Luke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus
In my second post responding to William Craig on his point that the death of Jesus on the cross is uncontroversial among biblical scholars, I focused in on the first two biblical scholars that he gave as examples: Robert Funk and Luke Johnson:
Many Biblical Scholars Do NOT Believe that Jesus was Alive and Walking Around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday
It is interesting that the first two examples of biblical scholars that Craig points to are scholars who DON’T BELIEVE that Jesus rose from the dead. More specifically, neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead. So, neither Johnson nor Funk believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.” Funk makes it clear that he does not believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY came back to life:
The Jesus Seminar decided not to duck this issue [of whether Jesus rose PHYSICALLY from the dead]: The fellows reached a fairly firm consensus: Belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on what happened to his corpse. They are supported in this by the judgment of many contemporary scholars. Jesus’ resurrection did not involve the resuscitation of a dead body. About three-fourths of the Fellows believe that Jesus’ followers did not know what happened to his body. (HTJ, p.259)
Luke Johnson is more vague and less straightforward (than Funk), and it is harder to pin down his beliefs about the resurrection, but in his book The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, Fortress Press, 1999: hereafter: WONT) he seems to hold a view that is similar to that of Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar…
My statement that “neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.” is wrong. While this is a true statement about Robert Funk, it is a false statement about Luke Johnson.
My belief that Johnson rejected the traditional Christian view that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead was based on reading what Johnson says about Jesus’ resurrection in The Real Jesus (especially, Chapters 4, 5, 6 and the Epilogue) and in The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, especially Chapters 4 and 5). Although Johnson did not explicitly state that he rejected the traditional Christian belief in the PHYSICAL resurrection of Jesus, he did say many things that seemed to point in that direction.
However, Joe Hinman objected that I had misunderstood Johnson’s views and pointed me to Johnson’s book Living Jesus. I found that on pages 11 through 22 of Living Jesus, Johnson provides a clearer explanation of his views about Jesus’ resurrection, and Johnson makes it clear there that he believes Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead. So, I have to conclude that my interpretation of his views in The Real Jesus and in The Writings of the New Testament was mistaken.
You can read the relevant passages on the Google Books preview of Living Jesus.
Although my description of Johnson’s view of Jesus’ resurrection was mistaken, this does NOT show that my objection was wrong.
First of all, the main point of my objection is that many biblical scholars who judge the death of Jesus by crucifixion to be nearly certain or highly probable DO NOT BELIEVE that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.” This generalization can still be true, even if Luke Johnson doesn’t fall into this category of biblical scholars.
Second, although Luke Johnson does believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead, he DOES NOT BELIEVE that this is an HISTORICAL FACT. Johnson repeatedly asserts that the resurrection of Jesus transcends history and is not subject to historical investigation or historical proof or historical disproof. So, Jesus being alive after the crucifixion is NOT an HISTORICAL FACT that can be considered and weighed in the careful and objective historical judgments made by an historian. Therefore, for Luke Johnson, unlike for William Craig, Jesus being alive on Easter Sunday is not an historical fact that can operate as historical evidence against the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross the same day he was crucified. So, my original objection holds.
Furthermore, although Luke Johnson believes that Jesus’ physical body was transformed into a new supernatural resurrection body at some time and at some place after the crucifixion, it does NOT follow that Johnson believes that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”
In fact, although it is hard to be certain, it seems to me that Johnson’s skeptical views about the Gospels, and particularly about the empty-tomb stories and the appearance stories in the Gospels, are such that Johnson has significant doubts about the accuracy of the time and place of Jesus’ appearances to his gathered disciples, despite the clear indications in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John that such appearances occured in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.
My impression is that Johnson has significant doubts about the Gospel claims that Jesus appeared to his gathered disciples in Jerusalem and on Easter Sunday. Thus, Johnson might well doubt, or even reject, the key historical claim for which Craig strenously argues, and which was the focus of my objection: “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”