A quick review of previous posts on this topic…
Parts 7-10 discuss the first lemma of a dilemma argument.
The first lemma is based on the supposition that JAW is not the case.
JAW = Jesus was alive and walking around on the first Easter Sunday.
Part 11 (December 17th) summarizes the previous discussion of the first lemma.
I argued that if this basic Christian assumption is NOT the case, then the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is weak and we should conclude that the skeptical view of the resurrection is more probable than the Christian view.
Part 12 (December 23rd) begins the discussion of the second lemma, based on the supposition that JAW is true. I am attempting to show that even on the supposition of this key claim put forward by Christian apologists, the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead is still improbable.
Although I did not stick closely to my initial acronyms, the most recent posts (Parts 13-16) have been about the historical unreliability of the Fourth Gospel and the resulting reasonable doubts about two key claims:
DSW = On Friday of Passover week, just before the first Easter Sunday, Jesus received a deep spear wound to his chest (i.e. the tip of the spear penetrated at least 3” deep, measured perpendicular to the surface where the spear entered his chest).
HAF = On Friday of Passover week, just before the first Easter Sunday, Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to a cross.
The probability of both of these claims rests in large measure on the historicity and reliability of the Doubting Thomas story in the Fourth Gospel.
Doubting the Doubting Thomas Story
Why doubt the Doubting Thomas story? There are three different kinds of considerations that support a skeptical view of the Doubting Thomas story.1. General Problems with the Gospels – including the Fourth Gospel
a. It was written by a Christian believer with the purpose of promoting Christian beliefs.
b. It was probably not written by an eyewitness.
c. It was composed decades after the crucifixion of Jesus.
d. It provides no attribution of specific stories or details to named and known eyewitnesses or sources.
e. It was written in Greek rather than Aramaic (the language Jesus and his disciples used).
f. It appears that the words and sayings of Jesus were preserved in oral traditions that failed to reliably preserve the original situations or contexts of those words and sayings, thus opening the door to misunderstanding, distortion, and corruption of the original meaning of Jesus’ words and teachings.2. Particular Problems with the Fourth Gospel
a. The Fourth Gospel was probably the last of the canonical Gospels to be written; it was composed about 90 CE, six decades after the crucifixion of Jesus. Other things being equal, when the Fourth Gospel is inconsistent with the Synoptic Gospels, one should prefer the account or details of the earlier Gospels to that found in the Fourth Gospel.
b. Although the traditions used by the author of the Fourth Gospel probably came mostly from a Jerusalem-based disciple of Jesus (not one of the Twelve), the author was probably a disciple of that disciple, and thus not an eyewitness to the events in the Gospel.
c. The Fourth Gospel, unlike the synoptic Gospels, is a very unreliable source of the words and teachings of Jesus. The words and teachings of Jesus in this Gospel are significantly different from the words and teachings of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, and they appear to be mostly theological reflections about Jesus from one early Christian community, rather than the words and teachings of the historical Jesus. This does not mean that there is no accurate historical information in the Fourth Gospel, but it does provide a good reason to be skeptical about the other historical details in this Gospel.
d. The Fourth Gospel appears to have gone through at least a couple of significant revisions over a period of several years, and the final revision probably was not made by the author.
e. There are also other significant inconsistencies between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels concerning the life and ministry of Jesus, besides the differences about the words and teachings of Jesus. For example, there are no exorcisms by Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, while this is a central activity of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels, and there is no Jewish trial of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, and this Gospel has Jesus crucified at noon instead of nine in the morning, and this Gospel has the crucifixion take place at the same day as the slaughter of the lambs for Passover, while the other Gospels imply that Passover took place the previous day (at the last supper), etc.
3. Specific Problems with the Doubting Thomas story
a. The first post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus to a gathering of his disciples probably took place in Galilee, as implied by Mark and Matthew, not in Jerusalem. If so, this implies that the Doubting Thomas story is either fictional or is unreliable in terms of historical details (e.g. of time and/or place).
b. No other Gospel corroborates the Doubting Thomas story, and even Luke (which has an Easter appearance of Jesus to his gathered disciples) contradicts the Fourth Gospel, because the Easter Sunday appearance is to the eleven remaining disciples (Luke 24:33-40), which would include Thomas, while the Fourth Gospel states that Thomas did not see the resurrected Jesus on Easter Sunday (John 20:24-25). Also, Luke says nothing about the Jesus having a wound in his side nor about the disciples seeing or touching a wound in his side. c. The skepticism of Thomas and of the other disciples about the resurrection of Jesus creates a dilemma for defenders of the resurrection: either the stories of doubting disciples persuaded by appearances of Jesus are fictional (created for apologetic purposes) or else the disciples of Jesus did not actually observe the alleged amazing nature miracles by Jesus (turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fishes, calming a raging storm with a command, raising Lazarus from the dead, etc.). It is completely implausible to suppose that devout followers of Jesus would doubt his resurrection if they had previously seen the amazing miracles described in the Fourth Gospel (see The Atheist Debater’s Handbook, p.119-120). So, it is probable that either the nature miracle stories in the Fourth Gospel are fictional or else that the Doubting Thomas story is fictional. In either case, one has good reason to conclude that t
he details (at least) of the Doubting Thomas story are historically unreliable.
d. The historicity and reliability of the Doubting Thomas story depends in part on the historicity of the spear wound incident. There are various good reasons for doubting the historicity of the spear wound incident (e.g. it is inconsistent with the accounts in the Synoptic Gospels, and various details of the spear wound story are not corroborated by the Synoptic Gospels, plus the author of the Fourth Gospel sees the spear wound incident as a fulfillment of OT prophecy, so the event may have been generated by the prophecy).
For the above reasons, I doubt the Doubting Thomas story. It is probably a fictional story, and if there was an actual event concerning Thomas expressing doubt about the resurrection of Jesus, the details of that event have not been reliably preserved by the Fourth Gospel. Since this is the only passage in the Gospels that specifically mentions the use of nails in Jesus’ crucifixion, the evidence for HAF is very weak, and it is probable that HAF is false. Also, there is no mention of nail wounds in Jesus’ feet in the Doubting Thomas story, so it only provides (very weak) evidence of the use of nails to secure Jesus’ hands or arms to the cross, not evidence for the use of nails to secure his feet to the cross. Since we are supposing JAW to be true, JAW provides a powerful reason against the claim that Jesus feet were nailed to the cross, because someone who had his feet nailed to a cross on Friday would not be able to walk around unassisted on the following Sunday.
The Doubting Thomas story is one of only two passages (both in the Fourth Gospel) that provide evidence for Jesus being stabbed in the side with a spear while on the cross, so skepticism about the Doubting Thomas story also weakens the case for DSW.