan report of the church, and the oldest liturgical prayer (1 Cor. 16:22) all refer to Christ as Lord and God. He concludes, “Clearly it was the message of what the church believed and taught that ‘God’ was an appropriate name for Jesus Christ.”22 But if Jesus never made any such claims, then the belief of the earliest Christians in this regard becomes inexplicable. In the Gospels there are a number of self-descriptions used by Jesus which provide insight into his self-understanding. Until recently, critical scholars have been quite skeptical of the authenticity of such self-descriptions. In 1977 a group of seven British theologians, headed by John Hick of the University of Birmingham, caused a great stir in the press and among laymen by publishing a book provocatively entitled The Myth of God Incarnate. In it they asserted that today the majority of New Testament scholars agree that the historical Jesus of Nazareth never claimed to be the Messiah or the Lord or the Son of God or indeed any of the divine titles that are attributed to Christ in the Gospels. Rather, these titles developed later in the Christian Church and were written back into the traditions handed down about Jesus, so that in the Gospels he appears to claim these titles for himself. Thus, the divine Christ of the Gospels who appears as God incarnate is a myth and ought to be rejected. 22. Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600), 173.

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Today no such skeptical consensus exists. On the contrary, the balance of scholarly opinion on Jesus’ use of Christological titles may have actually tipped in the opposite direction. Messiah For example, it is increasingly acknowledged as likely that Jesus of Nazareth did consider himself to be Israel’s promised Messiah. Israel’s ancient hope for an Anointed One (mashiach) of God had revived in the century immediately preceding Jesus’ birth. Of the various sorts of messianic figures in Jewish hope, the most important and widespread was the expectation of a mighty king of Davidic descent who would throw off Israel’s oppressors and restore the Davidic throne in Jerusalem. Written during the period of Roman occupation of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in a.d. 70, the pseudepigraphical Psalms of Solomon breathe out passionately the Jewish yearning for a royal messianic deliverer: See, Lord, and raise up for them their king, the son of David, to rule over your servant Israel in the time known to you, O God. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from gentiles who trample her to destruction; in wisdom and in righteousness to drive out the sinners from the inheritance; . . . He will gather a holy people whom he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of the people that have been made holy by the Lord their God. He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them. . . . He will judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness. And he will have gentile nations serving under his yoke, . . . And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was even from the beginning, (for) nations to come from the ends of the earth to see his glory, ... And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. (17.21–32)


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The psalmist goes on to extol “the beauty of the king of Israel”: he will be “compassionate to all the nations,” “free from sin,” “not weaken(ing) in his days,” “powerful in the holy spirit,” “faithfully and righteously shepherding the Lord’s flock” (18.34–42). More than a warrior king, the royal Messiah would be a spiritual shepherd to Israel. It is, of course, indisputable that the New Testament church regarded Jesus as the promised Messiah. The title Christos (Messiah) became so closely connected with the name “Jesus” that for Paul it is practically a surname: “Jesus Christ” (cf. the less frequent “Christ Jesus”). The very name borne by the followers of Jesus within ten years of his death—Christians—bears witness to the centrality of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark’s Gospel opens with the words “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1), just as John’s Gospel closes with the explanation that it was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31). The question, then, is whether they arrived at this common conviction on their own, or did it represent Jesus’ own self-understanding? Unless Jesus himself made messianic pretensions, it is difficult to explain the unanimous and widespread conviction that Jesus was the Messiah. Why, in the absence of any messianic claims on Jesus’ part, would Jesus’ followers come to think of him as Messiah at all, and why was there no non-messianic form of the Jesus movement? Craig Evans reflects, “The force of this point seems lost on many who claim that the recognition of Jesus as Messiah originated only in the post-Easter setting. Had there been no messianic element in Jesus’ teaching or activity . . . then it is very hard to understand where post-Easter Messianism came from. The resurrection alone cannot account for this widespread belief, for there is no pre-Christian messianic tradition that viewed resurrection as in some way evidence of a person’s messianic identity.”23 With respect to this last point, Martin Hengel emphasizes that the notion “that a righteous man via resurrection from the dead was appointed as Messiah, is absolutely without analogy. Neither resurrection nor translation [into Paradise] have anything to do with Messiahship. Indeed, the suffering righteous man attains a place of honor in Paradise, but there is never any question of messianic majesty and transfer of eschatological functions in this connection.”24 “Had he been crucified for messianic claims, then—and only then—belief in his resurrection would have had to become belief in the resurrection of the crucified Messiah.”25 23. Craig Evans, “Authenticating the Activities of Jesus,” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, New Testament Tools and Studies 28/2 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999), 25. 24. Martin Hengel, “Jesus, the Messiah of Israel: The Debate about the ‘Messianic Mission’ of Jesus,” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, 327. 25. Martin Hengel, The Son of God, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 63, citing N. A. Dahl, “Der gekreuzigte Messias,” in Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatische Christus, ed. H. Ristow and K. Matthiae (1960), 161.

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The Gospels unambiguously present Jesus as having a Messianic sense of identity. Of the texts in which Jesus displays his conviction that he was indeed the Messiah, the most famous is Peter’s confession: And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him “You are the Christ.” And he charged them to tell no one about him. (Mark 8:27–30 rsv)

That people should be interested in the nature of Jesus’ pretensions is both natural and to be expected. Luke and John independently attest that John the Baptist had been confronted with a similar question, which forms the backdrop for his prediction of the coming of one “mightier than I . . . the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:15–16; John 1:19–27 rsv). The disciples, who had left their families and livelihoods to follow Jesus, would certainly have asked themselves who it was that they were following. Peter’s answer receives independent attestation from John 6:69 (esv), where Peter declares to Jesus, “We have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (cf. Mark 1:24; Acts 3:14). The mention of John the Baptist brings to mind the account of John’s final message to Jesus found in the Q material shared by Matthew and Luke. From prison John sends disciples to Jesus with the following question: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3; Luke 7:19 rsv). The expression “he who is to come” obviously harks back to John’s proclamation, independently attested in Mark and John, of “him who comes after me” (Mark 1:7; John 1:27). The credibility of such an embassage by John is supported not only by its presence in such early tradition, but also by the awkwardness of John’s apparently wavering faith (criterion of embarrassment). Jesus’ answer to John appeals to the signs that would herald the establishment of God’s kingdom in Israel: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22–23 esv; cf. Matt. 11:4–6). The signs mentioned by Jesus are a blend of prophecies from Isaiah 35:5–6; 26:19; and 61:1. The latter prophecy explicitly mentions being God’s anointed one. That Jesus’ contemporaries saw these signs as earmarks of the Messiah’s coming is evident from a remarkable passage in the Dead Sea scrolls kept by the Essenes at Qumran (4Q521). The passage first predicts the advent of Messiah: “[For the hea]vens and the earth shall listen to his Messiah [and all t]hat is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones.” It then goes on to describe what the Lord will do at that time: “He will honor the pious upon the th[ro]ne of the eternal kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind, raising up those

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who are bo[wed down.] . . . and the Lord shall do glorious things which have not been done, just as he said. For he will heal the injured, he shall make alive the dead, he shall proclaim good news to the afflicted.” Here we have associated with the Messiah just that same pastiche of prophetic signs listed by Jesus in answer to John’s question! The criteria of Palestinian milieu and coherence with other authentic material, coupled with the criterion of embarrassment, as well as the story’s presence in early tradition reinforce one another in leading to the conclusion that Jesus in fact saw himself as God’s Messiah. Even more convincing than Jesus’ sayings in demonstrating his messianic selfunderstanding are Jesus’ deeds. Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of his life is a dramatic, public, provocative assertion of his messianic status. This event is multiply attested by Mark and John (Mark 11:1–11; John 12:12–19). Although their accounts differ in various circumstantial details, they fully agree on the core of the story: that one week before his death Jesus of Nazareth rode into Jerusalem seated on a colt and was hailed by the crowds who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover feast with shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” in anticipation of the coming of the Davidic kingdom. In every other account of Jesus’ movements, he goes by foot. What, then, is he doing when he mounts a donkey’s colt and rides down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem? The answer is that Jesus is deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9–10 (esv): Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Jesus is deliberately and provocatively claiming to be the promised king of Israel who will inaugurate his reign of peace. His action is like a living parable, acted out to disclose his true identity.26 26. For other examples of acting out Scripture in Judaism see Craig Evans, “Jesus and Zechariah’s Messianic Hope,” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, 373–88.

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Skeptical critics have challenged the historicity of the narrative because Zecheriah 9:9 was not interpreted as a messianic prophecy until later Judaism. But the spirit of Zechariah’s prophecy pervades Psalms of Solomon 17–18, which also connect the images of a king and a shepherd of the people (cf. Zechariah 11) and speak of his dominion of peace. In any case, this consideration, far from detracting from the historical credibility of the narrative, actually supports it, for it makes improbable the early church’s developing such a story based on Zechariah 9:9 (which is not even cited as a proof text by Mark, in contrast to the later accounts in Matt. 21:4–5; John 12:15–16) alone, in the absence of any such event. So by the criterion of dissimilarity, in this instance from antecedent Judaism, we should see the event as belonging to our picture of the historical Jesus. Jesus himself might well have interpreted the passage messianically, especially given its more irenic and humble portrayal of Israel’s king. As for the crowd, it was Jesus’ own disciples, who already doubtless believed in his Messiahship and who accompanied him to the feast, who initiated the acclamation of Jesus as he rode from Bethphage into Jerusalem. Skeptical scholars have also questioned the historicity of the incident because so public a demonstration would have provoked Jesus’ immediate arrest by the Roman authorities. But this conjectural objection is very weak. According to Mark’s account “he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (11:11 esv). Jesus doesn’t cleanse the temple; he doesn’t even give a stirring speech. He just looks around—and leaves. His triumphal entry into the city was not something that the Roman authorities were expecting or would have understood, nor would a man on a slow-moving donkey with no show of weapons have appeared to them as a military threat; and Jesus’ procession probably just melted into the Passover crowd once it got to Jerusalem. Nonetheless, the Triumphal Entry displays Jesus’ royal messianic self-consciousness and reveals who he took himself to be. He identified himself with the Shepherd-King predicted by Zechariah. The clearest indication of Jesus’ messianic self-consciousness emerges by reflecting on his execution. The plaque nailed to his cross recording the charge for which Jesus was crucified is multiply attested as stating that Jesus was executed as “the King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26; John 19:19). This was never a Christian title for Jesus, so by the criterion of dissimilarity as well it probably represents the actual charge against him. Therefore, according to Craig Evans, “the majority of scholars . . . accept the titulus and its wording as historical and genuine.”27 Indeed, Dunn says that “his execution on the charge of being a messianic pretender (‘king of the Jews’) is generally reckoned to be part of the bedrock data in the Gospel tradition.”28 27. Craig Evans, “Authenticating the Activities of Jesus,” 24. 28. James D. G. Dunn, “Can the Third Quest Hope to Succeed?” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, 34. Cf. Wright’s judgment: “There can be no doubt, historically speaking, that Jesus was executed as a messianic pretender” (N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2: Jesus and the Victory of God [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996], 522).


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The speculation on the part of certain skeptical scholars that Jesus was arrested simply as a troublemaker or disturber of the peace is therefore wholly implausible. One may profitably compare here Josephus’s account of another Jesus arrested during a feast in Jerusalem in a.d. 62: Four years before the war, when the city was enjoying profound peace and prosperity, there came to the feast at which it is the custom of all Jews to erect tabernacles to God, one Jesus, son of Ananias, a rude peasant, who, standing in the temple, suddenly began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds; a voice against Jerusalem and the sanctuary, a voice against the bridegroom and the bride, a voice against all the people.” Day and night he went about all the alleys with this cry on his lips. Some of the leading citizens, incensed at these ill-omened words, arrested the fellow and severely chastised him. But he, without a word on his own behalf or for the private ear of those who smote him, only continued his cries as before. Thereupon, the magistrates, supposing, as was indeed the case, that the man was under some supernatural impulse, brought him before the Roman governor; therefore, although flayed to the bone with scourges, he neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear, but, merely introducing the most mournful of variations into his ejaculation, responded to each stroke with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus, the governor, asked him who and whence he was and why he uttered these cries, he answered him never a word, but unceasingly reiterated his dirge over the city, until Albinus pronounced him a maniac and let him go.29

The parallels between the proceedings against these two Jesuses reinforce the historical credibility of the Gospel accounts. Notice Albinus’s principal concerns: who Jesus was, whence he came, and why he was doing such things. Doubtless these would have been Pilate’s concerns as well. The difference in the respective outcomes of these inquests is most plausibly explained by the fact that whereas Jesus ben Ananias was deemed a harmless troublemaker, Jesus of Nazareth had made messianic pretensions which had to be treated much more seriously.30 Had Jesus simply been disrupting the temple or disturbing the peace during Passover season, his case need not have gone any further than did the case of Jesus ben Ananias. Virtually all critics acknowledge that during the ensuing week Jesus did cause some sort of disruption in the temple, an action multiply attested in all four Gospels, resulting in a temporary cessation in the commercial activities there. The last sentence of Zechariah’s prophecy, which prompted Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, is: “There shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord on 29. Josephus Jewish Wars 6.300–309. 30. In Evans’s view, in contrast to Jesus ben Ananias, “Jesus [of Nazareth] provided the grounds for a sentence of death from both the Jewish authorities (i.e., capital blasphemy) and the Roman authorities (i.e., treason and sedition). . . . The messianic dimension of Jesus’ activities is unmistakable” (Craig A. Evans, “What Did Jesus Do?” in Jesus under Fire, ed. J. P. Moreland and Michael J. Wilkins [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995], 111).

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that day” (Zech. 14:21 at).31 Jesus’ assertion of his authority in the temple, the supreme locus of Jewish religious life and authority, fits with his royal messianic self-consciousness. At his trial, according to the Synoptics, a centerpiece of the case brought against Jesus was a saying on his part having to do with the temple’s destruction and Jesus’ rebuilding it in three days (Mark 14:58), a saying also attested in John 2:19. In Jewish thinking God is the one who built the temple (Ex. 15:17; Jub. 1.17; cf. 1 En. 90.28–29; 11Q Temple 29.8–10) and who threatens the destruction of the temple ( Jer. 7:12–13; 26:4–6, 9; cf. 1 En. 90.28–29). The charges brought against Jesus, that he threatened the destruction of the temple and promised to rebuild it, show that he was being charged with arrogating to himself divine roles.32 Jesus’ refusal to respond to these charges provokes the high priest’s direct demand: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61 at). The connection between the charge and Caiaphas’s question may be seen by the messianic reading given to 2 Samuel 7:12–14 by one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The passage in Samuel concerns David’s desire to build for God a temple, and the Lord’s reserving that right for David’s son Solomon: When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son. (2 Sam. 7:12–14 rsv)

In scroll 4Q174 this passage is quoted and interpreted as a prophecy of the Messiah: “He is the branch of David who will arise with the interpreter of the Law who [ ] in Zi[on in the la]st days according as it is written: ‘I will raise up the tent of David that has falle[n]’ (Amos 9:11), who will arise to save Israel” (1:10–13). It is the Messiah, the Davidic branch prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah (Isa. 11:1; Jer. 33:14–16), who will build the temple and will be God’s Son. Caiaphas’s question, given such messianic expectations, would have been natural, demanding whether Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, God’s Son, who would fulfill this prophecy by destroying the present temple and replacing it with his own. Jesus’ pretensions to be the Messiah could in turn be presented to the Roman authorities as treasonous; hence, his execution as “King of the Jews.” The conspiration of so many factors, each enjoying ratification independently by factors such as multiple attestation, Palestinian milieu, dissimilarity, and so forth, makes for an extraordinarily powerful case that Jesus of Nazareth did regard himself as the promised Messiah. Hengel concludes, “If Jesus never possessed a messianic consciousness of divine mission, 31. Following the nrsv translation “traders” rather than “Canaanites.” 32. Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 900. Gundry argues that the historical authenticity of the charges brought against Jesus is further supported by the lack of harmony between Mark 14:58 and 13:32. The false witnesses had evidently mingle-mangled Jesus’ prediction of the temple’s destruction with his predictions of his resurrection in Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34, a confusion which is not apt to be a later Christian creation.


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nor spoke of the coming, or present, ‘Son of Man,’ nor was executed as a messianic pretender—as is maintained by radical criticism untroubled by historical arguments—then the emergence of Christology, indeed, the entire early history of primitive Christianity, is incomprehensible.”33 This is not to say that Jesus thought of himself as the man to lead a violent revolt against the Roman authorities and to establish David’s throne by force. Such a move would be wholly inconsistent with the ethical teachings of Jesus. More than anything else, this rejection of the militaristic aspects of the messianic office by Jesus provides the key to Wrede’s Messianic Secret motif, as Wrede himself later came to see.34 To claim openly to be the Messiah, given the popular image of the Messiah as a military conqueror, would have tended to obscure rather than elucidate the true nature of God’s kingdom and Jesus’ mission. In concluding that Jesus understood himself to be the promised Messiah, we have not yet arrived at a clearly divine self-understanding. Scholars typically take Messiah to be a purely human figure and identify a number of Jewish reformers as would-be Messiahs. For example, during the second Jewish revolt (132–135) Bar Kokhba may have been regarded by his followers as the Messiah ( Jerusalem Talmud Ta’anit 4.5).35 Still, the concept of the Messiah is often of an extraordinarily exalted figure, and the leaders of renewal movements who are typically identified as messianic pretenders were not, in fact, given and did not claim that title, so far as we know.36 Figures like Judas the Galilean and Simon bar Giora may have aspired to be king over Israel, but that office is obviously not in itself messianic—not every Jewish king is the Davidic Messiah.37 In the Psalms of Solomon Messiah was to be not merely a military ruler but much more a spiritual leader of his people: There will be no unrighteousness among them in his day for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. . . . He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself (will be) free from sin, (in order) to rule a great people. . . . 33. Hengel, “Jesus, the Messiah of Israel,” 327. Cf. Wright’s conclusion: “Messiahship . . . was central to Jesus’ self-understanding” (Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, 2: 538). 34. See Werner Zager and Hans Rollmann, “Unveröffentlichte Briefe William Wredes zur Problematisierung des messianischen Selbstverständnisses Jesu,” Zeitschrift für neuere Theologiegeschichte 8 (2001): 274–322. 35. See discussion of the sources in Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2001), chap. 4. 36. For a review of messianic claimants around Jesus’ time see Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries, chap. 2. A great deal of Evans’s case for identifying many Jewish revolutionaries, e.g., Menachem the son of Judas the Galilean, as messianic figures is, one has to say, based on inference and conjecture. 37. Cf. Josephus’s comment: “Now Judea was full of robberies; and as the several companies of the seditious lighted upon any one to head them, he was created a king immediately” (Antiquities of the Jews 17.10.8 [285]).

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And he will not weaken in his days, (relying) upon his God, for God made him powerful in the holy spirit and wise in the counsel of understanding, with strength and righteousness. . . . Faithfully and righteously shepherding the Lord’s flock, he will not let any of them stumble in their pasture. . . . This is the beauty of the king of Israel which God knew, to raise him over the house of Israel to discipline it. (17.32–42)

It scarcely needs to be said that the typical revolutionary, reformer, or prophet could hardly aspire to such a status. In rabbinic tradition Bar Kokhba himself, having claimed to be the Messiah, was slain because he could not pass a certain superhuman test which laid down necessary conditions of messianic status.38 While such a legend or defamation doubtless reflects later disillusionment with the man, still the requirement that Messiah display supernatural powers is striking. But even more exalted images of the Messiah existed. Isaiah declared, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. (Isa. 9:6–7 rsv)

Here the Davidic king is called “Mighty God,” and his reign is said to endure forever, motifs which are echoed in the Psalms of Solomon. Again, in the firstcentury Similitudes of Enoch we are presented with “the Lord of the Spirits and his Messiah,” who is also called “that Son of Man.” Of him we read, Even before the creation of the sun and the moon, before the creation of the stars, he was given a name in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits. He will become a 38. “Bar Koziba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They answered, ‘Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [Bar Koziba] can do so.’ When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 93b).


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staff for the righteous ones in order that they may lean on him and not fall. He is the light of the gentiles and he will become the hope of those who are sick in their hearts. All those who dwell upon the earth shall fall and worship before him; they shall glorify, bless, and sing the name of the Lord of the Spirits. For this purpose he became the Chosen One; he was concealed in the presence of (the Lord of the Spirits) prior to the creation of the world, and for eternity. (1 En.48.3–6)

Here the Messiah is understood to be a preexistent, God-like figure. Thus, the messianic options available at the time of Jesus included not only prophet, priest, and king, but also a heavenly Messiah.39 In Jesus’ case the proclamation of John the Baptist, that after him would come one mightier than him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, is seen as the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 (rsv): “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way for me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple” and Isaiah 40:3 (esv): “A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” Notice that, according to these prophecies, it is the Lord himself who is coming (cf. Isa. 40:5, 9–11). The relevant question to be posed here is not whom John expected,40 but, as the person coming in self-conscious fulfillment of John’s predictions, who Jesus took himself to be. It is intriguing that in the Q saying by Jesus on the person of John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10; Luke 7.27), Jesus himself identifies John as the messenger of Malachi 3:1. In that same discourse Jesus goes on to speak of himself as the Son of Man who has come after John (Matt.11:19; Luke 7:34). Such a divine-human figure would sensibly fulfill the divine and human facets of John’s prediction.41 We might interpret prophetic descriptions of the Messiah in terms of divinity as religious hyperbole and therefore take Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah as startling but not super-human. But then again, if we find in Jesus’ other personal claims and activities indications of a divine self-understanding, then his taking himself to be Israel’s promised Messiah may also involve an implicit claim to divinity. The Son of God We’ve already seen that at his trial Caiaphas challenged Jesus as to his being the Son of God. This is a status to which Jesus often lays claim in the Gospels. Here we’ll examine three texts in which he does so. First, consider Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard (Mark 12:1–9). In this parable, the owner of the vineyard sends servants to the tenants of the 39. John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 102–94. 40. As thought by Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 369–71. 41. Paul’s letters also give early evidence of the Christ’s being taken to be God in human form (Phil. 2:5–8). Hengel comments, “The discrepancy between the shameful death of a Jewish state criminal and the confession that depicts this executed man as a pre-existent divine figure who becomes man and humbles himself to a slave’s death is . . . without analogy in the ancient world” (Hengel, Son of God, p. 1). Hengel goes on to show that this idea is pre-Pauline.

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vineyard to collect its fruit. The vineyard symbolizes Israel (cf. Isa. 5:1–7), the owner is God, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the servants are prophets sent by God. The tenants beat and reject the owner’s servants. Finally, the owner decides that he has one left to send: his only beloved son. “They will respect my son,” he says. But instead, the tenants kill the son because he is the heir to the vineyard. Even skeptical scholars like those in the Jesus Seminar recognize the authenticity of this parable, since it is also found in one of their favorite sources, the Gospel of Thomas (65), and so is by their reckoning multiply attested.42 Moreover, as Evans has emphasized, the parable not only reflects the actual experience of absentee landowners in the ancient world but also employs stock images and themes found in rabbinic parables: Israel as a vineyard, God as the owner, unworthy rebellious tenants, the figure of a son, and so on, so that it coheres well with a Jewish milieu.43 There are, furthermore, aspects of the parable which render unlikely its later origin in the Christian church, for example, the concern over who should possess the vineyard after it is taken from the present tenants and the absence of the resurrection of the slain son. The parable also contains interpretative nuances rooted in the Aramaic targums (paraphrases) of Isaiah 5 which were in use in Jesus’ day. Evans concludes, “When understood properly and in full context, everything about the parable of the wicked vineyard tenants—including its context in the New Testament Gospels—argues that it originated with Jesus, not with the early church.”44 What, then, does this parable tell us about Jesus’ self-understanding? It tells us that he thought of himself as God’s only Son, distinct from all the prophets, God’s final messenger, and even the heir of Israel itself. Notice that one cannot delete the figure of the son from the parable as an inauthentic, later addition, for then the parable lacks any climax and point. Moreover, the uniqueness of the son is not only explicitly stated but inherently implied by the tenants’ stratagem of murdering the heir in order to claim possession of the vineyard. So this parable discloses to us that the historical Jesus believed and taught that he was the only Son of God. Jesus’ self-concept as God’s Son comes to explicit expression in Matthew 11:27 (rsv cf. Luke 10:22): “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Again there is good reason to regard this as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. It is a Q saying of Jesus and therefore very early. The saying has been shown to go back to an 42. On the derivative character of the Thomas version see Charles L. Quarles, “The Use of the Gospel of Thomas in the Research on Historical Jesus of John Dominic Crossan,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007): 517–36. 43. Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2006), 132–35. 44. Ibid., 138.


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original Aramaic version, which counts in favor of its authenticity.45 Moreover, it is unlikely that the church invented this saying because it says that the Son is unknowable—“no one knows the Son except the Father”—which would exclude even Jesus’ followers from knowing him. But the conviction of the post-Easter church is that we can know the Son (see, e.g., Phil. 3:8–11). Notice, too, that according to the saying the content of Jesus’ revelation is the Father, whereas Jesus himself was the content of the church’s proclamation. The reference to the Son is almost informal, rather than emphasizing a title like “Son of God.” So this saying is unlikely to be the product of later church theology. This saying has been characterized as a bolt out of the Johannine blue. For what does it tell us about Jesus’ self-concept? It tells us that he thought of himself as the exclusive Son of God and the only revelation of God the Father to mankind! It is said by those who deny the saying’s authenticity that the unrestricted authority and absoluteness and exclusivity of the postulated relation between the Father and the Son is unparalleled in the pre-Easter Synoptic tradition. But that assumes, implausibly, that passages like Mark 1:11, 27; 3:11; Matthew 7:21–23, and so forth, are not part of the pre-Easter tradition, for they certainly do contemplate Jesus as the absolute, authoritative Son of God and revealer of the Father. As Denaux has rightly emphasized, what we have here is a Johannine Christological affirmation in the earliest stratum of the Gospel traditions, an affirmation which forms a bridge to the high Christology of John’s Gospel and yet, in light of passages like Mark 4:10–12; 12:1–11; 13:32; and Matthew 16:17–19; 28:18, is also at home in the Synoptic tradition.46 On the basis of this saying, we may conclude that Jesus thought of himself as God’s Son in an absolute and unique sense and as having been invested with the exclusive authority to reveal his Father God to men. Finally, another interesting indication of Jesus’ sense of being God’s Son is his saying concerning the date of the consummation: “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32 rsv). It seems highly unlikely that this saying could be the manufacture of Christian theology, especially in light of traditions like Matthew 11:27 (cf. John 5:20; 16:15, 30; 21:17c), because it ascribes ignorance to the Son. The criterion of embarrassment requires the authenticity of the reference to the Son’s ignorance. Just how embarrassing the saying was is evident in the fact that although Matthew reproduces it (Matt. 24:36), Luke omits it, and most copyists of Matthew’s Gospel also chose to drop the verse (though it is preserved in the best manuscripts). That Mark preserves this saying, despite his emphasis on Jesus’ predictive power and foreknowledge (Mark 11:2; 13; 14:13–15, 18, 27–28, 30), is testimony to his 45. Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, translated by John Burchard (London: SCM, 1967), 45–46. 46. Adelbert Denaux, “The Q-Logion Mt 11, 27/Lk 10, 22 and the Gospel of John,” in John and the Synoptics, ed. A. Denaux, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 101 (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1992).

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faithfulness to the tradition. As Markan commentator Vincent Taylor nicely puts it, “Its offence seals its genuineness.”47 Some critics have suggested that the early church may have inserted the phrase “nor the Son” into the saying, using an honorific title to compensate for the slight dealt to Jesus by this saying. Not only does this suggestion violate the structure of the saying—the oude . . . oude forming a pair so as to say “neither the angels nor the Son”—but it is precisely by the addition of such a phrase that the saying becomes offensive. Without the phrase the saying would contrast what is unknown to men and angels but known to the Father (and by implication to Jesus as the one who exclusively reveals the Father). It is futile to suggest that the early church may have substituted the honorific title “the Son” for some other self-designation on Jesus’ part, for it would have been easier and more natural just to omit any such self-reference, so that Jesus’ knowledge would not even come into the equation. On the basis of these three sayings of the historical Jesus, we have good evidence that Jesus thought of himself as the unique Son of God. Once again, however, we are not yet arrived at an unequivocal claim to divinity. For although Hellenistic readers of the Gospels would be apt to interpret the expression “Son of God” in terms of the divine status of the claimant, in a Jewish milieu such a status was not the customary sense of the title. Jewish kings were referred to as God’s sons (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10; Pss. 2:6–7; 89:26–27), and in Wisdom literature the righteous man could be characterized as God’s child, having God as his father (Wis. 2.13, 16, 18; 5.5; Sir. 4.10; 51.10). Such generic usage is, however, irrelevant to Jesus’ claim to divine Sonship, given the uniqueness and exclusivity of his claim. We have seen that Jesus thought of himself as God’s Son in a singular sense that set him apart even from the prophets who had gone before. But what was that sense? The answer may be, once more, that Jesus thought of himself as God’s unique Son in the sense that he was the promised Messiah. Four Ezra 7.28–29 speaks of Messiah as God’s son but nonetheless as mortal: “My son the Messiah shall be revealed . . . and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who have human breath.” The Dead Sea Scrolls also show that the Messiah was thought to be God’s son. 4Q174 interprets the promise to Solomon in 2 Samuel 7:14 that God will be his father to apply to the Messiah, as we have seen. 4Q246 speaks of a false prince who “will be called the Son of God, and they will call him the son of the Most High” (cf. Luke 1:35). 1QSa 2.11–12 anticipates the time “when [God] has begotten the Messiah,” which evinces a messianic interpretation of Psalm 2:7, which concerns the Lord’s anointed one (Ps. 2.2). This is the psalm alluded to at Jesus’ baptism in the words of the heavenly voice, “You are my beloved son” (Mark 1:11; cf. Acts 47. Vincent Taylor, The Gospel according to St. Mark, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, 1966), 522.


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13:33). The uniqueness of Jesus’ Sonship could be a function of the uniqueness of the Messiah. On the other hand, it must be said in all honesty that these texts do not even approach the sort of absoluteness and exclusivity claimed by Jesus of Nazareth in the sayings we have examined. There is nothing in Dead Sea texts to suggest the filial uniqueness of the Messiah. Being the Messiah might set Jesus apart from all the prophets who had come before him and make him the heir of Israel, as claimed in the parable of the vineyard, but being Messiah would not give him exclusive knowledge of the Father and absolute revelatory significance, as claimed in Matthew 11:27. Moreover, the saying in Mark 13:32 not only discloses Jesus’ sense of unique sonship but also presents us with an ascending scale of status from men to angels to the Son to the Father. Thus, amazingly, Jesus’ sense of being God’s Son involved a sense of proximity to the Father which transcended that of any mortal man (such as a king or prophet) or any angelic being. Such an exalted conception of God’s Son is not foreign to first-century Judaism. The New Testament materials themselves bear witness to this fact (Col. 1:13–20; Heb. 1:1–12). In 4 Ezra 13, Ezra sees a vision of a man arising out of the sea who is identified by God as “my Son” (13.32, 37) and who proceeds to subdue all the nations. Ezra asks, “O sovereign Lord, explain this to me: Why did I see the man coming up from the heart of the sea?” He said to me, “Just as no one can explore or know what is in the depths of the sea, so no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day.” (4 Ezra 13.51–52; cf. 13.26)

That there are other persons presently with the Son prior to his earthly appearance suggests that the Son is a preexistent, heavenly figure. This becomes quite clear in 14.9 when Ezra is told that his own life is about to end and that he is going to be with God’s Son until he is revealed at the end of time: “You shall be taken up from among men, and henceforth you shall live with my Son and those who are like you, until the times are ended.” It is intriguing that there is a differentiation made between the pre-existent Son and the righteous, human dead like Ezra who are with him. The Son is clearly set apart as a supernatural figure. We have here the same ambiguity with “the Son of God” that we encountered in considering the title “Messiah.” These titles are multi-valent and therefore inherently ambiguous without a context. In order to understand more clearly the meaning that Jesus invested in such self-descriptions, we shall need to look at the Christological significance of Jesus’ teaching and actions. But before we do so, there is one more title, the most significant of all, which demands our attention.

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The Son of Man It is highly likely that Jesus thought of himself as and claimed to be the Son of Man.48 This was Jesus’ favorite self-description and is the title found most frequently in the Gospels (over eighty times). Yet remarkably, this title is found only once outside the Gospels in the rest of the New Testament (Acts 7:56). That shows that the designation of Jesus as “the Son of Man” was not a title that arose in later Christian usage and was then written back into the Jesus traditions. Even in the Gospels, only Jesus uses this title; others may confess him as the Messiah or the Son of God, but never as the Son of Man. On the basis of the criterion of dissimilarity we can say with confidence that Jesus called himself “the Son of Man.” Dunn concludes, “When we encounter a thoroughly consistent and distinctive feature—a tradition which depicts Jesus regularly using the phrase ‘son of man’ and virtually no other use of the phrase—it simply beggars scholarship to deny that this feature stemmed from a remembered speech usage of Jesus himself.”49 The key question then becomes the theological significance of the phrase. Some critics maintain that in calling himself “Son of Man” Jesus merely meant “a human person,” just as the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel referred to himself as “a son of man,” or even “I” or “one,” as in later rabbinic use of the Aramaic equivalent. But with Jesus there is a crucial difference. For Jesus did not refer to himself as “a son of man,” but as “the Son of Man.” The use of the phrase with the definite article, ho huios tou anthropou, is consistent throughout the Gospels, whereas the Hebrew equivalent ben hadam occurs only in 1QS 10.20 and the Aramaic bar enasha is unknown, in contrast to the frequent instances of the indefinite phrases ben ‘adam and bar enash. It is sometimes said that the existence of certain parallel passages in the Gospels where “the Son of Man” occurs in one passage and the first person pronoun “I” occurs in the other (Matt. 5:11/Luke 6:22; Matt. 10:32–33/Luke 12:8–9; Mark 8:27/Matt. 16:13) shows an awareness in the transmission of the tradition that the two expressions are synonymous and that Jesus used bar enasha as a personal indexical term like “I” and “me.” But such an inference confuses sense and reference. The tradition does, indeed, support Jesus’ use of the expression as a means of self-reference; but it does not follow that because the two expressions are co-referential they have the same meaning. This is an elementary semantic point; the king, for example, may refer to himself as “the King” or as “I,” but obviously “the King” does not mean “I.” The parallel passages show merely that the tradents of the tradition understood that the person designated in Jesus’ sayings by the expression bar enasha was Jesus. Thus, the inference that because Jesus used bar enasha to refer to himself he did not use the expression as a title is quite erroneous.50 48. See Ben Witherington, III, The Christology of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 233–62; see also Gundry, Mark, 118–19, 587, and the therein cited literature, as well as Seyoon Kim, The Son of Man as the Son of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985). 49. Dunn, “Can the Third Quest Hope to Succeed?” 47. 50. Cf. the Beloved Disciple’s use of a descriptive title to refer to himself, on the assumption that he is the author of John’s Gospel. That obviously does not make “the Beloved Disciple” a personal indexical

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Rather by use of the definite article Jesus was directing attention to the divine eschatological figure of Daniel 7:13–14 (esv). Daniel describes his vision in the following way: I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

That Jesus believed in the eschatological appearance of the figure described in Daniel’s vision is multiply attested in Markan and Q sayings (Mark 8:38; 13:26–27; Matt. 10:32–33/Luke 12:8–9; Matt. 24:27, 37, 39/Luke 17:24, 26, 30). In Daniel’s vision the figure looks like a human being, but he comes on the clouds of heaven, and to him is given a dominion and glory which is God-like. The Similitudes of Enoch present a similar vision of the preexistent Son of Man (1 En. 48.3–6 cited above; cf. 62.7) who “shall depose the kings from their thrones and kingdoms” (1 En. 46.5) and shall sit “upon the throne of his glory” (1 En. 69.29). We have also mentioned the Danielic vision of 4 Ezra 13, in which Ezra sees “something like the figure of a man come up out of the heart of the sea,” whom the Most High identifies as “my son” (4 Ezra 13.37) and who preexists with the Most High. The point in mentioning these passages is not that people listening to Jesus would have recognized his allusions to such works or ideas—which they evidently did not—but rather that the construal of Daniel’s Son of Man as a divine-human figure would be neither anachronistic nor un-Jewish for Jesus. By using the oblique, selfreferential expression “the Son of Man,” Jesus prevented a prematurely transparent revelation of his super-human and messianic dignity.51 Some scholars, recognizing Jesus’ belief in an eschatological figure called the Son of Man to whom judgment and dominion would be given, have nonetheless tried to avert a radical claim to divinity on Jesus’ part by maintaining that Jesus was talking about and expecting someone else! Such an exegesis is sheer fancy. It term. That the “Son of Man” can appear in the mouths of others ( John 12:34; Acts 7:56) proves that it is not a personal indexical. 51. Gundry, Mark, 119.

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would require us to say that all of the Son of Man sayings used by Jesus to refer either to himself or to an earthly, suffering figure are inauthentic; if even one such saying is authentic, the proposed exegesis is invalidated. For example, Matthew 8:20 (rsv), “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” is generally taken to be authentic but obviously does not refer to some eschatological, cosmic figure. Moreover, in general, this view cannot make sense of Jesus’ claim to ultimate authority. There is something of a scholarly consensus, as we shall see, that Jesus had a sense of unsurpassed authority. He put himself in God’s place by his words and actions. But then it makes no sense to suppose that he thought that someone else was coming who would judge the world, someone who would, in fact, judge Jesus himself, if Jesus were merely a human prophet or teacher. Jesus’ consciousness of unsurpassed authority is incompatible with the view that he thought someone else was the coming Son of Man. All three of the titles we have examined thus far come together in a remarkable way at Jesus’ trial. Mark records, And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his mantle and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:60–64 rsv)

Here in one fell swoop Jesus affirms that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, and the coming Son of Man. He compounds his crime by adding that he is to be seated at God’s right hand, a claim that is truly blasphemous in Jewish ears.52 The trial scene beautifully illustrates how in Jesus’ self-understanding all the diverse claims blend together, thereby taking on connotations that outstrip any single term taken out of context. So are these words of Jesus, which served as the basis for his condemnation by the Sanhedrin and for his delivery to the Roman authorities on charges of treason, authentic? In his meticulous commentary on Mark’s Gospel, Robert Gundry argues that the words of the high priest “Son of the Blessed (One)” are likely authentic because this use of a circumlocution for “God,” though common among Jews, was not characteristic of Christians; moreover, it appears only here in the Gospel of Mark, who elsewhere prefers the title “Son of God” (1:1; 3:11; 5:7; 15:39). As for Jesus’ reply to the high priest’s question, Gundry provides several lines of evidence 52. See discussion in Darrell L. Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 106 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1998); repr. ed.: Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism: The Charge against Jesus in Mark 14:53–65, Biblical Studies Library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000).


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in support of its authenticity: (1) the combination of sitting at God’s right hand and coming with the clouds of heaven appears nowhere in New Testament material except on Jesus’ lips; (2) the Son of Man is nowhere else associated with the notion of sitting at God’s right hand; (3) the saying exhibits the same blend of oblique self-reference and personally high claims that characterizes other Son of Man sayings (Mark 2:10, 28; 8:38; 13:26); (4) even though Psalm 110:1 concerning sitting at the right hand of God is alluded to frequently in the New Testament, the substitution of “the Power” for “God,” though typical for Jewish reverential usage, occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; and (5) Mark is unlikely to have created a prediction to the Sanhedrin which they did not, in fact, see fulfilled. In addition, Gundry notes the subtlety of the Markan account of the trial, which would escape a later Christian fabricator. Rules for dealing with capital blasphemy cases in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 7.5) concern cases in which a person is accused of having pronounced on some previous occasion the divine name “Yahweh” so as to dishonor God. During the trial the alleged blasphemy of the accused is not actually repeated, but some substitute for the divine name is used. Only at the trial’s close is the courtroom cleared, and in the presence of the judges, the lead witness is instructed, “Say expressly what you heard.” He then repeats the blasphemous words uttered by the accused, at which all the judges stand and rend their clothes. In Jesus’ trial, the blasphemy occurs unexpectedly on the spot, so that only the high priest is standing and tears his garments. If Jesus actually uttered the divine name by saying, “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Yahweh,” a report of what transpired in Jesus’ trial would not include the pronunciation of the divine name itself but some substitute for it, like “the Power.” Gundry concludes, “The collocation of capital blasphemy and clothes-rending in m. Sanh. 7.5 as well as in Mark favors . . . that Mark’s account of Jesus’ trial rests on trustworthy information. . . . For though Christians might have fabricated an account so defamatory of the Sanhedrin, Christians are unlikely to have fabricated—or even have been able to fabricate—an account corresponding so subtly to a later idealization of Sanhedrin jurisprudence in cases of capital blasphemy.”53 How did Jesus dishonor God? Gundry answers, “We may best think that the high priest and the rest of the Sanhedrin judge Jesus to have verbally robbed God of incommensurateness and unity by escalating himself to a superhuman level, by portraying himself as destined to sit at God’s right hand and come with the clouds of heaven.”54 For Jesus, then, titles like “Messiah” and “Son of God,” which need carry no connotation of divinity, become infused with such a connotation in his selfunderstanding and usage, just as they do in I Enoch and 4 Ezra, by his conviction that he is the Danielic Son of Man who is to be seated at God’s right hand. 53. Gundry, Mark, 917–18. 54. Ibid., 917.

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So the skepticism of earlier generations concerning Jesus’ use of Christological titles has greatly receded as the Third Quest of the historical Jesus has gained insight into the religio-cultural milieu of first-century Palestinian Judaism. But we may gain additional insight into Jesus’ self-understanding by examining his teaching and behavior. Most scholars believe that in what he said and did Jesus made claims that imply the same thing as the titles. In other words, the titles serve only to express explicitly what Jesus in his teaching and behavior had already expressed about himself implicitly. Let’s therefore review some of the implicit personal claims of Jesus widely accepted in New Testament scholarship, wholly apart from the question of Christological titles. Jesus’ Preaching of the Kingdom One of the undisputed facts about Jesus of Nazareth is the centrality of the advent of the kingdom of God to his proclamation.55 Moreover, it is clear that Jesus thought of himself as central to the coming of God’s kingdom. The scholarly debate continues over whether God’s kingdom was thought by Jesus to be already here or not yet arrived (or, as most scholars think, both in a dynamic tension), but in either case it is Jesus who is the vanguard and representative of that kingdom. As we shall see, Jesus carried out a ministry of miraculous healings and exorcisms as signs to the people of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. The question then arises as to Jesus’ role in that kingdom. Was he merely a herald of that kingdom or did he have a more significant role to play? Here we encounter the very interesting Q saying of Jesus concerning his twelve disciples’ roles in the coming kingdom: “Truly, I say to you, in the new world . . . you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28 esv; cf. Luke 22:28–30). The saying is likely to be authentic, not only because it seems to envision an earthly kingdom which did not immediately materialize, but also because of the awkwardness of envisioning a throne for Judas Iscariot, who was known to have apostatized. Jesus’ calling twelve disciples is thus seen to be no accident: the number twelve is significant as corresponding to the number of tribes of the full nation of Israel. This fact has interesting ramifications for Jesus’ view of Israel as a political entity; but our interest lies elsewhere. If the twelve disciples are to sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, who will be the king over all of Israel? The clear answer is, Jesus himself. He will certainly not be beneath the disciples or outside of Israel, but he will be over the disciples as the King of Israel. In short, Jesus thought of himself as Israel’s royal Messiah. Thus Jesus’ messianic self-understanding is implicit in his proclamation of the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in his person and ministry, wholly apart from his explicit claims. 55. See extended discussion in Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracles, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 237–506.


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Jesus’ Authority Jesus’ personal sense of acting and speaking with divine authority is evident in a number of ways. First, his authority comes to expression in the content and style of his teaching. These two aspects of his teaching are especially evident in the Sermon on the Mount. The typical rabbinical style of teaching was to quote extensively from learned teachers, who provided the basis of authority for one’s own teaching. But Jesus did exactly the opposite. He began, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old . . .” and quoted the Mosaic Law; then he continued, “But I say to you . . .” and gave his own teaching. Jesus thus equated his own authority with that of the divinely given Torah. It’s no wonder that Matthew comments, “When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:28–29 rsv). But it’s not just that Jesus placed his personal authority on a par with that of the divine Law. More than that, he adjusted the Law on his own authority. Although Jewish scholars have attempted valiantly to assimilate Jesus’ ethical teachings to the tradition of Judaism, Jesus’ opposition of his own personal authority to the divine Torah given through Moses is the rock upon which all such attempts are finally broken. Take, for example, Jesus’ teaching on divorce in Matthew 5:31–32 (cf. Mark 10:2–12). Here Jesus explicitly quotes the teaching of the Law (Deut. 24:1–4) and opposes to it, on the basis of his own authority, his teaching on the matter. In the Markan passage, he declares that Moses does not represent the perfect will of God on this matter and presumes to correct the Law on his own authority as to what is really the will of God. But no human being, no prophet or teacher or charismatic, has that kind of authority. “Jesus,” observes Witherington, “seems to assume an authority over Torah that no Pharisee or Old Testament prophet assumed—the authority to set it aside.”56 In his provocative dialogue A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, the eminent Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner explains that it is precisely on this basis why he, as a Jew, would not have followed Jesus had he lived in first-century Palestine. Explaining that for a Jew the Torah is God’s revelation to Moses, he asserts, Jews believe in the Torah of Moses . . . and that belief requires faithful Jews to enter a dissent at the teachings of Jesus, on the grounds that those teachings at important points contradict the Torah. . . . And therefore, because that specific teaching was so broadly out of phase with the Torah and covenant of Sinai, I could not then follow him and do not now either. That is not because I am stubborn or unbelieving. It is because I believe God has given a different Torah from the one that Jesus teaches; and that Torah, the one Moses got at Sinai, stands in judgment of the torah of Jesus, as it dictates true and false for all other torahs that people want to teach in God’s name.57 56. Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 65. 57. Jacob Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1993), xii, 5.

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Given the supremely authoritative status of the divinely revealed Torah, Jesus’ teaching can only appear presumptuous and even blasphemous. In effect, as Robert Hutchinson put it, “Neusner wants to ask Jesus, ‘Who do you think you are— God?’”58 Neusner himself recognizes that “no one can encounter Matthew’s Jesus without concurring that before us in the evangelist’s mind is God incarnate.”59 But if Jesus’ opposition of his personal teaching to the Torah is an authentic facet of the historical Jesus—as even the skeptical scholars of the Jesus Seminar concede—then it seems that Jesus did arrogate to himself the authority of God. According to Robert Guelich, “one must not shy away from the startling antithesis between God has said to those of old / But I say to you since here lies not only the key to the antithesis but to Jesus’ ministry.”60 Second, Jesus’ use of amēn expresses his authority. The expression frequently attributed to Jesus, “Truly, truly I say to you,” is historically unique and is recognized on all hands to have been used by Jesus to preface his teaching. It served to mark off his authoritative word on some subject, usually a statement about the inbreaking kingdom of God or about Jesus’ own work. Ben Witherington in his acclaimed study of the Christology of Jesus explains the significance of Jesus’ use of the phrase “Amen, I say to you”: It is insufficient to compare it to “thus says the Lord,” although that is the closest parallel. Jesus is not merely speaking for Yahweh, but for himself and on his own authority. . . . This strongly suggests that he considered himself to be a person of authority above and beyond what prophets claimed to be. He could attest to his own truthfulness and speak on his own behalf, and yet his words were to be taken as having the same or greater authority than the divine words of the prophets. Here was someone who thought he possessed not only divine inspiration . . . but also divine authority and the power of direct divine utterance. The use of amen followed by “I say unto you” must be given its full weight in light of its context—early Judaism.61

That Witherington’s analysis is correct is evident from the complaint of the orthodox Jewish writer Ahad ha’ Am: “Israel cannot accept with religious enthusiasm, as the Word of God, the utterances of a man who speaks in his own name—not ‘thus saith the Lord,’ but ‘I say unto you.’ This ‘I’ is in itself sufficient to drive Judaism away from the Gentiles forever.”62 Third, Jesus’ authority is especially evident in his role as an exorcist. Embarrassing as it may be to many modern theologians, it is historically certain that 58. Robert J. Hutchinson, “What the Rabbi Taught Me about Jesus,” Christianity Today, September 13, 1993, 28. 59. Neusner, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus, 14. 60. Robert Guelich, Sermon on the Mount (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982), 185. 61. Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 188. 62. Ahad ha’ Am, “Judaism and the Gospels,” in Nationalism and the Jewish Ethic, ed. H. Kohn (New York: Schocken, 1962), 298.


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Jesus believed he had the power to cast out demons.63 This was a sign to people of his divine authority. He declared, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20 esv). This saying, which is recognized by New Testament scholarship as authentic, is remarkable for two reasons. First, it shows that Jesus claimed divine authority over the spiritual forces of evil. Second, it shows that Jesus believed that in himself the kingdom of God had come. According to Jewish thinking, the kingdom of God would come at the end of history when the Lord would reign over Israel and the nations. But Jesus was saying, “My ability to rule the spiritual forces of darkness shows that in me the kingdom of God is already present among you.” As Ben Meyer explains in his study of Jesus’ aims, “The exorcisms pointed beyond themselves to the dawning of God’s reign! In terms of the history of religions, this gives an entirely distinctive profile to the exorcisms of Jesus. They become . . . signs of the eschaton.”64 Jesus’ exorcisms signaled that a new era was dawning and that Satan was being decisively cast out. More than that, however; for the advent of God’s kingdom was inseparable from the advent of God himself, as Meyer explains: Dalman pointed out that in the targumic literature “the reign of God” appears as a reverential circumlocution for “God” (as ruler). Jeremias rightly finds this phenomenon in Jesus’ idiom, as well, so that the words “the reign of God is near!” virtually mean “God is near”—at the door or already here!65

In claiming that in himself the kingdom of God had already arrived, as visibly demonstrated by his exorcisms, Jesus was, in effect, saying that in himself God had drawn near, thus putting himself in God’s place. Finally, Jesus’ sense of divine authority comes clearly to expression in his claim to forgive sins. Several of Jesus’ parables, which are acknowledged on all hands to have been uttered by the historical Jesus, show that he assumed the prerogative to forgive sins. In parables like the prodigal son, the lost sheep, and so forth, Jesus describes persons who have wandered away from God and are lost in sin. In Jewish thought such a person was irretrievably lost and therefore given up as dead. But Jesus extended forgiveness to such persons and welcomed them back into the fold. The problem is that no one but God had the authority to make such a proclamation. No mere prophet could presume to speak for God on this matter. As Royce Gruenler puts it, Jesus “is consciously speaking as the voice of God on matters that belong only to God. . . . The evidence clearly leads us to affirm that Jesus implicitly claims to do what only God can do, to forgive sins. . . . The religious 63. According to Witherington, that Jesus was an exorcist is “one of the most incontestable facts about his ministry,” being attested in nearly all layers of tradition and by allusions in sayings, narratives, and summaries (Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 201). 64. Ben F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979), 155–56. 65. Ibid.,136.

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authorities correctly understood his claim to divine authority to forgive sinners, but they interpreted his claims as blasphemous and sought his execution.”66 What Jesus taught in his parables, he acted out in real life. One of the most radical features of the historical Jesus was his practice of inviting prostitutes, toll collectors, and other outcasts into fellowship with him around the dinner table.67 This was a living illustration of God’s forgiveness of them and his invitation of them into fellowship in the kingdom of God. As John Meier explains, in the eyes of religious Jews Jesus’ table fellowship with the ritually or morally unclean communicated uncleanness to Jesus himself. Jesus, of course, saw it the other way round: he was communicating salvation to religious outcasts. His meals with sinners . . . were celebrations of the lost being found, of God’s mercy reaching out and embracing the prodigal son returning home. His banquets with sinful Israelites were a preparation and foretaste of the coming banquet in the kingdom of God.68

Critics like Crossan who see Jesus’ table fellowship as merely a demonstration of Jesus’ egalitarianism have missed its most distinctive feature: the reconciliation of sinners and their integration into the kingdom of God. In table fellowship with the immoral and unclean Jesus is acting in the place of God to welcome them into God’s kingdom. It’s no wonder that the religious authorities saw this presumptuous activity as blasphemous and sought to have him crucified (cf. the reaction to Jesus’ claim in Mark 2:1–12 that as the Son of Man he has authority to forgive sins)! Thus, most New Testament critics acknowledge that the historical Jesus acted and spoke with a self-consciousness of divine authority and that, furthermore, he saw in his own person the coming of the long-awaited kingdom of God and invited people into its fellowship. Jesus’ Miracles Jesus believed himself to be not only an exorcist but a miracle worker. Recall his reply to the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf 66. Royce Gordon Gruenler, New Approaches to Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1982), 46, 59, 49. This claim comes to explicit expression in Mark 2:1–12, whose authenticity is defended by Gundry, Mark, 110–22. 67. As Meyer explains, through table fellowship the Jewish ritual distinction of clean and unclean and the Jewish moral distinction of righteous and unrighteous, which shaped and permeated the self-understanding of Judaism, came to concrete expression. With respect to Jesus’ ignoring such distinctions, Meyer comments, “Nothing . . . could have dramatized the gratuity and the present realization of God’s saving act more effectively than this unheard of initiative toward sinners” (Meyer, Aims, 161). Jesus’ iconoclasm in this regard lends credibility to Mark’s comment that Jesus consciously overturned Old Testament food laws (Mark 7:19), which underscores the point above concerning his authority to correct the Torah, as is pointed out by Gundry, Mark, 356, 367–71. 68. Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:303.


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hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4–5 esv). Dunn comments: “Whatever the ‘facts’ were, Jesus evidently believed that he had cured cases of blindness, lameness, and deafness—indeed there is no reason to doubt that he believed lepers had been cured under his ministry and dead restored to life.”69 Moreover, the miracle stories are so widely represented in all strata of the Gospel traditions that it would be fatuous to regard them as not rooted in the life of Jesus. Thus, the consensus of New Testament scholarship agrees that Jesus did perform “miracles”—however one might want to interpret or explain these. At the end of his long and detailed study of Jesus’ miracles Meier concludes, The overall attestation of the figure of Jesus as healer of physical infirmities and illnesses is thus even stronger than the attestation of his activity as an exorcist. . . . In sum, the statement that Jesus acted as and was viewed as an exorcist and healer during his public ministry has as much historical corroboration as almost any other statement we can make about the Jesus of history.70

Therefore, it is clear that Jesus at least thought that he had the power to perform miracles; and in that the majority of New Testament critics agree. The miracles of Jesus take on a Christological significance in light of the fact that they, like his exorcisms, were taken to be signs of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.71 This is the sense of Jesus’ allusion to Isaiah 35:5–6; 61:1 above.72 As such, they functioned fundamentally differently from the wonders performed by Hellenistic magicians or Jewish holy men. Moreover, Jesus’ miracles differed from those of his compatriots Honi and Hanina in that Jesus never prays for a miracle to be done; he may first express thanks to the Father, but then he effects it himself. And he does so in his own name, not God’s. Moreover, neither Honi nor Hanina carried out a prophetic ministry, made messianic claims, or brought any new teaching in conjunction with their miracles. Thus, Jesus’ selfunderstanding cannot be reduced simply to that of another charismatic Jewish holy man. This is remarkable enough in itself; but there is more. For Jesus’ claim to be able to heal miraculously all diseases and infirmities also contains an implicit claim to divinity. As Howard Kee, a New Testament scholar from Boston University who has specialized in the study of the Gospel miracles, explains, for Old Testament Judaism God is the one who heals all Israel’s diseases. In this light, Jesus’ claim to heal miraculously, without use of any medical means, takes on a new significance: 69. James D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), 60. On the authenticity of the passage, see Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 165. 70. Meier, Marginal Jew, 2:969–70. 71. As emphasized by Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1999). 72. Witherington points out: “The emphasis here is on the present fulfillment of Old Testament hopes for the messianic or eschatological age” (Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 44; cf. 172).

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Jesus in effect takes God’s place as the healer of Israel.73 No doctors or medicine are necessary for him—he heals as God heals. Compare Jesus’ claim to have healed lepers with 2 Kings 5:7 (rsv): “When the king of Israel read the letter [from the king of Aram concerning Naaman’s leprosy], he rent his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?’” Jesus assumes the place reserved for God in the Old Testament. So his claim to perform miracles is not only amazing in itself, but actually has a deeper significance in implying Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ Prayer Life Jesus always prayed to God as “Father.” The German New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias demonstrated that such practice is attested in every layer of the Gospel traditions (Mark 14:36; Matt. 11:25–26/Luke 10:21; Matt. 26:42; Luke 23:34, 46; John 12:27–28). Behind the Greek word pater for Father lies the Aramaic “abba” (Mark 14:36), a familial term. This contrasts with what D. R. Bauer calls “the obsolete and formalized Hebrew term ‘abi,’ ” typically used in Jewish prayers.74 Jesus thus thought of himself as God’s son in an intimate sense. This same intimate form of address to God appears also in early Christian practice (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6–7), doubtlessly preserved in Greek-speaking churches in imitation of Jesus. Since prayer to God as abba was part of Christian practice, the mere use of abba cannot be said to indicate a filial relationship to God unique to Jesus. But Jesus’ practice is noteworthy in that this expression was original to him and was his consistent and only form of address to God. It is also noteworthy that although Jesus may have taught his disciples to pray to God as Abba, he never joined with them in praying “Our Father . . .” On the contrary, he always referred to God as “my Father.” This distinction leads to an odd circumlocution like John 20:17: “my Father and your Father . . . my God and your God.” Jesus’ prayer life thus hints that he thought of himself as God’s Son in a unique sense that set him apart from the rest of the disciples. Jesus’ Status as Arbiter of People’s Eternal Destiny Jesus held that people’s attitudes toward himself would be the determining factor in God’s judgment on the judgment day. He proclaimed, “I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9 rsv).75 I have no doubt that in this passage Jesus is referring to himself as the Son of Man, not referring to some third figure besides himself. But be that as it may, the point is that whoever the Son of Man may be, Jesus is claiming that people will be judged before 73. Comments made in discussion of Kee’s paper at the conference “Christianity Challenges the University,” Dallas, Tex., February 1985. 74. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, s.v., “Son of God,” by D. R. Bauer, p. 772, col. 1. 75. A multiply attested Q-saying, the authenticity of 12:8 is defended by Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man, trans. L. L. Wilkins and D. A. Priebe (London: SCM, 1968), 58–60.


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him on the basis of their response to Jesus. Think of it: people’s eternal destiny is fixed on their response to Jesus. Make no mistake: if Jesus were not divine, then this claim could only be regarded as the most narrow and objectionable dogmatism. For Jesus is saying that people’s salvation depends on their confession to Jesus himself. A discussion of Jesus’ implicit self-concept could go on and on. According to Witherington, any adequate theory of Jesus’ self-understanding must be able to explain the following thirteen established features of the historical Jesus: 1) 2) 3) 4)

his independent approach to the Law his feeding of the 5,000 his interpretation of his miracles his proclamation of the kingdom of God as present and in-breaking in his ministry 5) his choosing of twelve disciples 6) his use of the Son of Man 7) his use of amēn 8) his use of abba 9) his distinguishing himself from his contemporaries, including John the Baptist, the Pharisees, Jewish revolutionaries, and the disciples 10) his belief that one’s future standing with God hinged on how one reacted to his ministry 11) his understanding that his death was necessary to rectify matters between God and his people 12) his sense of mission to the whole of Israel, especially to sinners and outcasts, which led to table fellowship with such people 13) his raising messianic expectations in a repeated pattern of controversy with his contemporaries.76 Although we have not discussed all these matters, enough has been said, I think, to indicate the radical self-concept of Jesus. Here is a man who thought of himself as the promised Messiah, God’s only Son, the Danielic Son of Man to whom all dominion and authority would be given, who claimed to act and speak with divine authority, who held himself to be a worker of miracles, and who believed that people’s eternal destiny hinged on whether or not they believed in him. Gruenler sums it up: “It is a striking fact of modern New Testament research that the essential clues for correctly reading the implicit Christological self-understanding of Jesus are abundantly clear.” There is, he 76. Witherington, Christology of Jesus, 268.

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concludes, “absolutely convincing evidence” that Jesus did intend to stand in the very place of God himself.77 Horst Georg Pöhlmann in his Abriss der Dogmatik reports, “In summary, one could say that today there is virtually a consensus concerning that wherein the historical in Jesus is to be seen. It consists in the fact that Jesus came on the scene with an unheard of authority, namely with the authority of God, with the claim of the authority to stand in God’s place and speak to us and bring us to salvation.”78 This involves, says Pöhlmann, an implicit Christology. He concludes: This unheard of claim to authority, as it comes to expression in the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, is implicit Christology, since it presupposes a unity of Jesus with God that is deeper than that of all men, namely a unity of essence. This . . . claim to authority is explicable only from the side of his deity. This authority only God himself can claim. With regard to Jesus there are only two possible modes of behavior: either to believe that in him God encounters us or to nail him to the cross as a blasphemer. Tertium non datur.79

There is no third way.80

Conclusion Explicit use of Christological titles like Messiah, the Son of God, and especially the Son of Man, combined with implicit Christological claims made through his teaching and behavior indicates a radical self-understanding on the part of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, so extraordinary was the person who Jesus thought himself to be that Dunn at the end of his study of the self-consciousness of Jesus feels compelled to remark, “One last question cannot be ignored: Was Jesus mad?”81 Dunn rejects the hypothesis that Jesus was insane because it cannot account for the full portrait of Jesus that we have in the Gospels. The balance and soundness of Jesus’ whole life and teachings make it evident that he was no lunatic. But notice that by means of these claims of Jesus, on the basis of sayings shown to be authentic, we are brought round again to the same dilemma posed by the traditional apologetic: if Jesus was not who he claimed to be, then he was either a charlatan or a madman, neither of which is plausible. Therefore, why not accept him as the divine Son of God, just as the earliest Christians did? 77. Gruenler, New Approaches to Jesus and the Gospels, 74. 78. Horst Georg Pöhlmann, Abriss der Dogmatik, 3rd rev. ed. (Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1966), 230. 79. Ibid. 80. I’m grateful to Robert Bowman, Charles Quarles, and Craig Evans for their helpful suggestions on this section. 81. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, 86.


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Practical Application It is intellectually gratifying to see how contemporary New Testament criticism has actually served to support rather than undermine a high view of Christ. The refusal of radical critics to draw the obvious Christological implications of unquestionably authentic sayings of Jesus is due not to lack of historical evidence but to their personal anti-metaphysical and, quite frankly, anti-Chalcedonian prejudices. The evidence thus vindicates the approach of the traditional apologetic. But here a word of caution would be in order. Often one hears people say, “I don’t understand all those philosophical arguments for God’s existence and so forth. I prefer historical apologetics.” I suspect that those who say this think that historical apologetics is easy and will enable them to avoid the hard thinking involved in the philosophical arguments. But this section ought to teach us clearly that this is not so. It is naïve and outdated simply to trot out the dilemma “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” and adduce several proof texts where Jesus claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah, and so forth. The publicity generated by the Jesus Seminar and The DaVinci Code has rendered that approach forever obsolete. Rather, if an apologetic based on the claims of Christ is to work, we must do the requisite spadework of sorting out those claims of Jesus that can be established as authentic, and then drawing out their implications. This will involve not only mastering Greek but also the methods of modern criticism and the criteria of authenticity. Far from being easy, historical apologetics, if done right, is every bit as difficult as philosophical apologetics. The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier 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. Now in applying this material in evangelism, I think it is often more effective when used defensively than offensively. That is to say, if the unbeliever says Jesus was just a good man or religious teacher, then confront him with Christ’s claims. Used offensively to convince someone that Jesus was divine, this apologetic can be derouted on the popular level. Many people will say Jesus was a man from outer space, and the more you argue with them the more they become entrenched in this position. Of course, such a view is hopelessly kooky, so that, oddly enough, this apologetic is probably more effective on the scholarly level than on the popular. I think that a more effective approach is to argue that Jesus’ claims provide the religio-historical context in which his resurrection becomes significant, as it vindicates those claims. Of course, the non-Christian might still say Jesus was from outer space and came back to life like E. T., in which case the most effective strategy is not to argue with him at all but just to point out that no scholar believes such a thing. If you argue with him, this gives the impression that his view is worth refuting and therefore has some credibility, which it does not. So simply brush it aside, and it is to be hoped that the unbeliever, not wishing to feel intellectually

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isolated, will not take it too seriously either. Taken in conjunction with evidence for the resurrection—and one might add, with the evidence for Jesus’ miracles and with fulfilled prophecy, which I have not discussed—the radical claims of Jesus become a powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.

Literature Cited or Recommended Historical Background Bartsch, Hans-Werner, ed. Kerygma and Myth. 2 vols. Translated by R. H. Fuller. London: SPCK, 1953. Ben-Chorin, S. Jesus in Judenthum. Wuppetal: R. Brockhaus, 1970. Bultmann, Rudolph. Jesus. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1951. Evans, Craig A. “Authenticity Criteria in Life of Jesus Research,” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 6–31. ———. “Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology.” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 3–36. Funk, Robert W. and Roy W. Hoover, eds. The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? New York: Macmillan, 1993. Hagner, Donald A. The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1984. Hemer, Colin. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Edited by Conrad H. Gempf, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 49. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1989. Hooker, Morna. “On Using the Wrong Tool.” Theology 75 (1972): 570–81. Kissinger, W. S. The Lives of Jesus: A History and Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1985. Marshall, I. Howard. I Believe in the Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977. Paulus, Heinrich Eberh. Gottlob. Das Leben Jesu, als Grundlage einer reinen Geschichte des Urchristentums. 2 vols. Heidelberg: C. F. Winter, 1828. Robinson, James. A New Quest of the Historical Jesus. Studies in Biblical Theology 25. London: SCM, 1959. Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. 3rd ed. Translated by W. Montgomery. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1954. Sherwin-White, A. N. Roman Law and Roman Soceity in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963. Stein, Robert H. “The Criteria for Authenticity.” In Gospel Perspectives I, edited by R. T. France and David Wenham, 225–53. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980. Strauss, David Friedrich. The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Translated by G. Eliot. Edited with an introduction by P. C. Hodgson. Lives of Jesus Series. London: SCM, 1973. Wrede, William. The Messianic Secret. Translated by J. O. G. Greig. Cambridge: James Clarke, 1971.


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Assessment Am, Ahad, ha’-. “Judaism and the Gospels.” In Nationalism and the Jewish Ethic, edited by H. Kohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1962. Blackburn, Barry L. “Miracle Working in Hellenism and Hellenistic Judaism.” In Gospel Perspectives VI, edited by David Wenham and Craig Blomberg, 185–218. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1986. Bock, Darrell L. Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Final Examination of Jesus. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 106. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1998; repr. ed.: Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism: The Charge against Jesus in Mark 14:53–65. Biblical Studies Library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000. Bultmann, Rudolph. Jesus and the Word. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1934. Collins, John J. The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1991. Denaux, Adelbert. “The Q-Logion Mt 11,27/Lk 10,22 and the Gospel of John.” In John and the Synoptics, edited by A. Denaux. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 101. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1992. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992. A compendium of scholarship on the historical Jesus which ought to be on every Christian apologist’s shelf. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. S.v. “Son of God,” by D. R. Bauer. Dunn, James D.G. “Can the Third Quest Hope to Succeed?” In Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, 31–48. New Testament Tools and Studies 28/2. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999. ———. Christianity in the Making. Vol. 1: Jesus Remembered. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003. ———. Jesus and the Spirit. London: SCM, 1975. Ellis, E. E. “Dating the New Testament.” New Testament Studies 26 (1980): 487–502. Evans, Craig A. “Authenticating the Activities of Jesus.” In Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, 3–29. New Testament Tools and Studies 28/2. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999. ———. “Authenticity Criteria in Life of Jesus Research.” Christian Scholar’s Review 19 (1989): 6–31. ———. Fabricating Jesus. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2006. ———. Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies. Leiden: Brill, 2001. ———. “Jesus and Zechariah’s Messianic Hope.” In Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, 373–88. New Testament Tools and Studies 28/2. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999. ———. “Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology.” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 3–36.

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———. “What Did Jesus Do?” In Jesus under Fire, edited by J. P.Moreland and Michael J. Wilkins, 101–11. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995. Funk, Robert W. “The Issue of Jesus.” Forum 1 (1985): 7–12. Funk, Robert W. and Roy W. Hoover, eds. The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? New York: Macmillan, 1993. Green, Michael. “Jesus and Historical Skepticism.” In The Truth of God Incarnate, edited by M. Green, 107–39. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977. ———. “Jesus in the New Testament.” In The Truth of God Incarnate, edited by M. Green, 17–57. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977. Gruenler, Royce Gordon. New Approaches to Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1982. Guelich, Robert. Sermon on the Mount. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1982. Gundry, Robert H. Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993. Hagner, Donald A. The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1984. Hemer, Colin. The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. Edited by Conrad H. Gempf. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 49. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1989. Hengel, Martin. “Jesus, the Messiah of Israel: The Debate about the ‘Messianic Mission’ of Jesus.” In Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, edited by Bruce Chilton and Craig Evans, 323–49. New Testament Tools and Studies 28/2. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999. ———. The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion. Translated by John Bowden. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976. Hick, John, ed. The Myth of God Incarnate. London: SCM, 1977. Hooker, Morna. “On Using the Wrong Tool.” Theology 75 (1972): 570–81. Hurtado, Larry W. Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2003. Hutchinson, Robert J. “What the Rabbi Taught Me about Jesus.” Christianity Today, September 13, 1993, 27–29. Jeremias, Joachim. The Central Message of the New Testament. London: SCM, 1965. ———. The Prayers of Jesus. Translated by John Burchard. London: SCM, 1967. Kim, Seyoon. The Son of Man as the Son of God. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1985. Marshall, I. Howard. The Origins of New Testament Christology. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1976. Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew. 3 vols. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York: Doubleday, 1991, 1994, 2001. Meyer, Ben F. The Aims of Jesus. London: SCM, 1979. Moreland, J. P. and Michael J. Wilkins, eds. Jesus under Fire. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995. Moule, C. F. D. The Origins of Christology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.


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Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus—God and Man. Translated by L. L. Wilkins and D. A. Priebe. London: SCM, 1968. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine. Vol. 1: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100–600). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971. Pöhlmann, Horst Georg. Abriss der Dogmatik. 3rd rev. ed. Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1980. Quarles, Charles L. “The Use of the Gospel of Thomas in the Research on Historical Jesus of John Dominic Crossan.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69 (2007): 517–36. Riesner, Rainer. Jesus als Lehrer. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/7. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1984. Sherwin-White, A.N. Roman Law and Roman Society in the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963. Stein, Robert H. “The Criteria for Authenticity.” In Gospel Perspectives I, edited by R. T. France and David Wenham, 225–63. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980. Taylor, Vincent. The Gospel according to St. Mark. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1966. Trilling, Wolfgang. Fragen zur Geschichtlichkeit Jesu. Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1966. Twelftree, Graham H. Jesus the Miracle Worker. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1999. Witherington III, Ben. The Christology of Jesus. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990. Wright, N. T. Christian Origins and the Question of God. 3 vols. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992, 1996, 2003. Yamauchi, Edwin. “Magic or Miracle? Diseases, Demons, and Exorcisms.” In Gospel Perspectives VI, edited by David Wenham and Craig Blomberg, 89–183. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1986. Zager, Werner and Hans Rollmann. “Unveröffentlichte Briefe William Wredes zur Problematisierung des messianischen Selbstverständnisses Jesu.” Zeitschrift für neuere Theologiegeschichte 8 (2001): 274–322.

8 The Resurrection of Jesus

God and immortality: those were the two conditions we saw to be necessary if man is to have a meaningful existence. I have argued that God exists, and now we have come at length to the second consideration, immortality. Against the dark background of modern man’s despair, the Christian proclamation of the resurrection is a bright light of hope. The earliest Christians saw Jesus’ resurrection as both the vindication of his personal claims and the harbinger of our own resurrection to eternal life. If Jesus rose from the dead, then his claims are vindicated and our Christian hope is sure; if Jesus did not rise, our faith is futile and we fall back into despair. How credible, then, is the New Testament witness to the resurrection of Jesus?

Historical Background The historical apologetic for the resurrection played a central role in the case of the Christian apologists during the Deist controversy. A review of their arguments and of the reasons for the decline of this form of apologetics will be useful in preparing the way for a contemporary assessment of the resurrection. Too often Christians today employ an apologetic for the resurrection that was suitable for use against eighteenth-century opponents but is today ineffective in dealing with the objections raised by modern biblical criticism. 333


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The Case for the Resurrection in the Traditional Apologetic The traditional apologetic may be summarized in three steps. THE GOSPELS ARE AUTHENTIC

The point of this step in the argument was to defend the apostolic authorship of the Gospels. The reasoning was that if the Gospels were actually written by the disciples, then quite simply they were either true accounts or they were lies. Since the Deists granted the apostolic authorship of the Gospels, they were reduced to defending the implausible position that the Gospels were a tissue of deliberate falsehoods. In order to demonstrate the authenticity of the Gospels, Jacob Vernet (whom we met in chapter 4) appeals to both internal and external evidence. Internal Evidence Under internal evidence, Vernet notes that the style of writing in the Gospels is simple and alive, what we would expect from their traditionally accepted authors. Moreover, since Luke was written before Acts, and since Acts was written prior to the death of Paul, Luke must have an early date, which speaks for its authenticity. The Gospels also show an intimate knowledge of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in a.d. 70. Jesus’ prophecies of that event must have been written prior to Jerusalem’s fall, for otherwise the church would have separated out the apocalyptic element in the prophecies, which makes them appear to concern the end of the world. Since the end of the world did not come about when Jerusalem was destroyed, so-called prophecies of its destruction that were really written after the city was destroyed would not have made that event appear so closely connected with the end of the world. Hence, the Gospels must have been written prior to a.d. 70. Further, the Gospels are full of proper names, dates, cultural details, historical events, and customs and opinions of that time. The stories of Jesus’ human weaknesses and of the disciples’ faults also bespeak the Gospels’ accuracy. Furthermore, it would have been impossible for forgers to put together so consistent a narrative as that which we find in the Gospels. The Gospels do not try to suppress apparent discrepancies, which indicates their originality. There is no attempt at harmonization between the Gospels, such as we might expect from forgers. Finally, the style of each particular gospel is appropriate to what we know of the personalities of the traditional authors. Gottfried Less adds to Vernet’s case the further point that the Gospels do not contain anachronisms; the authors appear to have been first-century Jews who were witnesses of the events. William Paley adds a final consideration: the Hebraic and Syriac idioms that mark the Gospels are appropriate to the traditional authors. He concludes that there is no more reason to doubt that the Gospels come from the traditional authors than there is to doubt that the works of Philo or Josephus are authentic, except that the Gospels contain supernatural events.

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External Evidence Turning next to the external evidence for the Gospels’ authenticity, Vernet argues that the disciples must have left some writings, engaged as they were in giving lessons to and counseling believers who were geographically distant. And what could these writings be if not the Gospels and Epistles themselves? Similarly, Paley reasons that eventually the apostles would have needed to publish accurate narratives of Jesus’ history, so that any spurious attempts would be discredited and the genuine Gospels preserved. Moreover, Vernet continues, there were many eyewitnesses who were still alive when the books were written who could testify whether they came from their purported authors or not. Most importantly, the extra-biblical testimony unanimously attributes the Gospels to their traditional authors. No finer presentation of this point can be found than Paley’s extensive elevenpoint argument. First, the Gospels and Acts are cited by a series of authors, beginning with those contemporary with the apostles and continuing in regular and close succession. This is the strongest form of historical testimony, regularly employed to establish authorship of secular works; and when this test is applied to the Gospels, their authenticity is unquestionably established. Paley traces this chain of testimony from the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistle of Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas all the way up to Eusebius in a.d. 315. Less presents similar evidence, and concludes that there is better testimony for the authenticity of the New Testament books than for any classical work of antiquity. Second, the Scriptures were quoted as authoritative and as one-of-a-kind. As proof Paley cites Theophilus, the writer against Artemon, Hippolitus, Origen, and many others. Third, the Scriptures were collected very early into a distinct volume. Ignatius refers to collections known as the Gospel and the Apostles, what we today call the Gospels and the Epistles. According to Eusebius, about sixty years after the appearance of the Gospels Quadratus distributed them to converts during his travels. Irenaeus and Melito refer to the collection of writings we call the New Testament. Fourth, these writings were given titles of respect. Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Dionysius, Irenaeus, and others refer to them as Scriptures, divine writings, and so forth. Fifth, these writings were publicly read and expounded. Citations from Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian go to prove the point. Sixth, copies, commentaries, and harmonies were written on these books. Noteworthy in this connection is Tatian’s Diatessaron, a harmony of the four Gospels, from about a.d. 170. With the single exception of Clement’s commentary on the Revelation of Peter, Paley emphasizes, no commentary was ever written during the first three hundred years after Christ on any book outside the New Testament.


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Seventh, the Scriptures were accepted by all heretical groups as well as by orthodox Christians. Examples include the Valentinians, the Carpocratians, and many others. Eighth, the Gospels, Acts, thirteen letters of Paul, 1 John, and 1 Peter were received without doubt as authentic even by those who doubted the authenticity of other books now in the canon. Caius about a.d. 200 reckoned up about thirteen of Paul’s letters but insisted that Hebrews was not written by Paul. About twenty years later Origen cites Hebrews to prove a particular point, but noting that some might dispute the authority of Hebrews, he states that his point may be proved from the undisputed books of Scripture and quotes Matthew and Acts. Though he expresses doubt about some books, Origen reports that the four Gospels alone were received without dispute by the whole church of God under heaven. Ninth, the early opponents of Christianity regarded the Gospels as containing the accounts upon which the religion was founded. Celsus admitted that the Gospels were written by the disciples. Porphyry attacked Christianity as found in the Gospels. The Emperor Julian followed the same procedure. Tenth, catalogues of authentic Scriptures were published, which always contained the Gospels and Acts. Paley supports the point with quotations from Origen, Athanasius, Cyril, and others. Eleventh, the so-called apocryphal books of the New Testament were never so treated. It is a simple fact, asserts Paley, that with a single exception, no apocryphal gospel is ever even quoted by any known author during the first three hundred years after Christ. In fact, there is no evidence that any inauthentic gospel whatever existed in the first century, in which all four Gospels and Acts were written. The apocryphal gospels were never quoted, were not read in Christian assemblies, were not collected into a volume, were not listed in the catalogues, were not noticed by Christianity’s adversaries, were not appealed to by heretics, and were not the subject of commentaries or collations, but were nearly universally rejected by Christian writers of succeeding ages. Therefore, Paley concludes, the external evidence strongly confirms the authenticity of the Gospels. Even if it should be the case that the names of the authors traditionally ascribed to the Gospels are mistaken, it still could not be denied that the Gospels do contain the story that the original apostles proclaimed and for which they labored and suffered. Taken together, then, the internal and external evidence adduced by the Christian apologists served to establish the first step of their case, that the gospels are authentic. THE TEXT OF THE GOSPELS IS PURE

The second step often taken by the Christian thinkers was to argue that the text of the Gospels is pure. This step was important to ensure that the Gospels we have today are the same Gospels as originally written.

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Vernet, in support of the textual purity of the Gospels, points out that because of the need for instruction and personal devotion, these writings must have been copied many times, which increases the chances of preserving the original text. In fact, no other ancient work is available in so many copies and languages, and yet all these various versions agree in content. The text has also remained unmarred by heretical additions. The abundance of manuscripts over a wide geographical distribution demonstrates that the text has been transmitted with only trifling discrepancies. The differences that do exist are quite minor and are the result of unintentional mistakes. The text of the New Testament is every bit as good as the text of the classical works of antiquity. To these considerations, Less adds that the quotations of the New Testament books in the early church fathers coincide. Moreover, the Gospels could not have been corrupted without a great outcry on the part of orthodox Christians. Against the idea that there could have been a deliberate falsifying of the text, Abbé Houtteville argues that no one could have corrupted all the manuscripts. Moreover, there is no precise time when the falsification could have occurred, since, as we have seen, the New Testament books are cited by the church fathers in regular and close succession. The text could not have been falsified before all external testimony, since then the apostles were still alive and could repudiate any such tampering with the Gospels. In conclusion, Vernet charges that to repudiate the textual purity of the Gospels would be to reverse all the rules of criticism and to reject all the works of antiquity, since the text of those works is less certain than that of the Gospels. THE GOSPELS ARE RELIABLE

Having demonstrated that the Gospels are authentic and that the text of the Gospels is pure, the Christian thinkers were now in a position to argue that the Gospels are historically reliable. Their argument basically boiled down to a dilemma: if the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection are false, then the apostles were either deceivers or deceived. Since both of these alternatives are implausible, it follows that the Gospel accounts must be true. Apostles Neither Deceivers Nor Deceived Let’s turn first to the arguments presented against the second horn of the dilemma: that the apostles were deceived. This alternative embraces any hypothesis holding that Jesus did not rise from the dead, but that the disciples sincerely believed he had. Humphrey Ditton in his Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1712) argues that the apostles could not have been mistaken about the resurrection. In the first place, the witnesses to the appearances were well qualified. There were a great many witnesses, and they had personal knowledge of the facts over an extended period of forty days. It is unreasonable, therefore, to ascribe their experience to imagination or dreaming. Moreover, the disciples were not religious


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enthusiasts, as is evident from their cool and balanced behavior even in extreme situations. Thomas Sherlock responds to the charge that the evidence for the resurrection consists of the testimony of silly women by pointing out that they, too, had eyes and ears to report accurately what they experienced; and far from being gullible, they were actually disbelieving. He observes also that the women were never in fact used as witnesses to the resurrection in the apostolic preaching. Finally, he adds, the testimony of the men is none the worse off for having the testimony of the women as well. (This exchange obviously took place before the days of feminist consciousness!) Paley answers the allegation that the resurrection appearances were the result of “religious enthusiasm” (that is, were hallucinations) by arguing that the theory fails on several counts. First, not just one person but many saw Christ appear. Second, they saw him not individually but together. Third, they saw him appear not just once, but several times. Fourth, they not only saw him, but touched him, conversed with him, and ate with him. Fifth and decisively, the religious enthusiasm hypothesis fails to explain the non-production of the body. It would have been impossible for Jesus’ disciples to have believed in their master’s resurrection if his corpse still lay in the tomb. But it is equally incredible to suppose that the disciples could have stolen the body and perpetrated a hoax. Furthermore, it would have been impossible for Christianity to come into being in Jerusalem if Jesus’ body were still in the grave. The Jewish authorities would certainly have produced it as the shortest and completest answer to the whole affair. But all they could do was claim that the disciples had stolen the body. Thus, the hypothesis of religious enthusiasm, in failing to explain the absence of Jesus’ corpse, ultimately collapses back into the hypothesis of conspiracy and deceit, which, Paley remarks, has pretty much been given up in view of the evident sincerity of the apostles, as well as their character and the dangers they underwent in proclaiming the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. With Paley’s last remark, we return to the first horn of the dilemma: that the disciples were deceivers. This alternative encompasses any hypothesis holding that the disciples knew that the miracles and resurrection of Jesus did not take place, but that they nevertheless claimed that they did. One of the most popular arguments against this theory is the obvious sincerity of the disciples as attested by their suffering and death. No more eloquent statement of the argument can be found than Paley’s: he seeks to show that the original witnesses of the miraculous events of the Gospels passed their lives in labors, dangers, and sufferings, voluntarily undertaken in attestation to and as a consequence of the accounts which they delivered. Paley argues first from the general nature of the case. We know that the Christian religion exists. Either it was founded by Jesus and the apostles or by others, the first being silent. The second alternative is quite incredible. If the disciples had not zealously followed up what Jesus had started, Christianity would have died at its birth. If this is so, then a life of missionary sacrifice must have been necessary

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for those first apostles. Such a life is not without its own enjoyments, but they are only such as spring from sincerity. With a consciousness at bottom of hollowness and falsehood, the fatigue and strain would have become unbearable. There was probably difficulty and danger involved in the propagation of a new religion. With regard to the Jews, the notion of Jesus’ being the Messiah was contrary to Jewish hopes and expectations; Christianity lowered the esteem of Jewish law; and the disciples would have had to reproach the Jewish leaders as guilty of an execution that could only be represented as an unjust and cruel murder. As to the Romans, they could have understood the kingdom of God only in terms of an earthly kingdom—thus, a rival. And concerning the heathen, Christianity admitted no other god or worship. Although the philosophers allowed and even enjoined worship of state deities, Christianity could countenance no such accommodation. Thus, even in the absence of a general program of persecution, there were probably random outbursts of violence against Christians. The heathen religions were old and established and not easily overthrown. Those religions were generally regarded by the common people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the magistrates as equally useful. From none of these sides could the Christians expect protection. Finally, the nature of the case requires that these early apostles must have experienced a great change in their lives, now involved as they were in preaching, prayer, religious meetings, and so forth. What the nature of the case would seem to require is in fact confirmed by history. Writing seventy years after Jesus’ death, Tacitus narrates Nero’s persecution about thirty years after Christ, how the Christians were clothed in the skins of wild beasts and thrown to dogs, how others were smeared with pitch and used as human torches to illuminate the night while Nero rode about in the dress of a charioteer, viewing the spectacle. The testimonies of Suetonius and Juvenal confirm the fact that within thirty-one years after Jesus’ death, Christians were dying for their faith. From the writings of Pliny the Younger, Martial, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, it is clear that believers were voluntarily submitting to torture and death rather than renounce their religion. This suffering is abundantly attested in Christian writings as well. Christ had been killed for what he said; the apostles could expect the same treatment. Jesus’ predictions in the Gospels of sufferings for his followers were either real predictions come true or were put into his mouth because persecution had in fact come about. In Acts, the sufferings of Christians are soberly reported without extravagance. The epistles abound with references to persecutions and exhortations to steadfastness. In the early writings of Clement, Hermas, Polycarp, and Ignatius, we find the sufferings of the early believers historically confirmed. It is equally clear that it was for a miraculous story that these Christians were suffering. After all, the only thing that could convince these early Christians that Jesus was the Messiah was that they thought there was something supernatural about him. The Gospels are a miraculous story, and we have no other story handed


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down to us than that contained in the Gospels. Josephus’s much disputed testimony can only confirm, not contradict, the Gospel accounts. The letters of Barnabas and Clement refer to Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. Polycarp mentions the resurrection of Christ, and Irenaeus relates that he had heard Polycarp tell of Jesus’ miracles. Ignatius speaks of the resurrection. Quadratus reports that persons were still living who had been healed by Jesus. Justin Martyr mentions the miracles of Christ. No relic of a non-miraculous story exists. That the original story should be lost and replaced by another goes beyond any known example of corruption of even oral tradition, not to speak of the experience of written transmissions. These facts show that the story in the Gospels was in substance the same story that Christians had at the beginning. That means, for example, that the resurrection of Jesus was always a part of this story. Were we to stop here, remarks Paley, we have a circumstance unparalleled in history: that in the reign of Tiberius Caesar a certain number of persons set about establishing a new religion, in the propagation of which they voluntarily submitted to great dangers, sufferings, and labors, all for a miraculous story which they proclaimed wherever they went, and that the resurrection of a dead man, whom they had accompanied during his lifetime, was an integral part of this story. Since it has been already abundantly proved that the accounts of the Gospels do stem from their apostolic authors, Paley concludes, then the story must be true. For the apostles could not be deceivers. He asks: Would men in such circumstances pretend to have seen what they never saw; assert facts which they had not knowledge of, go about lying to teach virtue; and, though not only convinced of Christ’s being an imposter, but having seen the success of his imposture in his crucifixion, yet persist in carrying on; and so persist, as to bring upon themselves, for nothing, and with full knowledge of the consequence, enmity and hatred, danger and death?1

The question is merely rhetorical, for the absurdity of the hypothesis of deceit is all too clear. A second popular argument against the disciples’ being deceivers was that their character precludes their being liars. Humphrey Ditton observes that the apostles were simple, common men, not cunning deceivers. They were men of unquestioned moral integrity and their proclamation of the resurrection was solemn and devout. They had absolutely nothing to gain in worldly terms in preaching this doctrine. Moreover, they had been raised in a religion that was vastly different from the one they preached. Especially foreign to them was the idea of the death and resurrection of the Jewish Messiah. This militates against their concocting this idea. The Jewish laws against deceit and false testimony were very severe, which fact would act as a deterrent to fraud. Finally, they were evidently sincere in what they 1. William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity, 2 vols., 5th ed. (London: R. Faulder, 1796; repr. ed.: Westmead, England: Gregg, 1970), 1:327–28.

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proclaimed. In light of their character so described, asks Ditton bluntly, why not believe the testimony of these men? A third argument pressed by the apologists was that the notion of a conspiracy is ridiculous. Vernet thinks it inconceivable that one of the disciples should suggest to the others that they say Jesus was risen when both he and they knew the precise opposite to be true. How could he possibly rally his bewildered colleagues into so detestable a project? And are we then to believe that these men would stand before judges declaring the truth of this product of their imaginations? Houtteville asserts that a conspiracy to fake the resurrection would have had to have been of such unmanageable proportions that the disciples could never have carried it off. Ditton points out that had there been a conspiracy, it would certainly have been unearthed by the disciples’ adversaries, who had both the interest and the power to expose any fraud. Common experience shows that such intrigues are inevitably exposed even in cases where the chances of discovery are much less than in the case of the resurrection. Yet a fourth argument, urged by Less, was that the Gospels were written in such temporal and geographical proximity to the events they record that it would have been almost impossible to fabricate events. Anyone who cared to could have checked out the accuracy of what they reported. The fact that the disciples were able to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem in the face of their enemies a few weeks after the crucifixion shows that what they proclaimed was true, for they could never have proclaimed the resurrection under such circumstances had it not occurred. Fifth, the theft of the body from the tomb by the disciples would have been impossible. Ditton argues that the story of the guard at the tomb is plausible, since the Jews had the ability and motivation to guard the tomb. But in this case, the disciples could not have stolen the body on account of the armed guard. The allegation that the guards had fallen asleep is ridiculous, because in that case they could not have known that it was the disciples who had taken the corpse. Besides, adds Houtteville, no one could have broken into the tomb without waking the guard. Sixth, even the enemies of Christianity acknowledged Jesus’ resurrection. The Jews did not publicly deny the disciples’ charge that the authorities had bribed the guard to keep silent. Had the charge been false, they would have openly denounced it. Thus, the enemies of Christianity themselves bore witness to the resurrection. Seventh and finally, the dramatic change in the disciples shows that they were absolutely convinced Jesus had risen from the dead. They went from the depths of despair and doubt to a joyful certainty of such height that they preached the resurrection openly and boldly and suffered bravely for it. Thus, the hypothesis of deceit is just as implausible as the hypothesis that the apostles had been deceived. But since neither of these alternatives is reasonable, the conclusion can only be that they were telling the truth and that Jesus rose from the dead.


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The Origin of Christianity Proves the Resurrection In addition to this fundamental dilemma, the Christian apologists also refurbished the old argument from the origin of the church. Suppose, Vernet suggests, that no resurrection or miracles occurred: how then could a dozen men, poor, coarse, and apprehensive, turn the world upside down? If Jesus did not rise from the dead, declares Ditton, then either we must believe that a small, unlearned band of deceivers overcame the powers of the world and preached an incredible doctrine over the face of the whole earth, which in turn received this fiction as the sacred truth of God; or else, if they were not deceivers, but enthusiasts, we must believe that these extremists, carried along by the impetus of extravagant fancy, managed to spread a falsity that not only common folk, but statesmen and philosophers as well, embraced as the sober truth. Because such a scenario is simply unbelievable, the message of the apostles, which gave birth to Christianity, must be true.

The Decline of Historical Apologetics Paley’s View of the Evidences (1794) constituted the high-water mark of the historical apologetic for the resurrection. During the nineteenth century this approach dramatically receded. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a significant and influential thinker defending the Christian faith on the basis of the evidence for the resurrection. It seems to me that there were two factors that served to undermine the traditional apologetic. THE ADVANCE OF BIBLICAL CRITICISM

The first of those was the advance of biblical criticism. In England the Deist controversy subsided, in France it was cut short by the Revolution, but in Germany it was taken up into a higher plane. There is a direct link between Deism and the advance in biblical criticism that began in Germany in the late eighteenth century. The flood of Deist thought and literature that poured into eighteenth-century Germany from England and France wrought a crisis in German orthodox theology. That theology had been characterized by an extremely rigid doctrine of biblical inspiration and infallibility and by a devotional pietism. The critique of the Deists undermined the faith of many in the inerrancy of Scripture, but their piety would not allow them to join themselves to the Deist camp and reject Christianity. This group of scholars, generally called Rationalists, therefore sought to resolve the crisis by forging a new way between orthodoxy and Deism; namely, they loosed the religious meaning of a text from the historicity of the events described therein. The historical events were only the form, the husk, in which some spiritual, transhistorical truth was embodied. What was of importance was the substance, the kernel, not the mere external trappings. In this way, the Rationalists could accept the Deist critique of miracles but at the same time retain the spiritual truth expressed in these stories. With regard to the resurrection we have seen that many Rationalists adopted some form of the apparent death theory to explain away the resurrection; but for most it still retained its spiritual significance and truth.

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The Rationalists thus sought a middle ground between the Deists and the supernaturalists. The Deists and supernaturalists agreed that if the events of the Gospels did not in fact occur, then Christianity was false. But the Rationalists, while holding with the Deists that the events never occurred, nevertheless held with the supernaturalists that Christianity was true. Let’s take a look at two of the principal figures in this radical new direction. Herrmann Samuel Reimarus, a professor of oriental languages at Hamburg, struggled privately with gnawing doubts about the truth of the biblical revelation. From 1730 to 1768 he wrote them down, and his writing evolved into an enormous 4,000-page critique of the Bible. He was troubled by the many contradictions he found in the Bible and could not accept the stories of the flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the resurrection of Jesus. He denied miracles and came to accept a Deistic natural religion. Nevertheless, he never published his opinions but only showed his manuscript to a few close friends and two of his children. After his death, Reimarus’s daughter gave the manuscript to Gottfried Lessing, who became librarian in Wolfenbüttel. In 1774 Lessing began to publish excerpts from the manuscript, passing them off as anonymous fragments found in the library’s archives. In 1777 he published Reimarus’s attack on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, which set German orthodoxy in an uproar. According to Reimarus, Jesus claimed to have been only an earthly Messiah, and having tried to establish his reign and failed, he was executed. But the disciples stole Jesus’ corpse and spread the story of Jesus’ resurrection, touting him as a spiritual Messiah so that they could continue the easy life of preaching that they had enjoyed with Jesus while he was alive. Reimarus realized that to maintain this position he must refute the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection. In his mind, this consisted of the witness of the guard at the tomb, the witness of the apostles, and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Against the testimony of the guard, Reimarus employed the arguments of the English Deists. He argued that the story is improbable in itself and is full of contradictions. He held it to be an invention of Matthew that the other evangelists rejected. In order to undermine the testimony of the apostles, Reimarus capitalized on the inconsistencies and contradictions in the resurrection narratives. If these were not enough, there is the overriding problem of the privacy of Jesus’ appearances. The apostles’ testimony is suspect because they are the only ones who supposedly saw Christ. Finally, Reimarus made short shrift of the proof from prophecy. The interpretations of the Old Testament passages in question are so strained as to be unconvincing. Besides, the whole procedure begs the question anyway, since it assumes that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead and the prophecies thus apply to him! In conclusion, Reimarus summarized his case: (l) the guard story is very doubtful and unconfirmed, and it is very probable the disciples came by night, stole the corpse, and said afterward Jesus had arisen; (2) the


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disciples’ testimony is both inconsistent and contradictory; and (3) the prophecies appealed to are irrelevant, falsely interpreted, and question-begging.2

Thus, Christianity is quite simply a fraud. Among the many who undertook to refute Reimarus was Johann Salomo Semler, a conservative Rationalist. In his earlier Abhandlung von freier Untersuchung des Canon (1771) Semler had broken the ground for the new Rationalist approach to the Scriptures. Semler had been the assistant at the University of Halle to S. J. Baumgarten, who chronicled the course of Deism in his Nachrichten von einer Hallischen Bibliothek (1748–1751), reviewing almost every English Deist and apologetic work. Semler actually assisted Baumgarten in the reading and translation of Deist literature, and thus became open to Deist influences. At the same time, Semler had a background in Pietism and had no desire to undermine Christianity. Therefore, he made a distinction between the timeless, spiritual truths in Scripture and the merely local truths. It was his conviction that only the spiritual truths may properly be called the Word of God. He thus introduced into theology the decisive distinction between the Scriptures and the Word of God. Since only the spiritual truths are the Word of God, it is no longer possible to regard the Scriptures as a whole as divinely inspired. Rather, the Word of God is clothed in fallible, human forms, which have only local importance. These fallible forms represent God’s and Jesus’ accommodation to human weakness. Included among these accommodations is the miraculous element in Scripture. No Christian can be obligated to believe that such events literally happened, for they are not part of the Word of God. Thus, we are free to examine the historical narratives as we would any other ordinary narrative, since inspiration concerns only the timeless truths they embody. Should the narrative be shown to be unhistorical, that is of little consequence, for that cannot have any effect on the Word of God. The proof that certain events are unhistorical is irrelevant to divine truths. Given his views of Scripture, it seems somewhat surprising to find Semler writing a refutation of Reimarus in his Beantwortung der Fragmente eines Ungenannten (1779). Reimarus’s bitter attack seems to have forced him back to the orthodox end of the spectrum. But in the way he defends the resurrection, we can see the beginning of the end for the historical apologetic for the resurrection. He emphatically subordinates the resurrection to the teachings of Jesus and removes from it any apologetic significance. According to Semler, Christianity consists of the spiritual doctrines taught by Christ. Reimarus mistakenly thinks that in refuting the three purported grounds for belief in the resurrection, he has thereby struck down the essential truths of Christianity. But this is far from the case, asserts Semler. In the first place, one may be a Christian without believing in the resurrection of Jesus. In the second place, the true ground for belief in the resurrection is the self-evident 2. Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Fragments, trans. R. S. Fraser, ed. C. H. Talbert, Lives of Jesus Series (London: SCM, 1971), 104.

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truth of Christ’s teachings. For Semler, belief in Christ’s teaching entails belief in Christ’s resurrection: “The resurrection of Jesus hangs together with Jesus’ life and goal; whoever has experienced his teachings will also believe that God has raised him from the dead.”3 The proof of the resurrection is not the three points mentioned by Reimarus; the proof is the spiritual teachings of Christ. In specific response to Reimarus’s refutation of the three purported grounds, Semler grants all three to Reimarus—but for Semler they are simply irrelevant and present no problem once one has abandoned the doctrine of verbal inspiration. Thus, Semler undercut the traditional apologetic in various ways: while affirming the truth of the resurrection, he nonetheless admitted that belief in the resurrection was not essential to being a Christian; he provided no historical reason to accept the reliability of the gospel accounts with regard to this event; he denied that the resurrection has any power to confirm Christ’s teaching; and he instead subordinated the resurrection to the teachings of Christ, the self-evident Word of God, making the latter the proof of the former. By loosing the Word of God from the Scriptures and making its truth selfattesting, Semler enabled Rational theology to adhere to the doctrines of Christianity while denying their historical basis. During the time between Semler and Strauss, the natural explanation school predominated. The old conspiracy theory of Reimarus was rejected as an explanation for the resurrection of Jesus, and instead the apparent death theory enjoyed popularity among Rationalists. Even F. D. E. Schleiermacher, known as the father of modern theology, accepted this explanation. But the roof really caved in on the traditional apologetic with the advent of David Friedrich Strauss and his hermeneutic of mythological explanation. Strauss’s Leben Jesu (1835) marks a watershed in the history of biblical criticism, to which modern form and redaction criticism may be traced. The year 1835 marks a turning point in the history of the Christian faith. Strauss’s approach to the Gospels, and to the resurrection in particular, may be seen as an attempt to forge a third way between the horns of the dilemma posed by the traditional apologetic, which says that if the miracles and resurrection of Jesus are not historical facts, then the apostles were either deceivers or deceived, neither of which is plausible. Reimarus had chosen to defend the first horn, arguing that the disciples had hoaxed the resurrection. Paulus had chosen to defend the second horn, arguing that the disciples had been mistaken about Jesus’ return from the dead. What Strauss saw clearly was that neither of these alternatives was plausible, and so he sought a third alternative in the mythological explanation. According to this view, the miraculous events of the gospels never happened, and the gospel accounts of them are the result of a long process of legend and religious imagination: 3. Johann Salomo Semler, Beantwortung der Fragmente eines Ungennanten insbesondere vom Zweck Jesu and seiner Jünger, 2nd ed. (Halle: Verlag des Erziehungsinstitut, 1780), 266.


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In the view of the church, Jesus was miraculously revived; according to the deistic view of Reimarus, his corpse was stolen by the disciples; in the rationalistic view, he only appeared to be dead and revived; according to our view the imagination of his followers aroused in their deepest spirit, presented their Master revived, for they could not possibly think of him as dead. What for a long time was valid as an external fact, first miraculous, then deceptive, finally simply natural, is hereby reduced completely to the state of mind and made into an inner event.4

Strauss thus denied that there was any external fact to be explained. The gospel accounts of the resurrection were unreliable legends colored by myth. Hence, the dilemma of “deceivers or deceived” did not arise. The fact that the resurrection was unhistorical did not rob it of its religious significance (here we see the change wrought by Semler), for a spiritual truth may be revealed within the husk of a delusion. Strauss believed that the chief problem in applying the mythical interpretation to the New Testament is that the first century was no longer an age of myths. But although it was a time of writing, if there was a long period of oral transmission during which no written record existed, then marvelous elements could begin to creep in and grow into historical myths. Strauss recognized as well that adherence to this theory necessitated denying the contemporary authorship of the Gospels and the influence of eyewitnesses. Hence, Strauss regarded it as “the sole object” of his book to examine the internal evidence in order to test the probability of the authors’ being eyewitnesses or competently informed writers.5 Strauss gave short shrift to the external testimony to the Gospels: he believed Mark to be compiled from Matthew and Luke and hence not based on Peter’s preaching; the Matthew mentioned by Papias is not our Matthew; Acts so contradicts Paul that its author could not be his companion; the earliest reference to John is in a.d. 172, and the Gospel’s authenticity was disputed by the Alogoi. Nor could living eyewitnesses prevent the accrual of legend: first, the legends could have originated in areas where Jesus was not well known; second, the apostles could not be everywhere at once to correct or suppress unhistorical stories; and third, eyewitnesses themselves would be tempted to fill up the gaps in their own knowledge with stories. Strauss argued that the Jews lagged behind the Romans and Greeks in their historical consciousness; even Josephus’s work is filled with marvelous tales. Myths about the Messiah had already arisen between the exile and Christ’s day. All that was wanting was the application of these myths with some modification to Jesus by the Christian community. With regard to the resurrection accounts, Strauss used arguments similar to Reimarus’s to demonstrate their unreliability. For example, if the body was em4. David Friedrich Strauss, “Herrmann Samuel Reimarus and His ‘Apology,’ ” in Fragments, 280–81. 5. David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, trans. G. Eliot, ed. with an introduction, P.C. Hodgson, Lives of Jesus Series (London: SCM, 1973), 70.

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balmed and wrapped, why do the women return for this purpose? Was the body placed in the tomb because it was Joseph’s or because it was near? The story of the guard is improbable, and the inconsistencies in the empty tomb narrative are irreconcilable. As for the appearances, why should Jesus command the disciples to go to Galilee when he was going to appear to them in Jerusalem? And why did he command them to stay in Jerusalem when he was going to Galilee? For such reasons, no credence can be given to the gospel stories of the empty tomb or resurrection appearances. Despite this, Strauss admitted that Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians 15 concerning living witnesses to an appearance of Jesus before five hundred brethren makes it certain that people were alive at that time who believed they had seen the risen Christ. How is that to be explained? Certainly not by supernatural intervention, for that is unenlightened. “Hence, the cultivated intellect of the present day has very decidedly stated the following dilemma: either Jesus was not really dead, or he did not really rise again.”6 But that Jesus did not die on the cross is the defunct theory of Rationalism; therefore, Jesus did not rise. The correct explanation of the appearances is to be found in the appearance to Paul. His experience makes clear that the appearances were not external to the mind. What happened is that the disciples, convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, began to search the Scriptures after his death. There they found the dying and glorified Messiah of Isaiah 53. So Jesus must be alive! Soon they would see him, especially the women. Having hallucinated appearances of Christ, they would naturally infer that his grave was empty, and by the time they returned from Galilee to Jerusalem, which was certainly not as soon as Pentecost, there was no closed tomb to refute them. In this way belief in Jesus’ resurrection originated, and eventually the legendary gospel accounts arose. Strauss’s work completely altered the tone and course of German theology. Gone forever was the central dilemma of the eighteenth-century apologetic for the resurrection. Now the evangelists were neither deceivers nor deceived, but stood at the end of a long process in which the original events were completely reshaped through mythological and legendary influences. The dissolution of the apologists’ dilemma did not itself entail that the supernaturalist view was false. But for Strauss the supernaturalist view was not only disproved by the inconsistencies and contradictions noted by Reimarus, but was a priori ruled out of court because of the presupposition of the impossibility of miracles. Any event that stood outside the inviolable chain of finite causes was by definition mythological. Therefore, the resurrection could not possibly be a miraculous and historical event. This is the challenge that Strauss has left to Christian apologetics. The position of Bultmann in the twentieth century with regard to the resurrection is virtually the same as Strauss’s. It is no longer effective to argue for the resurrection today simply by refuting theories as to who stole the body or that Jesus did not really 6. Ibid., 736.


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die. They are no longer the issue. The issue is whether the gospel narratives are historically credible accounts or unhistorical legends. THE TIDE OF SUBJECTIVISM

The other reason, it seems to me, for the decline in historical apologetics during the nineteenth century was the tide of subjectivism that swept away an objective approach to matters of religious belief. I do not have space to develop this here, but let me say in passing that during the nineteenth century there came a backlash to the Age of Reason, and Romanticism swept Europe. This was spurred on in England by the Great Awakening, which emphasized the subjective, personal experience of faith. In France, the very emotive, subjective side of thinkers such as Rousseau emerged as a widespread reaction to the prior age of the philosophes, which ended in Revolution and the Reign of Terror. In Germany the effect of the philosophy of Kant and surging German Romanticism combined to color religious faith with a strong subjectivism. The net result of this tide of subjectivism was that apologetics moved from objective evidences for faith to emphasizing the moral grounds for faith or the beauties of faith itself. This subjective turn also enabled one to live with the destruction that was increasingly being wrought on the biblical narrative by the hammers of biblical criticism.

Twentieth-Century Developments Liberal theology, with its cheery view of human perfectibility and progress, could not survive World War I; but its demise brought no renewed interest in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. For the two most influential schools of theological thought that succeeded it were united in their devaluation of the historical with regard to Jesus. Thus, dialectical theology, exemplified by Karl Barth, championed the doctrine of the resurrection, but would have nothing to do with the resurrection as an event of history. In his commentary on the book of Romans (1919), the early Barth declared, “The resurrection touches history as a tangent touches a circle—that is, without really touching it.” Existential theology, exemplified by Rudolf Bultmann, was even more antithetical to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. Though Bultmann acknowledged that the earliest disciples believed in the literal resurrection of Jesus and that Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 even attempts to prove the resurrection, he nevertheless pronounces such a procedure “fatal.” It reduces Christ’s resurrection to a nature miracle akin to the resurrection of a corpse, and modern man cannot be reasonably asked to believe in nature miracles before becoming a Christian. Therefore, the miraculous elements of the gospel must be demythologized to reveal the true Christian message: the call to authentic existence in the face of death, symbolized by the cross. The resurrection is merely a symbolic restatement of the message of the cross and essentially adds nothing to it. To appeal to the resurrection as historical evidence, as did Paul, is doubly wrongheaded, for it is the very nature of existential faith that it is a leap without evidence. Thus, to argue historically for the resurrection is contrary to faith. Clearly then, the antipathy

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of liberal theology to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection remained unrelieved by either dialectical or existential theology. But a remarkable change came about during the second half of the twentieth century. The first glimmerings of change began to appear in 1953. In that year, as we have said, Ernst Käsemann, a pupil of Bultmann, argued at a colloquy at the University of Marburg that Bultmann’s historical skepticism toward Jesus was unwarranted and counterproductive and suggested reopening the question of where the historical about Jesus was to be found. A new quest of the historical Jesus had begun. Three years later in 1956 the Marburg theologian Hans Grass in his influential Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte subjected the resurrection itself to historical inquiry and concluded that the resurrection appearances cannot be dismissed as mere subjective visions on the part of the disciples, but were objective visionary events. Meanwhile the church historian Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen in an equally epochal essay defended the historical credibility of Jesus’ empty tomb. During the ensuing years a stream of works on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection flowed forth from German, French, and English presses. By 1968 the old skepticism was a spent force and began dramatically to recede. So complete has been the turnabout during the second half of the century concerning the resurrection of Jesus that I think that it is no exaggeration to speak of a reversal of scholarship on this issue, such that those who deny the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection now seem to be the ones on the defensive. Perhaps one of the most significant theological developments in this connection is the theological system of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who bases his entire Christology on the historical evidence for Jesus’ ministry and resurrection. This is a development undreamed of in German theology prior to 1950. Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world’s leading Jewish theologians, Pinchas Lapide, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Also noteworthy is that fact that Christian philosophers, such as Stephen T. Davis and Richard Swinburne, whose own field has undergone a similar renaissance over the last half century, have begun to engage in the discussion of Jesus’ resurrection, a development that can only be salutary due to the sophisticated tools of philosophical analysis that they bring to questions like the problem of miracles, personal identity, probability, and so forth. We have truly entered a new era of resurrection scholarship.

Assessment Historical Study and Jesus’ Resurrection Despite its pivotal nature for our understanding of Jesus, many historical Jesus scholars would probably still agree with Barth that the resurrection is not a legitimate object of historical research and is therefore strictly off-limits for the historian. Even if it occurred, such an event is not open to historical investigation


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and can therefore be affirmed only on non-historical grounds, for example, through religious experience or faith.

Structure of the Argument Before we look at the reasons some critical scholars have offered for placing the resurrection in historical quarantine, it will be helpful to say something about the structure of a historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection. Any historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection will have two steps, even if these are not clearly delineated: (1) to establish the facts which will serve as historical evidence and (2) to argue that the hypothesis of Jesus’ resurrection is the best or most probable explanation of those facts. Step (1) will involve an investigation of the historicity of events such as the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb; step (2) will assess the comparative merits of rival hypotheses offered as explanations of the facts established in step (1). Bart Ehrman’s Objections With this two-step procedure in mind, consider the claim of Bart Ehrman that there can be no historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.7 Ehrman takes it for granted that historians have no privileged access to what happens in the supernatural realm; they have access only to what happens in the natural world.8 Therefore a supernatural act by its very nature lies outside the purview of the historian. The historian qua historian cannot tell us whether God is the cause of some event; he can at best tell us that certain people regarded an event as miraculous. So, with respect to the resurrection, “Historians . . . have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.”9 But the truth or falsity of that belief is not within the purview of the historian. Readers who have followed my argument to this point will recognize Ehrman’s objection as a variation on Troeltsch’s historiographical ban on miracles, which we encountered in chapter 6. Once we differentiate the two steps in a historical argument for the resurrection, however, then it becomes apparent that Ehrman’s objection, even if conceded, strikes at most against step (2) of the argument. The resurrection of Jesus is, indeed, a miraculous explanation of the evidence. But the evidence established in step (1) is not itself miraculous. None of the relevant facts is in any way supernatural or inaccessible to the historian. Take the fact that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on the Sunday morning following his crucifixion. There is nothing miraculous about the discovery of an empty grave. To give an analogy, after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, a plot was hatched by enemies of Lincoln to steal his body as it was being transported by train back to Illinois. The 7. See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=debates_main. 8. Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 16, 294, 227. 9. Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 231.

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historian will obviously want to know whether this plot was foiled or not. Was Lincoln’s body missing from the train? Was it successfully interred in the tomb at Springfield? Or take the postmortem appearances of Jesus. A Civil War historian will want to know if Lincoln’s closest associates like Secretary of War Stanton and Vice President Johnson experienced appearances of Lincoln alive after his death. These are questions any historian can investigate. And it’s the same with the facts relevant to the resurrection hypothesis. Hence, even if Ehrman were correct that the historian, due to a methodological constraint, cannot infer the resurrection of Jesus, he may still investigate the events which constitute the evidence which the resurrection hypothesis seeks to explain. Indeed, Ehrman himself, after expressing initial skepticism concerning some of those facts, came to regard them all as historically well founded. With respect to Jesus’ burial and empty tomb, he judges that “the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that that’s what happened. We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later.”10 As for the postmortem appearances, Ehrman agrees with virtually all scholars in holding that “we can say with some confidence that some of his disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive.”11 And we have already seen that he thinks that the historian can establish that shortly after Jesus’ execution some of his followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead; in fact, Ehrman surmises that had Jesus died and no one believed in his resurrection, no new religion would have emerged following his death.12 So Ehrman himself has no problem with the historian’s carrying out, indeed, carrying out successfully, step (1) of a historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Many defenders of the resurrection will be quite content to let the case rest there, leaving the best explanation of these facts to be settled between an inquirer and God—after all, not everything has to be, or even can be, settled historically! In scholarly books on the resurrection, perhaps 90 percent of the space is typically devoted to step (1) of the argument. Take, for example, N. T . Wright’s massive study The Resurrection of the Son of God, the most important book on Jesus’ resurrection today. Wright’s argument may be summarized as follows:13 1. Early Christians believed in Jesus’ (physical, bodily) resurrection. 10. Bart Ehrman, “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity,” Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” (The Teaching Company, 2003). 11. Ehrman, Jesus, 200. 12. Ehrman, New Testament, 276. 13. See my analysis of Wright’s loosely formulated seven-step argument in “Wright vs. Crossan on the Resurrection of Jesus,” in The Resurrection: The Crossan-Wright Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis and London: Augsburg Fortress and SPCK, 2006), 139–48.


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2. The best explanation of that belief is the hypothesis of the disciples’ discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb and their experience of post-mortem appearances of Jesus. 2.1. The hypothesis of the disciples’ discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb and their experience of postmortem appearances of Jesus has the explanatory power to account for that belief. 2.2. Rival hypotheses such as spontaneous generation within a Jewish context, dreams about Jesus, cognitive dissonance or a fresh experience of grace following Jesus’ death, etc., lack the explanatory power to account for that belief. 3. The best explanation for the facts of Jesus’ empty tomb and postmortem appearances is the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. Virtually the entirety of Wright’s book is devoted to establishing points (1) and (2); when it comes to (3) he simply laterals the ball to Gary Habermas, referring the reader to Habermas’s treatments of rival hypotheses.14 Wright has almost nothing to say in defense of the resurrection hypothesis as an explanation for the empty tomb and postmortem appearances; he is content, having firmly established those facts, to invite the modern secularist to reconsider his naturalistic worldview and see if the resurrection hypothesis doesn’t make good sense.15 But why must we stop there? Why think that step (2) is off limits to the historian? We saw that Troeltsch’s principle of analogy can be stood on its head so as not to constrain the historian to purely naturalistic hypotheses. Moreover, we have given objective criteria for the identification of some event as a miracle. So what is the problem? Ehrman seems to suggest that it is the historian’s lack of access to the supernatural realm, which prevents his justifiably inferring that some event has a supernatural cause. But this objection is very weak. In the first place, the historian need not have direct access to the explanatory entities postulated by one’s hypothesis. Think of the analogy of contemporary physics. Physicists posit all sort of entities to which they have no direct access: strings, higher dimensional membranes, even parallel universes. They postulate such entities as the best explanation for the evidence to which we do have access. Nor is such a procedure unique to theoretical physics; the historical sciences like paleontology, geology, and cosmology do exactly the same thing. Dinosaurs, like quarks, are theoretical entities to which we have no direct access but which are postulated as the best explanation of the evidence we have. Indeed—and here we come to the second point—the historian doesn’t have direct access to any of any of the objects of his study! This was one of the problems we encountered in dealing with the objectivity of history in chapter 5. The past is gone, and things and events of the past can be inferred only indirectly 14. N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3: The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 718. 15. Ibid., 710–16.

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on the basis of present evidence. Inaccessibility is thus not an epistemologically differentiating feature of natural as opposed to supernatural entities. Finally, even if we were to concede that the professional historian must as a member of his guild act under the constraint of methodological naturalism, the question remains why we should so act. Why can’t I as a philosopher or just as a human being judge that the best explanation for the facts of the case is a miraculous explanation? Indeed, why can’t the historian himself, in his off-hours, so to speak, make a similar judgment? Would it not be a tragedy if we were to fail to come to know the truth about reality simply because of a methodological constraint? Apart from some good reason for thinking that inference to a supernatural explanation is irrational, why should we, when we are not acting as professional historians, pay heed to a mere methodological constraint?

John Meier’s Reservations John Meier’s reason for prescinding from a historical investigation of Jesus’ resurrection is quite different from Ehrman’s. Indeed, Meier’s reason is so kooky that it would scarcely deserve discussion here, were it not for the status of its exponent. It is sobering to think that the world’s preeminent historical Jesus scholar plans to end his voluminous life of Jesus with the crucifixion and burial, with apparently no concern for what German scholars call “das Geschick Jesu” ( Jesus’ final fate).16 As is evident from his treatment of Jesus’ miracles, Meier is quite willing to consider the historicity of purportedly miraculous events themselves, even if prescinding from a judgment as to their miraculous nature. Meier does not rule the miracle stories off-limits, as he does the resurrection narratives, but seeks to render a historical judgment about the occurrence of the events while leaving aside the question as to their being supernaturally caused. So why does Meier refuse to investigate the resurrection or to discuss the resurrection narratives? He says that the resurrection is off-limits due to the restrictive definition of the historical Jesus which he will be using throughout his investigation. Recall that Meier defines the historical Jesus or the Jesus of history (the terms are used synonymously) as “a modern abstraction and construct. By the Jesus of history I mean the Jesus whom we can ‘recover’ and examine using the scientific tools of modern historical research.”17 We have already seen in chapter 7 the problems with this definition, but let that pass. What is it about this definition that precludes the resurrection narratives from being examined with such tools and our recovering the resurrection of Jesus as a part of the historical Jesus? Meier answers that “in the historical-critical context, the ‘real’ has been defined—and has to be defined—in terms of what exists in this world of time and space, what can be experienced in principle by any observer, 16. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 13. 17. Ibid., 25.


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and what can be reasonably deduced and inferred from such experience.”18 Here Meier appears to state three necessary conditions of something’s being real—that is, belonging to a reasonably complete biographical portrait of someone—in the context of historical inquiry. Now the three conditions stated by Meier for something’s being historically recoverable seem quite unremarkable. So which of those conditions preclude the resurrection from belonging to the historical Jesus? Here things really become interesting. To my knowledge, Meier never denies that the third condition could be fulfilled, that is to say, that Jesus’ resurrection can be reasonably deduced and inferred from such facts as Jesus’ empty tomb, his postmortem appearances, and the origin of the Christian Way. What, then, about the second condition, that an event must be experienceable in principle by any observer? Meier denies that the resurrection “is in principle open to the observation of any and every observer,”19 but he does not explain himself. I see no reason to think that someone sitting in the tomb holding vigil over the body of Jesus would not have observed his resurrection. And again, even if it were true that the resurrection is not in principle observable by anyone, that is still no reason for ignoring the events which go to make up the evidence established in step (1) of a historical argument for the resurrection like the empty tomb, the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, and so forth. Rather Meier’s real reason for denying that the resurrection can be part of the historical Jesus is that Meier doubts that the first condition can be fulfilled. Citing Gerald O’Collins, Meier asserts that “although the ‘resurrection is a real, bodily event involving the person of Jesus of Nazareth,’ the resurrection of Jesus ‘is not an event in space and time and hence should not be called historical,’ since ‘we should require an historical occurrence to be something significant that is known to have happened in our space-time continuum.’”20 Here Meier asserts that Jesus’ resurrection was an actual, bodily event but that it did not occur in time and space. Accordingly, it can be said to have actually occurred without being “historical” in Meier’s idiosyncratic sense, that is, recoverable by the scientific tools of historical research. Now the claim that Jesus’ resurrection can be an actual, bodily event involving the person Jesus of Nazareth without being an occurrence in time and space is certainly strange. Unfortunately, Meier does not explain the paradox. But a consultation of O’Collins’s article, which is cited by Meier in both volume one and volume two on this score, as well as elsewhere, sheds light on the conundrum. The key to understanding O’Collins’s claim that the resurrection does not occur in space and time is his conception of the resurrection as a kind of transition from this-worldly to other-worldly existence. The resurrection, on his view, is Christ’s transitioning out of space and time into a new reality. “Through the resurrection 18. Ibid., 197. 19. Ibid., vol. 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracle (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 525. 20. Ibid., 1:201.

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Christ passes out of the empirical sphere of this world to a new mode of existence in the ‘other’ world of God.”21 Through the resurrection Christ moves outside the ordinary datable, localizable conditions of our experience to become an otherworldly reality. Whereas those raised from the dead by Jesus during his earthly ministry “resume life under normal bodily conditions” so that “their space-time lives continue,” Jesus “does not return to life in our space-time continuum.”22 Christ “on the far side of the resurrection” did not continue to exist under the bodily conditions which we experience and within which the historian operates.23 Now as an aside, it should be said that O’Collins’ claim that Jesus’ resurrection did not involve a return to life in our spacetime continuum presupposes a patent misreading of the Gospel narratives, not to speak of Jewish texts. One of the merits of Wright’s exhaustive study of ancient texts concerning resurrection from the dead is his demonstration that the notion of resurrection was not a flight to an otherworldly, non-spatio-temporal realm but inherently involved the restoration of life in the realm of space and time.24 That life was not, of course, a mere reanimation to mortal existence, but it was bodily, physical, and spatio-temporal. O’Collins has turned Jesus’ resurrection into Jesus’ assumption into heaven on the pattern of Enoch and Elijah, a quite different category than resurrection of the dead. But let that pass. Let us grant O’Collins that with the resurrection Jesus of Nazareth’s four-dimensional earthly existence came abruptly to an end. Still, we might object, the final three-dimensional configuration of that existence had specific spatio-temporal coordinates. It was at that place and time that the resurrection occurred. Pannenberg makes a similar point, observing that if the empty tomb is historical, then the resurrection did occur in space. “If it really took place,” he says wryly, “it took place in Palestine and not for instance in America.”25 One might add, “And it took place in time as well, sometime around A.D. 30 and not, for instance, in 1967.” In his response to Pannenberg, O’Collins’ conception of the resurrection as a transition becomes crucial. He responds, It seems odd, however, to speak of a transition “out of ” space, viz. to a reality not locatable in space, taking place in space, viz. in Palestine. For even if the “initial point” of this transition were located in space, this would not justify us in concluding that the transition “took place” in space. Besides it seems preferable to talk of the tomb containing the body of the historical Jesus not as “the initial point” of the transition, but as being the last place where Jesus in the normal historical sense was locatable.26 21. G. G. O’Collins, “Is the Resurrection an ‘Historical’ Event?” Heythrop Journal 8 (1967): 384. 22. Ibid., 385. 23. Ibid. 24. Wright, Christian Origins, vol. 3; see 3:625–26 for a particularly powerful statement of the point. 25. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Theology as History, 265, n.76, cited by O’Collins, “Resurrection,” 386. 26. O’Collins, “Resurrection,” 387.


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We can set aside immediately the red herring of the tomb’s not being the initial point of the transition, for no one has suggested that. Rather the idea is that the four-dimensional entity which in its final stages is Jesus’ corpse has its terminus at a certain spatial location which is in the tomb. Why not say that the resurrection occurred there (and then)? The answer, says O’Collins, is that a transition out of space ought not to be said to occur in space. There’s something both right and wrong about this answer. Compare a shopper’s exiting a grocery store. Does his exiting the store occur in the store? At any point in the store right up to and including its boundary point, the shopper has not yet exited the store. But once he is outside the store, there is no first point at which he can be said to exit the store, for between any exterior point and the store’s boundary there is a dense series of closer points at each of which the shopper had already exited the store. So where does his exiting the store occur? It’s evident that O’Collins has unwittingly entangled himself in the ancient Greek paradoxes of motion.27 Transitional events like stopping, exiting, and dying occur over non-zero intervals of time, and it is conceptually absurd to specify any single spacetime point as the instant of change. There will be either a last instant of the state of the object before the change, with no first instant of its state after the change, or else a first instant of the state of the object after the change, with no last instant of its state before the change. What there cannot be is any instant at which the change itself can coherently be said to occur. That the ancient paradoxes of motion are, indeed, the culprit behind O’Collins’s argument, and not the nature of the resurrection, is evident from the fact that even if the resurrection were conceived as a transformation wholly within space and time, one could not specify a single spacetime point at which it happened. At any point it would either not yet have happened or have already happened. Nevertheless, just as it is perfectly acceptable to say that the shopper exited the building, say, through the front door rather than the rear entrance in the sense that that was the last location at which he existed prior to being outside the store, so Jesus’ transformation to his glorified state can be similarly located in the sense that one can specify the spacetime point at which his corruptible existence ended prior to his being in a glorified state. Moreover, in ordinary language we content ourselves with approximations rather than spacetime points. Just as the historian can determine where someone exited a building or when someone died, there is no realistic objection based on continuity considerations to the historian’s determining where and when Jesus’ resurrection occurred. The final irony of Meier’s appeal to O’Collins’s argument as justification for ignoring the resurrection narratives is that O’Collins, himself a strong proponent of the historical credibility of Jesus’ resurrection, in the very same article goes on to insist, “To argue that the resurrection of Christ is not appropriately described 27. See the engaging discussion of these paradoxes by Richard Sorabji, Time, Creation, and the Continuum (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), chap. 26.

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as an historical event is not to assert that historical evidence and inquiry are irrelevant.”28 He lists three areas of inquiry: (1) the “proclaiming faith” of the disciples can be investigated by the historian; (2) Christ’s appearances at definite times and places to a particular number of persons are historical from the side of those who encountered him; and (3) the empty tomb can be the object of investigation by the historian. These are precisely the three independently established facts which I shall argue are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus, namely, the origin of the Christian Way, Jesus’ postmortem appearances, and the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Even given O’Collins’s conclusion that Jesus’ resurrection was not “historical” in his Pickwickian sense, still all the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection remains intact to be explored by the scientific tools of historical research. That leads to a final point. O’Collins’s argument that the resurrection of Jesus did not occur in space and time is the result of a prolonged historical study of the New Testament evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. But in the absence of any such investigation, how does Meier know whether or not Jesus’ resurrection, if it took place, took place in space and time and whether it was observable or not? How can he know a priori that Wright is not correct that Jesus’ resurrection was a spatiotemporal event which was in principle observable by any fair-minded and interested observer? How does he know that Jesus’ resurrection can only be affirmed by faith and not through historical investigation, apart from such an investigation? I can think of only one answer to that question: theology. It is a theological conviction on Meier’s part that Jesus’ resurrection is affirmable only by faith. Meier’s theological commitment intrudes in a comment like the following on Pannenberg’s historical approach to the resurrection: “In my opinion, Pannenberg’s overall approach to revelation and faith on the one hand and history and reason on the other creates more difficulties than it solves. At times it comes close to saying that the object of faith can be proven by historical research.”29 What is, of course, ironic about this is that Meier eschews theological commitments in his work as a historian, aspiring to approach questions from a theologically neutral stance. But it seems clear that the reason Meier as a historian won’t touch the resurrection is that his prior theological commitments preclude this. We can only hope that he will shed those commitments and bring his considerable talents to bear on the question of the historicity of Jesus’ postmortem appearances, his empty tomb, the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, and ultimately, upon the event of Jesus’ resurrection itself.

Dale Allison’s Doubts Philosophical problems of a different kind make it difficult for Dale Allison, an eminent New Testament scholar, to accept Jesus’ literal resurrection.30 At the heart 28. O’Collins, “Resurrection,” 385. 29. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:529. 30. Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2005), 219–28.


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of his doubts about a literal resurrection of the dead is the problem of the identity of the resurrection body with the mortal body in cases in which the mortal body has been completely destroyed. If spatio-temporal continuity is a necessary condition of identity over time, then the discontinuity caused by the dissolution of the mortal body implies that the resurrection body is at best a duplicate of the mortal body but is not identical to it. So it would seem impossible in such a case to hold that that very body will be raised. It’s odd that these concerns should cause Allison to have doubts about the literal resurrection of Jesus, since in Jesus’ case the mortal body was not destroyed, so that no spatio-temporal discontinuity existed to preclude identity. It was clearly the body in the tomb that was raised (hence, the empty tomb). Even if, in cases in which the mortal body has been utterly dissolved, God has to create a brand-new look-alike out of nothing, how could this conclusion possibly impact the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection? Allison says that in such a case Jesus’ resurrection becomes the exception, an aberration. I think this assertion is highly doubtful. In Jewish belief the primary object of the resurrection was the bones of the deceased (hence, the Jewish practice of preserving the bones in ossuaries for the eschatological resurrection), and skeletal remains are amazingly durable, existing even from prehistoric times. Moreover, the world’s population explosion guarantees, barring worldwide catastrophe, that there will always be more recently deceased than long deceased. But leave that aside. These doctrinal issues are just irrelevant to a historical assessment of our sources. Suppose we say that when the eschatological resurrection occurs, God elects to raise the (skeletal) remains of any of the dead whose remains still exist and to create new bodies for those deceased who have no remains. How could this possibly affect one’s estimation of the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection? I frankly think that Allison’s real problem is just the all too common prejudice against physical, corporeal immortality. He says, “I believe, rightly or wrongly, in a future existence free from the constraints of material corporeality as we have hitherto known them.”31 Philosophical problems about identity are then exploited in the attempt to justify this prejudice. But those problems at most show that the resurrection bodies of people whose mortal bodies have been utterly dissolved are duplicates of those bodies rather than the numerically identical bodies. That does nothing to undermine a doctrine of physical, corporeal immortality. Allison’s scepticism is therefore just an unjustified bias. Notice that having a duplicate body does nothing to preclude personal identity of the deceased and resurrected individual if one believes, as Allison does, in the reality of a soul distinct from the body. Jewish belief was that when the body died, the soul went to be with God until the eschatological resurrection, at which time the remains of the dead would be raised, the body reconstituted, and the soul reunited with the body. By postulating such an intermediate state between death and 31. Ibid., 225.

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resurrection, personal identity was ensured, even in cases in which there were no remains to be raised. Problems with personal identity arise only for the theologian who is a materialist or who denies the intermediate state of the soul after death. Since Allison is a dualist, there should be for him no problem at all concerning the personal identity of those raised by God from the dead. All this goes to show the irrelevance of doubts about bodily identity in the case of those whose mortal bodies have been destroyed to the question of Jesus’s literal resurrection.32 Therefore, I’ll not delve into the knotty question of whether spatio-temporal continuity is, in fact, as Allison assumes, a necessary condition of physical identity over time. I simply note that this is hugely controversial, so that it is far from obvious that God could not create a physical object, destroy it, and then recreate that very same object.33

Bayes’ Theorem and Inference to the Best Explanation In building a historical case for the resurrection of Jesus, we are engaged in an inductive argument for a particular historical hypothesis. Although Bayes’ Theorem can be useful for calculating the probability of some hypothesis on a given body of evidence and while philosophers such as Richard Swinburne have argued for the resurrection hypothesis by Bayesian means,34 professional historians do not really avail themselves of Bayes’ Theorem in the justification of historical hypotheses. One reason is that the values assigned to some of the probabilities involved are little more than conjectures. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection the probability of Jesus’ resurrection on the background information Pr(R⏐B) depends, we have seen, on the probability that God would raise Jesus of Nazareth from the dead Pr(R⏐G), which is speculative. A Bayesian approach will continue to have heuristic value in helping us to discern the relevance of various considerations involved in 32. To summarize, they are irrelevant for four reasons: (1) what is critical with respect to the resurrection of the dead is not bodily identity, but personal identity, which is guaranteed by the enduring soul; (2) Jewish belief was that the bones of the dead would be raised, so that strict bodily identity is not at issue; (3) in Jesus’ case bodily identity is unproblematic; and (4) such doctrinal concerns about eschatological resurrection should make no difference to one’s appraisal of historical evidence. 33. See, e.g., Trenton Merricks, “There Are No Criteria of Identity over Time,” Nôus 33 (1998): 106–24, who argues that there are no informative, necessary, and sufficient conditions of identity over time. 34. Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); see also Timothy and Lydia McGrew’s contribution to Companion to Natural Theology, ed. William L. Craig and J. P. Moreland (Oxford: Blackwell, forthcoming). Plantinga launched a misconceived attack upon Swinburne’s Bayesian approach based upon what he called the problem of dwindling probabilities (Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000], 268–80), which drew responses from both Swinburne (“Natural Theology, Its ‘Dwindling Probabilities,’ and ‘Lack of Rapport,’ ” Faith and Philosophy 21 [2004]: 533-46) and McGrew (“Has Plantinga Refuted the Historical Argument?” Philosophia Christi 6 [2004]: 7–26). See further Alvin Plantinga, “Historical Arguments and Historical Probabilities: A Response to Timothy McGrew,” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 7–22; Timothy and Lydia McGrew, “On the Historical Argument: A Rejoinder to Plantinga,” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 23–38. Plantinga concedes that the McGrews’ Bayesian approach is not compromised by the problem of dwindling probabilities and is a substantial contribution to our understanding of historical arguments.


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arguing a case for Jesus’ resurrection, for example, how certain arguments lower Pr(E⏐not-R&B), while others raise Pr(E⏐R&B). An argument for Jesus’ resurrection which conforms to actual historiographical practice will be formulated as an inference to the best explanation.35 According to this approach, we begin with the evidence available to us and then infer what would, if true, provide the best explanation of that evidence. Out of a pool of live options determined by our background beliefs, we select the best of various competing potential explanations to give a causal account of why the evidence is as it is and not otherwise. The process of determining which historical reconstruction is the best explanation will involve the historian’s craft, since various factors will have to be weighed, such as explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, degree of being ad hoc, and so on.36 Since the competing explanations may meet the various criteria to different degrees, the determination of which is the best explanation may be difficult and require a good deal of skill. In my estimation the hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” furnishes the best explanation of the historical data relevant to Jesus’ final fate. The inductive grounds for the inference of this explanation consist primarily in the evidence of three independently established facts: (1) the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers on the first day of the week following his crucifixion, (2) various individuals and groups thereafter experienced on different occasions and under varying circumstances appearances of Jesus alive, and (3) the first disciples came sincerely to believe in Jesus’ resurrection in the absence of sufficient antecedent historical influences from either Judaism or pagan religions. If these three facts can be historically established with a reasonable degree of confidence (and it seems to me that they can) and if alternative naturalistic explanations for these facts can be shown to be implausible (and the consensus of scholarship is that they can), then unless the resurrection hypothesis is shown to be even more implausible than its failed competitors (and my experience in debating the comparative merits of the hypotheses convinces me that it cannot), then the preferred explanation ought to be the one given in the documents themselves: God raised Jesus from the dead. The significance of this event is then to be found in the religio-historical context in which it occurred, namely, as the vindication of Jesus’ own unparalleled claim to divine authority. I think that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is such that a well-informed investigator ought to agree that it is more likely than not to have occurred.

The Evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection As alluded to above, the case for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus seems to me to rest upon the evidence for three great, independently established facts: 35. For an account see Peter Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation (London: Routledge, 1981). 36. For discussion see C. Behan McCullagh, Justifying Historical Descriptions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 19.

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the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith. If these three facts can be established and no plausible natural explanation can account for them as well as the resurrection hypothesis, then one is justified in inferring Jesus’ resurrection as the most plausible explanation of the data. Accordingly, let us examine the evidence for each of these facts.


Here I’ll summarize briefly eight lines of evidence supporting the fact that the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers on the first day of the week following his crucifixion. 1) The historical reliability of the story of Jesus’ burial supports the empty tomb. Now you might ask, how does the fact of Jesus’ burial prove that his tomb was found empty? The answer is this: if the story of Jesus’ entombment is accurate, then the location of Jesus’ tomb was known in Jerusalem to both Jew and Christian alike. But in that case, the tomb must have been empty when the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen. Why? First, the disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if his corpse still lay in the tomb. It would have been wholly un-Jewish, not to say foolish, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his body was still in the grave. One of the greatest merits of N. T. Wright’s exhaustive study of pre-Christian and Christian beliefs about resurrection is his demonstration that “resurrection” always meant physical, bodily resurrection. He insists, “Let us be quite clear at this point . . . when the early Christians said ‘resurrection’ they meant it in the sense it bore both in paganism (which denied it) and in Judaism (. . . which affirmed it). ‘Resurrection’ . . . meant bodily resurrection; and that is what the early Christians affirmed.”37 The suggestion by some critics that the disciples were so convinced of Jesus’ resurrection that they never bothered to visit the gravesite is, frankly, rather silly when you think about it (they never went back, if not to verify, even to see where the Lord lay?) and contradicts the evidence that the site of the tomb was preserved in Christian memory. Second, even if the disciples had preached Jesus’ resurrection despite his occupied tomb, scarcely anybody else would have believed them. One of the most remarkable facts about the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection was that it flourished in the very city where Jesus had been publicly crucified. So long as the people of Jerusalem thought that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, few would have been prepared to believe such nonsense as that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And third, even if they had so believed, the Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair simply by pointing to Jesus’ tomb or perhaps even exhuming the body as decisive proof that Jesus had not been raised. If even no longer identifiable remains lay in the tomb where Jesus had been buried, the burden of proof 37. Wright, Christian Origins, 3:209.


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would have lain upon the shoulders of those who said that these were not Jesus’ remains. But no such dispute over the identification of Jesus’ corpse ever seems to have taken place. As we shall see, the dispute between Jewish non-Christians and Christians lay elsewhere. To suggest that the Jewish authorities didn’t take this business about Jesus’ being risen as anything more than a minor nuisance not worth dealing with is, again, fantastic, and contrary to the evidence that they were deeply concerned about squelching the nascent Christian movement (think of their engaging Saul of Tarsus!). Thus, if the story of Jesus’ burial is historical, then it is a very short inference to the historicity of the empty tomb as well. For that reason, critics who deny the historicity of the empty tomb feel constrained to argue against the burial account as well. Unfortunately for those who deny the empty tomb, Jesus’ burial in the tomb is one of the best-established facts about Jesus. Space does not permit me to go into all the details of the evidence for the burial. But let me just mention a couple of points: First, Jesus’ burial is multiply attested in extremely early, independent sources. The account of Jesus’ burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea is part of Mark’s source material for the passion story. This is a very early source which is probably based on eyewitness testimony and which the commentator Rudolf Pesch dates to within seven years of Jesus’ crucifixion.38 Moreover, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 quotes an old Christian tradition that he had received from the earliest disciples. Paul probably received this tradition no later than his visit to Jerusalem in a.d. 36 (Gal. 1:18), if not earlier in Damascus. It thus goes back to within the first five years after Jesus’ death. The tradition is a summary of the early Christian preaching and may have been used in Christian instruction. Its form would have made it suitable for memorization. Here is what it says: . . . that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Notice that the second line of this tradition refers to Jesus’ burial. But, we might wonder, was the burial mentioned by Paul the same event as the burial by Joseph of Arimathea? The answer to that question is made clear by a comparison of the four-line formula passed on by Paul with the Gospel narratives on the one hand and the sermons in the Acts of the Apostles on the other: 38. Rudolph Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, 2 vols., Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament (Freiburg: Herder, 1976–77), 2:21, 364–77. Mark Allen Powell, chair of the Historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature reports, “The dominant view. . . [is] that the passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony” (Mark Allen Powell, critical notice of The Birth of Christianity, by John Dominic Crossan, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68 (2000): 171.

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1 Corinthians 15:3–5 Christ died . . .

Acts 13:28–31 Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed.

Mark 15:37–16:7 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.

he was buried . . .

they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb

And he [ Joseph] bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb.

he was raised . . .

But God raised him from the dead . . .

“He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him.”

he appeared . . .

. . . and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people.

“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

This remarkable correspondence of independent traditions is convincing proof that the four-line formula (which, as is evident from the grammatically unnecessary repetition of “and that” [kai hoti ] at the head of each line, lists sequentially four distinct events) is a summary in outline form of the basic events of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, including his burial in the tomb. We thus have evidence from two of the earliest, independent sources in the New Testament for the burial of Jesus in the tomb. But that’s not all! For further independent testimony to Jesus’ burial by Joseph is also found in the sources behind Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, not to mention the extra-biblical Gospel of Peter. The differences between Mark’s account and those of Matthew and Luke suggest that the latter had sources other than Mark alone. These differences are not plausibly explained as Matthew and Luke’s editorial changes of Mark because of their sporadic and uneven nature,39 the inexplicable omission of events like Pilate’s interrogation of the centurion, and the agreements in wording between Mathew and Luke in contrast to Mark.40 The first two considerations could be equally well explained by rejecting the stratigraphic model of the Gospels in favor of oral performances, in which case it will be the stability of the tradition’s core of entombment by Joseph that will commend the historicity of the event. Moreover, the third consideration is not so easily explained, for why would Matthew and Luke independently agree in their performances over 39. E.g., Mark’s “tomb which had been hewn out of rock” vs. Matthew’s “tomb which he hewed in the rock.” 40. E.g., Matt. 27:58 = Luke 23:52: “This man went in to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus”; also the phrase “wrapped it in linen” is identical in Matthew and Luke.


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against Mark? Either way, however, whether through independent sources or a common stable tradition, the historicity of Joseph’s burial of Jesus shines through. Moreover, we have another independent source for the burial in John’s Gospel, as Paul Barnett explains: “Careful comparison of the texts of Mark and John indicate that neither of these Gospels is dependent on the other. Yet they have a number of incidents in common: for example . . . the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.”41 Finally we have the early apostolic sermons in the book of Acts, which are probably not wholly Luke’s creation but preserve the early preaching of the apostles. These also make mention, as we have seen, of Jesus’ interment in a tomb. Thus, we have the remarkable number of at least four and perhaps more independent sources for Jesus’ burial, some of which are extraordinarily early. Second, as a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention. Joseph is described as a rich man, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a sort of Jewish high court made up of seventy of the leading men of Judaism, which presided in Jerusalem. There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish Sanhedrists. In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. The sermons in Acts, for example, go so far as to say that the Jewish leaders crucified Jesus (Acts 2:23, 36; 4:10)! Given his status as a Sanhedrist—all of whom, Mark reports, voted to condemn Jesus—Joseph is the last person one would expect to care properly for Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus.42 For these and other reasons, most New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”43 But if this conclusion is correct, then, as I have explained, it is very difficult to deny the historicity of the empty tomb. 2) The discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb is multiply attested in very early, independent sources. The pre-Markan passion source in all probability did not end with Jesus’ burial but included the event of the women’s discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. For the burial story and empty tomb story are really one story, forming a smooth, continuous narrative. They are linked by grammatical and linguistic ties.44 Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the early Christians would have circulated a story of Jesus’ 41. Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Logic of History, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997), 104–5. 42. Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994), 2:1240–41. 43. John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), 131. 44. E.g., the antecedent of “him” ( Jesus) in Mark 16:1 is in the burial account (15:43); the women’s discussion of the stone over the door presupposes their prior experience of seeing the stone rolled across the entrance (15.46); their visiting the tomb presupposes their noting its location (15:47); the words of the angel, “see the place where they laid him,” refers back to Joseph’s laying the body in the tomb (15:46).

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passion ending in his burial. The passion story is incomplete without victory at the end. Hence, the pre-Markan source probably included and may have ended with the discovery of the empty tomb. We have seen that in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 Paul quotes from an extremely early tradition that refers to Christ’s burial and resurrection. Although the empty tomb is not explicitly mentioned, a comparison of the four-line formula with the Gospel narratives on the one hand and the sermons in Acts on the other reveals that the third line is, in fact, a summary of the empty tomb narrative, the “he has been raised” mirroring the “he is risen!”45 Moreover, two features of the tradition plausibly imply the empty tomb. First, the expression “he was buried,” followed by the expression “he was raised” implies the empty tomb. The idea that a man could be buried and then be raised from the dead while his body still remained in the grave is a peculiarly modern notion. For first-century Jews there would have been no question but that the tomb of Jesus would have been empty. As E. E. Ellis remarks, “It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, ‘grave-emptying’ resurrection. To them an anastasis (resurrection) without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle.”46 Therefore, when the tradition states that Christ was buried and he was raised, it automatically implies that an empty tomb was left behind. Given the early date and provenance of this tradition, the drafters could not have believed such a thing were the tomb not empty. Second, the expression “on the third day” implies the empty tomb. Very briefly summarized, since no one actually saw Jesus rise from the dead, why did the early disciples proclaim that he had been raised “on the third day”? Why not the seventh day? The most likely answer is that it was on the third day that the women discovered the tomb of Jesus empty; and so naturally, the resurrection itself came to be dated on that day. In this case, the expression “on the third day” is a time indicator pointing to the discovery of the empty tomb. We have, then, extraordinarily early, independent evidence for the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb. The discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb cannot be written off as a late legendary development. But there’s more! Once again there are good reasons to discern independent sources for the empty tomb in the other Gospels and Acts. Matthew is clearly working with an independent source, for he includes the story of the guard at the tomb, which is unique to his Gospel. Moreover, there are traces of prior tradition 45. It is therefore insufficient to say with Allison that while Paul may have believed in the empty tomb on theological grounds, he may not have had actual historical knowledge of it (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 316). See the other two features of the tradition I mention in the text as well. Curiously, Allison himself recognizes that “1 Cor. 15:3–8 must be be a summary of traditional narratives that were told in fuller forms elsewhere” (ibid., 235; cf. his footnote 133). This is but one example of the many internal inconsistencies that characterize Allison’s treatment. 46. E. Earle Ellis, ed., The Gospel of Luke, New Century Bible (London: Nelson, 1966), 273.


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in the non-Matthean vocabulary in his narrative.47 And the comment “This story has been spread among Jews till this day” (Matt. 28:15) shows that Matthew is responding to prior tradition. Luke also has an independent source, for he relates the story, not found in Mark, of two disciples’ verifying the report of the women that the tomb was vacant. The story can’t be regarded as a Lukan creation, since the incident is independently attested in John. And, again, given John’s independence of the Synoptic Gospels, we have yet another independent attestation of the empty tomb. Finally, in the apostolic sermons in the book of Acts, we again have indirect references to the empty tomb. For example, Peter draws the sharp contrast, “David . . . both died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day,” but “this Jesus God raised up” (Acts 2:29–32 esv; cf. 13:36–7). Historians think that they have hit historical paydirt when they have two independent accounts of the same event. But in the case of the empty tomb we have a surfeit of independent sources, no less than six, some of which are among the earliest materials to be found in the New Testament.48 3) The phrase “the first day of the week” reflects ancient tradition. According to the Markan account, the empty tomb was discovered by the women “on the first day of the week.” We’ve already seen from the Christian tradition quoted by Paul that the earliest Christians proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus “on the third day.” As E. L. Bode explains, if the empty tomb story were a late legend, it would almost certainly have been formulated in terms of the accepted and widespread third-day motif. The fact that Mark uses “on the first day of the week” confirms that his tradition is very old, even antedating the third-day reckoning. This fact is confirmed by the linguistic character of the phrase in question. For although “the first day of the week” is very awkward in the Greek (te mia ton sabbaton), employing a cardinal instead of an ordinal number and “Sabbath” for “week,” the phrase when translated back into Aramaic is perfectly natural. This suggests that the empty tomb tradition is not a late-developing legend. 47. E.g., several words or expressions which are unique in all the New Testament, such as “on the next day,” “the preparation day,” “deceiver,” “guard (of soldiers),” “to make secure,” “to seal.” The expression “chief priests and Pharisees” is unusual for Matthew and never appears in Mark or Luke. The expression “on the third day” is also non-Matthean; he always uses “after three days.” In general only 35 of Matthew’s 136 words in the empty tomb story are found in Mark’s 138 words. Similarly, only 16 of Luke’s 123 words are found in Mark’s account. Moreover, Matthew and Luke have only a dozen words in common, which shows the independence of their traditions. 48. It is ironic, then, that Allison deems Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea to be “well attested” and therefore “highly likely,” while complaining that scholarly opinion is divided over how many independent souces we have for the empty tomb (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 300, 354, 362). There is a clear double standard operative here. Notice that as in the case of Joseph’s burial of Jesus, multiple, independent attestation militates against the possibility, taken with grave seriousness by Allison, that the empty tomb narrative is an imaginative Christian fabrication or legend (ibid., 311). Its presence, like that of the burial narrative, in such early, independent sources makes such a possibility very unlikely. Notice, too, that the possibility of Christian fabrication or legend is predicated upon an important condition: “Christians might . . . have been able to reason like this without fear of contradiction if the location of Jesus’ burial or disposal were unknown, or if too much time had passed since his death” (ibid., 307)—a condition Allison himself admits is unmet (ibid., 232, 362).

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4) The Markan story is simple and lacks legendary development. Like the burial account, Mark’s account is remarkably straightforward and unembellished by theological or apologetic motifs likely to characterize a later legendary account.49 The resurrection itself is not witnessed or described, and there is no reflection on Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, no use of Christological titles, no quotation of fulfilled prophecy, no description of the Risen Lord. Some critics might stumble at the presence of the angel, but really there is no reason to think that the tradition ever lacked the angel. We may choose to excise him as, say, a purely literary figure which provides the interpretation of the vacant tomb, but then we have a narrative that is all the more stark and unadorned (cf. John 20:1–2). To appreciate how restrained Mark’s narrative is, one has only to read the account in the Gospel of Peter, which describes Jesus’ triumphant egress from the tomb as a gigantic figure whose head reaches above the clouds, supported by giant angels, followed by a talking cross, heralded by a voice from heaven, and all witnessed by a Roman guard, the Jewish leaders, and a multitude of spectators! This is how real legends look: they are colored by theological and apologetical developments. By contrast, the Markan account is stark in its simplicity. 5) The tomb was probably discovered empty by women. In order to grasp this point, we need to understand two things about the place of women in Jewish society. First, women were not regarded as credible witnesses. This attitude toward the testimony of women is evident in Josephus’s description of the rules supposedly left by Moses for admissible testimony: “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Antiquities of the Jews IV.8.15.§219). No such regulation is to be found in the Pentateuch but is rather a reflection of the patriarchal society of first-century Judaism. Second, women occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. Compared to men, women were second-class citizens. Consider these rabbinical texts: “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women!” (Sotah 19a) and again: “Happy is he whose children are male, but unhappy is he whose children are female!” (Kiddushin 82b). The daily prayer of every Jewish man included the benediction “Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman” (Berachos 60b). Now, given their low social status and inability to serve as legal witnesses, it’s quite amazing that it is women who are the discoverers of and principal 49. Again, it is ironic that Allison recognizes this feature of the empty tomb narrative; but whereas he considers this factor to be very weighty evidence when it comes to the historicity of Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea, he doesn’t give it due weight when it comes to the empty tomb (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 320–21, 356). Cf. his treatment of the proper names associated with the burial narrative and with the empty tomb narrative (ibid., 327, 355), of the application of the criterion of embarrassment to both narratives (ibid., 327–29, 354–55), and of the public knowledge of the burial and the tomb’s location (ibid., 313, 316–20, 362). It’s strange that Allison doesn’t seem to notice that the same arguments which lead to his unqualified verdict of “highly likely” for the burial by Joseph also support the historicity of the empty tomb, which he deems “with great hesitation” to be “historically likely” (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 332).


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witnesses to the empty tomb. If the empty tomb story were a legend, then it is most likely that the male disciples would have been made to be the first to discover the empty tomb. The fact that women, whose testimony was deemed worthless, were the chief witnesses to the fact of the empty tomb can only be plausibly explained if, like it or not, they actually were the discoverers of the empty tomb. Hence, the Gospels are most likely giving an accurate account of this matter. Skeptical critics have proposed all sorts of creative explanations for the women’s role, some of them quite fantastic, such as Crossan’s proposal that the women are vestiges of an earlier Secret Gospel of Mark (a hypothesis which has blown up in Crossan’s face by the demonstration that the Secret Gospel of Mark was a fraud perpetrated by Morton Smith). In general the problem with these hypotheses is that any conceivable role for women to play in the narrative would have been better served by men. Some scholars have said that the men were not available because they had all fled. Such a claim is wholly unconvincing, since it depends upon the implausible hypothesis that the disciples, fleeing from the garden, returned all the way back to Galilee (a supposition rightly dubbed “a fiction of the critics”) and fails to appreciate that legends by their very nature are no respecters of fact. As Allison insists, “It is the hallmark of legends to sin against the established facts. Why should Mark . . . be more conscientious? Why not bring Peter and other more important disciples on the stage despite what really happened?”50 Some critics have said that women are made the discoverers of Jesus’ empty tomb as Mark’s way of explaining why the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb had remained unknown until the writing of his Gospel—the women didn’t tell anybody! This hypothesis is too clever by half. In the first place we have seen that the empty tomb story is not a late-developing legend but is extremely early. But secondly, are Mark’s readers seriously to believe that for thirty years no one in the Jerusalem church ever bothered to ask the women whom Mark placed at the cross about what happened afterward or that even after the resurrection appearances the women continued to stonewall? Mark doubtless intended the women’s silence to be taken as temporary, since he foreshadows appearances of Jesus to the disciples in Galilee, where the women are commanded to tell the disciples that they will see Jesus. When Mark says, “They said nothing to anyone” (Mark 16:8), he obviously means “as they fled back to the disciples.” This is precisely how his earliest literary interpreters Matthew and Luke understood him, and Mark would doubtless have been quite surprised by the suggestion that he meant that the women never said anything to anyone.51 The contrived 50. Dale C. Allison Jr., “Explaining the Resurrection: Conflicting Convictions,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3 (2005): 128; cf. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 329–30. 51. See the fine study by Larry Hurtado, “Mission Accomplished: Apologetics, Witness, and Women in Mark’s Passion-Resurrection Narratives,” paper delivered at the 2005 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, forthcoming as “The Women, the Tomb, and the Climax of Mark” in a Festschrift for Sean Freyne to be published by Brill.

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nature of these attempts to explain away the women witnesses only reinforces the historical credibility of this feature of the narrative; indeed, probably no other factor has proved so persuasive to scholars of the empty tomb’s historicity as the role of the female witnesses. 6) The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In Matthew 28:11–15 (rsv) we have the earliest Christian attempt to refute the Jewish polemic against the Christian proclamation of the resurrection: While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Now our interest is not so much in the evangelist’s story of the guard at the tomb as in his incidental remark at the end: “This story had been spread among the Jews to this day.” This remark reveals that the author was concerned to refute a widespread Jewish explanation of the resurrection. Now what were unbelieving Jews saying in response to the disciples’ proclamation that Jesus was risen? That these men are full of new wine? That Jesus’ body still lay in the tomb in the hillside? No. They were saying, “The disciples stole away his body.” Think about that. “The disciples stole away his body.” The Jewish polemic did not deny the empty tomb but instead entangled itself in a hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain it away. In other words, the Jewish claim that the disciples stole the body presupposes that the body was missing. Skeptical critics have dismissed Matthew’s guard story as an apologetic legend. But even if we regard the guard as a Christian apologetic creation, the fact which cannot be denied is that the story was aimed at a widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body—which implies the empty tomb. That the story is not a Matthean creation out of whole cloth is evident not only in the many non-Matthean linguistic traits noted above, but also by the tradition history presupposed by the narrative. Behind the story evidently lies a developing pattern of assertion and counter-assertion: Christian: “The Lord is risen!” Jew: “No, his disciples stole away his body.” Christian: “The guard at the tomb would have prevented any such theft.” Jew: “No, the guard fell asleep.” Christian: “The chief priests bribed the guard to say this.”


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This pattern probably goes right back to controversies in Jerusalem following the disciples’ proclamation of the resurrection.52 In response to the Christian proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection, the Jewish reaction was simply to assert that the disciples had stolen the body. The idea of a guard could only have been a Christian, not a Jewish, development. At the next stage there is no need for Christians to invent the bribing of the guard; it was sufficient to claim that the tomb was guarded. The bribe arises only in response to the second stage of the polemic, the Jewish allegation that the guard fell asleep. This part of the story could only have been a Jewish development, since it serves no purpose in the Christian polemic. At the final stage, the time of Matthew’s writing, the Christian answer that the guards were bribed is given. Thus, the Jewish polemic itself shows that the tomb was empty. This is historical evidence of the highest quality, since it comes not from the Christians but from the very enemies of the early Christian faith. Taken together these six lines of evidence constitute a powerful case that Jesus’ tomb was indeed found empty on the first day of the week by a group of his women followers. As a historical fact, this seems to be well established. According to D. H. Van Daalen, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”53 But those assumptions cannot alter the facts themselves. New Testament scholars seem to be increasingly aware of this. According to Jacob Kremer, a New Testament critic who has specialized in the study of the resurrection: “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.”54 In fact in a bibliographical survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French, and German since 1975, Habermas found 52. Allison overlooks this developing pattern in confessing that it escapes him why this passage “bears ‘the mark of a fairly protracted controversy’” (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 312). Contrast Meier’s judgment: “The earliest fights about the person of Jesus that raged between ordinary Jews and Christian Jews after Easter centered on the Christian claims that a crucified criminal was the Messiah, that God had raised him from the dead” (Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:150). Given the early date of the pre-Markan passion story, there is no need to quarrel with Allison’s surmise that the controversy arose between Mark and Matthew, so long as by “Mark” we mean Mark’s tradition. 53. D. H. Van Daalen, The Real Resurrection (London: Collins, 1972), 41. Allison is a good case in point. He recognizes that “a decent case” can be made for the empty tomb but thinks that there is “a respectable case against it” (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 331). This supposedly respectable case consists of only two arguments: first, “the ability of early Christians to create fictions” and, second, “the existence of numerous legends about missing bodies” (ibid., 332). But these two considerations show at the very most the possibility that the empty tomb narrative is a legend. This is a possibility we are aware of based on our general background knowledge prior to an examination of the specific evidence. These two considerations do nothing to show that, based on an examination of the specific evidence, the narrative of the empty tomb is a fiction or legend. Allison’s skepticism is rooted in his initial philosophical doubts, which he candidly expresses, about the literal resurrection of Jesus (ibid., 225; cf. 344). That someone exhibiting such proclivity against the empty tomb, doubtless because of his philosophical reservations about the material continuity of the resurrected body with the mortal body, should nonetheless feel compelled to affirm the historicity of the empty tomb is testimony to the strength of the evidence in its favor. 54. Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), 49–50.

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that 75 percent of scholars accepted the historicity of the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb.55 The evidence is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus’ tomb was found empty. EXPLAINING THE EMPTY TOMB

Now if this is the case, that leads us to our second main point: explaining the empty tomb. Down through history, those who denied the resurrection of Jesus have been obligated to come up with a convincing alternative explanation. In fact, they have come up with only about four: Conspiracy Hypothesis According to this explanation, the disciples stole the body of Jesus and lied about his postmortem appearances, thus faking the resurrection. This was, as we saw, the first counter-explanation for the empty tomb, and it was revived by the Deists during the eighteenth century. Today, however, this explanation has been completely given up by modern scholarship. Let’s see how it fares when assessed by McCullagh’s criteria for justifying historical hypotheses. 1) The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data. Virtually any explanation offered for the resurrection will fulfill this first criterion, since such explanations are offered to account for the New Testament witness to Jesus’ resurrection and so will imply that the literary evidence contained in the New Testament will exist as a result of the events described in the proposed hypothesis. On the Conspiracy Hypothesis the Gospel accounts are simply deliberate fabrications. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses. The Conspiracy Hypothesis seems to cover the full scope of the evidence, for it offers explanations of the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ (supposed) belief in Jesus’ resurrection. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses. Here doubts begin to arise about the Conspiracy Hypothesis. Take the empty tomb, for example. If the disciples stole Jesus’ corpse, then it would be utterly daft to fabricate a story of women’s finding the tomb to be empty. Such a story would not be the sort of tale Jewish men would invent. Moreover, the simplicity of the narrative is not well explained by the Conspiracy Hypothesis—where are the Scripture citations, the evidence of fulfilled prophecy? Why isn’t Jesus described as emerging from the tomb, as in later forgeries like the Gospel of Peter? Neither is the polemic with non-believing Jews well explained. Why isn’t Matthew’s guard already there in the pre-Markan tradition? Even in Matthew’s story the guard is set too late: the body could have been already stolen before the guard arrived on Saturday morning. For a fail-safe alibi against theft of the body, see once more the 55. Gary Habermas, “Experience of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection,” Dialog 45 (2006): 292.


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Gospel of Peter, where the guard (explicitly identified as Roman) is set immediately upon interment of the corpse. As for the appearance narratives, similar problems arise. A fabricator would probably describe the appearances in terms of Old Testament theophanies and descriptions of eschatological resurrection (e.g., Dan. 12:2). But then Jesus should appear to the disciples in dazzling glory. And why not a description of the resurrection itself? Why no appearances to Caiaphas or the villains on the Sanhedrin, as Jesus predicted? They could be then branded as the real liars for denying that Jesus did appear to them. But the explanatory power of the Conspiracy Hypothesis is undoubtedly weakest when it comes to the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. For the hypothesis is really a denial of that fact; it seeks to explain the mere semblance of belief on the disciples’ part. But as critics since Strauss have universally recognized, one cannot plausibly deny that the earliest disciples at least sincerely believed that Jesus was risen from the dead, a conviction on which they staked their very lives, as Paley so eloquently emphasized. The transformation in the lives of the disciples is not credibly explained by the hypothesis of a conspiracy. This shortcoming alone has been enough in the minds of most scholars to sink the old Conspiracy Hypothesis. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses. The real Achilles’ heel of the Conspiracy Hypothesis is, however, its implausibility. One might mention here the usual objections to the unbelievable complexity of such a conspiracy or the supposed psychological state of the disciples; but the overriding problem is the anachronism of first-century Jews’ intending to hoax Jesus’ resurrection. The Conspiracy Hypothesis views the disciples’ situation through the rearview mirror of Christian history rather than through the eyes of a first-century Jew. There was no expectation of a Messiah who, instead of establishing David’s throne and subduing Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by the Gentiles as a criminal. Moreover, the idea of eschatological resurrection was unconnected with the idea of Messiah and even incompatible with it. As Wright nicely puts it, if your favorite Messiah got himself crucified, then you either went home or else you got yourself a new Messiah. But the idea of stealing Jesus’ corpse and saying that God had raised him from the dead is hardly one that would have entered the minds of the disciples. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses. Like all conspiracy theories of history, the Conspiracy Hypothesis is ad hoc in postulating that what all the evidence seems to point to is, in fact, mere appearance only, to be explained away by hypotheses for which there is no evidence. Specifically, it postulates motives and ideas in the thinking of the earliest disciples and actions on their part for which there is not a shred of evidence. It can become even more ad hoc, as hypotheses must be multiplied to deal with objections to the theory, for example,

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how to account for the appearance to the 500 brethren or the women’s role in the empty tomb and appearance stories. 6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses. The Conspiracy Hypothesis tends to be disconfirmed by our general knowledge of conspiracies, their instability and tendency to unravel. Moreover, it is disconfirmed by accepted beliefs such as the sincerity of the disciples, the nature of first-century Jewish messianic expectations, and so on. 7) The hypothesis must significantly exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)–(6). This condition is obviously not met, since there are better hypotheses, such as the Hallucination Hypothesis, which do not dismiss the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection as fraudulent. No scholar would defend the Conspiracy Hypothesis today. The only place you read about such things is in the popular, sensationalist press or in former propaganda from behind the Iron Curtain. Apparent Death Hypothesis A second theory was the apparent death explanation. Critics around the beginning of the nineteenth century such as Heinrich Paulus or Friedrich Schleiermacher defended the view that Jesus was not completely dead when he was taken down from the cross. He revived in the tomb and escaped to convince his disciples he had risen from the dead. Today this hypothesis has also been almost completely given up. Once again, let’s apply McCullagh’s criteria for the best explanation: 1) The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data. Again this condition is easily met. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses. The Apparent Death Hypothesis also provides explanations for the empty tomb, postmortem appearances, and origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses. Here the theory begins to founder. Some versions of the Apparent Death Hypothesis are really variations on the Conspiracy Hypothesis, merely substituting the disciples’ hoaxing Jesus’ death for their stealing Jesus’ body. In such cases, the theory shares all the weaknesses of the Conspiracy Hypothesis. A non-conspiratorial version of the theory is also saddled with insuperable difficulties: how to explain the empty tomb, given Jesus’ merely apparent death, since a man sealed inside a tomb could not move the stone so as to escape; how to explain the postmortem appearances, since as Strauss mused, the appearance of a half-dead man desperately in need of medical attention would hardly have elicited in the disciples the conclusion that he was the Risen Lord and conqueror of Death; and how to explain the anachronism of the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since seeing him again would lead them to conclude that he had not died, not that he was, contrary to Jewish thought (as well as their own eyes), gloriously risen from the dead. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses. Here again the theory fails miserably. Roman executioners could be relied upon to ensure that


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their victims were dead. Since the exact moment of death by crucifixion was uncertain, executioners could ensure death by a spear thrust into the victim’s side, such as was dealt to Jesus. Moreover, 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. The suggestion that a man so critically wounded then went on to appear to the disciples on various occasions in Jerusalem and Galilee is pure fantasy. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses. The Apparent Death Hypothesis, especially in its conspiratorial instantiations, can become enormously ad hoc. We are invited to imagine secret societies, stealthily administered potions, conspiratorial alliances between Jesus’ disciples and members of the Sanhedrin, and so forth, all with nary a scrap of evidence in support. 6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses. The Apparent Death Hypothesis is massively disconfirmed by medical facts concerning what would happen to a person who has been scourged and crucified. It is also disconfirmed by the unanimous evidence that Jesus did not continue among his disciples after his death. 7) The hypothesis must significantly exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)–(6). This theory also is hardly a standout. For that reason it has virtually no defenders among New Testament historians today. Wrong Tomb Hypothesis First proposed by Kirsopp Lake in 1907, this theory holds that the belief in Jesus’ empty tomb was based on a simple mistake. According to Lake, the women lost their way that Sunday morning and happened upon a caretaker at an unoccupied tomb in the garden. He said something like, “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here.” The women, however, were so unnerved that they fled. After the disciples had experienced visions of Jesus alive, the women’s story developed into the account of their discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. Unlike the previous two theories considered, Lake’s hypothesis generated virtually no following but was dead almost upon arrival. 1) The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data. This condition is easily met. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses. Lake’s theory doesn’t really explain the resurrection appearances. Some additional hypothesis will have to be conjoined to the Wrong Tomb Hypothesis in order to explain Jesus’ appearances. In that sense the theory fails to have sufficiently wide explanatory scope. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses. Because the Wrong Tomb Hypothesis says nothing to explain the postmortem appearances, it has no explanatory power in that respect. It also is anachronistic in its explanation of the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Merely going to the wrong tomb and seeing a man there telling them that Jesus is not

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there would hardly lead a first-century Jew to conclude that Jesus was risen from the dead—especially if this were reported by women and could not be verified. In fact, the question of verification reveals that Lake’s hypothesis has weak explanatory power even with respect to the empty tomb. For any later check of the tomb would have revealed the women’s error. After their initial fright, wouldn’t the women have attempted to retrace their steps by the light of day? Certainly the disciples themselves would have wanted to verify the empty tomb. The state of the actual tomb could not have remained a matter of complete indifference to a movement in the same locale based on belief in the resurrection of the dead man interred there. And in any case, since the burial site was known to Jew and Christian alike, the Jewish opponents of the Christians would have been only too happy to point out the women’s error. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis is also implausible in light of the evidence we do have, for example, that the site of Jesus’ tomb was known to Jew and Christian alike in Jerusalem, that the empty tomb story is extremely early and shows no signs of theological development and reflection, and so on. Insofar as the Hallucination Hypothesis proves to be implausible, Lake’s theory will share that, too. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses. Lake’s theory is ad hoc in that it treats the evidence selectively and arbitrarily. For example, Lake regards the women’s visit to the tomb with the intention of anointing the body as historical but must discount their noting, precisely because of that intention, where the body was laid (Mark 15:47; 16:1). But why accept the one but not the other? Or again, Lake regards the angel’s words ascribed to the caretaker, “You’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here,” as authentic but passes over the words, “He is risen!” But all of the angel’s message is the language of Christian proclamation if any of it is. Similarly, there are no grounds for taking Mark’s “young man” to be a human rather than angelic figure, the Greek word used here being often used of angels and the man’s white robe being typical for the Jewish portrait of angels. Moreover, the women’s fear and astonishment is a characteristic Markan motif which presupposes the angelic confrontation, so that one cannot regard the women’s reaction as traditional and historical while historically excising the angel as a legendary accretion. 6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses. The Wrong Tomb Hypothesis will be disconfirmed by the generally accepted beliefs that Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus and thus could point to his burial location, that the empty tomb tradition belongs to very early rather than late tradition, and so on. 7) The hypothesis must significantly exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)–(6). Obviously, nobody thinks that this is the case.


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Displaced Body Hypothesis In one of the few Jewish attempts to deal with the facts concerning Jesus’ resurrection, Joseph Klausner in 1922 proposed that Joseph of Arimathea placed Jesus’ body in his tomb temporarily, due to the lateness of the hour and the proximity of his own family tomb. But then he moved the corpse later to the criminals’ graveyard. Unaware of the displacement of the body, the disciples erroneously inferred Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Although no scholars defend Klausner’s hypothesis today, I have seen attempts by popular authors to revive it. In light of what has already been said of other theories, its shortcomings are evident: 1) The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data. No problem here. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses. The Displaced Body Hypothesis has narrow explanatory scope. It tries to explain the empty tomb but says nothing about the postmortem appearances and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses. Klausner’s hypothesis has no explanatory power vis-à-vis the appearances and the origin of the Christian faith. As for the empty tomb, it faces the same obstacle as the Wrong Tomb Hypothesis: since Joseph and any servants with him knew what they had done with the corpse, the theory is at a loss to explain why the disciples’ error was not corrected—unless, that is, one resorts to ad hoc conjectures such as Joseph and his servants’ sudden deaths! It might be said that Jesus’ corpse would have no longer been identifiable; but that is to miss the point. The point is that the earliest Jewish/Christian disputes about the resurrection were not over the location of Jesus’ grave or the identity of the corpse but over why the tomb was empty. Had Joseph displaced the body, the Jewish/Christian polemic would have taken a quite different course. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses. The hypothesis is implausible for a number of reasons. So far as we can rely on Jewish sources, the criminals’ graveyard was only 50 to 600 yards from the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jewish practice, furthermore, was to bury executed criminals on the day of their execution, so that is what Joseph would have wanted to accomplish. Therefore, Joseph could and would have placed the body directly in the criminals’ graveyard, thereby obviating any need to move it later or defile his own family tomb. Indeed, Jewish law did not even permit the body to be moved later, except to the family tomb (Semachot 13.7). Joseph had adequate time for a simple burial, which probably included washing the corpse and wrapping it up in a sheet with dry spices. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses. The theory is somewhat ad hoc in ascribing to Joseph motives and activities for which we have no evidence at all.

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6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses. The theory suffers disconfirmation from what we know about Jewish burial procedures for criminals mentioned above. 7) The hypothesis must significantly exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)–(6). Again, no historian seems to share this estimation. As we look at these hypotheses proffered to explain the fact of the empty tomb, it is striking that scarcely any modern historian or biblical critic would hold to these theories. They are almost completely passé. You may say to yourselves at this point, “Well, then, what explanation of the empty tomb do modern critics offer who deny the resurrection?” The fact is that they are self-confessedly without any explanation to offer. There simply is no plausible natural explanation available today to account for how Jesus’ tomb became empty. If we deny the resurrection of Jesus, we are left with an inexplicable mystery. CONCLUSION

We have seen that multiple lines of historical evidence indicate that Jesus’ tomb was found empty on Sunday morning by a group of his women followers. Furthermore, no convincing natural explanation is available to account for this fact. This alone might prompt us to believe that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation. But there is even more evidence to come.

The Postmortem Appearances In 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 (rsv), Paul writes: For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This is a truly remarkable claim. We have here an indisputably authentic letter of a man personally acquainted with the first disciples, and he reports that they actually saw Jesus alive after his death. More than that, he says that he himself also saw an appearance of Jesus. What are we to make of this claim? Did Jesus really appear to people alive after his death? To answer this question, let’s again consider two major points: first, the fact of the resurrection appearances of Jesus; and second, explaining the resurrection appearances.


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Once again, space will not allow me to examine in detail all the evidence for Jesus’ post-mortem appearances. But I’d like to examine three main lines of evidence. 1) Paul’s list of eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances guarantees that such appearances occurred. We saw that in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul gives a list of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Let’s look briefly at each appearance to see whether it is plausible that such events actually took place. a) Appearance to Peter. We have no story in the Gospels telling of Jesus’ appearance to Peter. But the appearance is mentioned here in the old Christian tradition quoted by Paul, which originated in the Jerusalem church, and it is vouched by the apostle Paul himself. As we know from Galatians 1:18, Paul spent about two weeks with Peter in Jerusalem three years after his Damascus Road experience. So Paul would know personally whether Peter claimed to have had such an experience. In addition to this, the appearance to Peter is mentioned in another old Christian tradition found in Luke 24:34 (at): “The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon!” That Luke is working with a tradition here is evident by the awkward way in which it intrudes into his narrative of the Emmaus disciples. So although we have no detailed story of this appearance, it is quite well founded historically. As a result, even the most skeptical New Testament critics agree that Peter saw an appearance of Jesus alive from the dead. b) Appearance to the Twelve. Undoubtedly, the reference here is to that original group of disciples who had been chosen by Jesus during his ministry—less, of course, Judas, whose absence did not affect the formal title of the group. This is the best-attested resurrection appearance of Jesus. It, too, is included in the very early traditional formula that Paul cites, and Paul himself had contact with members of the Twelve. Moreover, we have independent stories of this appearance in Luke 24:36–42 and John 20:19–20. Undoubtedly, the most notable feature of these appearance stories is the physical demonstrations of Jesus’ showing his wounds and eating before the disciples. The purpose of the physical demonstrations is to show two things: first, that Jesus was raised physically; and second, that he was the same Jesus who had been crucified. Thus, they served to demonstrate both corporeality and continuity of the resurrection body. There can be little doubt that such an appearance occurred, for it is attested in the old Christian tradition, vouched for by Paul, who had personal contact with the Twelve, and is independently described by both Luke and John. c) Appearance to five hundred brethren. The third appearance comes as somewhat of a shock: “then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time”! This is surprising, since we have no mention whatsoever of this appearance elsewhere in the New Testament. This might make one rather skeptical about this appearance, but Paul himself apparently had personal contact with these people, since he knew that some had died. This is seen in Paul’s parenthetical comment, “most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.” Why does Paul add this

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remark? The great New Testament scholar of Cambridge University, C. H. Dodd, replies, “There can hardly be any purpose in mentioning the fact that the most of the 500 are still alive, unless Paul is saying, in effect, ‘The witnesses are there to be questioned.’”56 Notice: Paul could never have said this if the event had not occurred. He could not have challenged people to ask the witnesses if the event had never taken place and there were no witnesses. But evidently there were witnesses to this event, and Paul knew that some of them had died in the meantime. Therefore, the event must have taken place. I think that this appearance is not related in the Gospels because it probably took place in Galilee. As one puts together the various appearances in the Gospels, it seems that they occurred first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee, and then in Jerusalem again. The appearance to the five hundred would have to be out of doors, perhaps on a hillside outside a Galilean village. In Galilee thousands had gathered to hear Jesus teach during his ministry. Since the Gospels focus their attention on the appearances in Jerusalem, we do not have any story of this appearance to the five hundred because it probably occurred in Galilee. An intriguing possibility is that this was the appearance predicted by the angel in the pre-Markan passion story and described by Matthew (28:16–17). d) Appearance to James. The next appearance is one of the most amazing of all: he appeared to James, Jesus’ younger brother. What makes this amazing is that apparently neither James nor any of Jesus’ younger brothers believed in Jesus during his lifetime (Mark 3:21, 31–35; John 7:1–10). They didn’t believe he was the Messiah, or a prophet, or even anybody special. By the criterion of embarrassment, this is doubtless a historical facet of Jesus’ life and ministry. But after the resurrection, Jesus’ brothers show up in the Christian fellowship in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). There is no further mention of them until Acts 12:17. This is the story of Peter’s deliverance from prison by the angel. What are Peter’s first words? “Report this to James.” In Galatians 1:19 Paul tells of his two-week visit to Jerusalem about three years after his Damascus Road experience. He says that besides Peter, he saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. Paul at least implies that James was now being reckoned as an apostle. When Paul visited Jerusalem again fourteen years later, he says there were three “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem: Peter, John, and James (Gal. 2:9). Finally, in Acts 21:18 James is the sole head of the Jerusalem church and of the council of elders. We hear no more about James in the New Testament; but from Josephus, the Jewish historian, we learn that James was stoned to death illegally by the Sanhedrin sometime after a.d. 60 for his faith in Christ ( Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.200). Not only James but also Jesus’ other brothers became believers and were active in Christian preaching, as we see from 1 Corinthians 9:5 (rsv): “Do we not 56. C. H. Dodd, “The Appearances of the Risen Christ: A study in the form criticism of the Gospels,” in More New Testament Studies (Manchester: University of Manchester, 1968), 128.


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have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Now, how is this to be explained? On the one hand, it seems certain that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him during his lifetime. On the other hand, it is equally certain that they became ardent Christians, active in the church. Jesus’ crucifixion would only confirm in James’s mind that his elder brother’s Messianic pretensions were delusory, just as he had thought. Many of us have brothers. What would it take to make you believe that your brother is the Lord, so that you would die for this belief, as James did? Can there be any doubt that the reason for this remarkable transformation is to be found in the fact that “then he appeared to James”? Even the skeptical New Testament critic Hans Grass admits that the conversion of James is one of the surest proofs of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.57 e) Appearance to “all the apostles.” This appearance was probably to a limited circle of Christian missionaries somewhat wider than the Twelve. For such a group, see Acts 1:21–22. Once again, the facticity of this appearance is guaranteed by Paul’s personal contact with the apostles themselves. f ) Appearance to Saul of Tarsus. The final appearance is just as amazing as the appearance to James: “Last of all,” says Paul, “he appeared to me also.” The story of Jesus’ appearance to Saul of Tarsus (or Paul) just outside Damascus is related in Acts 9:1–9 and is later told again twice. That this event actually occurred is established beyond doubt by Paul’s references to it in his own letters. This event changed Saul’s whole life. He was a rabbi, a Pharisee, a respected Jewish leader. He hated the Christian heresy and was doing everything in his power to stamp it out. He was even responsible for the execution of Christian believers. Then suddenly he gave up everything. He left his position as a respected Jewish leader and became a Christian missionary: he entered a life of poverty, labor, and suffering. He was whipped, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times, in constant danger, deprivation, and anxiety. Finally, he made the ultimate sacrifice and was martyred for his faith at Rome. And it was all because on that day outside Damascus, he saw “Jesus our Lord” (l Cor. 9:1). The list of witnesses of postmortem appearances of Jesus which Paul transmits thus makes it indisputable that individuals and groups had such experiences. 2) The Gospel accounts provide multiple, independent attestation of postmortem appearances of Jesus. The Gospels independently attest to postmortem appearances of Jesus, even to some of the same appearances found in Paul’s list. Wolfgang Trilling explains, From the list in I Cor. 15 the particular reports of the Gospels are now to be interpreted. Here may be of help what we said about Jesus’ miracles. It is impossible to “prove” historically a particular miracle. But the totality of the miracle reports permits 57. Hans Grass, Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte, 4th ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974), 80.

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no reasonable doubt that Jesus in fact performed “miracles.” That holds analogously for the appearance reports. It is not possible to secure historically the particular event. But the totality of the appearance reports permits no reasonable doubt that Jesus in fact bore witness to himself in such a way.58

Trilling’s conclusion is actually too modest: for just as we can justifiably infer the historicity of specific miracles of Jesus, such as his feeding of the 5,000, so can we infer the historicity of some of the specific appearances. The appearance to Peter is independently attested by Paul and Luke (1 Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:34) and is universally acknowledged by critics. The appearance to the Twelve is independently attested by Paul, Luke, and John (1 Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:36–43; John 20:19–20) and is again not in dispute, even if many critics are skeptical of the physical demonstrations that attend this appearance. The appearance to the women disciples is independently attested by Matthew and John (Matt. 28:9–10; John 20:11–17) and enjoys, as well, ratification by the criterion of embarrassment, given the low credibility accorded to the testimony of women. It is generally agreed that the absence of this appearance from the list of appearances in the tradition quoted by Paul is a reflection of the same discomfort in citing female witnesses. Finally, that Jesus appeared to the disciples in Galilee is independently attested by Mark, Matthew, and John (Mark 16:7; Matt. 28:16–17; John 21). Taken sequentially, the appearances follow the pattern of Jerusalem—Galilee—Jerusalem, matching the festival pilgrimages of the disciples as they returned to Galilee following the Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread and traveled again to Jerusalem two months later for Pentecost. From this evidence what should we conclude? We can call these appearances hallucinations if we want to, but we cannot deny that they occurred. The late New Testament critic of the University of Chicago, Norman Perrin, states, “The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based.”59 Lüdemann is even more emphatic: “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”60 The evidence makes it certain that on separate occasions different individuals and groups had experiences of seeing Jesus alive from the dead. This conclusion is virtually indisputable—and therefore undisputed. 58. Wolfgang Trilling, Fragen zur Geschichtlichkeit Jesu (Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1966), 153. With respect to Jesus’ miracles, Trilling had written: “We are convinced and hold it for historically certain that Jesus did in fact perform miracles. . . . The miracle reports occupy so much space in the Gospels that it is impossible that they could all have been subsequently invented or transferred to Jesus” (ibid.). The fact that miracle working belongs to the historical Jesus is, as we have seen in chapter 7, no longer disputed. 59. Norman Perrin, The Resurrection According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), 80. 60. Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus? trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 80.

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3) The resurrection appearances were physical, bodily appearances. So far the evidence I’ve presented does not depend on the nature of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. I’ve left it open whether they were visionary or physical in nature. It remains to be seen whether even visionary experiences of the risen Jesus can be plausibly explained on the basis of psychological models. But if the appearances were physical and bodily in nature, then a purely psychological explanation becomes next to impossible. So it is worth examining what we can know about the nature of these appearances. a) Paul implies that the appearances were physical. He does this in two ways. First, he conceives of the resurrection body as physical. Everyone recognizes that Paul does not teach the immortality of the soul alone but the resurrection of the body. In 1 Corinthians 15:42–44 Paul describes the differences between the present earthly body and the future resurrection body, which will be like Christ’s. He draws four essential contrasts between the earthly body and the resurrection body: The earthly body is: mortal dishonorable weak natural

But the resurrection body is: immortal glorious powerful spiritual

Only the last contrast could make us think that Paul did not believe in a physical resurrection body. But what does he mean by the words translated here as “natural/spiritual”? The word translated “natural” (psychikos) literally means “soul-ish.” Obviously, Paul does not mean that our present body is made out of soul. Rather by this word he means “dominated by or pertaining to human nature.” Similarly, when he says the resurrection body will be “spiritual” (pneumatikos), he does not mean “made out of spirit.” Rather, he means “dominated by or oriented toward the Spirit.” It is the same sense of the word “spiritual” as when we say that someone is a spiritual person. In fact, look at the way Paul uses exactly those same words in 1 Corinthians 2:14–15 (at): The natural man (anthropos psychikos) does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man (anthropos pneumatikos) judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one.

Natural man does not mean “physical man,” but “man oriented toward human nature.” And spiritual man does not mean “intangible, invisible man” but “man oriented toward the Spirit.” The contrast is the same in 1 Corinthians 15. The present, earthly body will be freed from its slavery to sinful human nature and become instead fully empowered and directed by God’s Spirit. Thus, Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection body implies a physical resurrection.

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Second, Paul, and indeed all the New Testament, makes a conceptual (if not linguistic) distinction between an appearance of Jesus and a vision of Jesus. The appearances of Jesus soon ceased, but visions continued in the early church.61 Now the question is: what is the difference between an appearance and a vision? The answer of the New Testament would seem to be clear: a vision, though caused by God, was purely in the mind, while an appearance took place “out there” in the external world.62 It is instructive to compare here Stephen’s vision of Jesus in Acts 7 with the resurrection appearances of Jesus. Though Stephen saw an identifiable, bodily image, what he saw was a vision of a man, not a man who was physically there, for no one else present experienced anything at all. By contrast the resurrection appearances took place in the world “out there” and could be experienced by anybody present. Paul could rightly regard his experience on the Damascus Road as an appearance, even though it took place after Jesus’ ascension, because it involved manifestations in the external world, which Paul’s companions also experienced to varying degrees. Thus, the conceptual distinction between a vision and an appearance of Jesus also implies that the resurrection appearances were physical. b) The Gospel accounts show the appearances were physical and bodily. Again, two points deserve to be made. First, every resurrection appearance related in the Gospels is a physical, bodily appearance. The unanimous testimony of the Gospels in this regard is quite impressive. If none of the appearances was originally a physical, bodily appearance, then it is very strange that we have a completely unanimous testimony in the Gospels that all of them were physical, with no trace of the supposed original, non-physical appearances. Such a thorough-going corruption of oral tradition in so short a time, while eyewitnesses were still about, is most unlikely. Second, if all the appearances were originally non-physical visions, then one is at a complete loss to explain the rise of the Gospel accounts. For physical, bodily appearances would be foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews, since neither, for different reasons, could countenance physical resurrection from the dead but would be quite happy to accept visionary appearances of the deceased. Some critics have suggested that anti-Docetic motives might have prompted the materialization of the appearances. But this suggestion has little to commend it, since Docetists did not, in fact, affirm purely visionary resurrection appearances. Moreover, the Gospel accounts do not evince the rigor of an anti-Docetic apologetic 61. “One can only wonder in what ways, if any, Luke and Paul imagined the original christophanies to differ from later experiences” (Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 261). The answer to this key question is, I think, fairly clear, as I explain in the text. This answer is important, for no matter how real, how tangible, how opaque, visions of the departed may seem to the bereaved, the departed only appear to be external, physical, objects. The bereaved recognize that what they experienced was a vision of the deceased. 62. A hallucination, for example, a mirage, would differ from a vision in that a hallucination is not induced by God but is the result of natural or human causes, whereas a vision is caused by God. But a vision, as opposed to a genuine appearance, is still wholly intra-mental and, hence, private, even if it is veridical.


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(more would need to be done than Jesus’ merely showing his wounds, for example), and the appearance traditions ante-date Docetism in any case. To be perfectly candid, the only grounds for denying the physical, corporeal nature of the postmortem appearances of Jesus is philosophical, not historical: such appearances would be nature miracles of the most stupendous proportions, and that many critics cannot swallow. But in that case one needs to retrace one’s steps to think again about what we had to say concerning evidence for the existence of God and concerning the problem of miracles. Most New Testament critics are untrained in philosophy and are, hence, naïve when it comes to these issues. Thus, on the basis of these three lines of evidence, we can conclude that the fact of Jesus’ postmortem appearances to various individuals and groups under a variety of circumstances is firmly established historically and, moreover, that these appearances were bodily and physical. But how do we explain these appearances? That leads me to my second major point. EXPLAINING THE RESURRECTION APPEARANCES

If one denies that Jesus actually rose from the dead, then he must try to explain away the resurrection appearances psychologically. Strauss believed that the resurrection appearances were merely hallucinations on the part of the disciples. The most prominent defender of the view today is the German New Testament critic Gerd Lüdemann. How does the hypothesis fare when assessed by McCullagh’s criteria? 1) The hypothesis, together with other true statements, must imply further statements describing present, observable data. As usual, the theory meets this criterion. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses. The Hallucination Hypothesis has narrow explanatory scope. It says nothing to explain the empty tomb. Therefore, one must either deny the fact of the empty tomb and, hence, burial or else conjoin some independent hypothesis to the Hallucination Hypothesis to account for the empty tomb. Allsion is right to remind us that explanatory scope is not the only or even most important criterion for theory assessement and that historical events typically have complex causes.63 Still, all things being equal, the simpler hypothesis will be preferred, and, since not all things are equal, we shall also consider the Hallucination Hypothesis’ explanatory power, plausibility, and so forth before making our final judgment. Again, the Hallucination Hypothesis says nothing to explain the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Although Allison makes a great deal out of the alleged similarities between the postmortem appearances of Jesus and visions of the recently departed on the part of the bereaved, the overriding lesson of such fascinating stories is that the bereaved do not as a result of such experiences, however real and tangible they may seem, conclude that the deceased has returned physically to life—rather the deceased is seen in the afterlife. As Wright observes, 63. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 347–48.

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for someone in the ancient world, visions of the deceased are not evidence that the person is alive, but evidence that he is dead!64 Moreover, in a Jewish context other, more appropriate interpretations of such experiences than resurrection are close to hand. Dunn demands, Why did they conclude that it was Jesus risen from the dead?—Why not simply a vision of the dead man?—Why not visions “fleshed out” with the apparatus of apocalyptic expectation, coming on the clouds of glory and the like . . .? Why draw the astonishing conclusion that the eschatological resurrection had already taken place in the case of a single individual separate from and prior to the general resurrection?65

As Dunn’s last question indicates, the inference “he has been raised from the dead,” so natural to our ears, would have been wholly unnatural to a first-century Jew. In Jewish thinking there was already a category perfectly suited to describe Peter’s postulated experience: Jesus had been assumed into heaven. Allison himself admits, “If there was no reason to believe that his solid body had returned to life, no one would have thought him, against expectation, resurrected from the dead. Certainly visions of or perceived encounters with a postmortem Jesus would not by themselves, have supplied such reason.”66 Thus, even given hallucinations, belief in Jesus’ resurrection remains unexplained. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses. The Hallucination Hypothesis arguably has weak explanatory power even when it comes to the appearances. Suppose that Peter was one of those individuals who experiences a vision of a deceased loved one. Would this hypothesis suffice to explain the resurrection appearances? Not really, for the diversity of the appearances bursts the bounds of anything found in the psychological casebooks. Jesus appeared not just one time, but many times; not at just one locale and circumstance but at a variety of places and circumstances; not to just one individual, but to different persons; not just to individuals, but to various groups; not just to believers but to unbelievers and even enemies. Positing a chain reaction among the disciples won’t solve the problem because people like James and Paul don’t stand in the chain. Those who would explain the resurrection appearances psychologically are compelled to construct a composite picture by cobbling together different unrelated cases of hallucinatory experiences, which only serves to underline the fact that there is nothing like the resurrection appearances in the psychological casebooks. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses. Lüdemann attempts to make his Hallucination Hypothesis plausible by a psychoanalysis of Peter and 64. For references to ancient pagan and Jewish texts concerning apparitions of the dead, see Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2003), 2:1169. 65. James W. D. G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), 132. 66. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 324–25. The remaining question is whether bereavement visons in conjunction with the discovery of the empty tomb would have led to the disciples’ belief and proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, on which see below concerning the origin of the Christian Way.


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Paul, according to which both labored under guilt complexes which found release in hallucinations of Jesus. But Lüdemann’s psychoanalysis is implausible for three reasons: first, Lüdemann’s use of depth psychology is based upon certain theories of Jung and Freud which are highly disputed. Second, there is insufficient data to do a psychoanalysis of Peter and Paul. Psychoanalysis is difficult enough to carry out even with patients on the psychoanalyst’s couch, so to speak, but it is next to impossible with historical figures. It is for that reason that the genre of psychobiography is rejected today. Finally, third, what evidence we do have suggests that Paul did not struggle with a guilt complex as Lüdemann supposes. Nearly fifty years ago the Swedish scholar Krister Stendahl pointed out that Western readers have tended to interpret Paul in light of Martin Luther’s struggles with guilt and sin. But Paul (or Saul) the Pharisee experienced no such struggle. Stendahl writes: Contrast Paul, a very happy and successful Jew, one who can say “As to righteousness under the Law [I was] blameless” (Phil. 3.6). That is what he says. He experiences no troubles, no problems, no qualms of conscience. He is a star pupil, the student to get the thousand dollar graduate scholarship in Gamaliel’s Seminary. . . . Nowhere in Paul’s writings is there any indication . . . that psychologically Paul had some problem of conscience.67

In order to justify his portrait of a guiltridden Paul, Lüdemann is forced to interpret Romans 7 in terms of Paul’s pre-Christian experience. But, as Hans Kessler observes, this interpretation is rejected by “almost all expositors” since the late 1920’s.68 So Lüdemann’s psychoanalysis is positively implausible. A second respect in which the Hallucination Hypothesis is implausible is its construal of the appearances as merely visionary experiences. Lüdemann recognizes that the Hallucination Hypothesis depends on the presupposition that what Paul saw on the Damascus Road was the same as what all the other disciples experienced: “Anyone who does not share [this] presupposition will not be able to make any sense” out of what he has to say. But this presupposition is groundless. Many of Paul’s opponents denied his true apostleship, so Paul is anxious to include himself along with the other apostles who had seen Christ. John Dominic Crossan explains: “Paul needs in I Cor 15 to equate his own experience with that of the preceding apostles. To equate, that is, its validity and legitimacy, but not necessarily its mode or manner. . . . Paul’s own entranced revelation should not be presumed to be the model for all others.”69 Paul is trying to bring his experience up to the objectivity and reality of the disciples’ experience, not to dilute their experience to a merely visionary seeing. So with respect both to its psychoanalysis of the witnesses and its 67. Krister Stendahl, “Paul among Jews and Gentiles,” in Paul among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortesss, 1976), 12–13. 68. Hans Kessler, Sucht den Lebenden nicht bei den Toten, new ed. (Würzburg: Echter, 1995), 423. 69. John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Bibliography (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994), 169.

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reduction of the appearances to visionary experiences, the Hallucination Hypothesis suffers from implausibility. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses. Lüdemann’s version of the Hallucination Hypothesis is ad hoc in a number of ways: it assumes that the disciples fled back to Galilee after Jesus’ arrest, that Peter was so obsessed with guilt that he projected a hallucination of Jesus, that the other disciples were also prone to hallucinations, and that Paul had a struggle with the Jewish law and a secret attraction to Christianity. 6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses. Some of the accepted beliefs of New Testament scholars today which tend to disconfirm the Hallucination Hypothesis, at least as Lüdemann presents it, include the belief that Jesus received an honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea, that Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty by women, that psychoanalysis of historical figures is not feasible, that Paul was basically content with his life under the Jewish law, and that the New Testament makes a distinction between a vision and a resurrection appearance. 7) The hypothesis must significantly exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)–(6). The Hallucination Hypothesis remains a live option today and in that respect has outstripped its naturalistic rivals. But the question is whether it outstrips the Resurrection Hypothesis. From the preceding we come to the conclusion that it is well established that in multiple and varied circumstances, different individuals and groups saw Jesus physically and bodily alive from the dead. Furthermore, there is no good way to explain this away psychologically. So once again, if we reject the resurrection of Jesus as the only reasonable explanation of the resurrection appearances, we are left with an inexplicable mystery.

The Origin of the Christian Faith The third fact from which the resurrection of Jesus may be inferred is the very origin of the Christian faith. This fact takes pride of place in Wright’s historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, Wright’s entire book The Resurrection of the Son of God is probably best understood as the fullest and most sophisticated development of this third point of the overall case, for he actually argues for the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb and postmortem appearances on the basis of the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Such a procedure understates the historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, since independent evidence can be offered on behalf of the empty tomb and postmortem appearances, as we have seen and as most critics recognize. Still, Wright’s procedure serves to draw attention to the power of this third point. THE FACT OF THE ORIGIN OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

Even skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. In fact, they pinned nearly


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everything on it; to take just one example: the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Jews had no conception of a Messiah who, instead of triumphing over Israel’s enemies, would be shamefully executed by them as a criminal. Messiah was supposed to be a triumphant figure who would command the respect of Jew and Gentile alike and who would establish the throne of David in Jerusalem. A Messiah who failed to deliver and to reign, who was defeated, humiliated, and slain by his enemies, is a contradiction in terms. Nowhere do Jewish texts speak of such a “Messiah.” Therefore, as Wright emphasizes, “The crucifixion of Jesus, understood from the point of view of any onlooker, whether sympathetic or not, was bound to have appeared as the complete destruction of any messianic pretensions or possibilities he or his followers might have hinted at.”70 It is difficult to overemphasize what a disaster the crucifixion was for the disciples’ faith. Jesus’ death on the cross spelled the humiliating end for any hopes they had entertained that he was the Messiah. But the belief in the resurrection of Jesus reversed the catastrophe of the crucifixion. Because God had raised Jesus from the dead, he was seen to be Messiah after all. Thus, Peter proclaims in Acts 2:32, 36 (rsv): “This Jesus God raised up. . . . Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” It was on the basis of belief in his resurrection that the disciples could believe that Jesus was the Messiah. It is no surprise, therefore, that belief in Jesus’ resurrection was universal in the early Christian church. Helmut Koester points out that the traditional formula quoted in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 in which the “gospel” is defined as the death, burial, resurrection, and appearances of Christ makes it probable that this understanding of the gospel goes right back to the very beginning of the church in Jerusalem. “What Paul preached was never the subject of controversy between Paul’s Gentile mission and the church in Jerusalem. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the event upon which their common proclamation was based.”71 Some critics have speculated whether there was a community of believers exclusively devoted to the sayings of the Q document who had no belief in Jesus’ passion and resurrection. But Meier rejects this conjecture, commenting that the only two Q communities that we really know of were Matthew and Luke’s churches, and they both valued the passion tradition. “The idea that some first-generation Christian community proclaimed the sayings of Q without any . . . interest in Jesus’ death and resurrection is simply not verified by the data. . . .”72 Günther Bornkamm sums it up: “The Easter faith of the first disciples . . . was not the peculiar experience of a few enthusiasts or a peculiar theological opinion of a few apostles, who in the course 70. Wright, Christian Origins, 3:557–58. 71. Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (London: SCM, 1990), 51. 72. John Meier, “Dividing Lines in Jesus Research Today,” Interpretation 50 (1996), 359.

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of time had the luck to prevail. No, they were all one in the belief and the confession to the Risen One.”73 Some critics have sought to avoid this conclusion by maintaining with Bultmann that the earliest disciples did not distinguish between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension into heaven. The primitive proclamation was of Jesus’ exaltation, which later became differentiated into his resurrection and ascension. In effect, then, the primitive Christian belief was not in Jesus’ resurrection, so there is nothing to be explained beyond belief in his exaltation. Wright is sharply critical of such a suggestion: The idea that there was originally no difference for the earliest Christians between resurrection and exaltation/ascension is a twentieth-century fiction, based on a misreading of Paul. Actually, Bultmann’s account is slippery at the crucial point: though he says there was no difference between resurrection and ascension, what he means is that there was no early belief in “resurrection” at all, since . . . the word “resurrection” and its cognates was not used to denote a non-bodily extension of life in a heavenly realm, however glorious. Plenty of words existed to denote heavenly exaltation; “resurrection” is never one of them. . . . Bultmann therefore has to postulate—though he has covered up this large move—that at some point halfway through the first century someone who had previously believed that Jesus had simply “gone to heaven when he died” began to use, to denote this belief, language which had never meant that before and continued not to mean it in either paganism, Judaism, or Christianity thereafter, namely, the language of resurrection. . . . What is more, Bultmann has to assume that, though this theory about a risen body was a new thing within the already widely diverse Christian church, it took over almost at once, so that all traces of the original view—that Jesus was not raised from the dead, but simply “went to heaven,” albeit in an exalted capacity—have dropped out of historical sight.74

Given the date, for example, of the tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5, Bultmann’s hypothesis threatens to collapse into a conspiracy theory akin to those of eighteenth-century Deism, which is the reductio ad absurdum of his hypothesis. Resurrection, which the evidence shows to be the primitive belief, entails exaltation and—given that Jesus is no longer present— therefore ascension into heaven; but a reverse evolution, from exaltation to physical resurrection and ascension, does not follow from the concept of exaltation. Thus, the origin of Christianity hinges on the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead. But the question is: how does one explain the origin of that belief? As R. H. Fuller says, even the most skeptical critic must posit some mysterious X to get the movement going.75 But what was that X? 73. Günther Bornkamm, Jesus von Nazareth, 8th ed. (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1968), 159. 74. Wright, Christian Origins, 3:625-6. 75. R. H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (London: SPCK, 1972), 2.


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If one denies that the resurrection itself was that X, then one must explain the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection as the result of either Christian influences, pagan influences, or Jewish influences. That is to say, one must hold that the disciples came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection either because of the influence of early Christianity, the influence of pagan religions, or the influence of Jewish beliefs. Not from Christian Influences Now clearly the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection cannot be explained as a result of Christian influences, simply because there was no Christianity yet. Since the belief in Jesus’ resurrection was itself the foundation for Christianity, it cannot be explained as the later product of Christianity. Not from Pagan Influences But neither can belief in Jesus’ resurrection be explained as the result of pagan influences on the disciples. Back around the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, in the hey-day of the History of Religions school, scholars in comparative religion collected parallels to Christian beliefs in other religious movements, and some thought to explain those beliefs, including belief in Jesus’ resurrection, as the result of the influence of such myths. The movement soon collapsed, however, principally due to two factors: first, scholars came to realize that the parallels are spurious. The ancient world was a virtual cornucopia of myths of gods and heroes. Comparative studies in religion and literature require sensitivity to their similarities and differences, or distortion and confusion inevitably result. Unfortunately, those who adduced parallels to Jesus’ resurrection failed to exercise such sensitivity. Many of the alleged parallels are actually apotheosis stories, the divinization and assumption of the hero into heaven (Hercules, Romulus). Others are disappearance stories, asserting that the hero has vanished into a higher sphere (Apollonius of Tyana, Empedocles). Still others are seasonal symbols for the crop cycle, as the vegetation dies in the dry season and comes back to life in the rainy season (Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis). Some are political expressions of Emperor worship ( Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus). None of these is parallel to the Jewish idea of the resurrection of the dead. David Aune, a specialist in comparative ancient Near Eastern literature, concludes, “No parallel to them [resurrection traditions] is found in Graeco-Roman biography.”76 Indeed, most scholars have come to doubt whether properly speaking there really were any myths of dying and rising gods at all. In the Osiris myth, one of the best known symbolic seasonal myths, Osiris does not really come back to life at all but simply continues to exist in the nether realm of the departed. In a recent review of the evidence, T. N. D. Mettinger reports: “From the 1930s . . . a consensus has developed to the effect that the ‘dying and rising gods’ died but did not return or 76. D. E. Aune, “The Genre of the Gospels,” in Gospel Perspectives II, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981), 48.

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rise to live again. . . . Those who still think differently are looked upon as residual members of an almost extinct species.”77 Mettinger himself believes that myths of dying and rising did exist in the cases of Dumuzi, Baal, and Melqart; but he recognizes that such symbols are quite unlike the early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection: The dying and rising gods were closely related to the seasonal cycle. Their death and return were seen as reflected in the changes of plant life. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a one-time event, not repeated, and unrelated to seasonal changes. . . . There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains.78

Notice Mettinger’s comment that the belief in Jesus’ resurrection may be profitably studied against the background of Jewish resurrection beliefs (not pagan mythology). Here we see one of the major shifts in New Testament studies over the last century, what I earlier flagged as the Jewish reclamation of Jesus. Scholars came to realize that pagan mythology is simply the wrong interpretive context for understanding Jesus of Nazareth. Evans has called this shift the “Eclipse of Mythology” in Life of Jesus research.79 Jesus and his disciples were first-century Palestinian Jews, and it is against that background that they must be understood. The spuriousness of the alleged parallels is just one indication that pagan mythology is the wrong interpretive context for understanding the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Second, there is no causal connection between pagan myths and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection. Jews were familiar with the seasonal deities (Ezek. 37:1–14) and found them abhorrent. Therefore, as Gerhard Kittel notes, there is no trace of cults of dying and rising gods in first-century Palestine.80 In any case, surely Grass does not exaggerate when he says that it would be “completely unthinkable” that the original disciples would have sincerely come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead because they had heard of pagan myths about dying and rising seasonal gods.81 77. Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East (Stockholm, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell International, 2001), 4, 7. 78. Ibid., 221. 79. Craig Evans, “Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology,” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 18, 34. 80. Gerhard Kittel, “Die Auferstehung Jesu,” Deutsche Theologie 4 (1937): 133–68. In fact Hengel thinks that the belief in the resurrection of the dead served as retardant to the influence of the pagan mystery religions: “The development of the apocalyptic resurrection-, immortality-, and judgment-doctrine in Jewish Palestine explains why—in contrast to Alexandrian Judaism—the Hellenistic mystery religions . . . could gain virtually no influence there” (Martin Hengel, “Judentum und Hellenismus,” Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 10 [Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1969], 368–69). 81. Grass, Ostergeschehen, 133.


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Not from Jewish Influences The real question, then, is: would the disciples have come to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead because of Jewish influences? Again, the answer would seem to be no. To understand this, we need to look at what the Jewish conception of the resurrection was. The belief in the resurrection of the dead is explicitly mentioned three times in the Old Testament: Isaiah 26:19, Ezekiel 37, and Daniel 12:2. During the intertestamental period, the belief in the resurrection of the dead became a widespread hope. In Jesus’ day this belief was held to by the party of the Pharisees, although it was denied by the party of the Sadducees. So the belief in resurrection was itself nothing new but rather was a prominent Jewish belief. But the Jewish conception of the resurrection differed in at least two fundamental respects from the resurrection of Jesus. First, in Jewish thought the resurrection always occurred after the end of the world. Joachim Jeremias explains: Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa [glory] as an event of history.82

For a Jew the resurrection always occurred after the end of history. He had no conception of a resurrection within history. We find this typical Jewish frame of mind in the Gospels themselves, for example, John 11:23–24 (esv). Here Jesus is about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He tells Martha, “Your brother will rise again.” What is her response? “Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’” She had no inkling of a resurrection within history; she thought that Jesus was talking about the resurrection at the end of the world. I think that it’s for this same reason that the disciples had so much trouble understanding Jesus’ predictions of his own resurrection. They thought he was talking about the resurrection at the end of the world. Look at Mark 9:9–11 (esv), for example. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”

Here Jesus predicts his resurrection, and what do the disciples ask? “Why is it that the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” In first-century Judaism it was believed the prophet Elijah would come again before the great and terrible Day of the Lord, the judgment day when the dead would be raised. The disciples could 82. Joachim Jeremias, “Die älteste Schicht der Osteruberlieferung,” in Resurrexit, ed. Edouard Dhanis (Rome: Editrice Libreria Vaticana, 1974), 194.

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not understand the idea of a resurrection occurring within history prior to the end of the world. Hence, Jesus’ predictions only confused them. Thus, given the Jewish conception of the resurrection, the disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion would not have thought that he had been already raised. They would have only looked forward to the resurrection at the last day and, in keeping with Jewish custom, perhaps preserved his tomb as a shrine where his bones could rest until the resurrection. Second, in Jewish thought, the resurrection was always the resurrection of all the righteous or all the people. They had no conception of the resurrection of an isolated individual. Ulrich Wilckens reports: For nowhere do the Jewish texts speak of the resurrection of an individual which already occurs before the resurrection of the righteous in the end time and is differentiated and separate from it; nowhere does the participation of the righteous in the salvation at the end time depend on their belonging to the Messiah, who was raised in advance as “First of those raised by God” (1 Cor. 15:20).83

Wilckens’ observation that no connection existed between the individual believer’s resurrection and the prior resurrection of the Messiah is an understatement. For there existed no belief in Messiah’s prior resurrection at all. That is why we find no instances of claims comparable to those of the disciples for Jesus. Wright has been insistent upon this point. “All the followers of those first century messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. . . . But in no case right across the century before Jesus and the century after him do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead, and he really was the Messiah after all.”84 Wright invites us to suppose that the disciples were convinced, on other grounds, that Jesus was the Messiah. This would not have led the early disciples to say he had been raised from the dead. A change in the meaning of “Messiah,” yes (since nobody in the first century supposed that the Messiah would die at the hands of pagans); but not an assertion of his resurrection. No second-Temple Jewish texts speak of the Messiah being raised from the dead. Nobody would have thought of saying, “I believe that so-and-so really was the Messiah; therefore he must have been raised from the dead.”85

The disciples had no idea of the resurrection of an isolated individual, especially of the Messiah. Therefore, after Jesus’ crucifixion, all they could do was wait with longing for the general resurrection of the dead to see their Master again. For these two reasons, then, we cannot explain the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection as a result of Jewish influences. Or, as Wright puts it, some sufficient explanation must be given for these two peculiar mutations of traditional Jewish 83. Ulrich Wilckens, “Auferstehung,” Themen der Theologie 4 (Stuttgart: Kreuz Verlag, 1970), 131. 84. N. T. Wright, lecture at Asbury College and Seminary, 1999. 85. Wright, Christian Origins, 3:25.


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belief in the resurrection that occurred within early Christianity. Left to themselves, the disciples would never have come to believe that Jesus’ resurrection had already occurred. C. F. D. Moule asks: If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian purpose to stop it up with? . . . The birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church . . . remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the Church itself.86

Translation versus Resurrection But let’s push the argument one notch further. Suppose the disciples were not simply “left to themselves” after the crucifixion. Suppose that somehow Jesus’ tomb was found empty and the shock of finding the empty tomb caused the disciples to see hallucinations of Jesus. The question is: would they then have concluded that he had been raised from the dead? True, those suppositions face formidable objections in their own right; but let’s be generous and suppose for the sake of argument that this is what happened. Would the disciples have concluded that Jesus had been raised from the dead? The answer would seem to be, no. Hallucinations, as projections of the mind, can contain nothing new. Therefore, given the current Jewish beliefs about life after death, the disciples, were they to project hallucinations of Jesus, would have seen Jesus in heaven or in Abraham’s bosom, where the souls of the righteous dead were believed to abide until the resurrection. And such visions would not have caused belief in Jesus’ resurrection. At the most, it would have only led the disciples to say Jesus had been translated or assumed into heaven, not raised from the dead. In the Old Testament, figures such as Enoch and Elijah were portrayed as not having died but as having been translated directly into heaven. In an extra-canonical Jewish writing called The Testament of Job (40), the story is told of the translation of two children killed in the collapse of a house. The children are killed when the house collapses, but when the rescuers clear away the rubble their bodies are not to be found. Meanwhile, the mother sees a vision of the two children glorified in heaven, where they have been translated by God. It needs to be emphasized that for the Jew a translation is not the same as a resurrection. Translation is the bodily assumption of someone out of this world into heaven. Resurrection is the raising up of a dead man in the spacetime universe. They are distinct categories. Thus, given Jewish beliefs concerning translation and resurrection, the disciples, having seen heavenly visions of Jesus, would not have preached that Jesus had been raised from the dead. At the very most, the empty tomb and hallucinations of Jesus would have caused them to believe in the translation of Jesus into glory, for 86. C. F. D. Moule, The Phenomenon of the New Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology 2/1 (London: SCM, 1967), 3, 13.

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this was consonant with their Jewish frame of thought. But they would not have come to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, for this contradicted Jewish belief in at least two fundamental respects. The origin of Christianity owes itself to the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead. That belief cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of either Christian, pagan, or Jewish influences. Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the tomb was somehow emptied and the disciples saw hallucinations—suppositions which we have seen to be false anyway—the origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection still cannot be plausibly explained. Such events would have led the disciples to say only that Jesus had been translated into heaven, not resurrected. The origin of the Christian faith is therefore inexplicable unless Jesus really rose from the dead.

Conclusion Now we are ready to summarize all three of our discussions. First, we saw that numerous lines of historical evidence prove that the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers. Second, we saw that several lines of historical evidence established that on numerous occasions and in different places Jesus appeared physically and bodily alive from the dead to various witnesses. And finally, we saw that the very origin of the Christian faith depends on belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from among the dead. As one reflects on this evidence, it is striking how successfully the historical facts undergirding the inference to the resurrection of Jesus pass the received tests of authenticity. A glance at our case on behalf of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection reveals that much of the evidence I have marshaled is based on an implicit application of the standard criteria of authenticity. For example, here are examples of standard criteria at work in our historical argument for Jesus’ resurrection: 1) Multiple attestation. We saw that the burial and empty tomb accounts are multiply attested by a remarkable number of independent and sometimes extremely early sources. The resurrection appearances enjoy multiple attestation from Pauline and Gospel traditions, and the latter themselves multiply attest to Jesus’ appearances, in some cases the same ones. And, of course, the fact that the first disciples came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection is attested throughout the New Testament. 2) Dissimilarity. The third point in our case based on the very origin of the Christian faith is a clear example of the application of this criterion, for the argument consists in showing that the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection cannot be explained as the result of either antecedent Jewish influences, because of its dissimilarity, or as a retrojection of Christian theology. 3) Embarrassment. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea is supported by this criterion, since burial by a Sanhedrist is awkward for the church, whose leaders deserted Jesus. The argument for the discovery of the empty tomb by women is an outstanding illustration of the application of this criterion, for their role in the


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story was useless, not to say counterproductive, for the early church and would have been much better served by men. 4) Context and expectation. Again, the argument concerning the origin of the Christian way appeals to the absence of any expectation in Judaism of an executed, much less rising, Messiah in order to show that the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection cannot plausibly be explained as the outgrowth of Jewish beliefs and expectations. 5) Semitic traces. Aramaisms play a part in showing that the tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 stems from the early church in Jerusalem. We also saw Semitic traces in the account of the empty tomb preserved in the preMarkan passion story. 6) Effect. According to this criterion, an adequate cause must be posited for some established effect. The conversion of James and Paul, the earliest Jewish polemic concerning the disciples’ alleged theft of the body, and the disciples’ transformation after the crucifixion all constitute effects which point to the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the disciples’ coming to believe that Jesus was risen as their sufficient causes. 7) Principles of embellishment. It was on the basis of this criterion that I argued that the Markan account of the empty tomb, in contrast to the apologetically and theologically embellished account in the Gospel of Peter, was not a late legend. 8) Coherence. The very fact that we have three great, independently established facts pointing to the resurrection of Jesus—namely, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith—is a powerful argument from coherence for the historicity of the resurrection. Moreover, these facts cohere interestingly with each other; for example, the coherence between Jesus’ physical resurrection appearances, Paul’s teaching on the nature of the resurrection body, and the empty tomb. 9) Historical congruence. Elsewhere I have shown the historical congruence of the burial and empty tomb narratives with what we know of first-century Jewish burial practices.87 Thus, the complex of facts which we have examined in support of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection passes the same tests for authenticity that serve to establish the authentic core of Jesus’ sayings and deeds and therefore deserves to be accorded no less degree of credibility than those facets of the historical Jesus. Further, we have seen how poorly the typical explanations of these three facts fare when assessed by standard criteria for the justification of historical hypotheses. They are especially weak when it comes to explanatory scope and power and are often highly implausible. But does the Resurrection Hypothesis do any better at explaining this body of evidence? Is it a better explanation than the implausible naturalistic explanations proffered in the past? In order to answer these questions, 87. William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, 3rd ed., Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 16 (Toronto: Edwin Mellen, 2002).

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let’s recall McCullagh’s seven criteria for the testing of a historical hypothesis and apply them to the hypothesis that “God raised Jesus from the dead.” 1) The hypothesis must imply further statements describing present, observable data. Dialectical theologians like Barth often spoke of the resurrection as a suprahistorical event; but even though the cause of the resurrection is beyond history, that event nonetheless has a historical margin in the empty tomb and resurrection appearances. As J. A. T. Robinson nicely put it, there was not simply nothing to show for it; rather there was nothing to show for it (that is, an empty tomb)!88 Moreover, there is the Christian faith itself to show for it. The present, observable data is chiefly in the form of historical texts which form the basis of the historian’s reconstruction of the events of Easter. 2) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory scope than rival hypotheses. The resurrection hypothesis, we have seen, exceeds counter-explanations like hallucinations or the Wrong Tomb Hypothesis precisely by explaining all three of the great facts at issue, whereas these rival hypotheses only explain one or two. 3) The hypothesis must have greater explanatory power than rival hypotheses. This is perhaps the greatest strength of the resurrection hypothesis. The Conspiracy Hypothesis or the Apparent Death Hypothesis just do not convincingly account for the empty tomb, resurrection appearances, or origin of the Christian faith: on these theories the data (for example, the transformation in the disciples, the historical credibility of the narratives) become very improbable. By contrast, on the hypothesis of the resurrection it seems extremely probable that the observable data with respect to the empty tomb, the appearances, and the disciples’ coming to believe in Jesus’ resurrection should be just as it is. 4) The hypothesis must be more plausible than rival hypotheses. The plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection grows exponentially as we consider it in its religio-historical context of Jesus’ unparalleled life and radical personal claims and in its philosophical context of the arguments of natural theology. Once one abandons the philosophical prejudice against the miraculous, the hypothesis that God should raise Jesus from the dead is no more implausible than its rivals, nor are they more plausible than the resurrection. 5) The hypothesis must be less ad hoc than rival hypotheses. It will be recalled that while McCullagh thought that the Resurrection Hypothesis possesses great explanatory scope and power, he nevertheless felt that it was ad hoc, which he defines in terms of the number of new suppositions made by a hypothesis about the past which are not already implied by existing knowledge. So defined, however, it is difficult to see why the Resurrection Hypothesis is extraordinarily ad hoc. It seems to require only one new supposition: that God exists. Surely its rival hypotheses require many new suppositions. For example, the Conspiracy Hypothesis requires us to suppose that the moral character of the disciples was defective, which is certainly not implied by already existing knowledge; the Apparent Death Hypothesis requires the supposi88. John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (London: SCM, 1973), 136.


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tion that the centurion’s lance thrust into Jesus’ side was just a superficial poke or is an unhistorical detail in the narrative, which again goes beyond existing knowledge; the Hallucination Hypothesis requires us to suppose some sort of emotional preparation of the disciples which predisposed them to project visions of Jesus alive, which is not implied by our knowledge. Such examples could be multiplied. It should be noted, too, that scientific hypotheses regularly include the supposition of the existence of new entities, such as quarks, strings, gravitons, black holes, and the like, without those theories being characterized as ad hoc. Moreover, for the person who is already a theist, the Resurrection Hypothesis does not even introduce the new supposition of God’s existence, since that is already implied by his existing knowledge. For that reason we include the arguments of natural theology in our background knowledge. So the Resurrection Hypothesis cannot be said to be ad hoc simply in virtue of the number of new suppositions it introduces. If our hypothesis is ad hoc, then, it must be for some other reasons. Philosophers of science have found it notoriously difficult to explain what it is exactly that makes a hypothesis ad hoc. There seems to be an ill-defined air of artificiality or contrivedness about a hypothesis deemed to be ad hoc, which can be sensed, if not explained, by those who are seasoned practitioners of the relevant science. Now I think that the sense of discomfiture which many, even theists, feel about appealing to God as part of an explanatory hypothesis for some phenomenon in the world is that so doing has this air of being contrived. It just seems too easy when confronted with some unexplained phenomenon to throw up one’s hands and say, “God did it!” The universal disapprobation of the so-called “God of the gaps” and the impulse towards methodological naturalism in science and history spring from the sense of illegitimacy attending such appeals to God. Is the hypothesis that “God raised Jesus from the dead” ad hoc in this sense? I think not. One of the most important contributions of the traditional defenders of miracles was their drawing attention to the religio-historical context in which a purported miracle occurs. A supernatural explanation of the facts of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith is not ad hoc because those events took place, as we have seen, in the context of and as the climax to Jesus’ own unparalleled life, ministry, and personal claims, with which a supernatural hypothesis readily fits. It is also precisely because of this historical context that the resurrection hypothesis does not seem ad hoc when compared to miraculous explanations of other sorts: for example, that a “psychological miracle” occurred, causing normal men and women to become conspirators and liars who would be willingly martyred for their subterfuge; or that a “biological miracle” occurred, which prevented Jesus’ expiring on the cross (despite the spear-thrust through his chest, and so forth) or his dying of exposure in the tomb.89 It is these 89. See Ehrman’s appeal in the Q & A period of our debate to precisely such ad hoc miraculous hypotheses, for example, that the make-believe god Zulu sent Jesus into the twelfth dimension (http://www. reasonablefaith.org/site/PageServer?pagename=debates_main).

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miraculous hypotheses which strike us as artificial and contrived, not the resurrection hypothesis, which makes abundantly good sense in the context of Jesus’ ministry and radical personal claims. Thus, it seems to me that the Resurrection Hypothesis cannot be characterized as excessively ad hoc. 6) The hypothesis must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than rival hypotheses. I can’t think of any accepted beliefs which disconfirm the Resurrection Hypothesis—unless one thinks of, say, “dead men do not rise” as disconfirmatory. But then we’re just back to the problem of miracles again. I’ve argued that this inductive generalization does nothing to disconfirm the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead. By contrast, rival theories are disconfirmed by accepted beliefs about, for example, the instability of conspiracies, the likelihood of death as a result of crucifixion, the psychological characteristics of hallucinatory experiences, and so forth, as we have seen. 7) The hypothesis must so exceed its rivals in fulfilling conditions (2)–(6) that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis exceeding it in meeting these conditions. There is certainly little chance of any of the rival hypotheses suggested to date ever exceeding the Resurrection Hypothesis in fulfilling the above conditions. The stupefaction of contemporary scholarship when confronted with the facts of the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith suggests that no better rival is anywhere on the horizon. Once one gives up the prejudice against miracles, it’s hard to deny that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the facts. In conclusion, therefore, three great, independently established facts—the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith—all point to the same marvelous conclusion: that God raised Jesus from the dead. Given that miracles are possible, this conclusion cannot be debarred to anyone seeking for the meaning to existence who sees therein the hope of eternal life. Given the religio-historical context in which this event occurred, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is clear: it is the divine vindication of Jesus’ radical personal claims. As Wolfhart Pannenberg explains: The resurrection of Jesus acquires such decisive meaning, not merely because someone or anyone has been raised from the dead, but because it is Jesus of Nazareth, whose execution was instigated by the Jews because he had blasphemed against God. If this man was raised from the dead, then that plainly means that the God whom he had supposedly blasphemed has committed himself to him. . . . The resurrection can only be understood as the divine vindication of the man whom the Jews had rejected as a blasphemer.90 90. Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Jesu Geschichte und unsere Geschichte,” in Glaube und Wirklichkeit (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1975), 92–94.


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Practical Application The material I’ve presented on the resurrection can be nicely summarized into an evangelistic message that can be used effectively on university campuses. It can even be used in personal evangelism, if you can arrange with the person with whom you’re sharing to set up a time when you can lay out the evidence. Construct a two-step case such as I’ve laid out, using the three broad facts as your data to be explained and the criteria for assessing historical hypotheses for inferring the resurrection as the best explanation. Then lay out the case as a whole rather than present and discuss it piecemeal, for the impact of the cumulative case is greater. For example, I was once discussing the gospel with a student who seemed open but was hesitant. I challenged him to consider the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and he told me, “If you can prove that Jesus rose from the dead, I’ll become a Christian.” So I made an appointment to see him the next week to lay out my case. When I met with him again, I submitted the evidence to him for an uninterrupted twenty minutes and then asked him what he thought. He was virtually speechless. I asked, “Are you now ready to become a Christian?” “Well, I don’t know,” he said indecisively. So I said that he should think about it some more and that I would come back again the following week to see what he had decided. By the third week, he was ready, and together in his dorm room we prayed to invite Christ into his life. It was one of the most thrilling experiences I have had in seeing God use apologetics to draw someone to himself. Recently we received a call early Saturday morning. The foreign voice on the line announced, “Hello! This is Muhammad al-Islam calling from Oman!” (I’ve changed the names to protect his identity.) He explained that he was a former Muslim who had lost his faith in Islam and had become an atheist. But recently he had been reading books on Christian apologetics which he had been ordering through Amazon.com and had become convinced that God exists after all. Now he was reading books on the resurrection of Jesus and was nearly convinced. But he had a few questions which he wanted to ask before making the step to follow Christ. We spent the next hour and a half talking about issues surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, and I sensed that in his heart he really did believe but was just reluctant to take that step self-consciously before he had all his ducks in a row. Before we wrapped up our conversation, he said, “You understand that this is not my real name. In my country, if I were to believe in Christ, I would be killed.” I then prayed for him and wished him well. I was on cloud nine after the privilege of a conversation like that! And some people think God doesn’t use apologetics in evangelism! Let me encourage you to work up a talk or a case of your own that you can use in evangelistic meetings or contacts. And then always be prepared to give this defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.

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Literature Cited or Recommended Historical Background Craig, William Lane. The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist Controversy. Texts and Studies in Religion 23. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1985. Ditton, Humphrey. A Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. London: J. Darby, 1712. Fuller, Daniel P. Easter Faith and History. London: Tyndale, 1968. Houtteville, Claude François. La religion chrétienne prouvée par les faits. 3 vols. Paris: Mercier & Boudet, 1740. Less, Gottfried. Wahrheit der christlichen Religion. Göttingen: G. L. Förster, 1776. Paley, William. A View of the Evidences of Christianity. 2 vols. 5th ed. London: R. Faulder, 1796. Repr. Westmead, England: Gregg, 1970. Reimarus, Hermann Samuel. Fragments. Translated by R. S. Fraser. Edited by C. H. Talbert. Lives of Jesus Series. London: SCM, 1971. Semler, Johann Salomo. Abhandlung von freier Untersuchung des Canon. Texte zur Kirchenund Theologiegeschichte 5. Gütersloh: G. Mohn, 1967. ———. Beantwortung der Fragmente eines Ungennanten insbesondere vom Zweck Jesu and seiner Jünger. 2nd ed. Halle: Verlag des Erziehungsinstituts, 1780. Sherlock, Thomas. The Tryal of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus. London: J. Roberts, 1729. Strauss, David Friedrich. “Hermann Samuel Reimarus and His ‘Apology.’” In Fragments, by H. S. Reimarus, translated by R. S. Fraser. Edited by C. H. Talbert, 44–57. Lives of Jesus Series. London: SCM, 1971. ———. The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Translated by G. Eliot. Edited with an introduction by P. C. Hodgson. Lives of Jesus Series. London: SCM, 1973. Tholuck, Friedrich August. “Abriss einer Geschichte der Umwälzung, welche seit 1750 auf dem Gebiete der Theologie in Deutschland statt gefunden.” In Vermischte Schriften grösstentheils Apologetischen Inhalts. 2 vols. Hamburg: Friedrich Perthes, 1859. Turretin, J. Alph. Traité de la vérité de la religion chrétienne. Translated by J. Vernet. 2nd ed. 7 vols. Geneva: Henri Albert Gosse, 1745–55.

Assessment Allison, Dale C., Jr. “Explaining the Resurrection: Conflicting Convictions,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3 (2005): 217–33. ———. “Resurrecting Jesus.” In Resurrecting Jesus, 198–375. New York: T. & T. Clark, 2005. The best presentation of skeptical arguments against inferring Jesus’ resurrection. Alsup, John. The Post-Resurrection Appearances of the Gospel Tradition. Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1975. This is the most important work on the post-resurrection appearances. Aune, D. E. “The Genre of the Gospels.” In Gospel Perspectives II, edited by R. T. France and David Wenham, 9–60. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981. Barnett, Paul. Jesus and the Logic of History. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997.


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Blinzler, Josef. “Die Grablegung Jesu in historischer Sicht.” In Resurrexit, edited by Edouard Dhanis. Rome: Editrice Libreria Vaticana, 1974. The best piece on the burial. Bode, Edward Lynn. The First Easter Morning. Analecta Biblica 45. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970. The best work on the empty tomb. Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1994. The definitive work on Jesus’ passion. Craig, William Lane. Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, 3rd ed. Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity 16. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 2002. ———. “Wright vs. Crossan on the Resurrection of Jesus.” In The Resurrection: The Crossan-Wright Dialogue, edited by Robert B. Stewart, 139–48. Minneapolis and London: Augsburg Fortress and SPCK, 2006. Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Bibliography. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1994. Dodd, C. H. “The Appearances of the Risen Christ: A Study in the Form Criticism of the Gospels.” In More New Testament Studies, 102–33. Manchester: University of Manchester, 1968. Dunn, James W. D. G. Jesus and the Spirit. London: SCM, 1975. Ehrman, Bart D. “From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity.” Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus.” The Teaching Company, 2003. ———. Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. ———. The New Testament. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Ellis, E. Earle, ed. The Gospel of Luke. New Century Bible: London: Nelson, 1966. Evans, Craig A. “Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology.” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 3–36. Fuller, R. H. The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives. London: SPCK, 1972. Grass, Hans. Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte. 4th ed. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974. This influential work remains one of the most important overall treatments of the historicity of the resurrection. Gundry, Robert. Sōma in Biblical Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. The best work on the second part of 1 Corinthians 15. Habermas, Gary. “Experience of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection.” Dialog 45 (2006): 288–97. Hengel, Martin. “Judentum und Hellenismus.” Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 10. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1969. Hurtado, Larry. “Mission Accomplished: Apologetics, Witness, and Women in Mark’s Passion-Resurrection Narratives,” paper delivered at the 2005 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, forthcoming as “The Women, the Tomb, and the Climax of Mark” in a Festschrift for Sean Freyne to be published by Brill. Jeremias, Joachim. “Die älteste Schicht der Osterüberlieferung.” In Resurrexit, edited by Edouard Dhanis. Rome: Editrice Libreria Vaticana, 1974. Kessler, Hans. Sucht den Lebenden nicht bei den Toten, new ed. Würzburg: Echter, 1995.

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Kittel, Gerhard. “Die Auferstehung Jesu.” Deutsche Theologie 4 (1937): 133–68. Klappert, Berthold. “Einleitung.” In Diskussion um Kreuz und Auferstehung, edited by B. Klappert, 9–52. Wuppertal: Aussaat Verlag, 1971. Koester, Helmut. Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development. London: SCM, 1990. Kremer, Jacob. Die Osterevangelien—Geschichten um Geschichte. Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977. Lehmann, Karl. Auferweckt am dritten Tag nach der Schrift. Quaestiones disputatae 38. Freiburg: Herder, 1968. The most important work on the first part of 1 Corinthians 15. Lipton, Peter. Inference to the Best Explanation. London: Routledge, 1981. Lüdemann, Gerd. What Really Happened to Jesus? Trans. John Bowden. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995. McCullagh, C. Behan. Justifying Historical Descriptions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. McGrew, Timothy. “Has Plantinga Refuted the Historical Argument?” Philosophia Christi 6 (2004): 7–26. McGrew, Lydia and Timothy McGrew. “The Argument from Miracles.” In Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William L. Craig and J. P. Moreland. Oxford: Blackwell, forthcoming. ———. “On the Historical Argument: A Rejoinder to Plantinga.” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 23–38. Meier, John P. “Dividing Lines in Jesus Research Today.” Interpretation 50 (1996): 355–72. ———. A Marginal Jew, vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person. New York: Doubleday, 1991. ———. A Marginal Jew, vol. 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracle. New York: Doubleday, 1994. Mettinger, Tryggve N. D. The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East. Stockholm, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell International, 2001. Moule, C. F. D. The Phenomenon of the New Testament. Studies in Biblical Theology 2/1. London: SCM, 1967. O’Collins, G. G. “Is the Resurrection an ‘Historical’ Event?” Heythrop Journal 8 (1967): 381–87. Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Glaube und Wirklichkeit. München: Chr. Kaiser, 1975. Perrin, Norman. The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977. Pesch, Rudolph. Das Markusevangelium. 2 vols. Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament. Freiburg: Herder, 1976–77. Plantinga, Alvin. “Historical Arguments and Historical Probabilities: A Response to Timothy McGrew.” Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 7–22. ———. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.


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Powell, Mark Allen. Critical notice of The Birth of Christianity, by John Dominic Crossan, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 68 (2000): 169–71. Robinson, John A. T. The Human Face of God. London: SCM, 1973. Sorabji, Richard. Time, Creation, and the Continuum. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983. Swinburne, Richard. “Natural Theology, Its ‘Dwindling Probabilities,’ and ‘Lack of Rapport.’” Faith and Philosophy 21 (2004): 533–46. ———. The Resurrection of God Incarnate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Stendahl, Krister. Paul among Jews and Gentiles. Philadelphia: Fortesss, 1976. Trilling, Wolfgang. Fragen zur Geschichtlichkeit Jesu. Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1966. Van Daalen, D. H. The Real Resurrection. London: Collins, 1972. Von Campenhausen, Hans Freiherr. Der Ablauf der Osterereignisse und das leere Grab. 3rd rev. ed. Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1966. Wilckens, Ulrich. Auferstehung. Themen der Theologie 4. Stuttgart: Kreuz Verlag, 1970. Wright, N. T. Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 3: The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.


The Ultimate Apologetic

Throughout this book we’ve examined many arguments in support of the Christian faith. I’ve argued that we can know that Christianity is true because of the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit and that we can show it to be true by means of rational argumentation and evidence. We have explored the human predicament without God and immortality and seen how it leads to futility and despair. But we have also examined the evidence for a Christian solution to this predicament: evidence that a personal Creator of the universe exists and that Jesus Christ’s offer of eternal life to those who believe in him is genuine, being confirmed by his resurrection from the dead. But now I want to share with you what I believe to be the most effective and practical apologetic for the Christian faith that I know of. This apologetic will help you to win more persons to Christ than all the other arguments in your apologetic arsenal put together. This ultimate apologetic involves two relationships: your relationship with God and your relationship with others. These two relationships are distinguished by Jesus in his teaching on the duty of man: “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matt 22:35–40 esv). The first commandment governs our relationship to God, the second our relationship with our fellow man. Let’s examine each of these relationships in turn. First, our relationship with God. This is governed by the great commandment: 405



Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4–9 rsv)

Notice the importance given to this commandment—loving God is to be our preoccupation in life. Sometimes we get the idea that our main duty in life is to serve God, perhaps by being a great apologist, and forget, as J. I. Packer reminds us, that our primary aim ought to be to learn to know God: We both can and must get our life’s priorities straight. From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any . . . Christian in the world today is . . . social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that “-ism,” or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, is, and always will be the true priority for every human being—that is, learning to know God in Christ.1

In our relationship with God we are to give him his legal right—namely, all that we have and are. The Christian is to be as a matter of course totally dedicated to God (Rom. 12:1–2) and filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). For his part God gives to us positionally, as we are in Christ, forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7), eternal life (Rom. 6:23), adoption as sons (Gal. 4:5), and the availability of unlimited help and power (Eph. 1:18–19). Think of how much that means! Moreover, he gives to us experientially, as we are Spirit-filled, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). When this relationship is intact, the product in our lives will be righteousness (Rom. 6:16), and the by-product of righteousness is happiness. Happiness is an elusive thing and will never be found when pursued directly; but it springs into being as one pursues the knowledge of God and as his righteousness is realized in us. The other relationship is our relationship with our fellow man. This is governed by the second great commandment, as Paul explains: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself ’” (Rom. 13:9 rsv). Why is 1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodden & Stoughton, 1973), 314.



love the great commandment? Simply because all the other commandments are the outworking of love in practice (Rom. 13:10). When we love others, we simply show that we have understood God’s love for us, and it is being worked out in our lives toward others. As John says, “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 esv). What does love involve? To begin with, it means possessing the characteristics of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. Can we say, “I am patient and kind; I am not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude; I am not selfish or irritable or resentful; I am not happy about wrong, but I rejoice in the right; I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things”? Moreover, love will involve having a servant’s heart, a willingness to count others better than yourself and to serve and look out for their interests as well as your own (Gal. 5:13b–14; Phil. 2:3). Certainly Jesus himself is our supreme model here: think of how he stooped to wash his disciples’ dirty feet! What will be the result when these two relationships are strong and close? There will be a unity and warmth among Christians. There will be a love that pervades the body of Christ; as Paul describes it, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Eph. 4:15–16 rsv). And what will be the result of this unity through love? Jesus himself gives us the answer in his prayer for the church: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. . . . I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” ( John 17:21–23 esv). According to Jesus, our love is a sign to all people that we are his disciples ( John 13:35); but even more than that, our love and unity are living proof to the world that God the Father has sent his Son Jesus Christ and that the Father loves people even as he loves Jesus. When people see this—our love for one another and our unity through love—then they will in turn be drawn to Christ and will respond to the gospel’s offer of salvation. More often than not, it is who you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is—your life.


1984 (Orwell), 236 Abbadie, Jakob, 214 Abhandlung von freier Untersuchung des Canon (Semler), 344 Abrahams, Israel, 294 Abriss der Dogmatik (Pöhlmann), 327 abstract art, 70 actual infinite, impossibility of, 116–20, 122–24 Adams, Robert, 181 agnosticism, view of the universe, 108–9 al-Ghāzali, 96, 96–97, 123 Allison, Dale, 357–59, 365n45, 366n48, 367n49, 368, 370nn52, 53, 383n61, 384, 385 Alston, William, 51, 181 analogy of being, 36 Ankersmit, F. R., 216–17, 221 Anselm, 48, 95–96, 96, 188–89, 209 “Anthropic Explanation in Cosmology” (McMullin), 161n5 Anthropic Principle, 165–66 anthropos pneumatikos (spiritual man), 382 anthropos psychikos (natural man), 382 Antony, Louise, 176n28 apologetics: and the appeal to moral values, 87–88; cultural apologetics, 65; definition of, 15; and demonstration of the possibility of miracles, 278–81; effectiveness in, 60; English apologetics, 215; and exemplification of biblical virtues, 19, 190; French apologetics, 214–15; and good arguments, 55–56; and the importance of the objectivity of history, 241–42; and memorization of the arguments for God’s existence, 189–90; and personal evangelism, 400; practical advice concerning, 189–92; presentation of Jesus’ claims


about himself, 328–29; roles of (shaping culture, strengthening believers, evangelizing unbelievers), 16–24; types of (offensive [positive] and defensive [negative]), 23–24; the ultimate apologetic (relationship with God and relationship with others), 405–7 apostles: apologetic procedure of, 57–58; as neither deceivers nor deceived, 337–41; standard procedure for evangelism, 21–22 Aquinas, Thomas, 32–33, 96, 114, 152, 154, 209–10; apologetic procedure of, 33; proofs for God’s existence (the Five Ways), 97–98, 101, 104 archaeology, 226 Aristotle, 96, 100–101 Aron, Raymond, 238 Athanasius, 336 atheism, 94, 95; consequences of its naturalism, 173–74; practical impossibility of, 78–84; view of the universe, 108–9 Atheistic Moral Platonism, 178–79; and the Euthyphro Dilemma, 181–83 Audouze, Jean, 128 Augustine, 29–31, 32, 33, 209 Aune, David, 390 Ausführung des Plans und Zwecks Jesu (Bahrdt), 288 authority (auctoritas), 30–31 Bahrdt, Karl, 288 Balaguer, Mark, 117 Banks, T., 149n115 bar Giora, Simon, 308 Bar Kokhba, 308, 309, 309n38 Barnabas, 335, 340 Barnett, Paul, 364 Barrera, José Carlos, 232n46

Index Barrow, John, 127, 135, 136, 164, 165–66 Barth, Karl, 36–37, 37–38, 38, 290, 348 Bauer, Bruno, 218 Bauer, D. R., 325 Baumgarten, S. J., 344 Bayes’ Theorem, 53–54, 160n4, 271–72, 271n25, 272n26, 273–76, 280; and inference to the best explanation of Jesus’ resurrection, 359-60; “odds form” of, 271 Bayle, Pierre, 214 Beanwortung der Fragmente eines Ungenannten (Semler), 344–45 Beard, Charles, 216 Becker, Carl, 216, 220–21, 221, 231, 235 Beckett, Samuel, 74 believers: role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of, 44–46, 59; strengthening of, 19–21 ben Ananias, Jesus, 306 Ben-Chorin, Schalom, 295 ben Dosa, Hanina, 296 Berkeley, George, 96 Berkhofer, Robert F., 232n46 Berlin, Isaiah, 235 Bernstein, Richard, 216 biblical criticism, 342–48 Big Bang, 72, 126–28, 129, 139–40, 158–59 Bilynskyj, Stephen, 267 Blake, Christopher, 235 Bloch, Ernst, 82–83 Bode, E. L., 366 Bohm, David, 114 Boltzmann, Ludwig, 141–42 “Boltzmann brains,” 148–49, 169 Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, The (Hemer, ed.), 294n14 Borde, Arvind, 133, 134, 138–39, 140, 150, 168 Bornkamm, Günther, 388–89 Bossuet, Jacque-Bénigne, 214 Bousso, R., 149 Braun, Herbert, 248 Brink, David, 181, 182n39 Brothers Karamazov (Dostoyevsky), 68–69, 69 Brown, Raymond, 364 Bruder Jesus: Der Nazarener in Jüdischer Sicht (BenChorin), 295 Bultmann, Rudolf, 37–38, 38, 290, 290n1, 347, 348, 389; demythologization of the Bible, 247–48, 290 Cage, John, 70 Caius, 336 Calvin, John, 40, 41 Camus, Albert, 74, 78, 79 Cantor, Georg, 117 Carr, E. H., 235 Case for Christ, The (Stroebel), 22 Case for Faith, The (Stroebel), 22 causal relations: agent causation, 154; event/event causation, 153–54; state/event causation, 154; state/state causation, 154

409 Celsus, 336 Chance and Necessity (Monod), 74 Chihara, Charles S., 117n43 Chisholm, Roderick, 94 Christian evidences, 24 Christianity: origin of, 342, 387–95; persecution of early Christians, 339–40; success of, 86 Christianity, knowing it to be true: role of argument and evidence in, 47–51; role of the Holy Spirit in, 43–47 Christianity, showing it to be true: role of the Holy Spirit in, 56–58; role of reason in (deductive arguments, inductive arguments, good arguments), 51–56 “Christianity and Culture” (Machen), 17 Christianity Not Founded on Argument (Dodwell), 35 Christological titles, Jesus’ use of, 300–301, 327; Messiah, 301; Son of God, 310–14; Son of Man, 315–18 City of God, The (Augustine), 31 Clarke, Samuel, 252–53, 265 Clement, 335, 339, 340 Collins, Robin, 160n4 Collingwood, R. C., 208, 226, 227, 232, 234 Companion to Atheism (M. Martin), 95 Condorcet, 270 constructionism (non-realism), 218; methodological constructionism, 225–26; ontological constructionism, 223–25 Content of Form, The: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (H. White), 232n46 Copleston, Frederick, 228, 229 cosmic fine-tuning, 158–61; chance as an explanation of, 164–70 (see also Anthropic Principle; Many Worlds Hypothesis; probability); design as an explanation of, 170–72; physical necessity as an explanation of, 161–64 Cosmic Landscape, The: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design (Susskind), 163n7 “Cosmological Argument and the Epistemic Status of Belief in God, The” (Davis), 106n19 Council of Trent, 33 Counter-Reformation, 211 Crick, Francis, 82 Crime and Punishment (Dostoyevsky), 69 “Critical Look at Inflationary Cosmology, A” (Earman and Mosterin), 132n71 Crossan, John Dominic, 23, 292–93, 323, 368, 386 culture, shaping of, 16–19 Cunningham, Richard, 193 Cur Deus Homo (Anselm), 209 Cyprian, 335 Cyril, 336 Das Leben Jesu (Paulus), 288 Das Leben Jesus, kritisch bearbeitet (D. F. Strauss), 278, 288–89, 345 Davies, Paul C. W., 126, 143–44, 150, 158, 163, 163n10

410 Davis, Stephen T., 106n19, 349 Dawkins, Richard, 76, 80–81, 95, 170–72, 173–74, 183n40 De la vérité de la religion chrestienne (Mornay), 212 De veritate fidei christianae (Vives), 211–12 De veritate religionis christianae (Grotius), 212–14 Dead Sea Scrolls, 303–4, 307, 313 Debbins, William, 233 Deism, 342–43; conception of God, 249; and the Gospels, 334; objections to miracles, 248–51; view of Jesus’ empty tomb, 371 Dembski, William, 160; Generic Chance Elimination Argument of, 160 Denaux, Adelbert, 312 Dennett, Daniel, 83–84, 95, 114, 151–52 Der Rabbi von Nazareth (Lapide), 295 Descartes, René, 34, 95, 96 Design Inference, The (Dembski), 160 Diatessaron (Tatian), 335 Dictionnaire historique et critique (Bayle), 214 Dicus, Dudane, 142, 144 Diderot, Denis, 249 Dionysius, 335 Discours sur les preuves des livres de Moyse (Filleau de la Chaise), 214 Discourse Concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Ditton), 337 Discourse on Miracles (Locke), 35 Ditton, Humphrey, 337, 340–41, 341, 342 Dodd, C. H., 379 Dodwell, Henry, 35, 43 “Does Physical Cosmology Transcend the Limits of Naturalistic Reasoning?” (Kanitscheider), 115n37 Donation of Constantine, 210 Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 68–69, 74, 79 Dray, W. H., 225 Dunn, James D. G., 297n20, 305, 315, 324, 327, 385 Dyson, Lin, 146, 149n115, 149–50n116 Earman, John, 132n71, 270, 273n28, 274 Eddington, Arthur, 128, 150n117 Ehrman, Bart, 279–80, 293; objections to Jesus’ resurrection, 350–51, 352 Einstein, Albert, 125 Eisley, Loren, 71 Eliot, T. S., 76 Ellis, E. Earle, 365 Ellis, G. F. R., 125, 145n105 “End of the World, The” (MacLeish), 73 Enlightenment, 16, 248; as the Age of Reason, 34 Epictetus, 339 Erasmus, 210–11 Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Locke), 34 Ethics of Naturalism, The (Sorley), 104–5 Etymologies (Isidore of Seville), 208 Eusebius, 335 Euthyphro (Plato), 181 Evangelical Philosophical Society, 21

Index evangelism, 21–23, 59; and the danger of focusing attention on the argument instead of the unbeliever, 57; success in, 60 Evangelism in the Early Church (Green), 57 Evans, Craig, 295, 302, 305, 306n30, 308n36, 311, 391 Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe, The (Craig), 23 existentialism, 65 “Existentialism Is a Humanism” (Sartre), 80 facts, 107n21; historical facts, 231–32, 232n46, 235–36 “Failure of Classic Theistic Arguments, The” (Gale), 122n49 Fay, Brian, 236–37, 241 Ferré, Frederick, 102 Feyerabend, Paul, 220 fides quarens intellectum (faith seeking understanding), 30 Filleau de la Chaise, 214 First Three Minutes, The (Weinberg), 83 Five Gospels, The ( Jesus Seminar), 278, 299 Flew, Antony, 266–67, 276 Flusser, David, 295 Fowler, William A., 128 France, R. T., 238 Freivogel, B., 149 Friedman, Alexander, 125–26 Fuller, R. H., 389 Funk, Robert, 299 Gale, Richard, 122, 122n29 Gamow, George, 129 Gardiner, Patrick, 219, 221 Gasperini, Maurizio, 137–38 “Gathering, The” (BBC documentary), 79–80 General Theory of Relativity (GR), 125 genetic fallacy, 180 geology, 227 Gerhardsson, Birger, 295 God: infinity of, 119n46; lack of ultimate meaning without, 72–74; lack of ultimate purpose without, 75–78; lack of ultimate value without, 74–75; loss of, 71–72; relationship to time, 154, 154n125; simplicity of, 171. See also God, existence of God, existence of: belief in, 176; conceptualist argument for, 187–88; cosmological argument for, 96– 99; cosmological argument, kalām, for, 111–56, 192–93; cosmological argument, Leibnizian, for, 106–11, 192; moral argument for, 104–6, 172–83, 194–95; ontological argument for, 95–96, 183–85, 195–96; teleological argument (argument from design) for, 99–103, 157, 193–94 God: A Debate between a Christian and an Atheist (Craig and Sinnott-Armstrong), 176n28 God Delusion, The (Dawkins), 170, 183n40 Gödel, Kurt, 178n33

Index Goldstein, Leon, 217, 219, 224–25 Gospel of John, The: A Commentary (Keener), 385n64 Gospel of Peter, 363, 367, 371, 372, 396 Gospel of Thomas, 311 Gospels: authenticity of (internal and external evidence), 334–36; and criteria of authenticity, 292; purity of the text of, 336–37; reliability of, 337–42; and the two-source hypothesis, 289 Gott, J. Richard, III, 127n60, 132 Grass, Hans, 349, 380, 391 Great Awakening, 348 Great Story, The: History as Text and Discourse (Berkhofer), 232n46 Green, Michael, 57 Grotius, Hugo, 211, 212–14 Gruenler, Royce, 322–23, 326–27 Grünbaum, Adolf, 154–56 Guelich, Robert, 321 Gundry, Robert H., 307n32, 317–18 Gunn, James E., 127n60 Guth, Alan, 134, 138–39, 140, 150, 168 ha’Am, Ahad, 321 Habermas, Gary, 352, 370–71 Hagner, Donald A., 294 Hale, Bob, 107, 108 hallucinations, 383, 383n62, 394 Harris, Sam, 95 Harrison, R. K., 227 Hartle, James, 134 Hartshorne, Charles, 95, 183 Haskell, T. L., 235 Hawking, Stephen, 130, 134, 135, 136, 136n87, 145–46, 158–59, 162–63 Hawking-Penrose Singularity Theorems, 130 Hegel, G. W. F., 70 Heidegger, Martin, 112, 248, 290 Hemer, Colin, 294n14 Hengel, Martin, 300, 302, 307–8, 310n41, 391n80 Hermas, 339 Herrmann, Wilhelm, 289 Hesse, Mary, 261 Hick, John, 300 Hilbert, David, 117; Hilbert’s Hotel, 118–20 Historical Jesus, The: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (Crossan), 292–93 historicism, 216 historiography: during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 216–18; during the medieval period, 208–10; during the modern period, 210–15; postmodern approaches to, 241, 241n72 history: distinguishing between good history and poor history, 237; distinguishing between history and propaganda, 236–37; and inference on the basis of present evidence, 352–53; mitigating the lack of neutrality, 237–38; rewriting of by each generation, 238

411 History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (Stephen), 101–2 History of Religions school, 390 Hocking, W. E., 76 “Hollow Men, The” (Eliot), 76 Holy Spirit: cultivating the ministry of, 59; role of in knowing Christianity to be true, 43–47; role of in showing Christianity to be true, 56–58 Honi the Circle-Drawer, 296 Houtteville, Claude Françoise, 254, 264, 267, 337, 341 Hoyle, Fred, 82, 127 Hubble, Edwin, 126 Huet, Pierre Daniel, 214 human predicament, 65, 66–68, 84–86 humanists, 210–11 Hume, David, 102, 112, 113, 151, 248, 250–51, 266, 268; “in fact” arguments of, 251, 277–78; “in principle” argument of, 250–51, 269–77; objections to miracles, 269–78 Hurtado, Larry, 300, 368n51 Hutchinson, Robert, 321 hypotheses, historical: factors weighed in the testing of, 233; and the hypothetico-deductive model, 232–33; and the inference model, 233–34; plausibility/implausibility of, 239–40; testing of by objective facts, 234–35 ibn Rushd, 96 ibn Sīna, 96 Ignatius, 335, 339, 340 immortality: lack of ultimate meaning without, 72– 74; lack of ultimate purpose without, 75–78; lack of ultimate value without, 74–75; loss of, 71–72. See also resurrection Irenaeus, 335, 340 Isham, Christopher, 132 Isidore of Seville, 208 Jenkins, Keith, 217, 221 Jeremias, Joachim, 325, 392 Jesus: apologetic procedure of, 57–58; as arbiter of people’s eternal destiny, 325–27; authority of, 320–23; “the historical Jesus,” 218, 290–94, 296– 98, 353–54; Jewish reclamation of, 294–96, 391; miracles of, 323–25; prayer life of, 325; preaching of the kingdom by, 319. See also Christological titles, Jesus’ use of; Jesus, resurrection of Jesus, resurrection of, 239–40, 267–68; and Bayes’ Theorem, 274–76, 359–60; case for in the traditional apologetic (the authenticity of the Gospels, the purity of the Gospels, the reliability of the Gospels), 334–42; the empty tomb as evidence for, 361–71; facts supporting the historicity of, 395–96; his postmortem appearances as evidence for, 377–87; historical argument for, 350; nonChristian explanations for the empty tomb (Conspiracy Hypothesis, Apparent Death Hypothesis,

412 Wrong Tomb Hypothesis, Displaced Body Hypothesis), 371–77; the origin of the Christian faith as evidence for, 342, 387–95; the Resurrection Hypothesis, 397–99 Jesus (Flusser), 295 Jesus als Lehrer (Riesner), 295 Jesus and Judaism (Sanders), 295 Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching (Klausner), 294 Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making (Dunn), 297n20 Jesus Seminar, 278–79, 292, 299, 321 Jesus the Jew (Vermes), 295 Josephus, 306, 308n37, 340, 367, 379 Judas the Galilean, 308 Julian (emperor), 336 Justifying Historical Descriptions (McCullagh), 233–34 Justin Martyr, 335, 340 Juvenal, 339 Kähler, Martin, 218 kalām (speech), 96n4 Kalām Cosmological Argument, The (Craig), 112 “Kalām Cosmological Arguments for Atheism” (Q. Smith), 112n27 Kanitscheider, Bernulf, 115n37 Kant, Immanuel, 348 Käsemann, Ernst, 290, 349 Kee, Howard, 324 Keener, Craig, 385n64 Kessler, Hans, 386 Kierkegaard, Søren, 69–70 Kirchner, U., 125 Kittel, Gerhard, 391 Klausner, Joseph, 294, 376 Kleban, Matthew, 146, 149n115, 149–50n116 Koester, Helmut, 388 Kremer, Jacob, 370 Kuhn, Thomas, 220, 227 Kurtz, Paul, 75, 174, 175, 176 La religion chrétienne prouvée par les faits (Houtteville), 254 La Shell, John, 20 Ladd, George, 207 Lake, Kirsopp, 374–75 Lapide, Pinchas, 295, 349, 371 Laplace, Pierre Simon de, 248 Le Clerc, Jean, 252, 267 Leibniz, Gottfried, 95, 96, 98–99, 106, 183, 184; Principle of Sufficient Reason, 99, 107–8, 110 Lemaître, Georges, 125–26 Leslie, Charles, 215 Leslie, John, 159, 160, 165–66 Less, Gottfried, 255–56, 264, 270, 334, 335, 337 Lessing, Gottfried, 343 Lewis, C. S., 22 Licona, Michael, 237

Index life: meaning of, 78–79; purpose of, 82–84; scientific definition of, 159; value of, 79–82 Life of Jesus movement, 259, 287–89 Linde, Andrei, 132–33, 134, 134n74, 150 Locke, John, 34–35, 96, 215 Logic and Theism: Arguments For and Against Beliefs in God (Sobel), 95, 107n20 Lorenz, Chris, 242 Lüdemann, Gerd, 279, 381, 384–87 Luther, Martin, 47 Machen, J. Gresham, 17 Mackie, J. L., 112–13, 113, 113n30, 119, 123 MacLeish, Archibald, 73 Maimonides, Moses, 96 “Making History, Talking about History” (Barrera), 232n46 Malbranche, Nicolas, 214 Malcolm, Norman, 95, 183 Mandelbaum, Maurice, 234, 238 Many Worlds Hypothesis, 166–70 Marcus Aurelius, 339 Marginal Jew, A (Meier), 291–92 Martial, 339 Martin, Michael, 95 Martin, Raymond, 232n46 McCullagh, C. Behan, 233–34, 239 McDowell, Josh, 22 McGrew, Lydia, 276n30 McGrew, Tim, 276n30 McMullin, Ernan, 161n5 McTaggart, J. M. E., 121 Meier, John, 291–92, 296, 297, 323, 324, 370n52, 388; reservations about Jesus’ resurrection, 353–57 Melito, 335 Memory and Manuscript (Gerhardsson), 295 Merrick, Trenton, 359n33 Metaphysics (Aristotle), 101 Mettinger, T. N. D., 390–91 Meyer, Ben, 322, 323n67 Mill, John Stuart, 270, 270–71 miracles: Christian defense of contra Hume, 254–57, 258–59; Christian defense of contra Spinoza, 252–54, 257–58; criteria for identification of, 267; Deist objections to, 248–51; of Jesus, 323–25 “Mission Accomplished: Apologetics, Witness, and Women in Mark’s Passion-Resurrection Narratives” (Hurtado), 368n51 monism, 105–6 Monod, Jacques, 74 Montaigne, 66 Montefiore, C. G., 294 moral duties, 172–79; objectivity of, 179–81 moral epistemology, 176 moral ontology, 176 “Moral Skepticism and Justification” (Sinnott-Armstrong), 176n28 moral values, 172–79; objectivity of, 179–81

Index Moral Values and the Idea of God (Sorley), 104 Mornay, Philippe de, 211, 212 Mosterin, Jesus, 132n71 Moule, C. F. D., 300, 394 Myth of God Incarnate, The (Hick, ed.), 300 Nachrichten von einer Hallischen Bibliothek (Baumgarten), 344 natural law: causal dispositions theory of, 263; nomic necessity theory of, 262–63; regularity theory of, 262 Natural Theology (Paley), 101 naturalism, 238; methodological naturalism, 240 Nature of Space and Time, The (Hawking), 136n87 Natürliche Geschichte des grossen Propheten von Nazareth (Venturini), 288 Nero, 339 Neusner, Jacob, 320–21, 321 Newman, Cardinal, 81 Newton, Isaac, 248–49; assessment of Newtonian mechanics, 261–63; Newton’s law of gravity, 158 Nielsen, Kai, 74–75 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 77–78, 80 No Exit (Sartre), 74 Noble Lie, 85–86 nominalism, 188 Novikov, I. D., 82, 144–45 Nowell-Smith, P. H., 223, 225–26 Ockham’s Razor, 152 O’Collins, Gerald, 354–57 Offenbarung als Geschichte [Revelation as History], 38 Ogden, Schubert, 248 On Philosophy (Aristotle), 100–101 Oppy, Graham, 117, 119–20 Origen, 335, 336 Origin of the Genetic Code, The (Crick), 82 Orwell, George, 236 Ostergeschehen und Osterberichte (Grass), 349 Packer, J. I., 406 Paley, William, 101–3, 256–57, 265, 270, 334, 338, 340, 342, 372; argument for the authenticity of the Gospels, 335–36; “watch-maker argument” of, 102–3 Pannenberg, Wolfhart, 37–38, 38–39, 268, 277, 325n75, 349, 355, 399 Partner, Nancy, 241 Pascal, Blaise, 66–68, 86, 214, 269; wager argument of, 68 Paul, apologetic procedure of, 56, 57–58 Paulus, H. E. G., 288, 345, 373 Peacocke, Arthur, 280 Pelikan, Jaroslav, 300 Penrose, Roger, 130, 148, 159, 169, 169n17 Pensées (Pascal), 66 Perrin, Norman, 381 Pesch, Rudolf, 362

413 Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (Newton), 248 Pirenne, Henri, 222 Plantinga, Alvin, 29–43, 41n23, 43, 44, 48, 55, 94, 95, 180n36, 183, 223, 359n34; on Freud and Marx’s objections to religious belief, 179n34; ontological argument of, 184–89 Plato, 96, 100, 104, 181 Platonism, 188 plerophoria (complete confidence, full assurance), 44 Pliny the Younger, 339 pluralism, 105 pneumatikos (dominated by or oriented toward the Spirit), 382 Pöhlmann, Horst Georg, 327 Poincaré, Henri, 146n108 Polycarp, 335, 339, 340 Popper, Karl, 222, 238 Porphyry, 336 “possible worlds,” 110, 183–84 postmodernism, 18–19, 216–17 Powell, Mark Allen, 362n38 Preskill, James, 145 Principle of Sufficient Reason, The: A Reassessment (Pruss), 107n20 probability, 164–65 Problem of Historical Knowledge, The (Mandelbaum), 238 “Progress in Historical Studies” (R. Martin), 232n46 propaganda, 236–37 propositions, 107n21 Pruss, Alexander, 107n20, 110 Psalms of Solomon, 301–2, 305, 308–9 psychikos (soul-ish), 382 Quadratus, 335, 340 quantum physics: interpretations of quantum mechanics, 114–15, 114n36; quantum indeterminacy, 259–61 Quarles, Charles L., 311n42 Quinn, Philip, 181 Rabbi Talks with Jesus, A (Neusner), 320–21 Rand, Ayn, 74 Rationalists, 342–43, 345 reason, 47–48; deductive reasoning, 52; inductive reasoning, 52–55; magisterial use of, 47, 50; ministerial use of, 47–48; role of in showing Christianity to be true, 51–56. See also Bayes’ Theorem Reasonableness of Christianity, The (Locke), 35, 215 Reeves, Hubert, 128 Reformation, 211 Reimarus, Herrmann Samuel, 343–44, 345 relativism, 87, 207, 216, 217–18; critique of , 222–40; objections to the objectivity of history (lack of direct access and lack of neutrality), 219–22 Religion of Jesus the Jew, The (Vermes), 295 “religious enthusiasm,” 34–35, 338

414 Renaissance, 210 Renan, Ernest, 218 resurrection: and bodily identity, 359, 359n32; of Jesus (see Jesus, resurrection of ); Jewish conception of resurrection, 358, 358–59, 392–93; versus translation, 394–95 Resurrection of the Son of God, The (N. T. Wright), 351–52, 387 Riesner, Rainer, 295 Ritschl, Albrecht, 218, 289 Robinson, James, 291, 292, 293, 294 Robinson, John A. T., 364, 397 Romanticism, 348 Rorty, Richard, 223 Rousseau, Jean Jacques, 348 Rubinoff, Lionel, 224 Rue, L. D., 84–85 Rundle, Bede, 110 Ruse, Michael, 84, 174, 177, 180 Russell, Bertrand, 78, 79, 124 Sagan, Carl, 82 Sanders, E. P., 295 Sandmel, Samuel, 295 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 71–72, 74, 75, 78–79, 80, 82 Schaeffer, Francis, 65, 70, 77, 78 Scheffler, Israel, 227 Schlegel, Richard, 141 Schleiermacher, Friedrich D. E., 345, 373 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 114, 183 Schramm, David N., 128, 137n60 Schweitzer, Albert, 259, 289–90, 296 Scotus, Duns, 95, 96 Secret Gospel of Mark, 368 secularism/secularization, 16–17 Selfish Gene, The (Dawkins), 81 Semler, Johann Salomo, 344–45, 346 sensus divinitatis, 41, 42 Sentimens de quelques théologiens (Le Clerc), 252 Shepherd of Hermas, 335 Sherlock, Thomas, 254–55, 267, 270, 338 Sherwin-White, A. N., 294 Short and Easie Method with the Deists (C. Leslie), 215 Silk, Joseph, 145 Similitudes of Enoch, 309–10, 316 Sinclair, James, 150n119 Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, 176n28, 177 Smith, Morton, 368 Smith, Quentin, 94, 112, 112n27 Sobel, J. Howard, 95, 107n20, 117, 119, 123, 273 Sorabji, Richard, 356n27 Sorley, William, 104–6, 179 Spinoza, Benedict de, 95, 96, 248; objections to miracles, 249–50, 264–69 Stackhouse, John, 21 Steinhardt, Paul, 138, 139, 139n93 Stendahl, Krister, 386 Stenger, Victor, 114n36

Index Stephen, Leslie, 101–2 Stoeger, W. R., 125 Stranger, The (Camus), 74 Strauss, David Friedrich, 259, 278–79, 288–89, 345–48, 373 Strauss, Gerhard, 30 Strauss, Leo, 218 string theory (M-theory), 136–39, 162–63, 163nn8, 9 Stroebel, Lee, 22 Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels (Abrahams), 294 subjectivism (non-objectivism), 218, 348 Suetonius, 339 Summa contra gentiles (Aquinas), 32 Suppe, Frederick, 229, 230 Susskind, Leonard, 146, 149n115, 149–50n116, 163n7 Swinburne, Richard, 152, 188, 265, 349, 359 Synoptic Gospels, The (Montefiore), 294 Tacitus, 339 Tatian, 335 Taylor, Richard, 75, 107, 175 Taylor, Vincent, 313 te mia ton sabbaton (“the first day of the week”), 366 Tertullian, 335 Theater of the Absurd, 70 theism, 105 theology: dialectical theology, 36–37, 38, 218, 290, 348; existential theology, 37–38, 38, 218, 290, 348; natural theology, 24, 93 Theophilus, 335 Theory of Everything (T.O.E.), 162 “There Are No Criteria of Identity over Time” (Merrick), 359n33 thermodynamics, second law of, 140–41; cosmological implications of, 141–42 Thompson, J. Westfall, 211 Tillich, Paul, 71 time: A-Theory of, 121, 122; B-Theory of, 121, 167– 68; cosmic time, 168n13; global time, 168n13; Greek paradoxes of motion, 356; Hubble time, 127n60; imaginary time, 134–36; Planck time, 131; semi-infinite time, 139n93 Time and Eternity (Craig), 121n48, 152n22, 168n13 Time, Creation, and the Continuum (Sorabji), 356n27 Time Machine, The (Wells), 75–76 Time magazine: “Is God Coming Back to Life?” 93; “Is God Dead?” 93; “Modernizing the Case for God,” 94 Tinsley, Beatrice M., 127n60, 142, 143 Tipler, Frank, 127, 165–66 Tractatus theologico-politicus (Spinoza), 249–50, 264 Traité de la vérité de la religion chrétienne (Turretin and Vernet), 253 Trilling, Wolfgang, 380–81, 381n58 Troeltsch, Ernst, 276–77, 350 Tryal of the Witnesses (Sherlock), 254–55 Tryon, Edward, 131

Index Turretin, Jean Alphonse, 253 Tyrell, George, 218 unbelievers: evangelizing of, 21–23; role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of, 46–47; standard apologetics approach to, 58; and unbelief as a spiritual, not an intellectual, problem, 59 universe: cause of, 150–56; contingency of, 108–10; of, 72; explanation of, 108; extinction of, 72, 142– 44; as the Newtonian world-machine, 248–49; philosophical arguments for its beginning to exist, 116–24; scientific arguments for its beginning to exist, 125–50. See also universe, expansion of; universe, thermodynamic properties of universe, expansion of, 125–26; Oscillating Models, 129–30; Quantum Gravity Models, 134–36; Standard Model (Big Bang), 126–28, 139–40; Steady State Model, 128–29; string scenarios (Pre–Big Bang Scenario and Ekpyrotic Scenario), 136–39; Vacuum Fluctuation Models, 131–32 universe, thermodynamic properties of: and “baby universes,” 145–46; eschatological scenarios, 142–44; inflationary multiverse theory, 146–50; oscillating models, 144–45 “Use of the Gospel of Thomas in the Research on Historical Jesus of John Dominic Crossan, The” (Quarles), 311n42 Valla, Lorenzo, 210, 211 Van Daalen, D. H., 370 Van der Dussen, W. J., 227 Vatican I, 33 Vatican II, 33 Velikovsky, Immanuel, 237 Veneziano, Gabriele, 137–38 Venturini, Karl, 288 Vermes, Geza, 295, 296, 371 Vernet, Jacob, 253, 264, 267, 334, 335, 337, 341, 342 View of the Evidences of Christianity, The (Paley), 256–57, 342 Vilenkin, Alexander, 115–16, 133, 134, 135, 136, 139, 140, 150, 166–69 visions, 383, 383n62

415 Vives, Juan Luis, 211–12 Voltaire, 249 von Campenhausen, Hans Freiherr, 349 von Ranke, Leopold, 216, 218 Wagner, Richard, 80 Waiting for Godot (Beckett), 74 Walsh, W. H., 236 Wahrheit der christlichen Religion (Less), 255–56 Warranted Christian Belief (Plantinga), 41n23 We Jews and Jesus (Sandmel), 295 Weinberg, Steven, 83 Wells, H. G., 75–76 Weltanschauung, 220, 228; analyses of, 229–30 Wheeler, John, 126 White, Hayden, 217, 221, 232n46 White, Morton, 235, 236 Wilckens, Ulrich, 393 Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? (Craig), 23 “Will the Universe Expand Forever?” (Gott et al.), 127n60 Witherington, Ben, III, 320, 321, 322n63, 324n72, 326 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 118, 216 women, in Jewish society, 367 Woolston, Thomas, 254 worldviews, 189. See also Weltanschauung Wrede, William, 289; “Messianic secret” theory of, 289, 308 Wright, Crispin, 107, 108 Wright, N. T., 305n28, 351–52, 355, 361, 372, 384– 85, 387, 388, 389, 393, 393–94 Wurmbrand, Richard, 81 Yablo, Stephen, 117 Yamauchi, Edwin, 237 Zacharias, Ravi, 22 Zagorin, Perez, 224n26, 235, 241, 241n72 Zeldovich, Yakov B., 82, 144–45 Zeno, 122–23

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“It is hard to overstate the impact that William Lane Craig has had for the cause of Christ. He is simply the finest Christian apologist of the last half century, and his academic work justifies ranking him among the top one percent of practicing philosophers in the Western world. I know him well and can say that he lives a life of integrity and lives out what he believes. I do not know of a single thinker who has done more to raise the bar of Christian scholarship in our generation than Craig. He is one of a kind and I thank God for his life and work.” J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology

“With extraordinary erudition, Craig sketches the arguments of major thinkers of both past centuries and recent times, and he presents his own reasons for concluding that traditional Christian doctrines about God and Jesus are credible. His replies to those skeptical of the existence of God, of historical knowledge, of the occurrence of miracles, and in particular of the resurrection of Jesus, take debates over those difficult topics an important stage further. Here is an admirable defense of basic Christian faith.” C. Behan McCullagh, Philosophy Program, La Trobe University

“A much-needed book for our times. It overflows with cogent and compelling argument presented in accessible and irenic language. University and seminary students will find this book especially helpful in exposing the fallacies and lack of evidence in the many and various challenges that have been leveled against historic Christian claims. I highly recommend this book.” Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College; author, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels

“Although my philosophical predilections often differ from Dr. Craig’s (as they do from those of everyone else I know), I have found that he is very knowledgeable about science and current cosmological ideas. He provides interesting insights into their implications for our shared Christian beliefs.” Don Nelson Page, Professor of Physics, University of Alberta WILLIAM LANE CRAIG (PhD, University of Birmingham, England; DTheol, University of Munich, Germany) is research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He is also the founder of Reasonable Faith (www.reasonablefaith.org), a webbased apologetics ministry that provides a variety of supplementary material to this edition of Reasonable Faith. THEOLOGY / APOLOGETICS

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