Friday, 19 April 2013

William Lane Craig's failed proof of the resurrection of Jesus

Richard (@AChristianWord), my good friend and an apologist, has recently relied on William Lane Craig’s (no friend of mine and a apologist) lecture in demonstrating that the resurrection of Jesus is historically true.

The lecture can be found in this video:

What follows is my commentary on Craig’s argument in the video.


William Lane Craig’s argument relies on a number of “facts”. I am going to demonstrate below that these “facts” are either misinterpretations or involve an assumption that the Gospels are true or simply don’t lead one to conclude that Jesus in fact rose from the dead. Resurrection is legend. That’s not to say that it definitely didn’t happen. I can’t say that. All I can say is that people don’t generally rise from the dead and, in order to establish that such a thing has happened, very strong historical evidence is needed. We have none. Let’s get to task.

"Fact 1"

“Fact 1”: After crucifixion, Jesus was buried in the grave of Joseph of Aramithea. According to Craig this means that the location of the grave was known to the locals.


I don't see how this is of any relevance. The story says that he was buried in Joseph's grave. That's only true IF THE STORY IS TRUE TO START WITH. Let's assume the story is false for a second. Would it make sense for whoever created the legend to say that the location of Jesus' grave was known? Of course it would. It had to be known if the disciples were to know where he's buried (as for who when and how discovered that Jesus was resurrected, that's an entirely different story; try reconciling the four Gospels on that!)


Paul and "earlier tradition"


At 14:00 minutes, WLC claims that "all scholars" agree that Paul in 1 Corinthians is quoting from an older tradition (regarding Jesus appearing to "Peter and then the 12"). This, he says, can be established by the non-Pauline style of the verses. The problem is that this might just as well mean that this is a later interpolation by a non-Pauline source who wanted to enlist Paul amongst writers who believe in a corporeal Jesus. You see, much of modern scholarship concludes that Paul never in fact believed that Jesus was a real man who walked the Earth. Rather, his Jesus seems to be a heavenly figure.


In fact, Paul specifically says that he DOES NOT rely on any earlier tradition. He makes it clear that his knowledge of Jesus is via personal revelation only. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul says the following:


"11 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 For I did not receive it or learn it from any human source; instead I received it by a revelation of Jesus Christ."


And again, in Galatians 2, Paul describes his second trip to Jerusalem, 14 years after his conversion. He says this:


"6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people)—those influential leaders added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who empowered Peter for his apostleship to the circumcised also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles)"

Paul makes it clear that his Gospel comes from God directly and he specifically DOES NOT rely on any "earlier traditions". He was entrusted with the Gospel by God, not by reading some previous traditions and quoting them in his epistles.

Going back to WLC's explanation. He says that "this fact finding" probably goes back to Paul's trip to Jerusalem, three years after his conversion (refer Galatians 1:18). Really? WLC justifies the NON-PAULINE STYLE in his epistle to the Corinthians on the basis of him obtaining information from Peter during a visit in Jerusalem? Craig believes that Paul would use someone else’s WRITING STYLE because the INFORMATION he was imparting was obtained from Peter during a visit? This simply makes no sense.

So are these verses Paul quoting from an earlier tradition or are they later interpolations?

Now, assume for a minute that they are indeed Paul’s and they come from an earlier tradition. How convinced is Paul about their truth? Not very. From verses 13 onwards, the writer laments that IF Resurrection isn’t true then the whole faith is bunk and “we are wasting our time”. Had Paul been firmly convinced about the resurrection, would these thoughts even come to his mind? Of course not.  When you are firmly convinced about an event, you wouldn’t even consider the consequences of it being untrue.

No, Paul (even if the words WLC talks about are in fact Paul’s) is by no means certain of the resurrection story.

WLC on Joseph on Arimathea

WLC claims that it’s unlikely that the story about Joseph of Arimathea lending his tomb to Jesus was invented by Christians. He’s here referring to what some scholars call the “embarrassment criterion”. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Court that condemned Jesus. But this of course is bad logic. Jesus appealing even to his condemners is very much in the interest of the Christian story. It wouldn’t at all be against their propaganda’s interests. At the same time, as a matter of history (as opposed to legend) the contradiction is noted and is a glaring one. Only hours before, this man’s own organization condemned Jesus to death and he’s openly lending him his tomb? This is indeed a contradiction and it speaks AGAINST the credibility of the New Testament. It’s right up there with the story about the whole city (crowds and crowds of people) cheering and welcoming Jesus in Jerusalem, only to a very short time later want his death (note how the crowds gather before Pilate and demand Christ’s death; nobody says a word in his defence; where are all those cheerful welcomers?).

It’s also untrue that early Christians were anti-Jewish. If you read Matthew, you’ll find a very pro-Jewish tradition. Matthew’s message portrays Jesus as a Jew; obedient to the Jewish laws, even saying that they will bind until the end of the world (Matthew 5:17+). If anyone appears to be anti-semitic in the earliest Christian tradition, it is John.

And who was Joseph of Arimathea?

Mark 15 has him as a member of the Sanhedrin, in search of the Kingdom of God.

Matthew has him as a rich man (Matt 27) and a disciple of Jesus.

John has him as a secret disciple of Jesus (John 19).

So where’s the problem? The legend says that Jesus has a Jewish (possibly secret) disciple (most of his disciples were Jewish anyway) who may or may not be a member of the Sandhedrin. Even if he were, how does that go against the Christian doctrine? Even if we accept that the early Christians blamed the Jewish establishment for “murdering Jesus”, what’s wrong with a legend that a friendly member of the Sandhedrin (and a secret follower of Jesus) lent his grave? And of course there are motives for inventing the story. If Jesus was to be resurrected from a grave, he had to have one. And who’s going to provide one for him at such short notice? It has to be someone rich enough to own a grave even while still alive. So, enter the Rich Man, Joseph. But hang on, wasn’t the body in the authorities’ possession? The author of Mark would seem to think so (this author was NOT JEWISH; he knew nothing of the local geography, culture or law; makes numerous mistakes throughout his Gospel, which Matthew’s author – who, scholars agree, bases his story largely on Mark – meticulously corrects throughout). So how do we get the body back from the authorities? Someone with some clout, please. Enter Joseph, a member of the Sandhedrin.  To add insult to injury, Mark’s author (Mark 15:46) then claims that Joseph bought some fine linen and buried Jesus. Wait, a member of the Sanhedrin doing shopping on the Sabbath? You must be kidding.


Craig then claims that all sources are unanimous in ascribing the burial of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Fine. And what does that mean? Clearly it means that the earliest Christian tradition was that Joseph of Arimathea (whether he be a member of the council or just a rich man) lent his tomb to Jesus.  This tradition may predate all four gospels. Does that mean that the tradition in itself is true? Of course not. We have to bear in mind here that Matthew and Luke were based largely on Mark. John was largely independent (although some scholars do propose that he did base some aspects on the so called “synoptic” Gospels – Mark, Matthew and Luke).


Interestingly, the fact that the Joseph of Arimathea tradition is common to all the Gospels, means that it’s a very early tradition indeed. It therefore predates any anti-Jewish sentiments within the Christian community, as at that time Christianity was still a sect (or a number of sects, there were in fact many very differing version of early Christianity) of Judaism. This, in turn, destroys Craig’s argument against the story being an invention.


But even if the story of Christ’s death and burial is correct (that is, if indeed Jesus existed, was crucified and was buried) what does that say for the resurrection? Absolutely nothing! So far, Craig has produced NO SUPPORT for the Resurrection. Let’s keep listening to his talk.


“Fact 2”

Craig now turns to his “fact number 2”; that on the Sunday after the crucifixion Jesus’ tomb was found empty “by his women followers” (19 minutes into the video). He makes five points on this:

1.       The tradition is found very early. In other words, it’s “pre-Markan” in that it predates the earliest Gospel (that of Mark). It also appears in John, therefore its source must pre-date John and the synoptics. It’s a very early tradition.

Again, the same problem persists. We don’t doubt that early Christians believed in Jesus’ resurrection any more than we could doubt that followers by Charles Manson believed that he levitated a bus. But that’s the whole thing with mythologies. Members of cults and sects believe mythological stories. The fact that they share this belief isn’t evidence of it being true. The Manson example is particularly relevant here as it demonstrates just how short a time is needed for myths to be created.

The problem that apologists face is of course the utter and complete lack of any eyewitness testimony (not to mention CREDIBLE eyewitness testimony) about the empty tomb. None of the writers claims to be an eyewitness to Christ’s life, let alone to the empty tomb incident (which was witnessed by “the women” and in the absence of any of the disciples in any event). Interestingly, there are major inconsistencies as to the circumstances of the finding of the empty tomb. Going by the four Gospels, we can’t know who went there, why they went, what time they went, who they saw, what was said. There’s NOTHING about the Gospels that’s consistent in the resurrection story.

2.       Mark’s story of the empty tomb is simple and lacks signs of legendary embellishment


Well yes, it does. In fact, Mark’s story ends right there. The earliest known manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel end at Mark 16:8. This is recognised by scholars and many modern bibles refer to the following 12 verses as “the longer ending of Mark”. It’s generally accepted that those further verses are a later interpolation (added in by some copyist or another).


And with this in mind, how DOES Mark end? I quote:

“8 Then they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

But wait a minute. If they said nothing to anyone, how does the story ever get passed on? How does it ever make its way to Craig’s pre-Markan source? It can’t. How can we then consider this (an account that was never told to anyone) to be a historical account?


Note also that by saying that Mark’s version is simple and lacks any signs of legendary embellishment, Craig implicitly agrees that the other Gospels may have embellished things somewhat. Hence, he concedes that the other Gospels may not be reliable when it comes to miraculous (“legendary embellishment”) accounts. And what do we know from Mark when it comes to the resurrection? Exactly nothing. Mark leaves us in suspense. His Gospel (not including the later interpolations from verses 9 onwards, of course) ends abruptly and mysteriously. It ends like a fairytale. It contradicts any claims of historicity with the very fact that its own author says that the women “told nobody”. And this is what Matthew and Luke (who, as almost all scholars agree, based their Gospels on Mark) relied on. We can’t take it any further.


But then, what do we do with John? Well, John can’t be true if Mark is true. In John’s version, Jesus himself appears to Mary Magdalene (who, of course doesn’t recognise him at first; a theme that we see more than once in resurrected Jesus stories in the Gospels) who then, far from telling nobody, runs off to the disciples screaming “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18).


Since both can’t be true and Craig tells us to rely on Mark (earliest and lacking “legendary embellishment” – Craig’s own words), we have to exclude John’s magical version of Jesus appearing and his close friend (Mary Magdalene) failing to recognise him. Just as well. Even Christians should be happy to exclude it. After all, given all the time Mary had spent with Jesus, it would be ludicrous to accept that she failed to recognise him.


Note also Craig’s description of the apocryphal account from the Gospel of Peter (21 minutes). Doesn’t this illustrate ever-so-clearly that Jesus stories did become embellished with time? It sure does. Craig has already chosen to use Mark as “lacking legendary embellishment”. He didn’t select Matthew, Luke or John (and rightly so). In fact, (about 22:30) Craig claims that the motifs we see in Peter’s Gospel (and other apocryphal accounts) “are noticeably lacking in Mark’s testimony”. So true! And of course, the same can be said for Matthew, Luke and John whose motifs are also lacking in Mark, despite Matthew and Luke being based on Mark! This in itself speaks that he agrees that Mark is the most reliable and the others might not be. He then gives this account of Peter’s apocryphal gospel where there is a huge storm, crowds of people, a talking cross; a full circus at the time of the resurrection. The early Christians’ tendency (and they don’t differ to other sects in this regard) to make up stories and legends and embellish facts is evident and is conceded by Craig. How then does he propose to exclude the empty tomb story itself as a legend? He can’t. He can’t exclude that the pre-Markan source in itself contained an earlier legendary account; one of an empty tomb. He can’t (nobody can) exclude that this story too may have been an embellishment of an earlier (perhaps true) account in which Jesus simply dies and is no more. If zealous believers can invent a circus such as the one portrayed in Peter’s Gospel, they surely can also invent a “the tomb is empty, the Lord has risen” story. And indeed, given that the pre-Markan source was much closer to the events in question (if they even did happen at all), we could only expect it to contain less embellishment than a 2nd or 3rd century tradition. But can we say it contains none? Nope.

                What then is more likely? That the pre-Markan source contained a relatively young legend or that a guy actually rose from the dead? I think the answer should be clear. But let’s keep listening.


3.       Testimony of women

Here Craig makes a point (known to be made by many other apologists) that women’s testimony was less trustworthy than that of men. This counts in favour, he says, of the women’s role in the discovery of the empty tomb.

But how does this help his argument? He’s already agreed that Mark, being the simple and unembellished source, is to be considered a reliable account. And yet, Mark’s Gospel makes a point of saying that the women DID NOT TESTIFY. Remember? Mark 16:8 tells us in no uncertain terms that the women ran from the tomb in fear and they TOLD NOBODY. How to Craig this amounts to a testimony is beyond me.


And that’s if we dismiss (as we should) the other accounts (Matthew, Luke and John) which may (on Craig’s own admission) contain legendary embellishment. But what if we were to include those accounts? Would that mean that the Gospels are really relying on the women’s testimony? No, not at all.

In John, Peter himself goes to the tomb after being informed by Mary that it’s empty. He doesn’t see Jesus (only Mary Magdalene sees him). Both Peter and another (unnamed) disciple enter the tomb, see the linen and they “believe”.  Just what did they believe? That Jesus had been resurrected? Perhaps, although that’s not very likely because if that were the case, there’s no way on earth that they would just go home (John 20:10). Imagine that! Your best friend, your leader, teacher and Lord has been resurrected and you just found out. What do you do? You just go home? Or do you catch up with all your friends and share the news, and talk about it for hours, discuss what it means, pray? Surely, the latter. So what is it that this “other disciples” is said to have “believed” when seeing the empty tomb (no mention of resurrection as yet)? It seems likely that this is what lead him to believe the women’s story that the tomb is empty and the body missing. In other words, they DIDN’T believe the women’s testimony. Why? Perhaps precisely because women were not considered credible?

Let’s turn to Luke 24. The women go to the tomb, they see it empty. Instead of Jesus, they see two men. These men tell the women that Jesus has risen. What do they women do? They run to tell the apostles (“the eleven”). And what’s the apostles’ reaction? I quote (Luke 24:1): “But these words seemed like pure nonsense to them, AND THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THEM”.  Peter then runs to the tomb and finds it empty (interesting why the other 10 disciples didn’t go with him; not curious enough?). What does Peter do after finding the tomb empty? He goes home, “WONDERING WHAT HAD  HAPPENED” (Luke 24:12). So, even after being told by the women that the body is missing AND Jesus has been resurrected, and after seeing the empty tomb, Peter WONDERS WHAT HAD HAPPENED. EVEN AT THIS POINT, he hasn’t believed the women. Is this consistent with women having diminished credibility? Yes it is.


Matthew 28 gives a very different story. In Matthew, the women go to the tomb and are met by an angel. The angel tells them that Jesus has been resurrected and instructs them to go and tell the disciples and to tell them to meet Jesus in Galilee. The disciples subsequently do go to Galilee, seemingly having believed the women’s story. And I quote from Matthew 28:16-17:” 16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.”


Some doubted? SOME DOUBTED? The disciples SEE THE RESURRECTED JESUS and are still doubting? How does it reflect on the credibility of the women’s story? Clearly if, even after seeing Jesus alive, they are still doubting, they must have been COMPLETELY INCREDULOUS at the time when (earlier) they are told by the women.


It follows from all these accounts that there’s nothing inconsistent between the resurrection legend and the Jewish tradition of distrusting women’s testimony. The disciples do distrust the women’s testimony. They do not believe what they are told by the women. And, sure enough, we are not just left with the women’s testimony. The legend goes further. It bolsters their testimony with stories of the disciples subsequently seeing Jesus (these stories are, of course, inconsistent between the Gospels but let’s leave that aside).


The pertinent point here is that the Christian tradition is NOT telling us to trust women’s testimony.


But let’s go further. We KNOW (and scholars agree) that Matthew and Luke based their stories on Mark. So what did they have to work with? They had a story that said that women went to the tomb and found it empty. The author of Mark, as I’ve mentioned above, is widely known for being completely oblivious to Jewish tradition, law, culture and geography. Wherever he got his story from, he would have seen no problem in sending just the women to the tomb. What’s more, on his version, the women tell nobody so the question of reliability of women’s evidence (even if he had known about that Jewish tradition) doesn’t arise. The authors of Luke and Matthew, when copying from Mark (and scholars unanimously agree that Luke and Matthew DID copy from Mark), decide not to depart from that story. Rather, they embellish it by adding (inconsistent, of course, as these authors did not know of each other) accounts about the women’s reports being verified by the disciples who, incredulous, go to the tomb to check for themselves.

It all adds up and it’s consistent with the resurrection being a legend. Craig (and his Christian apologist friends) is grasping at straws.


4.       “The earliest Jewish allegation that the disciples stole Jesus’ body (Matthew 28:15) shows that the body was in fact missing from the tomb”

Well no, it doesn’t. There is no “Jewish allegation”. It’s all based on Matthew’s Gospel. If the Gospel is untrue then so is the allegation being ever made. It really is as simple as that.

Unfortunately for the author of Matthew (and those who want to rely on it as inspired scripture), this verse is embarrassing to the point of being comical. According to Matthew, the chief priests give the Roman guards money and instruct them to say “His disciples came at night and stole his body while we were asleep.”

And just how were the soldiers supposed to know who stole the body if, at the time of the theft, they were sleeping? Are we really to believe that the chief priests were THIS STUPID? I don’t think so. But clearly, someone was.


But let’s get back on the subject. Craig claims that “the earliest Jewish response was itself a feeble attempt to explain away why the body was missing”. Is he suggesting that the chief priests actually believed in the resurrection? If so, wouldn’t they be somewhat likely to become Christians to begin with? And of course, if the priests really accepted the story of Jesus being resurrected, we’d expect to hear about this somewhere in the Jewish history of the time. And yet, we don’t.


But, of course, we already know that Matthew is a later Gospel than Mark and, that it is less simple and, on Craig’s own argument, “more likely to contain legendary embellishment”. Stone rolled away by an angel? Huge earthquake? Jesus looking like lightening? Sounds a little too similar to the talking cross in Peter’s apocryphal account.  Or to put it in other words, in the least we can’t dismiss that this account had been embellished. Why should we? So the author of Matthew writes a legendary and embellished account in which the women practically witness the resurrection (unlike in the other Gospels, where they CLEARY DON’T). The resurrection is also witnessed by Roman soldiers. How then would this author explain away the fact that there’s no pagan tradition of Jesus’ resurrection? No accounts, no stories? That the only people who believe it are members of the Christian cult? Simple. The soldiers must have been bribed to keep their mouths shut. Make sense? Of course it does.


Interestingly, Craig goes on to say (still on the above point; the Roman soldiers and the bribe) that “we have evidence of the empty tomb which is top drawer because it comes not from the Christians but from the very opponents of the Christian movement”. Is he serious? The story does NOT come from the Romans. Neither does it come from the Jewish establishment (the priests and elders). The story COMES FROM THE AUTHOR OF MATTHEW. He’s no opponent of the Christian movement. So, here’s Craig’s reasoning (if we actually analyse it logically) on the matter:


a)      Matthew’s account is correct

b)      Therefore, Matthew’s story about the priests bribing the soldiers is correct

c)       Therefore, the priests attest to the fact of the empty tomb (ok, there’s hearsay here because the priests apparently get told by the soldiers but let’s let that one slide, as a favour to Craig)

d)      But the priests were opponents of the Christian movement

e)      Therefore their testimony, being against their own religious orientation, is reliable

f)       Therefore, Matthew is correct

See the problem? In order to claim that the priests ever did give money to the soldiers to have them tell a lie, we would have to first assume that Matthew’s story is true. But if we’re going to assume that Matthew’s story is true, we are already assuming that the empty tomb story is true to start with. This reasoning is called “begging the question” or “circular reasoning”. Tsk tsk, Mr Craig.


“Fact 3”

Craig’s fact number 3 is that there were many sightings of Jesus after his resurrection. This starts at 26 minutes of the video. Craig gives three reasons in support of his argument:

1)      The list of appearances. Here WLC relies on 1 Cor 15 and claims that Paul’s reference to these appearances “guarantees that such appearances occurred”.

But how does he support this claim? Just how does Paul’s letter GUARANTEE that its contents are true? We’ve already established that Paul claims, in Galatians, that all of his Gospel is received from God and that he distinctly DOES NOT rely on the testimony of men. How then can his epistle be evidence of a historical fact? Combine this with the fact that Paul himself considered the possibility of the resurrection story not being true (I’ve addressed that above, he laments that if Jesus hasn’t risen, we’re “preaching in vain”). If at least there were some consistency between Paul’s claims and those of the Gospels. But there isn’t.

2)      Other appearances in the Gospels.

Mark mentions no appearances at all, as his story ends with the women running off and “telling nobody”.

Matthew (chapt 28) has Jesus appearing to the women and then to the ELEVEN disciples (as opposed to Paul’s twelve). Matthew mentions nothing about Jesus appearing to 500. In fact, neither does any other source. If a dead and resurrected body appeared to 500 people, we could expect at least SOME mention of this somewhere in history. There WERE historians around in the first century, some of them very thorough.

In Luke (chapt 24) Jesus appears to two disciples on their way to Emmaus. One of these was named Cleopas (Luke 24:18) These two disciples meet a fellow on the road. They have lengthy discussions with him. They tell this man about Jesus. They spend the afternoon with this man, chatting with him. Finally, they have supper with him. It’s not until this moment that they recognise him. He disappears and they speak to each other and decide that he was Jesus. These guys had spent a good part of the day with him and yet don’t recognise him until he breaks bread?  How credible is this incident? Not very, one might think. If we grant that Jesus actually existed and was crucified, we can easily picture two disciples (disappointed and missing their guru) meeting a stranger on the road and afterwards, through sheer wishful thinking, convincing themselves that the man they met was Jesus in the form of a man whom they didn’t recognise by his facial features. Clearly, he must have looked nothing like Jesus. Evidence? Hardly. Highly dodgy material.

These two then go to Jerusalem, where they meet “The eleven”. The eleven are telling them “the Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34). To SIMON? Didn’t Matthew 28 tell us that Jesus appeared to the whole eleven and that it happened in Galilee? For those of us who don’t know, Galilee is a region some 100km from Jerusalem. Clearly at the time when these two (in Luke 24) join “the eleven” in Jerusalem, the eleven have not yet seen Jesus (except for Simon). That’s clear from the fact that they say “he’s really risen and appeared to SIMON” as opposed to “he’s risen and we’ve all seen him in Galilee”. What’s more, the eleven in Luke 24 are CONVINCED that Jesus has risen. And yet, at the time of sighting him in Galilee (in Matthew 28) “some of them doubted” (Matt 28:17). Therefore, the Galilee appearance must have happened BEFORE the discussion in Jerusalem in Luke 24. But that can’t be the case, because then they would have said “The Lord has risen and WE’VE ALL SEEN HIM” as opposed to “The Lord has risen and appeared to Simon”.  Doesn’t gel.


Now, consider how long it takes to travel the 100km between Galilee and Jerusalem. At the average speed (of say 5 km per hour), we’re talking 20 hours. The disciples in Matthew 28 (“the eleven”) go to Galilee and see Jesus there. If they walked really fast and non-stop, they would get there on the day after the resurrection. But the two disciples in Luke are walking to Emmaus ON THE DAY of the resurrection. We know this because they tell the stranger (who, they find afterwards, is Jesus) that the empty tomb was found “this morning” (Luke 24:22). Emmaus is located some 7 miles from Jerusalem. The men, according to Luke, go back to Jerusalem IMMEDIATELY after having supper with the fellow who they think is Jesus “33 So they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem”. The trip would take them some 2-3 hours. They arrive and what do they find? They find “the eleven” gathered together (Luke 24:33). But hang on, aren’t “the eleven” on their way to Galilee at this time (Matthew 28)? Doesn’t gel.


What about John? John 19 tells us that on the night of the resurrection, the disciples were gathered together in a locked room when Jesus appeared. Just like that. No trips to Galilee (as per Matthew), no initial appearance to Simon (as per Luke), no mysterious stranger on the road to Emmaus. They rejoice that they see the Lord. And it’s here (and only here) that we have the Doubting Thomas story.


So what actually happened? Did Jesus appear to Peter, the twelve and 500 (Paul) or to the eleven in Galilee, some of whom doubted (Matthew) or to the eleven in Jerusalem and only Thomas doubted (John) or to nobody at all (Mark) or to Simon in Jerusalem and the Cleopas and his friend on the way to Emmaus (Luke)? Doesn’t gel.


What evidence do we have of Jesus appearing after his death then? We have five accounts, all COMPLETELY inconsistent with each other. Let’s assume for a second that this is legend, created and embellished by members of the sect as time went by. There were a number of different Christian communities, each embellishing the story in its own (different) direction. If that were the case, would we expect to see what we do see? Yes, we would. This is exactly what we’d expect to be seeing. Inconsistent, incoherent, dodgy (come on, not recognising the bloke?), legendary accounts.


And of course, it’s true that they all must have had a common source that said that Jesus had been resurrected. That much we have to agree on. But that’s THE ONLY THING that these accounts seem to have in common. Does that mean we are entitled to believe that this bit just happens to be true? Or is it more likely that the earlier story (from which each of the communities got the “Jesus was resurrected” theme) was also legend? People don’t rise from death. It just doesn’t happen. If we are going to believe that someone did, we’d expect a solid, reliable account. In fact, we’d expect an EXTRAORDINARILY RELIABLE ACCOUNT. And yet, this is exactly what we DON’T HAVE. Our earliest sources are ones that have OBVIOUSLY been distorted by years of tradition and storytelling, to the point of being almost entirely inconsistent.


Craig claims that the stories are “independently attested”. But they’re not! They don’t all claim to rely on eyewitnesses (in fact NONE of them do!) All that happens is, some parts of the Christian theology do come from a common source. That’s exactly what is to be expected of ANY legendary claim. And since that source is unknown and uncorroborated, how can we claim it’s credible? We can’t. The claim is extraordinary, it comes (as it must) from a single source. And we know that extraordinary stories can arise in a very short time (Charles Manson levitating a bus?). Resurrection is a legend.


3. “Appearances that have earmarks of historicity”

Craig claims that Jesus’ biological family didn’t believe in Jesus during his lifetime. He goes on to say that there’s no reason that the early Church would make up a story about Jesus’ own brothers disbelieving his deity if they were faithful follower of Jesus all along. From this he deducts that James or his other brothers weren’t followers of Jesus during his lifetime.


But, he says, it’s indisputable that his brothers became believers after his death.


But again, here lies the problem. In order to accept these claims, we’d have to assume that the sources (unreliable, of unknown authorship, none from eyewitnesses and mutually contradicting) are true. This is circular.


Let’s suppose for a second that Jesus did exist and did have brothers. These brothers knew him all his childhood. They saw nothing remarkable in him. Indeed, they were not his followers. He simply went his separate way when he grew up. The subsequent Christian community (let’s say, a generation after the events), generates a legend that Jesus’ brothers, although unbelievers during Christ’s life, were converted after his death. We already know (see above, about Peter’s Gospel) that Christian communities generated all kinds of legends. Some were outright ridiculous, such as Peter’s Gospel itself (Craig agrees with that). If a community can develop a ridiculous legend, why can’t it develop a realistic one? No reason at all. We have many legends and folktales that don’t involve miracles. Folk heroes are often legendary characters, with many diverging claims made about them. Nobody takes them very seriously. There’s no reason to assume that the only claims about Jesus that developed in a legend-like style are the outrageously silly ones.


It seems all along that Craig is starting from an ASSUMPTION that the Jesus existed and was the Son of God. He then dismisses the more ridiculous claims while accepting all other claims as true, despite there being no evidence that would allow us to conclude that they’re anything more than mere legend.



“Fact 4”


Moving on to Craig’s fact number 4 (29 minutes into the video).


Here, Craig claims that the early disciples believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, despite having every predisposition not to. He again divides this argument into a number of points:

1. “The messiah is dead. There was no conceivable way that a messiah would die. The Jewish tradition was that the messiah would not die, let alone be resurrected. “


Interesting note: Obviously Craig (and the scholars he’s relying on) dismisses all Christian claims of Jesus’s death and resurrection being prophesied in the Old Testament. Of course, I agree with him on this. But let’s not digress any further.

Unfortunately for Craig, this works AGAINST HIM. It is true that the messiah was expected to be a powerful figure (a military leader who would destroy Israel’s enemies). This in itself says much about a figure like Jesus being the messiah. Doesn’t gel. But let’s keep going. The disciples (at least some of them), if we are to go by the Gospels, accepted that Jesus was the messiah. Lo and behold, he gets executed. This isn’t supposed to be happening to the messiah. In these circumstances, is there a better way to confront the problem (if you’re a true believer in Jesus’ messiahship) than to wish (to the point of belief) in some sort of resurrection?


Keep in mind that we don’t know what type of resurrection the early disciples believed in. That’s because we don’t have any first-hand sources. While we do have the Acts, we don’t know who wrote them. Nor do we know where he got his information from. Clearly, it wasn’t first-hand information (as the author of Luke himself admits in Luke 1:1). Rather, the information was gathered by this author FROM OTHER SOURCES. At the very best, they are second-hand sources. But we can’t know that either. We do know that Luke’s Gospel was copied largely from Mark. We also know that other parts of it were copied from a source that the scholars call “Q” (both Luke and Matthew based themselves on Mark and Q, in addition to their own, unknown to us, sources, called “L” and “M” for Luke’s and Mark’s sources respectively). If the author of Luke had met Jesus’ disciples personally, there’s no way on earth that he would base his Gospel on Mark’s account. He would have known that Mark is an unreliable source. Why? Because, as mentioned twice previously, Mark is distinctly unfamiliar with the Jewish tradition, law and geography. If Luke had met Jesus’ disciples in person, he wouldn’t need to rely on either Mark OR Q. He would have FIRST-HAND testimony available to him. And yet, that’s not what we see. Instead, we see him copying stories from other Gospels, including one that’s obviously external to the area. Imagine that you were spending time with World War 2 veterans from Britain. You knew a number of them personally. You yourself were British. You wanted to write a history book about their adventures. Would you write based on THEIR accounts (as accounted to you in personal interviews)? Or would you rely on an author somewhere in Argentina who thinks Britain is a land-locked country with a theocratic government and a lake called “Bahooza”? OF COURSE you’d do the former. You’d DISREGARD the Argentinian author completely. And yet, this is not what Luke does.


The ONLY logical conclusion is that Luke had absolutely no personal knowledge of anyone who knew Christ.


And we know that Luke (well, we don’t know his real name, but we’re speaking about the author of the Gospel ‘ACCORDING TO LUKE’) was the same author as the one who wrote the Acts. Are the Acts then reliable? No, they’re not. They’re of uncertain source. We simply don’t know what Luke based this story on. Nb, this, of course, explains the many inconsistencies between the Acts and Paul’s epistles.


But I digress. So, we can’t know what resurrection the original disciples (if such existed) were talking about when they started off the legend. But we do have some indications in the Gospels. Apparently, Mary Magdalene (in John) didn’t recognise Jesus when she saw him in the tomb. We also see that the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (in Luke 24) failed to recognise him, despite spending the better part of the day with him. This is consistent with someone virtually making himself/herself believe that what they’re looking at is a resurrected Jesus. It may have been that they were simply looking for his spiritual presence in some people that they saw around themselves. The rest is just a matter of a legend-making process. Remember Charles Manson levitating a bus? There you go. This may sound surreal but we ARE talking about a religious sect (just think about the Davidians, willing to give up their lives for their belief; and there are COUNTLESS other examples). We’re talking about people who just lost their beloved messiah (and, as Craig claims, messiah isn’t supposed to die) and who DESPERATELY WANTED to believe that he isn’t entirely dead. They were faced with a choice: either give up their belief in Jesus as the messiah OR somehow or other overcome the horrible fact of his death.


Of course, this is just a hypothesis. In reality, we can’t know how the legend of the resurrected Jesus started. But we do know that there’s no credible evidence for it. We do know that it doesn’t differ from any other legend. There are a number of inconsistent non-first-hand accounts, which have little in common. And they do seem to share a common meme that “Jesus was resurrected”. But, as said above, this only means that there was an earlier account that contained that meme and that these accounts are based on. Does that mean that this earlier account was true? Of course not. Apologists would have to exclude this earlier (unknown to us) account being a legend. And they can’t. There’s no evidence to dismiss it on!


2. Craig’s second point is that Deuteronomy renders Jesus (as a convicted criminal) to be literally under God’s curse (31:00 of the video)


“The catastrophy of this crucifixion to these early disciples was not only that Jesus was dead, but according to the Jewish law, the crucifixion showed in effect that the chief priests and authorities had been right all along; that they had been following a heretic”.


And what follows from that? First, the fact that they would have to be traumatised indeed. Their whole belief system is losing ground. On the one hand, they’ve spent so much time with their guru, believed that he’s the messiah, the anointed one. On the other, here he is, crucified and seemingly cursed (if you go by Deuteronomy). But wait! Jesus is the messiah, the Son of God. He can’t be cursed. He’s the one who refused to obey the Sabbath law, claiming that it doesn’t apply to him. In Luke 6:4 Jesus says “the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath”. Assuming that this tradition is true (and we can’t know that because we don’t know what is or is not true about Jesus; can’t distinguish the truth from legend), the disciples had EVERY REASON to think that Jesus wouldn’t consider himself cursed.


What follows from this? Well, Craig’s point fails. They didn’t have to see him resurrected in order to accept that he wasn’t cursed. To them, he could never be cursed to start with! They believed in him.


At the same time, to maintain their faith, it’s not inconceivable that they might be saying things like “he isn’t really dead, he’s with us all along”. It’s not inconceivable that they would sometimes see someone similar to him, at a distance, and later say that they saw him. Legend does the rest. Even we modern humans have these experiences. Someone dear dies and you “see” them here or there. Some of us actually make themselves believe that we actually see the person; others just accept that our mind (and emotions) is playing a trick on us. But tell a friend “I could have sworn I saw Granny May in the mall today :-/” and there’s a good chance a story will be passed on that you’ve seen a ghost! This is how legends grow.


A final point here is that there’s no suggestion that Jesus’ disciples were at all versed in the law. We can’t even know if they knew how to read. Does Craig really think that the average fisherman of the first century Judea had read the Torah? Seriously?


3. “The Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone rising from the dead before the general resurrection at the end of the world”.


Ok Mr Craig, but once again, Jesus claimed to be special. He claimed the Sabbath didn’t apply to him. And again, we don’t know what his disciples really said about him rising from the dead. There’s simply no evidence. We can’t rely on Paul, we can’t rely on the Acts and we can’t rely on the Gospels. We just can’t know how much is legend and how much is true about what his first-hand disciples thought.


As for his second-hand disciples (the subsequent Christian communities), they would already have heard miracle legends circulating (and, make no mistake about it, miracle claims were quite common in the early centuries of the modern era; by no means only limited to the Christian tradition!). They would hear about Jesus bringing back the dead – say Lazarus or the Centurion’s daughter or even other stories; according to John there were many more (John 20:30)! -  (and therefore breaching the very laws that Craig is talking about here).





There’s nothing in Craig’s talk that demonstrates any credible evidence that Jesus was resurrected. Most of what he says involves an ASSUMPTION that the Gospels are correct to start with. And of course, once you assume that they are correct (and there’s no basis for such an assumption), you need not argue further. Your assumption ENTAILS an assumption that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. But assumptions are not evidence.


The parts that are not assumptions (eg arguments about women’s credibility) are an example of cherrypicking and card-stacking. Craig twists the facts in his favour, completely ignoring the opposite argument.


The Gospels (and Pauline claims in the epistles) are hearsay. It’s not known what degree of hearsay they are. They present a lot of embellished and legendary claims and there’s no way of knowing which (if any) claims are factual. We don’t know what earlier sources they relied on and how credible those are. But we do know that legends grow quickly; very quickly. We experience that first-hand in everyday reality.


But it’s sure nice to see that Craig concedes that Mark is a less fictional account than the others. It’s also nice to see that he doesn’t believe in alleged OT prophesies about the death and resurrection of the messiah.


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