A Critical Review by Dr. Norman L. Geisler
The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave
(Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005)
ed. by Robert Price and Jeffrey Lowder
Chapter One: “Is there Sufficient Historical Evidence to Establish the Resurrection of Jesus?” By Robert Greg Cavin
Summary of the Argument:
Cavin argues that even on the assumption of “complete historical reliability,” the New Testament does not “provide sufficient information to enable us to establish the historicity of the resurrection” (p. 19; hereafter just the page number) because: (1) Resurrection is not mere revivification but involves an imperishable supernatural body (23-24). (2) And there is no New Testament evidence that Jesus’ post-revivified body was imperishable and supernatural. (3) Therefore, even if Jesus was revivified, there is no evidence of His resurrection (in this New Testament sense of the term).
Response to the Argument:
First, even revivification is a miracle that supports Jesus’ claim to be God in the flesh (Matt. 12:40; John 2:19-21; 10:18 cf. Mark 2:10). So, the objections really gain nothing by making this distinction. And if He is deity, then He will by nature be able to make his body immortal.
Second, there is evidence in the Gospels that Jesus’ post-revivified body was imperishable and that it was supernatural: (a) It was able to supernaturally appear and disappear (Luke 24; John 20). (b) It ascended into heaven (Acts 1:8-11; Luke 24: 50-51). c) It appeared many years after it was in heaven to Paul. Even granting that both Steven’s (Acts 7) and John’s (Rev. 1) experiences were visions and not physical appearances of Christ, the one to Paul (Acts 9) was not a non-physical appearance because of several reasons: (1) There was physical light and sound that was seen and hear by others with him by their natural senses. (2) Paul said, “Have I not seen our Lord” (1 Cor. 9:1). This is perfect indicative active (heoraka from horao) which entails an active seeing with his own natural eyes. (3) Paul’s experience of seeing Christ is listed along with the appearance of Christ to other disciples in 1 Corinthians 15:7-8. (4) The Bible also says Jesus is currently positioned in heaven (Heb. 1:3; Rev. 4) and further verification will come when He returns from heaven (Rev. 1:7) in the same resurrected body (Acts 1:10-11; cf. Zech. 12:10). (5) What is more, the Old Testament predicted and Jesus miraculously fulfilled this prophecy that His body would not corrupt in the grave (Psalm 16:10; cf. Acts 16:31). Thus, by miraculously fulfilling this prophecy he proved that His resurrection body was incorruptible. So, contrary to Cavin’s claim, there is evidence for the resurrection of Christ into an imperishable and supernatural physical body in both the Gospels and epistles.
Third, my colleague Dr. Thomas Howe, has noted that Cavin’s “inductive” method is based on an unjustified nominalist epistemology that one cannot know the essence of a matter on the basis of a few instances. This in turn is based on Hume’s atomistic epistemology which affirms that “all events are entirely loose and separate.” But this is not the case, as our experience reveals, particularly internal experience that one’s mind is the cause of his ideas and words.
Fourth, another of Cavin’s arguments must be challenged, namely, that it is possible for the Christian God to permit “a major theological deception . . . misleading even the elect” (35). If this is taken to imply that God could permit a revivification of a corpse by “a powerful evil spirit,” then it is contrary to reason and to fact. Nowhere in the Bible is such an event noted. The work of the Anti-Christ, the greatest of all early deceivers, is said to be a “false” miracle (2 Thess. 2:9). The Devil is a master magician and a super-scientist, but he cannot perform a truly supernatural act like creating life or resurrecting the dead. When God created life from dust by the hand of Moses, the magicians who had counterfeited Moses’ efforts to that point declared: “This is the finger of God!”(Ex. 8:16-19). Only God can create life (Gen. 1:21; John 1:3), and only God can resurrect the dead. And since God is morally perfect, He would not deceive anyone allowing a miracle to occur by an evil spirit that leads people astray from the truth. God cannot lie or deceive (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). For a miracle is an act of God to accredit a prophet of God who is telling the truth of God (John 3:2; Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3-4). And a morally perfect God cannot accredit falsehood and evil which are by nature contrary to His character.
Finally, Cavin claims that the real problem with those opposed to miracles is not a metaphysical bias against the supernatural, but it is with the logic of the argument for the resurrection. However, this does not seem to be the case for several reasons. First, all the so-called “logical” arguments they pose fail.1 Second, they admit that even if one could prove the revivification of the body of Jesus three days later, they would still not count it as a miracle. Even their skeptical mentor, David Hume, admitted that such an event would be a miracle.2 When considering the incorrigibility of such antisupernaturalism, one is reminded of Jesus’ statement that “neither would they believe though one were raised from the dead” (Luke 16:31)!
Chapter Two: The Resurrection as Initially Improbable. By Michael Martin
Summary of the Argument:
Martin argues that “Bayes theorem indicates that if the initial probability of the resurrection is very low, the historical evidence must be extremely strong to make rational belief in the resurrection possible” (53). Further, he insists that even on the assumption of supernaturalism it is low because “there is good reason to expect God would not perform miracles” (53). And “even if some miracles could be expected, there is good reason to suppose they would be rare and thus a priori unlikely in any given case” (53). What is more, even suppose God has a good purpose for redeeming humanity, “given the many alternative ways that this could have been achieved, it is a priori unlikely that he would have chosen to do this in the manner, time, and place depicted in scripture” (53). His argument is summarized thus: “1. A miracle is initially improbable relative to our background knowledge. 2. If a claim is initially improbable relative to our background knowledge and the evidence for it is not strong, then it should be disbelieved. 3. The Resurrection of Jesus is a miracle claim. 4. The evidence for the Resurrection is not strong. 5. Therefore, the Resurrection of Jesus should be disbelieved” (46).
Martin rejects the free will objection that whatever the probabilities are, a person is free to chose otherwise. He insists that the improbabilities for the resurrection of Christ remain low since we do not know God’s mind.
He also rejects the argument that if God exists, there is a high probability that God wants to redeem mankind. He insists that, even granting this, it is still low because we do not know when or where God will chose to resurrect Christ, nor even whether He will since he could redeem mankind some other way.
Response to the Argument:
Martin’s argument is particularly weak for several reasons. First, it admits that given God’s existence, a miracle is possible. If so, then he cannot eliminate the possibility of miracles without disproving God’s existence which no one has succeeded in doing.3
Second, his argument does not eliminate the probability of miracles since if God exists and if He wants to intervene supernaturally, then it is it more than probable that a miracle will happen – it is certain. This in spite of all alleged a priori probabilities to the contrary.
Third, whether a miracle has occurred is not determined by a priori probabilities but by a posteriori facts. Even from a purely experiential perspective, even though the a priori probability is 216 to 1 against getting three sixes on the first toss of three die, it does happen sometimes. And when it does happen, then all probabilities as to whether it would happen are irrelevant. All that is relevant is the evidence as to whether indeed this event did happen.
Fourth, when the free will of God is concerned, the only antecedent factor that is relevant for a miracle is whether He wills for a miracle to happen. And from the empirical side, the only relevant factor as to whether someone came back from the dead is the evidence that he was dead and that he later was alive again. Thus, Martin misses the point on his answer to both proposed objections. For if God wills a resurrection to occur, then there is a 100% chance it will occur. Hence, contrary to the anti-supernaturalist’s claim, given God’s existence, the entire issue boils down to a factual one, namely, what is the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth died and then came back to life some time later.4
Chapter 3: “Why Resurrect Jesus?” by Theodore Drange
Summary of the Argument:
Drange argues that the resurrection of Jesus is not important, saying, “It would have seemed more like a real death if Jesus, or at least his body, had stayed dead. . . . That would have been a greater sacrifice on God’s part. So, the way Christian theology portrays the matter, there is an apparent inconsistency between the atonement and the resurrection” (55).
Further, he finds Charles Hodge’s reasons for the resurrections inadequate.
First, as for Hodge’s claim that “all of Christ’s claims and the success of His work rest on the fact that He rose from the dead” (56), Drange insists that at best, the resurrection would only be a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition. But even this is rejected since “all that the gospel maintains is that Christ’s atonement was successful, and, consequently, salvation has been made possible for humanity. It was the death of Christ, not his resurrection, that was supposed to have atoned for humanity’s sins” (57).
Second, Hodge argued that “on His resurrection depended the mission of the Spirit, without which Christ’s work would have been in vain” (60). This mission included the source of our spiritual life, the revealing of divine truth, the inspiration of the Bible, the influence of people toward faith, the regeneration of their souls, making the sacraments effective, and calling men to ministries in the church. But Drange sees “nothing in this list which could not be accomplished even if Christ’s body had been permanently destroyed” (60).
Third, Hodge argued that Christ’s resurrection secured life for his people. “As He lives, they shall live also. If He had remained under the power of death, there would be no source of spiritual life to men . . .” (61). But Drange believes an afterlife could be possible without a resurrection, and people could have a resurrection without Christ having one shortly after His death.
Fourth, Hodge also contended, “If Christ did not rise, the whole scheme of redemption is a failure . . .” (63). But Drange believes that his response to the first argument of Hodge suffices here also. Some may argue that even if the resurrection was not a necessary way to accomplish redemption, it may have been God’s chosen way. But Drange insists that all Christ’s resurrection would show is that His body was revived, not that this is logically necessary so that ours can as well (65). And as for the claim that the resurrections showed something to humankind in general, he argues that an omnipotent being could have done a better job at marketing or advertising the fact. And even then “the resurrection could have been accomplished through some sort of magic or superscience” (66).
So, “Hodge’s reasons for regarding the Resurrection to be an important event are all failures. . . . So far as Christian theology is concerned, all of them could go on quite well without it . . .” (66). In short, Drange claims that the question “‘Why Resurrect Jesus?’ does not have any reasonable answer within Christian theology. Instead of being essential to the overall system, the Resurrection may very well have been a kind of afterthought on the part of the biblical authors” (67).
Response to the Arguments:
First of all, Drange’s argument is clearly contrary to the biblical record which makes the resurrection necessary for salvation (Rom. 4:25; 10:9). Indeed, Paul said, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Second, Jesus did make an important connection between His life and our spiritual life when He said we shall rise because He did (John 11:25). And Paul did also when he pointed out that Christ was the “firstfruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20; cf. Matt. 27:52-53). In short, if Jesus the Son of God cannot defeat death, then how can we mortals do it. Further, since death was brought about by the Devil, then resurrection is necessary to defeat God’s Adversary the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15).
Third, Christ’s resurrection can be an objective demonstration of God’s work of salvation in Him without all men knowing about it. Wars are often officially over for a long time before all combatants are aware of it. Even laws are officially promulgated without all persons knowing about them.
Fourth, according to the Bible all men will be resurrected but not all will be saved because Christ was resurrected (1 Cor. 15:22; cf. John 5:29). Thus, there is an actual effect on all humankind, even if many are not now aware of it. Indeed, many believers (at least before the time of Christ) were saved on the basis of Christ’s resurrection without knowing about the fact of His resurrection.
Fifth, the incorrigible nature of Drange’s antisupernaturalism is revealed in the fact that he was willing to acknowledge that Christ could have come back from the dead by an act of “some sort of magic or superscience.” Even David Hume admitted that this would be a miracle. If not a resurrection, then what would count as a miracle?
Sixth, it is irrelevant that an afterlife is possible without a resurrection. What is relevant to the discussion is whether the resurrection happened and whether this would constitute a miracle. And the evidence is very strong for both. No amount of a priori improbability or speculation about the alleged logical necessity of it can be determined from the fact of the resurrection and its miraculous nature. And if it is connected with a truth claim of Christ’s deity, then that alone makes it very important. Furthermore, as others have noted, while the resurrection is not necessary to show an afterlife, it certainly evidences heavily the Christian notion of the after life, as well as the truth of Jesus’ teachings.5
Chapter 4: “Apocryphal Apparitions: 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation” by Robert Price
Summary and Response to the Arguments:
Price argues “This periscope presents us . . . with a piece of later, post-Pauline Christianity” (69). In other words, it was not written by Paul but is a later interpolation or redaction. In his own words, “A scribe felt he could strengthen the argument of the chapter as a whole by prefacing it with a list of ‘evidences for the resurrection’” (91). Price offers the following reasons for his view. Response will be given to each argument as presented.
First, Price attempts to shift the burden of proof from those who accept the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 to those who reject it.
Response: But clearly this would unreasonably undermine virtually all ancient texts by the same argument. Further, his argument from the adage that “history is written by the winners” (71) is implausible and contrary to fact. For this is not always true. Indeed, on the accepted dates of 1 Corinthians (A.D. 55-56) by even most critical scholars, Christianity was not a political winner. In fact, it was not a winner until centuries later. What is more, it is Price who bears the burden of proof on his otherwise implausible speculation.
Second, Price’s rejects the argument that a text is “innocent till proven guilty.” Indeed, he argues just the opposite.
Response: But if this were so, hardly anything could be believed from the past or present. For life would be a chaos if we assumed that road signs, speed limits, food labels, and restroom signs were wrong until proven right!
Third, he chides B. B. Warfield for claiming that only the originals are without error. He claims this is misguided and is an unfalsifiable view.
Response: First, it was not Warfield who first claimed this. St. Augustine pointed out 1500 years earlier that only the original manuscripts are without error.6 Further, inerrancy is not unfalsifiable. All one need to do is find an original with an error in it. So, inerrancy is falsifiable in principle and could be in practice, if one found an original with an error in it. The fact that no one has yet found an error leaves open the possibility that there are none. Further, not positing inerrancy halts research for if one assumes an error in the text, then why research the matter any further. Scientists do not stop researching when they come upon an anomaly in nature, and why should we when we find a discrepancy in Scripture.
Fourth, Price lists several internal arguments against the authenticity of the resurrection. However, none are even close to being decisive. Perhaps the strongest argument is: “If the author of this passage were himself an eyewitness of the resurrection, why would he seek to buttress his claims by appeal to a thirdhand list of appearances . . . ?” (88).
Response: First of all, Price is seemingly unaware that he implies the answer in the word “buttress.” Paul did give his own first-hand experience, and then he sought to buttress it with further support from other living eyewitnesses to the event so that his readers could give confirmation. Further, even Price admits there are other possible explanations for each of his objections then. In fact, he makes a very revealing admission that his hypothesis “can in the nature of the case never be more than an unverified speculation” (93).
Fifth, Price makes the strange claim that “the resurrection of Jesus is not even at issue in 1 Corinthians 15” (96)! Thus, he thinks it is not crucial to Paul’s argument.
Response: It is difficult to see how one can read verses 12-19 and make such a claim. Here Paul lists seven disastrous consequences of denying the resurrection of Christ. Later, he calls the resurrection of Christ the “firstfruits” of those who have died (v. 20). And still later he makes Christ in His resurrection power the “last Adam” who brought life to the race in contrast to the “first Adam” who brought death (vs.46-49). Thus, it is central to Paul’s whole argument here. Finally, couple the foregoing point with Price’s acknowledgment of his view that “I freely admit the lack of direct textual evidence” (92). Indeed, one wonders why he even bothered to write the article since it gives all the appearances of grasping for straws. To summarize: (1) He has no manuscript evidence for his view. (2) He admits it is “unverified speculation.” (3) He himself lists possible alternatives to his speculation. (4) It is contrary to some of the earliest testimony of the Church Fathers (1 Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and many others). And (5) other verses in this same section which he rejects speak of the miraculous resurrection of Christ and believers (cf. 1 Cor. 15:12, 20, 22, 26, 42-46, 53-56). So, it is simply untrue that the resurrection of Jesus is not in view here.
Sixth, Price discusses William Craig’s contention that Paul would not have made known the resurrection to them without providing this evidence by claiming it is implicit in verse 12 which Price claims reads well as a continuation of verse 2. And as for Craig’s argument that verse 12 refers back to verse 11, Price contends it refers to verse 1. In response to Craig’s argument that the logic of the chapter demands the authenticity of these verses, Price contends that he has missed the logic of the chapter with the unlikely hypothesis that “the resurrection of Jesus is not even at issue in 1 Corinthians 15” (96). In fact, “‘evidence for the resurrection’ is way out of place there, as Bultmann and others . . . [have] observed” (96). Price also rejects Craig’s attempt to explain why the Gospels do not mention an appearance to the 500, claiming that if it had happened, then surely the Gospels would have mentioned it (81).
Response: At best, Price offers here a faulty argument from silence. He has no positive evidence for his view. What is more, as Habermas notes, even Bultmann admitted that Paul is trying to produce evidence in 1 Cor. 15. Further, some believe this appearance may be mentioned in the Gospels (as the appearance in Galilee – Matt. 28:16). Even if it is not, there is no reason why it cannot be true. After all, almost all scholars agree, even the critics, believe that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and that it is very early – by the mid fifties. By virtue of its being written by an eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8) at such an early date and which offers multiple confirmations by other eyewitnesses, it has a rightful claim to authenticity. Further, as Habermas observes, Price also uses Galatians 1 to note Paul’s comment that he received this materials from the Lord and so he didn’t go to Jerusalem to see the other apostles. This shows that Paul was convinced by his own experience that Christ had been raised from the dead (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1).
Chapter 5: “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of te Empty Tomb” by Richard Carrier
Summary of the Argument:
Carrier believes that “The evidence suggests the first Christians, at least up to and including Paul, thought Christ’s ‘soul’ was taken up to heaven and clothed in a new body, after leaving his old body in the grave forever. The subsequent story, that Jesus actually walked out of the grave with the same body that went into it, leaving an empty tomb to astonish all, was probably a legend that developed over the course of the first century” (105). In order to come to this conclusion, Carrier says, “I will also argue that the claim that his tomb was empty, and his corpse missing, arose a generation or two later” (106). In order to advance his conclusion he posits several premises:
1) New Testament Judaism was favorable to “the idea of a disembodied life separate from one’s body” (107).
2) “It is a very small step to go from that to an idea of the departed soul becoming or being clothed in an entirely new body” (110). He claims both Philo and Josephus indicate this view. The apostle Paul held this view in his use of “change” (= “exchange”) in 1 Corinthians 15 of the mortal for the immortal (135-37 [see n. 158]). Also, his use of the seed analogy shows we get a new body (135). Further, he affirmed the resurrection body was “spiritual” (126-28). And it was not “flesh and blood” (134-35). Hence, Luke 24 can’t be true that it is “flesh and bones” (135). Nor can it have “wounds” (135) for that contradicts Paul’s claim that it is “glorious” and “indestructible” (135). He concludes, “We can therefore reject all the Gospel material emphasizing the physicality of Christ’s resurrection as a polemical invention. Such stories could not have existed in Paul’s day – or, if they did, Paul would surely have regarded them as heresy, a corruption of the true gospel . . .” (135).
3) The “appearances” of Christ were not physical encounters but “spiritual experiences” (151). Paul said he got a “revelation” from Christ (Gal. 1). “This clearly does not mean a flesh-and-blood Jesus knocked on his door, sat down, and told him” (152). It is “an internal and psychologically subjective event, like an ‘out of body experience’” (153). “Acts also depicts Paul’s experience as a vision. . . . However, in every other respect I believe Acts is worthless as a source, because Luke presents three different accounts that all contradict each other, and all contain details that seem contrary to Paul’s own story in Galatians . . .” (154).
4) The empty tomb is a legend based on Mark who wrote about A.D. 70 (plus or minus ten) (155). “This Gospel contains the first known appearance of an empty tomb story. All other accounts rely upon it and basically just embellish it or modify it to suit each author’s own narrative and ideological agenda” (155). “This does not mean these authors must be considered liars. The logic of their sectarian dogma would lead to an honest and sincere belief in an empty tomb: since Jesus must have risen in the flesh, his tomb must have been empty” (156 emphasis in original). They accepted the then respectable, now dubious, premises that: “(1) historical truth can be revealed directly by God through the Holy Spirit, and (2) whatever isn’t historically true is nevertheless didactically true” (156). This means that “the Gospel authors create narratives with deeper, hidden meaning under a veil of history. It was an honest work then, even if it disturbs us today” (156 emphasis in original).
As for the idea of an empty tomb, Carrier says, “I believe he invented it. For Mark the empty tomb was not historical, but symbolic” (156 emphasis in original). This was based on the “‘core’ Gospel inherited from Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, which is ambiguous as to whether Jesus rose in the flesh or the spirit), but also maintaining Mark’s own narrative theme of ‘reversal of expectation’” (156).
In summary, “What I have presented so far is an articulation of my theory as origins of the empty tomb story, first as a metaphor in Mark, then as an inspiring element in the development of a Christian heresy that took the empty tomb as literal, using it to bolster their own doctrine of a resurrection of the flesh. That his heresy became the eventual orthodoxy is simply an accident of history and politics” (167).
5) This theory moves from possible to “plausible” (167) when we note the “fertile soil for the growth of legend” in New Testament times (168). Carrier responds to Craig’s contention that “the sort of legendary embellishment I am advocating should be impossible in so short a time (two generations, roughly forty or fifty years)” (168). This he believes fails for many reasons: (a) “Nor does he discuss the empty tomb narrative, or any miracle at all – his remarks are confined solely to the trial of Jesus” (168). (b) Sherwin-White [Craig’s source] admits that distortion, embroidery, and symbolic exposition of ideas “can arise within two generations” (168). (c) “The Gospel writers are much more akin to the people who believed the legends, than they are to a careful critical historian like Herodotus himself, who often doubts them” (169). (d) Sherwin-White’s test was biased in that he overlooks contrary cases (169 cf. 173). (e) Craig does not define what White means by “hard historic core” (169). This core might not include a physical resurrection, or death and epiphanies. (f) “Herodotus . . . reports that between 480 and 479 BCE the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lighting bolts, and collapsing cliffs, a pseudo-historical event that makes an ‘empty tomb’ look quite boring by comparison” (173). (g) Likewise, Josephus records an “obvious legend” in Jewish War (written A.D. 75-79) that allegedly happened only ten to fifteen years earlier (c. A.D. 66) in which it was as bright as noon at 3 A.M., and “a cow gave birth to a lamb.” Josephus added, “I would have dismissed it as an invention, had it not been vouched for by eyewitnesses, and followed by disasters that bore out the signs. These legends in Herodotus and Josephus are no more incredible than an empty tomb” (174). (h) He adds the Roswell UFO legend that developed “only thirty years after the fact” (174).
He makes an interesting observation that the argument from silence, to be valid, demands that: (1) the writer would have known about the event; and (2) if he knew it, he would have mentioned it. Then he asks, “Are there any authors still extant [in Mark’s day] who would have known there was no empty tomb, and who would have challenged Mark’s claim that there was one? No.
Thus, “I have shown that the culture and time were especially suitable for the rise of a legend, that many comparable legends arose with the same speed of development, that we cannot expect any challenge to an empty tomb legend to have survived, and that our pervasive ignorance makes legend even more likely. Therefore, my theory that the ‘empty tomb’ is a legend is plausible” (182).
6) The appearances traditions make my view move from plausible to probable because they support the post death encounters of Christ as “spiritual epiphanies” not physical appearances (182). The evidence offered for this is: “Obviously hallucination is a far more plausible explanation” (186) because they are like other bereavement experiences. If post resurrection experiences are “hallucinations involving bereavement,” then “Why Paul? He wasn’t among the disciples and experienced Jesus much later than they did. So what brought about his revelation? We can never know for sure – Paul tells us precious little. But I can hypothesize four conjoining factors: guilt at persecuting a people he came to admire; subsequent disgust with fellow persecuting Pharisees; and persuasion (beginning to see what the Christians were seeing in scripture, and to worry about his own salvation); coupled with the right physical circumstances” (187) like heat and fatigue along a lonely road. These conditions induced a “convincing ecstatic event – his unconscious mind producing what he really wanted: a reason to believe the Christians were right after all and atone for his treatment of them, and a way to give his life meaning, by relocating himself from the lower, even superfluous periphery of Jewish elite society, to a place of power and purpose” (187). Matthew embellished with the story of the women grabbing Jesus’ feet (189). Luke is overtly polemical (191) and John’s story “becomes enormously embellished” and “more overtly polemical” (191). All this “directly contradicts Paul” who was earlier and “would not have failed to mention it if it were true” (191-92).
His conclusion is that “the common elements, after wiping away the polemic, propaganda, symbolism, and embellishments, are these: a vision of some mysterious kind inspires or informs someone (perhaps Peter or Mary) with the basic outline of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), and then scriptures are searched for confirmation . . .” (193-94). “And when we examine the Gospels as a whole, what we see is a chronology of exaggeration: from nothing more than ‘revelatory’ experiences in Paul, to a vanished body in Mark, to a vaguely physical encounter with Jesus in Matthew, to a very physical encounter in Luke, all the way to an incredible physical encounter in John (and if we go beyond the canon, the next stage is reflected in the Gospel of Peter: actual witnessing Jesus rise from the grave)” (194).
Finally, “if we add to this the strength of an inference to naturalism . . . , as well as the extraordinarily low probability of a genuine resurrection . . . , then we have a truly strong case, and only one conclusion is justified by the evidence: Jesus is dead. There is no good reason to believe he was physically raised from the grave as later Gospels struggle to show” (196-97). As for the twelve “facts” widely accepted by contemporary scholars, Carrier claims: “My theory is consistent with all but one of them: the discovery of an empty tomb. And I have given ample reason to doubt that.” So, “Christianity cannot be maintained against Naturalism on the case for Christ’s bodily resurrection” (197).
Response to the Arguments:
This is not merely a chapter; it is a small book of 127 pages! Since there is no way to respond to every particular point, we will concentrate largely on the central point of his presentation. First we will make general comments which speak to central points in his thesis. If any one of the first four of these criticisms is correct (and they all appear to be), then Carrier’s conclusion fails. Then we will respond to specific misinterpretations relevant to his thesis.
I. Some General Comments on Significant Points:
1. His dates for the Gospels are too late. Luke was written by A.D. 61-62.7 Carrier believes Mark was written before Luke which would be the late 50s. This is too early for embellishment since the apostles were still alive.
2. His interpretation of Paul and 1 Corinthians is faulty. (a) The resurrection body was not immaterial. The word “spiritual” (pneumatikos) used by Paul in Corinthians means physical, as is demonstrated by its use of the water, manna, and rock God used to nourish Israel (1 Cor. 10:3-4). (b) Soma, which is used of the resurrection body, means a physical body.8 (c) Appearances are literal, and (d) the Gospels overlap with Paul (1 Tim. 5:18 cites Luke 10:7 and were written before Paul died). Also, Tom Wright’s research in The Resurrection of the S on of God shows that anastasis is almost uniformly used by ancient Jews, pagans, and Christians as bodily in nature, with this being the case until about A.D. 200.9
3. Further, in 1 Cor. 6:13-15 Paul makes it very clear that it is the physical body (soma) that will be raised, saying, “Foods for the stomach and stomach for foods, but God will destroy both of them [by death]. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a Harlot? Certainly not.” Several things are clear from this text. First, in each case the word body is soma which Gundry10 demonstrates always means physical body when used of an individual human being. Second, in this context it clearly means physical body since it that which of (a) eats food and (b) has a stomach, and (c) is the instrument of fornication. Third, what will be “raised up” later is clearly that which is “destroyed” by death.
4. There is an identity between pre and post resurrection body11 (a) See John 2:19-22 where the “it” affirms that the same body that died comes back to life. (b) It had the crucifixion scars on it (Luke 24; John 20). (c) Paul’s seed analogy implies identity. Carrier wrongly concludes that those who “grew up in an agricultural society” (146) would not imply identity, but he is mistaken since the same dormant plant (inside the seed) that goes in the soil comes out of it. Every farmer knows that if you plant wheat, wheat comes out – the same wheat you planted, not another kind. (d) Romans 8:11 says “our mortal bodies will be ‘made alive’” (149), not replaced by another body. In order to avoid this, Carrier has to claim that this is either a “contradiction” in Paul, or it is not about the resurrection but about our “present life” (149). But this cannot be because: (1) Paul uses “flesh” made alive, not spirit, and (2) Verse 23 in context speaks of resurrection (150). (e) 1 Corinthians 15 says to “put on” not replace. And (f) resurrection is “standing up” of a physical body.
5. He admits his argument is weak and biased. He says, “nor do I have any direct ‘proof’ that legendary embellishment is at play” (180). He claims, “This sparseness of the historical record thwarts everyone’s ability to fully understand these narratives” (180 emphasis in original). He admits the argument from silence is weak (177); however, he uses it to support his thesis (see below). Yet he comes to the unwarranted conclusion that his argument is probable and even highly probable (196).
6. He admits the early Fathers held resurrection of the flesh (123) in opposition to his view. Indeed, later Fathers did too. Only Origen, whose views were condemned as heretical, is quoted in his favor of his view. He cites Origen’s unorthodox views, saying, “It is clear that Origen’s conception is much closer to Paul’s than anything we find in the rest of the Church Fathers” (144). He cites Gnostic cults favorably on a spiritual resurrection body (137-38). In short, he claims second and third century heretics and cults are right, and that the first century apostles and eyewitness testimony are wrong on the physical resurrection.
7. How can an implausible hypothesis move a view from plausible to probable? He claims that the appearances traditions make his view move from plausible. But these appearances recorded in the Gospels were physical not “spiritual epiphanies,” as he claims (182).
8. His counter-examples are not parallel cases. The Josephus legend about a cow giving birth to a lamb is not the same as the empty tomb story for many reasons (174). First, it is a single example, not multiple cases. There were twelve resurrection appearances to a total of over 500 people. Second, the Josephus story is based on hearsay evidence whereas there were numerous eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ (Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, James, and Paul). Third, the Josephus story is against the natural; the biblical reports are of events that are beyond the natural (i.e., supernatural) but not against the natural. Even in Christ’s virgin birth it is a human giving birth to a human, not a cow giving birth to a lamb! Fourth, something that extraordinary needs multiple confirmations. The resurrection did. It had over 500 witnesses on twelve different occasions, with direct physical encounters (seeing, hearing, touching, and eating) which turned skeptics into the world’s most jealous and effective missionary society.
Likewise, the Roswell UFO case was different in crucial respects. First, it was exposed as a fraud by contemporaries; the resurrection was not. Second, there is physical evidence for the alleged UFO men, namely, the military dummies used, etc. At best, this illustrates how credulous some people can be, but it does not show how the evidence for the empty tomb and resurrection can be explained naturally. And to explain its success in revealing a fraud a result of modern technology (a) begs the question; (b) is an argument from silence; (c) a could on the same ground explain away are unusual events from the past like the victories of Napoleon.12
II. Some Specific Comments:
There are numerous points related to his argument that are worthy of brief comment, most of which lead to an opposite conclusion from his.
1) Carrier admits that “Luke probably believed he was writing history . . .” (p. 225, n. 315). Indeed, Luke did write history, and it was very good history (see Hemer). And contrary to Carrier, there are no contradictions in Luke’s accounts.13 If so, then there is no good reason to reject his account of the resurrection of Christ in the same physical body in which He died (Luke 24).
Carrier’s attempt to undermine the accuracy of Luke is feeble (p. 230, n. 364). He says Luke had a penchant to double (e.g., two angels at the tomb, two angels at ascension, two men on road). But Matthew has two blind men healed and Luke only one. As for how there can be both two and one at the same time, there is an infallible mathematical principle that reconciles these verses: whenever you have two, you always have one. It never fails! The Gospels that say one do not say only one. Further, no one else mentions the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and it would be unlikely that one would walk alone. Further, he claims that Luke mistakenly gives the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus as seven miles when it was really fourteen. This is not doubling; it is half-ing. Further, Josephus (Wars of the Jews 7.6.6), a first century eyewitness, gives the exact same distance as Luke did (24:13)!
2) Carrier claims: “Nor do any of the other epistles, whoever actually wrote them, assert a resurrection in the flesh or even suggest it” (148). This is not true. Paul did (Rom. 8:11 cf v. 23). Paul says the resurrection body was “soma” (1 Cor. 15:44) – a word which means a physical body when used of individuals in the New Testament (as Gundry demonstrated). Further, John refers to Christ in his post resurrection body as being in “the flesh” – 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7). Indeed, Paul speaks of the same body that was taken from the cross as being raised from the dead (Acts 13:29-30). He even cites the same verse Peter did in proof of the resurrection of the “flesh” (Acts 13:35 cf. Acts 2:31). Paul also uses soma which means physical body as interchangeable with flesh (1 Cor. 15:38-39).
3) Carrier acknowledges that two words are used for resurrection in the New Testament (anastasis (rising up) and egersis (waking up), but both of these words imply a physical body which he denies (154). Further, Jesus said that at the resurrection of believers they would “come forth” from the “graves” (John 5:28-29). But this is where their dead bodies were. Further, it is the body that sleeps, not the soul. The soul is conscious between death and resurrection (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 6:9; Luke 23:43; Matt. 17:3). Hence, it is the body that arises out of its “sleep” which Jesus said refers to death (John 11:11, 14).
4) He also wrongly claims that Mark records Jesus as saying, “I will destroy this holy residence made by hands, and in three days build another house not made by hands” (157). What Mark actually recorded is that Jesus’ accusers claimed: “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days” (Mark 15:29, emphasis added). This fits with what Jesus actually said, namely, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 emphasis added). It is clear that the temple (body) that died was the same one that would be raised from the dead (cf. v. 21). Paul said substantially the same thing in Acts 13:29: “. . . they took Him [i.e., His body’] down from the cross, and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. And He was seen for many days…” (Emphasis added). Clearly the first two references to “Him” are to His body that was killed and then laid in a tomb. But the last two references (which are to resurrection and appearances) are to the same “Him” (or He), revealing the identity of the pre and post-resurrection body of Jesus.
5) Carrier attacks the argument used by defenders of the physical resurrection that no one ever produced the body or refuted Paul’s claim of the many witnesses who were still alive, saying, it is an illicit argument from silence (177). Yet he himself uses the same kind of argument, claiming that his legend theory is correct even though there is no direct evidence for it. He argued, “This is because, unlike today, very little got recorded in antiquity, and of that little, very little came into the hands of later writers, and of that, very little again survived the intervening two thousand years, in its entirety or in quotation, for us to consult today” (177). But this is clearly an argument from silence. By contrast, Paul provides positive, eyewitness evidence for the resurrection.
6) Further, he contends that an argument from silence is sometimes valid if (a) the writer would have known about the event, and (b) if he knew it, he would have mentioned it. The writer knew about the event. But by this same argument, Acts is dated before 62 and Luke before that (see Acts 1:1 and Luke 1:1) (see Hemer). For surely Luke would have known if Jerusalem had been destroyed and if Peter and Paul had died. And surely he would have mentioned it since he is writing a history of events surrounding that place and time period. Further, when Carrier’s test is applied to his own legend theory that Mark added the empty tomb story and the other Gospels embellished it, neither of his two criteria is met. But, as important as this alleged embellishment was, then surely it would have been known and mentioned by one of the many contemporary New Testament writers, but it was not.
7) Carrier uses another weak argument from silence when he declares that “we have no evidence that Christ’s tomb was venerated. For the site of the greatest miracle in history, in which God Incarnate himself once rested, would have been venerated even if empty – indeed, especially then” (179 emphasis in original). This meets the first criteria (surely it was known) but not the second. For monotheistic Jews, as the disciples were, would not involve themselves in idolatry which this would have been to them. Any later attempt by others who would have made a shrine of it would have been thwarted by the fact that the Christians were scattered and then Jerusalem was destroyed. As Habermas notes, this argument is somewhat strange in that, in the scholarly literature, that the tomb was not venerated is an argument in favor of the empty tomb.
8) He admits “nor do I have any direct ‘proof’ that legendary embellishment is at play” (180). He claims “this sparseness of the historical record thwarts everyone’s ability to fully understand these narratives” (180 emphasis in original). Isn’t this too an argument from silence? Further, this does not hinder scientists or historians from reconstructing the past.
9) “Hence I [Carrier] agree with Robert Gundry . . . [that soul can’t survive without soma] though soma could be used in antiquity to mean ‘person’ in an abstract sense, Paul does not use it that way” (215, n. 211). If so, then the resurrection body must have been physical since Gundry proved that soma always means a physical body when used of an individual human being in the New Testament. But Paul used the word soma of it in 1 Cor. 15:44.
10) He claims Herodotus was a critical historian and yet says, “Far from being a model of accuracy, Herodotus was widely known even in antiquity as the ‘Father of Lies’” (225, n. 314).
11) He denies the historicity of Luke but admits that “unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke probably believed he was writing history, and may have believed, though wrongly, that Mark had too” (225, n. 315). But Colin Hemer firmly establishes the historicity of Luke’s writings.
12) He claims that Mary did not touch Jesus nor did Jesus keep his promise to Mary (230, n. 368). But this is refuted by several lines of evidence. First, she was already touching Jesus in this encounter for the text should be translated “Do not hold me” (John 20:17 RSV). Or “Do not hold on to me” (NIV) Or better, “Stop clinging to Me” (NASB). The Greek word is haptou (fr. hapto) which means “touch, take hold of, hold.” Indeed, Arndt and Gingrich list a case where it means “stop clinging to me” (p.102). Second, the women in Matthew “clasped his feet” and Mary was among them (Matt. 28:1, 9). Further, He promised to ascend to His Father which He did bodily (Acts 1:10-11).
13) Finally, there are many problems with his speculative reconstruction of why Paul converted. Not only do we not have any evidence for any of these, but there is often evidence to the contrary, such as Paul’s remorse.14
Chapter 6: “The Case Against the Empty Tomb” by Peter Kirby
Summary of the Argument:
In his own words, Kirby declares: “I will argue that the empty tomb narrative is the invention of the author Mark. This conclusion will be supported by showing that all reports of the empty tomb are dependent upon Mark, that there are signs of fictional creation in the empty tomb narrative in Mark, that the empty tomb story as told by Mark contains improbabilities, and that other traditions of the burial and appearances support a reconstruction of the events that excludes the discovery of an empty tomb” (233).
First, there are at least four other possibilities: “1. Jesus was left hanging on the cross for the birds. 2. The Romans disposed of the body, perhaps in a ‘limed pit.’ 3. The body of Jesus was buried by the Jews in some sort of criminal’s grave. 4. The body of Jesus remained buried in a tomb” (233). He adds, “On the face of it, each one of these hypotheses is plausible” (234). Kirby does not defend any one of these but is content simply to attempt to show that Mark fabricated the story.
Second, Mark’s story of the empty tomb is probably a fiction for several reasons. First of all, the other Gospels depend on Mark. “Paul nowhere mentions the empty tomb in his letters,” (234) and his account is earlier than Mark. Further, there are evidences of “redactional changes to Mark in Luke” (234).
Third, there are fictional characteristics in Mark. The existence of previous stories of the same type is a “well-known indication in favor of fiction.” Such is found in the 2 Kings 2:9-18 where Elijah is taken into heaven and his body cannot be found (237). There is also evidence that Joseph of Arimathea is “a fictional character” since the location has not been found and his name means “best disciple in town” (238). What is more, there are improbabilities in Mark that point to the fictional nature of his resurrection story like why the women went to the tomb if they knew there was a stone, there and they could not get into it (242)?
Fourth, according to Kirby, “There are traditions concerning the burial and appearances of Jesus that provide evidence against the story of the discovery of an empty tomb” (246). He cites the apocryphal Secret Book of James saying Jesus was buried in the sand as an example (246). The Gospel of Peter says Jesus’ body was taken down by his Jewish enemies (248).
Fifth, 1 Corinthians 15 “. . . is widely acknowledged to be the earliest and best evidence that is available” (248). But here Peter was the first witness, not the women (249). The story of the women “is probably not a historical tradition” (249). For it “has every sign of being redactional” (249). Neither Mark nor Luke mentions it which is strange if it is historical.
So, if there was no empty tomb, no resurrection is needed to explain it; “an alternative explanation, such as the relocation hypothesis, will serve us well. But if there were no empty tomb, then there was no bodily resurrection.” (256).
Response to the Argument:
This chapter is weak in evidence and strong in assumptions – all of which can be seriously challenged with good evidence. Let us examine the assumptions and invalid conclusions.
First of all, the empty tomb is found in the earliest Christian documents on which critics and non-critics agree. 1 Corinthians was written by A.D 55-56, and it affirms that Christ was “buried” [in a grave] and that he was “raised” from this grave. By simple logic that means the tomb was left empty. Further, critics like Kirby accept Mark as the earliest Gospel, with Matthew and Luke coming later. But there are very strong arguments for Luke writing about A.D. 60-61 (see Hemer). This would place Mark in the late 50s. Even critical scholar, Bishop Robinson dated Mark as early as A.D. 45-60. At this point Kirby’s whole hypothesis collapses since it is too early for his redaction thesis to unfold. It is during the time of multiple eyewitnesses whose memories were still fresh with these impact events. Further, all the “core” truths of the gospel, namely, Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances are in these early documents. So, even if there were later literary enhancements, they would not affect the core truths of Christianity which include a bodily resurrection leaving an empty tomb behind.
Second, Kirby assumes that Mark wrote first, but this can be seriously challenged on several grounds. The earliest historical testimony (of Papias) affirmed that Matthew wrote first. Further, almost all the early Fathers of the Church agreed. Indeed, even some contemporary liberal scholars (like Farmer) and many conservative scholars (like Harold Hoehner) agree that Matthew wrote first. What is more, all the literary data can be explained equally well with Mark following Matthew. At any rate, the issue of whether Matthew or Mark writes first does not affect the strong evidence that both Matthew and Mark write before Luke, probably in the late 50s.
Third, putting Mark first fits Kirby’s unproven evolutionary redaction assumption because Mark is shorter and the others can be made to look like a longer development of Mark. This is akin to Bruno Bauer putting John in the second century as a result of assuming an unfounded Hegelian dialectic that demanded this because John was allegedly a later synthesis of the earlier thesis of Peter and antithesis of Paul. However, the early dating of John within the first century due to the discovery of the John Ryland Fragment was dated just after the end of the first century in a little town in Egypt. This along with the evidence from Qumran let the Dean of Archaeology of the twentieth century, Professor William F. Albright, to date the entire New Testament by A.D. 75 and John even earlier.15 So, the factual evidence flies in the face of the a priori evolutionary and developmental hypotheses.
Fourth, even granting (against the evidence) a late date for Mark, Kirby’s redactional assumptions are improbable. Even he seems to admit that they are for he uses tentative terms like “possibilities” (233), “I have a vague sense of implausibility” (254) “a weak indication” (249), “vestiges” of a tradition (248), “suggests”(250), “suggestive possibility” (251), “likely” (248), “does give the impression of” (251). To conclude that all this leads to a conclusion that is a “convincing case” and “extremely likely” (256) is a non sequitur which way oversteps the premises.
Fifth, like other skeptics, Kirby denies the use of a strong argument from silence to conservative scholars and uses the weak and obviously invalid argument from silence for himself. In fact, his central thesis (that Mark fabricated the empty tomb story) is an argument from silence. For he does not have a shred of historical evidence to support it. In fact, he admitted the same when he said he has no direct positive evidence for his view.
Sixth, his hypothesis is totally opposed to the New Testament repeated claim of eyewitness basis for their reports. John says, “The man who saw it [the crucifixion] has given testimony, and his testimony is true” (John 19:35). Again, “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true (John 21:24 cf. 1 John 1:1). The Book of Acts records that “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:32). Peter and John declared, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Again, “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10:39-40). Paul affirms that “. . . He [Jesus] was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Even critics admit this was written A.D. 55-56 only twenty or so years after the resurrection when numerous eyewitnesses were still alive, including most of the apostles. Luke asserts: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1-2). And as Habermas adds, if critics object to the use of these straightforward New Testament attestations, it is odd how often they use other New Testament texts when they think they fit their needs.
Seventh, Kirby’s hypothesis does not account for the fact that the New Testament writers carefully distinguish their words from those of Jesus (cf. Jn. 2:20-22; Acts 20:35). In fact, any intelligent youth could make a red letter edition of the Gospels with little trouble whatsoever. The apostle Paul did the same (1 Cor. 7:10-12; 11:24-25). Thus, protests of innocent redactions to the contrary, his view makes liars out of multiple eyewitnesses who testified to the resurrection. And he has nothing to account for the fact that honest eyewitnesses and martyrs deliberately fabricated stories about Christ’s resurrection and appearances.
Eighth, in spite of the difficulties in reconciling the eyewitness and contemporary accounts, they are all explainable (see Geisler and Howe, When Critics Ask). Further, the problems we have in the New Testament pale in comparison with the implausibility of his redactional hypotheses of the events. A good example is that of making the story of Elijah’s disappearance the basis for the empty tomb story (237). Besides being a post hoc fallacy (after this, therefore, because of this), it is not a parallel case since Elijah did not die and rise again. In short, Kirby’s redactional explanation is more difficult to believe than Mark’s account of the empty tomb.
Ninth, many of the links in Kirby’s chain of argument are weak. For example, the argument that Joseph of Arimathea is “a fictional character” since the location has not been found and his name means “best disciple town” (238). The first is the weak argument from silence, and the second is senseless. I knew an actual man who was the road commissioner in our county near Dallas whose name was Dusty Rhoads. It is unlikely and humorous but not fictional!
Chapter 7: “Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story” by Jeffery Lowder
Summary of the Argument:
Lowder responds to William Craig’s ten arguments for the empty tomb view (which is a key point in his evangelical apologetic), saying, “I shall argue that Craig has not shown that the resurrection is the best explanation for that emptiness.” He adds, “Though I shall not argue the story is false, I shall argue that even if the story is historical, its historicity is not established on the basis of any of Craig’s arguments as they stand” (261).
The overall logic of the argument is summarized well by Lowder: “The relocation hypothesis is clearly superior to the resurrection hypothesis according to the other criteria. . . . However, the relocation hypothesis does not so far exceed its rivals that there is little chance of a rival hypothesis exceeding it in meeting these conditions. It would not take much specific counter evidence – such as a first-century Jewish text specifying that a criminal like Jesus did not have to be buried in the criminals’ graveyard, combined with an account by Joseph of Arimathea himself stating he was a sympathizer of Jesus – to make the honorable burial hypothesis more acceptable than the relocation hypothesis. Nevertheless, such evidence does not exist. On the other hand, we lack direct evidence for the relocation hypothesis. According to McCullagh’s methodology, then, we should suspend judgment on it” (297 emphasis in original). So, “in the absence of inductively correct arguments for or against the historicity of the empty tomb story, I suggest that the historian qua historian should be agnostic about the matter” (298).
Response to the Argument:
First, Lowder’s argument is based on a priori probability, not a posteriori fact. He admits he has no “direct” evidence for his view (297). He also speaks repeatedly about advance probability in terms like “initial probability” (265), “prior probability” (264), “prior to considering the unique circumstances” (264), and “intrinsic improbability” (265). But all one needs is an actual fact, or even probable evidence for an event, in order to overcome whatever advanced improbability it may have had. For example, all naturalists (anti-supernaturalists) hold to spontaneous generation of first life in the cosmos, but the advanced probability is exceedingly low. In fact, it is so low, for since Redi and Pastuer no biology teacher would allow it for an explanation of how life can allegedly appear in a properly sterilized and capped beaker in a science lab.
Second, Lowder admits that the resurrection story may be true, saying, “I shall not argue that the story is false” (261). But this admits that it might be true. Why then should one reject it on a priori grounds. It should be sufficient that our earliest documents affirm it (both 1 Cor. 15 and Mark 16).
Third, he admits that his thesis is weakened further if Joseph was a disciple or if Jesus need not have been buried in a criminal’s grave. But the first century eyewitness account of John (cf. Jn. 21:24 cf. 1 Jn. 1:1-2) affirms clearly that Joseph was “a disciple of Jesus” (Jn. 19:38). Further, there were exceptions to the common practice of burying criminals in a common grave. And the text says explicitly that “Pilate gave him permission” to bury Jesus (Jn. 19:38). This being the case, by his own confession, Kirby’s argument collapses.
Fourth, his basic argument is an invalid argument from silence. The repeated use of “for all we know”(277, 284, 288, 291) is ample evidence for this conclusion. This euphemism is just another way of saying “I have no actual evidence for my position.” This is in fact an admission that he has no real basis for his speculation.
Fifth, there are factually unsubstantiated premises in Lowder’s argument. For example, it is crucial to his view that Jesus as a criminal was not given an honorable burial in a tomb. But even if this was a common practice, it does not follow that it was likely that Jesus actually was given this kind of burial. Indeed, the facts are to the contrary. The early documents only speak of his being buried in Joseph’s tomb in a honorable way. There is no evidence to the contrary.
Sixth, his hypothesis that Joseph moved Jesus’ body on Saturday is without any actual evidence and is contrary to the evidence we do have. First, he admits Joseph was a pious Jew and we know pious Jews did not work on the Sabbath (271). But moving the body would have been a violation of the Sabbath. Second, his view does not explain how Joseph got past the guards who protected the tomb and who were not disciplined for negligence of duty.
Seventh, Lowder’s conclusion is defended by another unsupported contention that “there is no evidence that the Jewish authorities . . . even cared to refute Christian claims” (273). This is contrary to fact for several reasons. 1) The Jewish authorities opposed Christianity as a sect and had every reason to want to squelch it. 2) They also opposed the early Christian claims that Jesus rose from the dead (cf. Acts 4-9).
Eighth, he ignores the overwhelming evidence for the historicity of the book of Acts (see Hemer) which refutes Lowder’s thesis by recording that Jesus did rise from the dead as indicated by many “indisputable proofs” (Acts 1:2) by which God has “given assurance of this to all by raising Him [Christ] from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Indeed, the physical appearances of Christ are verified in Acts by Jesus “being seen by them during forty days” (Acts 1:3) and even “eating with them” (Acts 1:4–NIV). Even Peter, who is accepted by Carrier as the first witness, recorded Jesus eating after the resurrection in Acts 10:41 in his kerygma sermon as affirming that “God raised [Jesus] up on the third day, and showed him openly . . . to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after he arose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41). Indeed, earlier Peter spoke of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Christ in the “flesh” (sarx) (Acts 2:31).
Ninth, Lowder’s thesis is based on unacceptably late dates for the Gospels of A.D. 70 and beyond. Both the Dean of twentieth century archaeology, William F. Albright,16 and the radical New Testament critic, Bishop John Robinson,17 posited earlier dates during which most of the apostles and eyewitness were still living. Their presence leaves no room for Lowder’s relocation thesis or for any view short of a physical resurrection of Christ.
Further, he totally ignores the evidence that Luke wrote his Gospel by about A.D. 60 (see Hemer and Luke 1:1 cf. Acts 1:1). But Luke speaks not only of the empty tomb but physical appearances of Christ with tangible evidence of scars and the ability to eat food. This totally defeats Lowder’s hypothesis.
Chapter 8: “Taming the Tehom: the Sign of Jonah in Matthew” by Evan Fales
Summary of the Arguments:
Fales claims that “it is a familiar feature of the Gospel passion narrative that virtually every major element of the story, in each of its differing versions, is anticipated in the Hebrew Bible” (307). He notes his dependence on “Durkeim and Levi-Strauss which I draw heavily upon” (309) “with some significant divergences” (317). “Levi-Strauss, influenced by Hegelian dialectic, by the structural semantics of Ferdinand de Saussure, and by information-processing theory, analyzes myths as being comprised of layers of ‘contradicting’ or contrasting themes, each layer somehow resolving itself in or reducing to the next . . . thereby defusing the dissonance caused by the original difficulty” (317). He asserts that “Matthew’s passion narrative offers, as we shall see, some sterling examples for structural analysis . . .” (319). “I presuppose two hypotheses that are clearly controversial – that Matthew is myth, and that myths are (primarily) engaged in the business of social/political theorizing (and not speculations about ‘spooky stuff’)” (320).
As for miracles, he adds, “I think Hume was correct in arguing that no sensible person will accept a miracle report as veridical, except possibly on the basis of massive verifiable independent testimony from verifiably competent witnesses” (311). The basic steps of his reasoning are as follows: First, Jesus was not in the grave 72 hours as “three days and three nights imply.” Second, Fales finds the explanation in Hebrew mythology about Jonah (322) and Greek myths (323) which depicts Israel’s deliverance from Assyria and Jesus’ resurrection the Israel’s deliverance from the powers that be (325).
Fales admits that “there is no logical incompatibility between accepting my analysis of Matthew’s chronology, and a literalist conception of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Most readers will, of course, recognize the profound distance between the interpretive methodology I have employed and that favored by fundamentalists” (331). He argues that “the hypothesis that Matthew’s project is to propose a serious political program allows the approach taken here to escape other stock objections regularly raised against ‘liberal’ and skeptical interpretations of the Gospels” (332). For example, the resurrection was not necessary to the survival of Christianity and the courage of early Christians. Rather, it survived because “it was able to formulate a political theory, strategy, and program that spoke powerfully to the condition of many people, rich and poor, Jewish and Gentile, in Judea and across the Roman Empire” (333). “There is, therefore, no reason to assume (though also no particular reason to deny) that Peter, Paul, or any other Christian leader may have had some subjective religious experience, whether involving an apparition of Jesus or some more inwardly directed ecstatic state” (333).
As to whether Matthew has a “historical core,” Fales says “it does not matter very much to the project I have undertaken here” (334 emphasis in original). For “once one adopts the theoretical framework proposed here, one can proceed without knowing how to answer these particular historical questions, interesting as they might be in their own right” (334). “There is nothing in my reading of Matthew’s Gospel that excludes the possibility of a historical founder of Christianity who taught in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and courted execution at the hands of the authorities” (334). “On the other hand, we can see clearly from the theoretical perspective I am recommending how artificial is the project of trying to separate history from legend, by ‘peeling away’ putatively apocryphal accretions to an unvarnished historical memory so as to reveal a mundane core upon which to confer the mantle of truth. For the ‘realistic’ elements of the plot are just as integral to the message of the narrative as are the fantastical ones. If some of them are historical, that is a lucky accident; if it had served Matthew’s purpose to make up realistic episodes, he would not have hesitated to do so” (334). “Was Jesus bodily raised from the tomb after a day and two nights? Anyone who accepts the interpretation offered here will recognize this question is profoundly misguided, but not because the answer must surely be no” (334). Why? “. . . because to entertain it is to reveal a complete incomprehension of Matthew’s purpose, a misunderstanding so fundamental as virtually to preclude recognition of the truths Matthew means to convey” (334).
Response to the Argument:
First of all, Fales admitted that “there is nothing in my reading of Matthew’s Gospel that excludes the possibility of a historical founder of Christianity who taught in Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and courted execution at the hands of the authorities” (334). Further, he does not rule out the possibility of a literal resurrection of Christ. Indeed, he admits that “there is no logical incompatibility between accepting my analysis of Matthew’s chronology, and a literalist conception of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (331).
Second, his rejection of miracles in based on Hume’s faulty argument (see Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind) against them (311) and does not allow for the resurrection to be a historical event (334). But if God exists, miracles are possible. And if the evidence shows one has occurred – as the evidence for the resurrection does – then no prior probability against them can counter the fact that one has occurred. Further, extraordinary events do not need extraordinary evidence (unless one is biased against miracles); they just need good evidence. There is no extraordinary evidence for the “Big Bang” origin of the universe; there is just such good evidence that even some agnostics accept that the universe had a beginning (and thus by logical implication, must have had a Beginner).18 (see Jastrow).
Third, all five reasons he gives for rejecting a literal view of the resurrection (see 332) can be seriously challenged. Contrary to his contention, (1) The appeal to a divine Cause does have explanatory value and still grips hearts. (2) There is evidence not otherwise explainable that favors the bodily resurrection, namely, all the evidence for the historicity of the New Testament. (3) The alleged historical implausibility is an unjustified historical uniformitarianism that begs the question. (4) We cannot set the question of miracles aside because if God exists, miracles are possible. And if the New Testament documents are historical, then miracles are actual. (5) Uniform experience of the past cannot be used against miracles (singularities); otherwise naturalists could not believe in the Big Bang or the spontaneous generation of first life, as they do.
Fourth, all the philosophical presuppositions used by Fales have been challenged, even by others who do not believe in the miracle of the resurrection. Hegelianism has been shown not to fit the facts of history. Structuralism’s bracketing the question of existence is self-defeating and begs the question. Mythologism is contrary to the biblical text and is self-defeating since it assumes we know the literal truth about the past so that we can call a text myth. Saussure’s conventionalism (relativism) view of meaning is self-defeating since it assumes the meaning of the conventionalist’s claim is objective. And the basic foundational laws of thought are not culturally relative. That is, we cannot deny the laws of logic without using them in the very denial.
Fifth, Fales claims that “it is a familiar feature of the Gospel passion narrative that virtually every major element of the story, in each of its differing versions, is anticipated in the Hebrew Bible” (307). If this is so, then, first of all, what need is there to find Old Testament origins in Greek myth which he and other critical scholars use? Further, since the Old Testament foreshadowed the bodily resurrection of Christ (Psalm 2, 16) and of believers (Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2), then why deny a bodily resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, even New Testament personages believed in a physical resurrection such as the Pharisees (Acts 23:8), Jesus’ Jewish audience (Matt. 22:23-30), his friend Martha (John 11:23-24), his disciple Matthew (27:52-53), and John the apostle (John 5:28-29).
Sixth, the Bible condemns the use of myth every time the word is used. Indeed, Peter said “We did not follow cunningly devised fables (Gk. muthois) . . ., but were eyewitness of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Paul exhorted not to “give heed to fables” (1 Tim. 1:4; cf. 4:7; 2 Tim. 4:4; Titus 1:14).
Seventh, Fales states but dismisses without argument the view that “the genre of the Gospels is that of biography, on the strength of arguments that Acts is ‘clearly’ a historical work, that Luke, continuous with Acts and declared by Luke 1:1-4 to be ‘historical,’ is therefore so as well, and that the other Gospels share the same genre as Luke” (309). But given the decisive work of Colin Hemer,19 whatever the genre, Luke is clearly claiming his account is historically accurate. Further, the alleged Hellenistic mythical ‘parallels’ to Gospel stories are not really parallels at all. The figure and ideology of Jesus are thoroughly rooted in messianic orthodox Judaism, which rejected Hellenistic religious ideas; hence neither Jesus nor his biographers would even have borrowed Hellenistic themes which were polytheistic, not monotheistic (309-310).
Eighth, Fales criticizes conservatives for neglecting the “enormous Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature regarding death and resurrection (both Jewish and pagan)” (322) found in Frazer’s Golden Bough.20 First of all, evangelicals have not ignored it. Professors Ronald Nash21 and Edwin Yamauchi22 have addressed it. And the truth is that these are largely cases of reincarnation into another body, not resurrection of the same body to immortality by polytheistic gods, not by a theistic God. These are crucial differences that invalidate the Greek myths as a source of biblical truth. There are three isolated quotes on in the New Testament, but none is on the resurrection (Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 15:33; Titus 1:12). There are absolutely no references to pagan sources for the resurrection. Rather, the Old Testament is quoted and alluded to hundreds of times as the source of New Testament truth, including the physical resurrection (cf. Acts 2:25-32; Acts 13:33-37 cf. Acts 17:2-3).
Ninth, while Fales promotes a symbolical mythological interpretation of the New Testament, he fails to realize this cannot be done without a literal understanding of the text. For one cannot know what is not literal (e.g., symbolic), unless he knows what is literal. Indeed, Fales illustrates this point in his approach to the Jonah text by Matthew. For he reasons that “three days and nights cannot be understood literally, since Jesus was only in the grave for a day and a half. Hence, it must be taken symbolically.”
Tenth, as Fales admits, his theses are controversial. Indeed, his central thesis is farfetched and is rejected by the vast majority of New Testament scholars. How he can take the intention of the biblical author as the source of meaning and claim the resurrection was the political triumph of Christianity over the political powers that wished to dominate it is beyond imagination! It is pure and unmitigated eisegesis of the text!
Eleventh, ironically, his whole symbolic structuralism castle in the sky is based on the failure to see the phrase “three days and three nights” as a figure of speech which conservative scholars acknowledge. Also, had he only taken his own affirmation seriously that the roots of the New Testament, especially Matthew, are in the Old Testament, he would have known that this phrase is a Hebraism meaning any part of a “day/night” unit. For the Psalmist said the righteous person was to meditate on God’s law “day and night.” Certainly he did not mean for 24 hours but daily. Second, the book of Esther shows that three days and three nights can mean less than that. For she appeared “on the third day” before the king (which would be Sunday, if it was then Friday) and yet they were not to drink or eat for “three days, night or day” (4:16) in the interim. The literal method of interpretation always leaves room for figures of speech within the overall literal meaning.23
Chapter 9: “The Plausibility of Theft” by Richard Carrier
Carrier claims, “But there are still other accounts that remain at least as good as the supernatural alternative. So even if the empty tomb story is not a legend, it is not necessary to conclude that only a genuine resurrection would explain it” (349). “The present essay demonstrates the plausibility (but by no means the certainty) of the hypothesis that the body of Jesus was stolen. In the process, it also presents several reasons to doubt Matthew’s claim that the tomb of Jesus was guarded, including the fact that the entire episode bears apparent and deliberate parallels with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den” (349).
Carrier challenges William Craig’s arguments that there is no positive evidence for the stolen body hypothesis for several reasons.
First, he responds to Craig’s argument that we don’t know anyone who had a motive to do so. Carrier argues that necromancers did, looking for body parts for use in their ceremonies (350). The disciples did also as Trypho the Jew charged to Justin Martyr (351). An annoyed vindictive gardener could have a motive (351). At least one of Jesus’ entourage of 70 could have engaged in pious deceit (352).
Second, Craig said only a few persons knew where the grave was, but Joseph and the women knew, as did the Roman guards (and anyone who may enquire from them by bribery or otherwise) (352).
Third, contrary to Craig, there was plenty of time to pull it off. There were thirty-six hours. There were two whole nights before the guards were stationed when most people were home for the Sabbath – “there could hardly be better conditions” (352).
Fourth, the grave clothes did not preclude theft since body-snatchers want body parts not clothes and the location was known well enough (353).
Fifth, not all conspiracies come to light and not all grave robbing involves conspiracy. Many crimes go unsolved. Iran-Contra and Watergate are atypical illustrations, but in the first century they had none of the technologies that broke these scandals (353-54).
Sixth, as to Craig’s argument that the theft view does not explain the appearances, “There is simply nothing improbable in an empty tomb being the result of a theft, which then is linked with . . ., independent reports of appearances, especially appearances of a visionary kind, such as that which converted Paul. The physicality of appearances in the Gospels can be a doctrinal and legendary development . . . considering that appearances are wholly absent from the earliest Gospel . . . and nothing in the epistles entails physical appearances. . . . Indeed, mere rumor can start legends of postmortem appearances almost immediately . . .” (354).
Finally, as to Craig’s statement that at least a “rumor” of the theft theory should have remained, Carrier responds that it has (in Matt. 28:15 and three other texts) (355). As to whether Christianity could have survived if a theft had been discovered, Carrier believes it could have. He points to numerous examples where cults survived after their claims were falsified such as the so-called UFO coverup, NASA’s “face on mars,” Heaven’s Gate cult, and the Jonestown suicides. The fact that these did not explode into great world religions is explainable because “they were born in infertile soil. Christianity, by contrast, found itself in ideal social conditions for growth” (357). Why didn’t some records survive on the alleged theft coverup? Because we have no records of attacks on Christianity in the first century. “Christianity at its start was too tiny a sect to end up on anyone’s literary radar . . .” (357). “It is even possible that Jospehus did record the theft accusation, which was then erased by the Christian editor of the famous Testimonium Flavianum” (357 emphasis in original).
“The only conclusion left is that Craig is wrong: theft of the body is plausible, in both a general and a specific sense. In general, theft of a body, especially that of a crucified holy man, is the sort of thing that happened with some frequency at the time. In contrast, we cannot say the same about miraculous resurrections” (364 emphasis in original).
“Of course, we cannot know whether the body of Jesus was stolen, since all direct evidence has been erased by secrecy and time. But there is little justification for resorting to a supernatural explanation. For we know too little about what actually happened that weekend in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, and we have no good evidence that any form of supernaturalism is true” (364). “All the evidence we have that could be said to support resurrection over theft is scanty and not very reliable. And even that can all be explained by other natural phenomena, such as hallucination and legendary development” (364).
He concludes in the last footnote, “. . . even if resurrection were the most probable of all explanations available, it would still be more probable that something else happened. . . . As often happens when we know too little to be certain, even if we thought resurrection was the most likely explanation of the facts, we would not know enough to be sure it was the right explanation” (368, no. 38 emphasis in original).
Response to the Arguments:
First, even Carrier admits that his central thesis cannot be known to be true and that he has no “direct evidence” for it (364). He said, “Of course, we cannot know whether the body of Jesus was stolen, since all direct evidence has been erased by secrecy and time.” Further, he admits that “all the evidence we have that could be said to support resurrection over theft is scanty and not very reliable” (364). One wonders, then, how he can say that it is “plausible”? Indeed, how can he conclude that “he only conclusion left is that Craig is wrong” (364)?
Second, his anti-supernatural bias plays heavily in his decision. Following Hume, he speaks of a greater antecedent probability for natural explanations (364). But we do not determine whether events happened by antecedent probability. Otherwise, neither the Big Bang origin of the universe nor spontaneous generation of first life could be known to be true – which Carrier and other naturalists believe did occur. Nor could macro-evolution be known to have occurred which many naturalist take as a proven fact. The antecedent probability of getting a perfect bridge hand is only one in 635 billion plus. But this does not mean that there is no good evidence that one has ever been dealt. In fact, the persons who have had them (and their witnesses) have one hundred percent certainty that it did happened, despite the great odds against it.
Third, Carrier’s overall logic is strange. For he contends that “even if we thought R[resurrection] was the most likely explanation of the facts, we would not know enough to be sure it was the right explanation.” Why? Because, “is often happens when we know too little to be certain . . .” (368, no. 38). If he means absolute or mathematical certainty, then he surely is right. But if he means general certainty based on high probability, then the naturalist is clearly wrong. All naturalists (like Carrier) believe macro-evolution is so firmly established that it is virtually certain – so certain that many call it a “fact.” Yet, macro-evolution, like the historicity of Jesus, is based on fragmentary evidence from the past. For we have only a tiny fraction of all fossil evidence of all the animals from the past. Yet, naturalistic evolutionists believe they can reconstruct what actually happened with a high degree of certainty. Why, then, cannot we do the same with the main events of Jesus life such as his death and resurrection?
Fourth, all of his arguments for the theft hypothesis are based on the unproven assumption that the canonical Gospels are not reliable. But there is strong evidence to the contrary.24 Hence, the theft theory fails in the light of the evidence.
Fifth, even granting Carriers basic premises that Paul wrote Corinthians in the mid-fifties and Mark wrote about twenty years later while many eyewitnesses were still alive, his skepticism about what Matthew, Luke, and John say is unwarranted. First of all, everything we need to know about the physical resurrection of Christ and physical appearances is known from Paul.25 Second, usually myths about crucial events do not occur while the eyewitnesses are still alive. Carrier provides no evidence that macro-myths of this proportion (claiming that Jesus did not rise bodily) take long to gain widespread following.
Sixth, Carrier criticizes the argument from silence, yet he has to admit that his central argument rests on it. For he acknowledges that he has no direct evidence for the theft hypotheses. And blaming this on the lack of available first century records is an illicit argument from silence, he says, “Christianity at its start was too tiny a sect to end up on anyone’s literary radar . . .” (357). In response, it was big enough to generate more early books, manuscripts, and witnesses than any other event from the ancient world. And the probable – virtually certain – conclusion that Alexander the Great lived and conquered much of the world is based on only a fraction of the evidence we have for Christ’s death and resurrection.
Seventh, without objective grounds, Carrier chooses parts of the Gospels that favor his theft hypothesis and rejects others that are against it. Sometimes he does this in the same chapter and even on the same topic – the resurrection. For example, he is happy to accept Matthew 28:14-15 as an authentic report (even though Matthew says it is a lie) but rejects a few verse earlier (v. 9) when the women touch him in his resurrection body. He does the same with other texts as well.
Eighth, Carrier says that the appearances are “wholly absent” in Mark. Habermas notes that this is misleading. For “even critical scholars realize that Mark is very much aware of Jesus’ appearances—he simply chose to reveal these in a different manner. Otherwise Mark would not have (1) predicted the appearances at least four times in Mark 8, 9, 10, and 14; (2) had the angels announce not only the resurrection itself, but also that Jesus would appear to them in Galilee; and (3) scholars note that the reference to ‘go tell the disciples and Peter’ may well have been a purposeful forecast of the appearance to Peter as noted in the early creeds in 1 Cor. 15:5 and Luke 24:34.”
Chapter 10: “The Burial of Jesus in Light of Jewish Law” by Richard Carrier
Summary of the Argument:
Carrier claims that, “the surviving evidence, legal and historical, suggests the body of Jesus was not formally buried Friday night when it was placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, that instead it had to have been placed Saturday night in a special public graveyard reserved for convicts. On this theory the women who visited the tomb Sunday morning mistook its vacancy. That, in conjunction with other factors (like reinterpretations of scripture and things Jesus said, the dreams and visions of leading disciples, and the desire to seize an opportunity to advance the moral cause of Jesus), led to a belief that Jesus had risen from the grave. . . . And so Christianity began” (369).
Since the evidence is scant, “it is probably impossible to determine which explanation [resurrection or relocation] is correct, since the evidence we would need to decide the matter is gone. But so long as there are plausible natural explanations available, the resurrection story cannot be used as evidence of a supernatural event. For an inference to naturalism remains reasonable . . .” (370).
Carrier believes there are three plausible natural explanations, though he favors the first: First, “. . . the story is an outright legend (though with a genuine ‘spiritual’ core); and second, that the body was stolen, giving rise to belief that Jesus rose from the grave. Here I present a third: that the body of Jesus was legally moved, leading to a mistaken belief in his resurrection” (370 emphasis in original). For this view, Carrier offers the following argument: “First, Joseph of Arimathea’s action in seeking the body of Christ Friday evening was probably a standard procedure, required by Jewish law. Second, Joseph’s use of his own or an available tomb to hold Jesus temporarily during the Sabbath was also probably provided for by the law. And third, the law probably required Joseph to bury Jesus Saturday night in a special public graveyard reserved for blasphemers and other criminals of comparable ignominy” (371). The women then went to the vacated tomb and mistakenly assumed Jesus was resurrected, and the rest is history.
Carrier’s argument involves the acceptance of several premises:
1) We know Jewish burial law from the time of Christ (371-72).
2) The Roman’s allowed the Jews to practice their own burial rights (373-74).
3) Accordingly, Jesus had to be buried by sunset (375-79).
4) Jewish law allowed for temporary storage of a criminals dead body in a cool place on the Sabbath until permanent burial could be accomplished (382-85).
5) Jewish law demanded that criminals, such as Jesus was considered to be, be buried dishonorably in special graveyards reserved for this purpose (380-81).
6) Joseph of Arimathea, being a devout Jew, would not have violated this law and, so, he moved Jesus body to this criminal graveyard on Saturday (386).
7) Thus, the women discovered an empty tomb – the wrong one (387).
8) The women mistakenly began the resurrection myth (387).
9) This myth developed into a full blown belief in the resurrection and appearances of Christ and the immediate rapid spread of Christianity, the conversion of Saul, the conversion of James, and the willingness of early Christians to die for their beliefs (387).
Carrier concludes, “We are now left with a plausible natural explanation for reports of an ‘empty tomb,’ which may have sparked the entire Christian faith” (385).
Response to the Argument:
First, we note that even Carrier admits that “it is probably impossible to determine which explanation is correct . . .” (370). So, to claim, as he does, that this is a “plausible” explanation goes beyond the evidence. At best, it is only a logically possible explanation, but in the light of the historical evidence it is highly improbable.
Second, several of his premises are questionable (e.g., 5, 6, and 7). First of all, there were possible exceptions to this law (#5). Further, once permission was granted to Joseph for burial, no law was violated (#6). Finally, once permission was granted, this was the final burial site and a later empty tomb of this guarded grave was sign of a resurrection (#7).
Third, another premise is misconstrued (#4). Just because temporary storage was possible does not mean this was a case of it. The evidence is that it was not, since Jesus was prepared for burial (John 19), and a guard was placed there (Mt. 27:65) indicating that he was to be there for at least three days – the predicted time of His resurrection.
Fourth, even if one granted the first seven premises of Carrier’s argument (which I do not), the conclusions (# 8 and 9) do not follow. For not only did the women see an empty tomb but also saw an angel confirming Christ had risen and then met and handled Jesus themselves (Mt. 28:5, 9). Nor does it account for the fact that Peter and John had the same experience of seeing the empty tomb, as well as the grave clothes and the folded head cloth – things that would not have been left behind in that condition in a transfer to another tomb.
Fifth, even if #8 followed from #1-7 (which it does not), #9 does not follow from the preceding premises since it involves greater leaps in logic to believe that over 500 people on eleven occasions in the next few weeks (who saw his scars, heard him teach, touched his body, and ate with Jesus) were all hallucinating. On top of this, they immediately began to turn the world upside down with their bold and death-defying witness that Christ had risen from the dead. It takes a greater miracle to believe this than it does to believe in the simple, straight-forward account of the resurrection.
Chapter 11: “Financial Aspects of the Resurrection” by Duncan Derrett
Summary of the Argument:
Derrett proposes that what happened to Jesus’ body can be answered by “whom did any scenario profit? With this, key problems raised by our self-contradictory New Testament story may be resolved” (394).
Derrett acknowledges that “the disciples had, on four separate grounds, a most unpromising product to sell” (394). First, “if Jesus taught that the classic fetishes of Jewry (like the Scapegoat) were nonsense . . . a host of conservative people would object, especially in Jerusalem where the cult was an excellent money spinner” (394). Further, “Jesus’ own shameful execution was a second discouragement to any potential follower” (394). “The third discouragement was the continual falling-off of sympathetic objectors, reasonable or not” (395). “The fourth discouragement was that Jesus’ message never admitted as operationally valid the common principles of profit and loss” (395). He admitted, “So the disciples’ commodity was hard to sell. This very fact can be tendered with some confidence as a genuine witness to the Resurrection, for no one would peddle Jesus’ message without the most startling impetus. And no alternative has ever been offered. What was in their favor? What could outweigh these discouragements and attract such a man as Ananias?”(396).
In response, Derrett claimed Jesus’ message appealed to the poor, but “there was also an aspect that appealed to the well-to-do. In Jesus’ ‘irrational’ economy there was a peculiar balance between input and output. As one was prepared to invest in moral self-training . . . so there arose a sense of doing for the creator what he/she could not do for him/herself: one relished becoming Yahweh’s creditor instead of being his debtor (Prov. 19:17) . . .” (397). Thus, “One who looks after the poor gains a superiority which mere financial exchange cannot supply” (397).
“Did Resurrection Help the Business” (397)? Derrett answers in the affirmative for “Jesus’ strange experience even as truth was a ready-prepared parable. It could be construed, absurd as it seems, as an earnest of the general resurrection” (397). For “whatever they denied themselves in life (as he had) would be amply compensated for hereafter (Mark 10:30)” (398). As for the two “proofs” for the resurrection, (1) “It [Jesus’ body] could have been stolen; or Jesus was simply reburied (John 20:2); or he could have revived and been rescued” (398). (2) Further, “the appearances lack one feature which an appearance from the dead calls for – none give us any information which we did not have before” (398). Further, the witnesses were not credible because “no court is compelled to accept such testimony where there is a likelihood that a witness is disqualified by relationship, by want of religious status (orthodoxy), or by his having an interest in the outcome of the enquiry” (398).
But how could any event (but a resurrection) overcome the doubt and discouragement of his disciples at the execution of their leader as an impostor? But how were they to present their message of death and resurrection? “This is where entrepreneurial skill comes in.” To deny this “is to undervalue Jewish traditional gifts. For many centuries they supplied international traders, financiers. . . . They were active where large profits were to be made” (399).
“On the reappearance of Jesus after his burial the obvious question would arise: ‘What profit is there in this for us?’” The answer is “it enhanced the individual” and “the hostility of a section of the Jewish aristocracy seemed . . . to guarantee this” (400). Their motives were enhanced by the “divine recompense of the just, especially the righteous sufferer” (399). The ascension belief was based on that of Elijah (400-01). For “Throughout Jewish history, there have been people so holy that they were ‘taken up’; they entered heaven alive” [Enoch, Elijah, and Ezra are given as examples] (402). “When we come to the Appearances, the position is just as favorable. Pagan gods appeared when they chose. Disappearance leads naturally to expectation of reappearance without warning.” (404).
“Here was the scenario: here the origin of the fanciful theologizing which has served the Christian faith until unsympathetic skeptics tried to demolish what remains of useful legend. What was real about Jesus remains in his teaching, but it must be accepted that it required authoritative supplementation” (404).
Response to the Argument:
One can divine Derrett’s his central thesis from the word “financial” in the title and his introduction which raises the question of “profit.” The basic argument seems to be: (1) No one acts without a profit motive; (2) The disciples of Jesus had ample profit motive to construct the legend of Jesus’ death, resurrection, appearances, and second coming. (3) Hence, the New Testament is such a legend. In response, both premises can be challenged.
First, even the author admits there was no earthly, material profit motive for the self-denial and self-sacrifice of the disciples. To overcome this formidable difficulty Derrett constructs what even he calls a concocted and contrived “irrational” economy with a “peculiar balance between input and output” in which the disciples trade self-denial in order to relish “becoming Yahweh’s creditor instead of being his debtor . . .” (397). On the material face of it even Derrett has to admit that “the disciples had, on four separate grounds, a most unpromising product to sell” (394). Indeed, they did. In fact, Derrett never makes a convincing case that these real obstacles were ever overcome by his imaginary “scenario.” He never even overcomes the problem in his own statement of the problem: “So the disciples’ commodity was hard to sell. This very fact can be tendered with some confidence as a genuine witness to the resurrection, for no one would peddle Jesus’ message without the most startling impetus. And no alternative has ever been offered. What was in their favor?” (396).
Second, he never succeeds in demonstrating that the disciples of Jesus constructed this “irrational” economy. Further, he has to deny the well-established historicity of the core New Testament events in order to construct his air-castle of legend (see Hemer and Blomberg). Here again, Derrett never satisfies his own question: “Did the Resurrection Help the Business?” (397). He even admitted his answer was “strange” and could be construed “absurd” (397). Indeed, it is. For how can a profit motive be construed from the denial of all earthly visible profit in this life for an invisible, intangible one in the next life? And what besides a resurrection could convince Jesus’ Jewish disciples to do this?
Third, crucial premises of Derrett’s fairy tale are notably implausible. For example, that the early spread of what the disciples knew to be false in the face of death was accomplished by their Jewish “entrepreneurial skill”! Equally implausible is a concocted “irrational” economy with a “peculiar” twist to overcome the obvious anti-profit making motives of early Christian martyrs.
Fourth, his responses to the two kingpin “proofs” for the resurrection are evidentially deprived. (1) As for the empty tomb, he leaves the reader with mere possibilities and no real historical evidence. “It could have been stolen; or Jesus was simply reburied (John 20:2); or he could have revived and been rescued” (398 emphasis added). (2) As for his response to the twelve appearances to over 500 people over a forty day period of time (with varied physical evidence and contacts), Derrett’s response is like letting air out of a balloon. It rests on an a priori assumption and it provided no a posteriori evidence (398).
All in all, this is one of the weakest chapters in the book and which, thereby, will be as counter productive as any. Indeed, it will probably encourage most neutral readers toward belief in basic historicity of the resurrection narratives.
Chapter 12: “By this time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus” by Robert Price
Summary of the Argument:
Price charges that like scientific creationism, Craig’s view of the resurrection “denote[s] a major step backward in terms of scientific method” (411). He insists that the fact New Testament scholarship is more conservative than it once was and has more “to do with which denominations can afford to train the most students, hire more faculty, and send more members to SBL.” Further, “most biblical scholars are and always have been believing Christians, even if not fundamentalists” (412).
Craig defends his appeal to authority by noting that it is not always bad, particularly when the authority is honest and reliable (e.g., DNA experts). Price calls this a “false analogy” since in those cases it is a life-threatening matter unlike the intellectual considerations of the New Testament (413).
He charges Craig with a “double truth” view based on his “distinction between knowing Christianity is true and showing it is true” (415). He then scolds Craig for his assertion that “I know Christianity is true because God’s Spirit lives in me and assures me that it is true. . . . If you are sincerely seeking God, then God will give you assurance that the gospel is true. Now to try to show you it is true, I’ll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that’s my fault, not God’s” (415). Price castigates this view, claiming Craig is admitting that “his conviction arises from purely subjective factors, in no whit different from the teenage Mormon door knocker who tells you he knows the Book of Mormon . . . [is true because] he gets a warm, swelling feeling in his stomach when he asks God if it’s true” (416). Price sees Craig’s whole argument as “completely circular” and “he holds his faith on purely subjective grounds” (416). Thus, he sees Craig’s apologetic approach as a kind of “double truth” approach.
Price also thinks Craig “would retreat to the old red herring of ‘naturalistic presuppositions’ as a way of doing an end run around the most fundamental postulate of critical historiography” (417). He claims that “this is the most blatant kind of scurrilous mudslinging, no different from Creationist stump debater Duane Gish charging that ‘God-denying’ evolutionists must want society to become a den of murderers and pornographers” (417-18).
Since the New Testament asserts that Jesus was buried by the same people who crucified him (Acts 13:28-29), “in a case like this, one can easily imagine Jesus’ disciples knowing (or surmising) that he had been buried, but not knowing where, or knowing it to be a common grave, e.g., the Valley of Hinnom . . .” (422). Further, the New Testament hints and Tertullian states that some believed Jesus was only buried temporarily in Joseph’s tomb (423). What is more, the disciples did not start preaching until fifty days later when “it would have been moot to produce the remains of Jesus” (423). “In fact, one might even take the seven-week gap to denote that the disciples were shrewd enough to wait till such disconfirmation had become impossible” (423).
Price concludes that Craig is not a poor workman with bad tools. The tools are good, but “the job, in fact, cannot be done” (430). He cannot “know” Christianity is true without being able to “show” it is true. For to know subjectively what one cannot show objectively is to posit, in effect, a double view of truth.
Response to the Arguments:
First, it is obvious that, not just Price’s language but also his conclusions are excessive. Indeed, Price admits he has just “vented” and a brief reminder of his terms supports this. Consider words used of Craig’s arguments like “exegetical alchemy,” “tortuous attempts” that “smack of priestcraft and subterfuge” (426) and “the most blatant kind of scurrilous mudslinging,” etc. Me thinks thou doth protest too strongly.
Second, when Price gets down to the point, he misses it. He recognizes but denies the charge that critics of the resurrection have an antisupernatural bias, only to unconsciously admit it by adopting Bradley’s antisupernatural presupposition of critical history. He confuses uniformity (analogies from the present to study the past) which is a good principle with uniformitarianism (all events, present, and past will be assumed to have natural causes). His repeated reference to creation science makes the point. Analogies in the present, which are based on repeated observations (which is a proper basis for studying the past), are to show that not all events in the present (and past) are the result of natural causes. The sciences of archaeology and cryptology are cases in point. Namely, specified complexity, irreducible complexity, and anticipatory design all point to an intelligent cause in the present. We observe this repeatedly. Hence, when we have evidence that like events occurred in the past (like the specified complexity in DNA the first one celled organism [which is equal to a thousand volumes of an encyclopedia]), then we have good reason to posit a non-natural intelligent cause for them too. By this same forensic logic, we have no reason to deny that a resurrection of the body of Jesus of Nazareth could have (in a theistic world) a divine cause. Price fails to see that his uniformitarian view of so-called “critical history” is really a form of methodological naturalism which eliminates miracles a priori. Thus, he has not evaded the charge Craig leveled that antisupernaturalism is at the base of the denial of the historicity of the gospel accounts of the resurrection. This is true both logically and historically.
Third, Price argues that Craig should have seen that Paul modeled his view after the “Mystery Religion” groups that took “body” as an inner “spiritual body” which begins at baptismal regeneration (428). Apparently Price does not recognize this is itself a post hoc fallacy, lacking positive identification of the two which he does not provide.
Fourth, Price engages in a “Straw Man” argument,” claiming Craig is like “Duane Gish charging that ‘God-denying’ evolutionists must want society to become a den of murderers and pornographers” (418). Neither Craig’s nor Gish’s arguments depend on such a connection. Neither “want” society to become this. However, both would argue that denying a divine basis for morality will have, given time, a significant consequence of moral actions. Neither “want” the evil that results from denying a solid basis for ethics to occur. But experience tells us that it will.
Fifth, Price criticizes Craig for appeal to a majority of scholars in support (412), yet he does the same when he says “most New Testament scholars” believe (422) and “many New Testament scholars observe . . .” (426). Craig is correct in affirming that reliable experts (like DNA experts) are valuable in discovering truth, and Price is wrong in thinking the New Testament issues are not life and death issues. In fact, if the words of Jesus are correct, they are eternal life and eternal death issues!
Sixth, Price is mistaken in assuming that there are more conservatives now simply because there is more denominational money for them. He forgets that it just may be that there is more money from conservative churches because they actually believe the truth that transforms, namely, that Jesus conquered death! Further, to claim that “most biblical scholars are and always have been believing Christians” makes them biased, is like saying that no survivor of the holocaust is a reliable witness because he is biased against it. On the face of it, who is more likely to be biased against the miracle-ridden New Testament documents: atheistic antisupernaturalists or those that believe miracles are possible?
Seventh, while it does not affect the overall argument for the resurrection itself, Price has made an important point in criticizing Craig’s subjectivistic and seemingly dualistic approach to the verification of truth. It seems to me that Craig’s strategy, while conceived with good intent, not only can but has backfired. In fact, when I first heard about it some time ago, I feared this consequence. While evangelicals believe in the essential role of the Holy Spirit in confirming and convincing persons of the truth of Scripture, it is unwise and unbiblical to make the subjective and objective two separate sources of confirmation. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit, who through the objective truth, subjectively confirms it to the hearts of those who are willing to receive it. R. C. Sproul captured this important point in his article on the topic (see below). See also our article on “The Holy Spirit, Role in Apologetics” in Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics.
Chapter 13: “Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli on the Hallucination Theory” by Keith Parsons
Summary of the Argument:
Parsons says, “I conclude that the thirteen objections that Kreeft and Tacelli offer against the hallucination theory are devoid of cogency. Neither individually nor collectively do they undermine the claim that the postmortem ‘appearances’ of Jesus are best regarded as hallucinatory or visionary” (448-49). He concludes, “In fact, just about everything Kreeft and Tacelli have said about the ‘appearances’ of Jesus could be said about the various ‘close encounters’ with ETs” (448). This includes large numbers of people, physical evidence, personal encounters and conversations (448). Parsons depends heavily on Gerd Ludemann’s contention that the appearances were visionary (434). He points to psychological studies of hallucinations that show they can be collective, happen to people who were in similar conditions to the disciples.
Parsons challenges the premise that the Gospel reports of the appearances are trustworthy. He doubts them because they are “(1) written by persons unknown . . ., (2) composed forty or more years after the events . . ., (3) based on oral traditions, and therefore subject to the frailties of human memory, (4) containing many undeniably fictional elements, (5) each with a clear theological bias and apologetic agenda, (6) contradicting many known facts, (7) inconsistent with each other, (8) with very little corroboration from non-Christian sources, and (9) testifying to occurrences which, in any other context, would be regarded as unlikely in the extreme” (439).
Response to the Arguments:
First, some general comments are in order. (1) Parsons admits his view is “not at all unlikely” (441) which being translated means any where from merely possible to plausible. But he makes no real comparison with the opposing view which based on the reliability of the documents is between highly probable and virtually certain. (2) He acknowledges that many other skeptics differ on important points with him (445). (3) He admits there are other possible naturalistic theories that disagree with his (445, 447). (4) He acknowledges the speculative nature of these naturalistic views, saying, “any number of such scenarios can be generated” (447).
Second, all of his points are arguable and none is undeniable. Put positively, at best he does not destroy Kreeft’s arguments and at worst only calls for a more precise statement of some of them. In short, his efforts fail. Further, with a little refinement, most of the anti-hallucination arguments can be strengthened. And in any case the numerous physical appearances to 500 people over a forty day time period make them unnecessary.
Third, if the New Testament record is historical, all of his arguments fall flat. The New Testament record is historical (see Hemer and Blomberg). Therefore, all his arguments fall flat. Taken one by one – (1) They were not written by unknown persons. Matthew was an apostle,26 Mark was an associate of the apostle Peter, Luke was a contemporary and companion of the apostle Paul, and John was an apostle.27 (2) They were not composed after A.D. 70 Luke was written by about A.D. 60 (see Hemer). By Parson and company’s own admission, Matthew and Mark were earlier than Luke (that would be in the 50s). By their own acknowledgment, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in the mid 50s and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans in about the next five years, and all the essentials of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and appearances are found there between A.D. 55 and 60 just as they are in the Gospels. Even noted New Testament critics, like Bishop Robinson, date the Gospels A.D. 40-65+. All these dates are much too early to cast doubt on the essentials of Christ’s death and resurrection. (3) As just shown, they are not based on oral traditions but written accounts by eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the events. Their memories were not frail nor fallible since they were assured by the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13). But even on a purely human basis, memories from this period were highly developed and accurate (see Linnemann)28. (4) There are no demonstrable fictional elements in the Gospels, certainly not in the resurrection accounts. This fictional view is a fiction based on unjustified late dates, antisupernatural bias, and other assumptions. (5) Having a specific purpose, certain religious beliefs, or interest in the topic does not automatically disqualify a work as unreliable. If it did, then survivors of the holocaust could not be allowed as witness of this atrocity. (6 and 7) Properly understood, there are no real contradicting or factual errors in the Gospels (see Geisler and Howe, Critics) many known facts. (8) No corroboration is needed from other sources. The New Testament has twenty-seven books written by eight or nine authors, all of which come from the time of the eyewitnesses. Further, there is substantial corroboration from non-Christian sources on all the elements necessary to make a best-case scenario in favor of the bodily resurrection (see Habermas, The Historic Jesus). (9) Without denying the possibility of the miracles, there is nothing “unlikely in the extreme” in the Gospels (439). In short, one would have to disprove the existence of a theistic God (by whom miracles are possible) in order to eliminate the possibility of miracles. And if God exists, then miracles are possible. And if miracles are possible, then the miracles recorded in the Gospels are credible (believable).
Chapter 14: Swinburne on the Resurrection. By Michael Martin
Summary of the Argument:
Martin argues that Swinburne’s conclusion that “it is overwhelmingly probable that Jesus was God Incarnate and was resurrected from the dead” is wrong (453). Rather, “all of his probability estimates are either unrealistically too high or too low. Once these are corrected, the probability of the Resurrection is well below 50 percent” (466).
Martin reaches his conclusion by challenging the assumption that the existence of God is as probable as not (454). If this assumption fails, then it is improbable that Jesus rose from the dead since its probability is based in large part upon this assumption.
Martin’s challenge to the probability of God’s existence is based on the following objections: “his concept of God is incoherent, the theistic explanations he puts forward conflict with our background knowledge, his reliance on the criterion of simplicity is problematic, his solution to the problem of evil is dubious, and his account of miracles is seriously flawed” (454). Add to this the implausibility of Swinburne’s view that God does not have infallible foreknowledge of future free acts which is necessary for God’s moral perfection (455), and Swinburne’s solution to the problem of evil and free will are insufficient (457), and Martin concludes that the existence of God is not more probable than not. If so, then miracles are not probable, including the miracle of the resurrection and the related conclusion that Jesus is God Incarnate.
Response to the Argument:
Even if one accepts all of Martin’s criticisms (and some seem compelling), it does not follow that the resurrection is improbable. All that would follow is that the necessary conditions for probability of the resurrection laid down by Swinburne do not yield the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus is probable. One could hold an alternate view of God and evidence, evil, and free will that does not have the alleged inadequacies of Swinburne’s view and still construct a probable argument for the existence of the resurrection. Indeed, the classical view of God does not have the particular problems (see Geisler, Battle for God) that Swinburne’s Openness View of God has. Hence, it is not subject to the criticisms that Swinburne’s view is. In short, Martin has not shown that no probable view of the resurrection is possible. At best, he has only demonstrated that Swinburne’s Openness View of God on his view of probability fails to make the resurrection probable.
In point of fact, a stronger argument can be constructed both against Swinburne’s view and for the classical theistic view as follows: (1) If God does not exist, then miracles are impossible (not just improbable). For a miracle by definition is an act of a theistic God. And if there is no God who can so act, then there cannot be any such acts of God as miracles. In short, the resurrection is impossible (not just improbable) if a theistic God does not exist since God is a logical prerequisite for miracles.
However, if a theistic God exists, then miracles are automatically possible. For in a theistic universe, the biggest miracle (creating something from nothing) has already occurred. Hence, nothing forbids God doing lesser miracles. And if in addition, the New Testament documents are historically reliable (even in the essential matters of the resurrection), then the resurrection miracle is as highly probable as the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament record. All a priori improbability for a resurrection to the contrary, since all that counts, if God exists, is the probability of the reliability of the New Testament documents which record this miracle. Of course, if it is probable that God exists and probable that the New Testament documents are reliable, then on a combined probability it is highly probable that the resurrection occurred. We have made this very case elsewhere.29
A few comments on other important points are in order. First, I am inclined in general to agree with Martin against the use of the simplicity test – at least in its common sense notion that the simplest explanation is the best. It is much stronger in its original sense proposed by Ockham that “We should not multiply causes without necessity.”
Second, the presence of evil does not make God less probable. For (a) If God is all powerful, He can defeat evil. (b) If He is all good, then He will defeat evil. (c) Hence, if evil is not yet defeated, then it will be. We know that because the very nature of an all-powerful and all good being guarantees it. The anti-theist, not being omniscient (as a theist God is) cannot know the truth of the only premise that can defeat this argument, namely “Evil never will be defeated.”
Third, the classical theist can easily answer Martin’s argument about God not knowing certain things we know (like knowing evil by experience) by noting that God knows what we know (and infinitely more) but not the way we know it. We know finitely and sometimes sinfully, but God is neither. Hence, God does not know this way since He is infinite and morally perfect. But it is no limitation on God not to know the way we know. The limitation is on the finite and sinful creature, not the infinite and sinless Creator.
Fourth, Martin sneaks in an invalid Humean anti-miracle argument under the ambiguous phrase “theism is less probable than not, given the commonsense scientific theories that explain the empirical world” (456). Non-theists usually mean this the way Hume did, namely, given the regular and repeated laws of nature (e.g., which reveal that dead people do not rise), it is highly improbable that a resurrection will occur. And if one does, then it would take near miraculous empirical evidence to overcome it. But on this same logic non-supernaturalists should not believe in the Big Bang, the spontaneous generation of first life, or even macro-evolution (most of which are accepted by them). For these are rare and unrepeated singularities against which the odds are great. Nonetheless, non-supernaturalists believe the evidence is great for these events. In short, they do not allow prior odds (whether a priori or empirical) to rule out the good evidence that an event has actually occurred. The theist uses the same kind of argument for the resurrection.
Fifth, it is a twisted logic to claim that “Swinburne’s admission of the existence of heaven seems to undermine his explanation of moral and natural evil.” In fact, the opposite is the truth, for without a heaven evil would never be defeated and the atheist’s argument against a theistic God from evil would stand. Unless this evil world is a necessary condition for the better world to come, it is hard to see how allowing it would have been justifiable. In short, admittedly, this is not the best possible world, but it could be the best possible way to get to the best possible world. Hence, the problem of evil does not make God’s existence more improbable; it makes it more necessary. For without an all-powerful, all-perfect God there is no guarantee evil either exists or will ever be defeated. And the physical resurrection is evidence that God can defeat evil, bringing in an immortal state.
Chapter 15: “Reformed Epistemology and Biblical Hermeneutics” by Evan Fales
Summary of the Argument:
Fales begins by noting that “contemporary apologists sometimes write as if modern Bible critics just assumed some sort of ontological or methodological naturalism because it suited them, and not because they had read, e.g., Spinoza or Hume or Kant, and found in them arguments carrying conviction” (470 emphasis in original). He says of Plantinga and other Reformed epistemologists, “All of them reject the methodological constraints that characterize modern historiography . . .” (470). He writes that Plantinga also rejects the “internalist foundationalism characteristic of the Enlightenment in favor of externalism” (470). He says, “Christians . . . know what he calls the Great Things of the Gospel – the essential salvific message of the New Testament . . . in a properly basic way” (471). They are “directly led to know them by ‘internal instigation’ of the Holy Spirit” (471). That is, “reading or hearing the Bible might serve as an occasion for one’s coming to believe these things . . . not to be understood as a matter of performing overt or covert inferences from evidence. It is rather that reading or hearing these words may open one’s heart to the promptings of the HS [Holy Spirit]” (471 emphasis in original). So, “a properly basic belief that is generated by a sufficiently reliable cognitive process in favorable circumstances, and that is accompanied by the right kind of doxastic experience – strong confidence – has sufficient warrant to constitute knowledge. But it is only prima facie warrant; it can be defeated, e.g., by evidence that counts against the belief or against the reliability of its means of acquisition, if that evidence sufficiently undermines confidence” (472).
Plantinga outlines several views. “TBC [Traditional Christian Biblical Commentary] holds that Scripture is divinely inspired. . . . Moreover, the unity of the Bible licenses using one part to interpret another part” (472). “The way in which a believer comes to know the Canon is divinely inspired is not by way of historical investigation, but by being so informed by the HS (which either implants just this belief or one entailing it [in believer’s hearts] . . .” (472-73).
HBC [Historical Biblical Criticism] “undertakes an assessment of the meaning and historical reliability of Scripture from the perspective of reasons (and sense) alone. It refuses the assistance of faith: it eschews the authority of creed, tradition, and magisterium” (473). There are three methodologies in this view: Troeltschian, Duhemiean, and Spinozistic. Plantinga rejects all of these as excluding miracles (474). He takes it that “the disarray within HBC scholarship is an independent reason for Christians not to be overly concerned about the implications of HBC for the faith” (475). Fales disagrees and suggests it is because they are dealing with a difficult topic and that one can be a good practitioner without being a good explainer of the theory (475). He then defends “reasonably firm historical conclusions” from their method including: (1) “The first three chapters of Genesis owes a large debt in style, imagery, and content to the creation myths of the Sumerians and the other Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) pagan religions” (476). (2) “There appears to be not a single biblical prophecy that meets minimal conditions for being genuinely prophetic, and whose fulfillment can be independently confirmed” (476). (3) “The Gospels were composed later than the collapse of the Jewish revolt in 70 CE.” (477). He refers to the opposing view that Acts (hence Luke and Mark) were prior to A.D. 64 as “lame” for two reasons: “The first is that the rest of Acts has simply been lost. The second . . . it would hardly be surprising if the Roman execution of Paul was such a severe embarrassment to the Church that the author of Acts felt it best to omit it – and hence to terminate his history by portraying Paul’s stay in Rome in decidedly positive terms” (477). (4) “It is generally acknowledged that an understanding of the Gospel passion narratives cannot proceed in isolation from an examination of the large body of ANE literature and cultic practices that deploys the notion of death and resurrection, and links it to other themes that pervade the lore of the Hebrew Bible and a wide range of ANE religious traditions . . .” (478).
Fales questions miracles on several grounds. Can they be scientifically investigated? (478). Are they intelligible? How does God perform them? What is the mechanism? How can we trust testimony to confirm them? He responds to the objection to Hume— that his claim to “uniform experience” is question-begging—by arguing that Hume is referring only to “uniform experience” where “there is no prima facie reason to doubt” (481).
As for the testimony of the Spirit, Fales remarks: “Reformed epistemology would, in effect, return us to the biblical hermeneutics of the sixteenth century. . . . Did these voices achieve greater unanimity over Christian doctrine and the proper interpretation of Scripture than HBC scholars have? They did not” (482). As to perspicuity of Scripture, Fales believes “it is entirely plausible that Scripture would have been comprehensible by an intended audience – ancient Jews and Gentiles. . . . It is another matter altogether to claim that Scripture is perspicuous for us now” (484-85 emphasis in original).
He says, “I want, in conclusion, to suggest that adoption of the hermeneutical approaches recommended by Plantinga, Evans, and van Inwagen would represent not only a cognitively disastrous step backward in Bible studies, but a dangerous one. Nineteenth-century Bible scholars and their heirs were moved not by a tendentious naturalism but by a respect for common sense and an acute awareness of the intellectual and social disasters of sixteenth-century religiosity. For Fales, Plantinga’s argument boils down to this: “1. Christians know the Great Things of the Gospels. 2. If Christians know the Great Things, then in all probability something like the A/C model is correct. 3. Therefore, in all probability, something like the A/C model is correct” (485). Fales rejects premise two and therefore the conclusion.
Response to the Arguments:
First, his critique about evangelical complaints against Bible critics like himself is misdirected. We too have read “Spinoza or Hume or Kant” (470) but found their arguments wanting (see Geisler, Miracles). Spinoza’s argument fails because it begs the question by defining natural laws as unbreakable. Even Fales admits this is an open universe and miracles can’t be ruled out a priori (478). Hume’s argument fails because the evidence for the rare is not always less than the evidence for the regular, as is demonstrated by the antisupernaturalist’s acceptance of the Big Bang, spontaneous generation of first life, and macroevolution. We know the arguments, have analyzed them, and have found them seriously flawed.30
Second, as for Plantinga’s rejection of foundationalism, it is not crucial to the evangelical acceptance of miracles or the historicity of the New Testament. I agree that Plantinga is wrong and have defended classical foundationalism. For one thing, Plantinga’s arguments against foundationalism are directed against a Cartesian type of deductive foundationalism (which many evangelicals also reject). He has not penetrated the traditional foundationalism of Aristotle, Aquinas, and followers which demonstrates that first principles of thought are self-evident and undeniable.31 In any event, the failure of Plantinga on this point has nothing to do with the success or failure of miracles and the historicity of the Gospels.
Third, Fales wrongly assumes that Historical Criticism has a franchise on “reasons and sense” in defending the reliability of the Gospels and resurrection. This is to show ignorance of both the Thomistic tradition and the Old Princetonian tradition of Warfield, Hodge, and Machen – indeed, of Calvin himself.32 This tradition is continued by many evangelical philosophers as well (David Beck, Win Corduan, John Gerstner, Richard Howe, Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howe, Jason Reed, R.C. Sproul, and myself – to name a few).
Fourth, his contention that the New Testament authors did not intend to engage in “historical reportage” (482) flies in the face of facts inside and outside of Scripture. Luke clearly claims to the contrary (Luke 1:1-4), and he reports the same basic things about Christ (including his bodily resurrection) as do the other Gospels. Further, Luke’s writings have been confirmed by nearly one hundred historically accurate statements by a noted Roman historian (see Hemer). Further, the essence of the New Testament affirmation about Christ and his resurrection are supported by non-biblical authors of the period.33
Fifth, Fales downplays the contradictions and failures of Historical Criticism which evangelicals have highlighted (see Archer, Harrison, Carson, Kline, Linneman, and others).
Sixth, he does not avoid the criticism that Historical Criticism is based on ontological and/or methodological naturalism. Spinoza’s metaphysics (monism) was naturalistic. Both Hume and Kant had a non-theistic worldview. The former was a Skeptic and the latter a Deist, both of which views disallow miracles. Following Troelsch, Fales adopts a methodological naturalism by way of the principle of historical analogy. As understood and applied by Troelsch and the biblical critics, it implies a uniformitarianism which is based on only natural causes (see 472, 474).
Seventh, Fales’ dismissal of the argument for Luke writing before Paul’s death is laughable. Hemer provides 15 arguments for Acts being written by A.D. 62 – which have never been refuted by critics. Indeed, many of them are based on a rock solid argument from silence as defined by Carrier in this very book (178), namely, that when an author knew about an event that would have been important to mention and did not, then the event had not yet occurred. Surely the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), the death of Paul (c. 65), the Jewish Wars (A.D. 64 f), and the death of James the apostle (which Josephus placed at A.D. 62) were important events to the history of that time and yet Luke (in Acts) mentions none of them. It is akin to writing a life of John Kennedy and not mentioning his assassination. One thing is certain, namely, it must have been written before it happened in 1963. Likewise, Acts must have been written before 62 and surely before A.D. 70. But critical scholars reject that date because it destroys their anti-miraculous, anti-historical view that Jesus rose from the dead.
This book is widely claimed by skeptics to be the best response to the arguments for the physical resurrection of Jesus. If so, then the best they have to offer is a poor case indeed. It presents no real positive evidence that Christ did not rise from the grave bodily. Instead, it offers supposition upon presupposition, speculation upon theorizing, and unfounded rationalization upon ungrounded theories. Indeed, many of the hypotheses offered are mutually contradictory. The aim of the book seems to be a frustrated attempt to blow smoke on the solid historical facts for the physical resurrection of Christ in the desperate hope that one of the many conflicting and highly speculative possibilities might cause enough doubt to lead to disbelief in this cornerstone of Christianity.
In place of solid facts they offer implausible hypotheses. The case for the resurrected Christ stands firm. In spite of over 500 pages of wasted ink, the bottom line is that there are some unsubstantiated theoretical possibilities that Jesus did not rise from the grave. On the other side of the ledger, there is overwhelming historical evidence that Jesus did rise bodily from the tomb. Lest we forget, these pure skeptical speculations fail miserably when contrasted with the following powerful evidence. There are more documents, better copied documents, and earlier documents for the New Testament than for any book from the ancient world (see Kenyon and Metzger).34
Further, there are more authors, earlier authors, more well authenticated authors of these New Testament documents than for any authors from the ancient world. This authenticity comes from the fact that historical evidence supports that: (1) Many (if not all) of these nine New Testament authors were eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries of the events. (2) They wrote twenty-seven different books. (3) Some of the books are known to have come from within about twenty years of the events (and were based on creeds that go back within years of the events). 4) They were known to be honest men. (5) They were willing to die (and many did) for what they taught. (6) Their testimony has been verified by noted legal experts (see Greenleaf).35 (7) One Gospel writer (who confirmed the same basic truths as others) is known to have been a first rate historian and contemporary of the period (see Hemer). (8) Early church Fathers, some of whom overlapped with the apostles, have confirmed their testimony to the resurrection. (9) Non-Christian sources outside the New Testament have confirmed the same basic truths about Jesus as the New Testament writers (see Bruce). (10) The internal evidence shows every sign of authenticity (see Blomberg). (11) The majority of New Testament scholars, including critics, admits to the basic facts which are best explained by the resurrection (see Habermas). (12) When compared to other documents of the period, noted Roman Historians have praised the New Testament documents (Sherwin-White).36 (13) Experts on myths (like C.S. Lewis) have vouched for the non- mythological nature of the New Testament documents. (14) By contrast with later apocryphal writings, the New Testament has an unimbellished simplicity and authenticity. (15) Unless one presupposes an unjustified antisupernatural posture (see Geisler, Miracles), there is no good reason to reject the general authenticity of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. (16) By comparison with other great figures of the ancient world (like Alexander the Great) whose historicity is almost universally accepted, the evidence for Christ’s death and resurrection are overwhelming (see Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith).
1 See Norman Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).
2 See David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, book 10, On Miracles, ed. Chas. W. Hendel (New York: Liberal Arts, 1955).
3 See Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999).
4 See Steven B. Cown, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 331-4, 337-8.
5 See Gary Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980).
6 See St. Augustine, “Reply to Faustus the Manichaen,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publication Co.,1887; reprint Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952), 4:155-345.
7 See Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990).
8 See Robert Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology: with Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976).
9 See N. Tom Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003).
10 Gundry, Soma.
11 See Norman Geisler, The Battle for the Resurrection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992), chapter 3.
12 See Richard Whately, “Historic Doubts Relative to Napoleon Bonaparte,” in Famous Pamphlets, ed. H. Morley (New York: Routledge, 1890).
13 See Norman L. Geisler and Thomas A. Howe, When Critics Ask (Wheaton: Victor, 1992).
14 For many responses/details on this, see Gary Habermas’ Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman and
Littlefield, 2003). 49-50, n. 157.
15 See William F. Albright, “William Albright: Toward a More Conservative View,” Christianity Today, 18 January 1963.
17 See John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976).
18 See Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978).
19 See Colin Hemer, The Book of Act.
20 James G. Frazer, Golden Bough (Lindon: Macmillan, 1890; reprint New York: Crown, 1981), 342, n.38.
21 Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks (Dallas: Probe, 1992).
22 Edwin Yamauchi, “Easter-Myth, Hallucination, or History?” Christianity Today (29 March 1974 and 15 April 1974).
23 See Gary Habermas’ detailed response to Fales in Philosophia Christi, volume 3 (2001), 76-87.
24 See Hemer Acts of the Apostles, and also Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity, 2001).
25 See Norman Geisler and Wayne House, The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001).
26 Donald Carson, Douglas Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).
27 See also Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction: the Gospels and Acts (London: Tyndale House, 1965).
28 Eta Linnemann, Biblical Criticism on Trial (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001).
29 See Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to
be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004).
30 See also C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1947), and Douglas R. Geivett and Gary Habermas, eds. In Defense of Miracles (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997).
31 See Louis Marie Régis, Epistemology, trans. Imelda Choquette Byrne (New York: Macmillan, 1959).
32 See Kenneth Kantzer, John Calvin’s Theory of the Knowledge of God and the Word of God (Harvard University Thesis, 1950).
33 See Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus, and also F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974).
34 See Sir Fredric Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, 4th ed., rev. A. W. Adams (New York: Harper, 1958); and Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).
35 Simon Greenfield, The Testimony of the Evangelists (1874; reprint Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984).
36 See A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963).