bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – INDEX

The well-known Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig has read at least two of my posts from 2014 criticizing his case for the resurrection of Jesus, and he responded to some of my objections:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus

Here are the blog posts of mine that Dr. Craig addresses:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/05/23/the-failure-of-william-craigs-case-for-the-resurrection/

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/06/01/an-open-letter-to-dr-william-lane-craig/

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 After discovering (completely by accident) that Dr. Craig had read and commented on my blog posts, I have written a number of posts responding to his comments and objections.  
Here are my responses, so far:
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In Part 1 of this series, I argued that although I do not consider myself to be a scholar, I do have an extensive background in philosophy that qualifies me as being a well-informed intellectual (BA in philosophy from Sonoma State University, MA in philosophy from the University of Windsor, and completion of all requirements for a PhD in philosophy, except for the dissertation, at UC Santa Barbara).
In Part 2 of this series, I responded to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:

The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.

My main response to this point by Craig was this: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
In Part 3 of this series, I began to develop my second main response to Craig’s point about the death of Jesus by crucifixion being uncontroversial among biblical scholars.  Since Craig pointed to Luke Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who has great confidence in this historical claim about Jesus, I have focused in on the thinking of Johnson behind his view on this matter. We saw that based on Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged trial by Pilate and crucifixion by Roman soldiers is NOT sufficient to firmly establish the historicity of these events, but that confirmation from various “outsider” (non-Christian) and “insider” (Christian) non-narrative writings can, according to Johnson, make these two claims highly probable.
In my post called Note to Dr. William Lane Craig, I thank him for reading and responding to my criticisms of his case for the resurrection, point him to the first two posts in this series (which reply to his comments and objections), and make the following comments to Dr. Craig:
I hope that you will someday take the time to read these additional posts, and respond to them.  If it makes any difference, these posts are written with a more respectful tone, in part to show my appreciation for your taking the time to read and respond to some of my previous skeptical posts. 
In Part 4 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s “method of convergence” is justified by an analogy with an example where ten EYEWITNESS accounts of an event have some agreements and some disagreements.   Since there are NO EYEWITNESS accounts of the life or the death of Jesus, this analogy is both misleading and dubious.
We also saw that in a table  (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts and supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings, that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the “evidence” from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or even the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Claim (15) in particular is supposed to be highly probable, because it is supported by multiple “insider” writers as well as multiple “outsider” writers.  However, on closer examination we discovered the devil hiding in the details: the dating of Hebrews and 1 Peter are such that they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, neither Hebrews nor 1 Peter can reasonably be considered to be GOOD “insider” sources of information about Jesus, since they might well have been written AFTER the account of Jesus’ alleged trials and crucifixion in Mark was circulating among Christians, and thus they would NOT be independent sources of information about Jesus.  We were left with just the letters of Paul as the only “insider” source to confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.
In Part 5 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to two of the more significant claims from his list of claims about the historical Jesus:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
By examining the details concerning the two “outsider” writings that Johnson puts forward in support of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus, we see that both of the writings are worthless as far as providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  This means that out of the five writers (consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”) that Johnson claimed support claim (15), only ONE (Paul) has the potential to provide some support for the reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, and that this is not sufficient to make claim (15) highly probable.
In my post on Luke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus  I make a correction to a mistaken claim about Luke Johnson’s view of the resurrection contained in my first main response to William Craig, and argue that the point of my objection still holds up in spite of this mistake.
In Part 6 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to this claim:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
I argue that the THREE sources (outside of the Gospels) that Johnson points to as additional support for claim (13) are worthless for providing any significant support for the reliability of the Gospels, or the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for claim (13).
Luke Johnson’s  case began with an anology about agreements and disagreements between ten eyewitness accounts, but this analogy is both misleading and dubious, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS either of the life of Jesus, or of the death of Jesus, or of the burial of Jesus, or of the Easter Sunday appearances of Jesus.
Next Johnson provides a list of seventeen key claims from the Gospels that he thinks can be supported by various “outsider” and “insider” sources to confirm the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  But at least half of those seventeen claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, making them worthless for use in confirming the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
When we focus in on two of the most specific and significant of the seventeen claims, we find that claim (15) which supposedly was supported by FIVE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ONLY ONE “insider” source (the letters of Paul), and we find that claim (13) which was supposedly supported by THREE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ZERO good sources.  Johnson just cannot seem to get anything right.
In Part 7 of this series, I raise another objection to Luke Johnson’s reasoning about the historical Jesus in his book The Real Jesus:
… it appears that Luke Johnson reasons this way:
1. It is highly probable that claim (A) about Jesus is true.
2. It is highly probable that claim (B) about Jesus is true.
3. It is highly probable that claim (C) about Jesus is true.
4. It is highly probable that claim (D) about Jesus is true.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that claims (A) and (B) and (C) and (D) about Jesus are all true.
This is clearly a bit of fallacious reasoning.  Such bad reasoning about probability is tempting and quite common, but it is still bad reasoning, and Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to engage in such fallacious reasoning about the probability of claims about Jesus.  …Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to commit the fallacy of compostion, and to reason from the high probability of individual claims about Jesus to the high probability of  conjunctions of serveral claims about Jesus.
In Part 8 of this series, I make a final point about how Luke Johnson’s skepticism about the details in the Gospels undermines the view that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence to establish such details:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
I have finished my discussion of Luke Timothy Johnson’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and I will begin my discussion of  Robert Funk’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the next post, after a brief review here of the CONTEXT of this series of posts (i.e. my main objection to WLC’s case for the resurrection, and WLC’s main response to my objection). 
In Part 10 of this series, I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.
Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.
 

bookmark_borderLuke 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:
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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…
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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.”

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 4

I have criticized William Craig’s case for the resurrection on the grounds that he fails to show that Jesus died on the cross, and that apart from proving this to be a fact, his case for the resurrection of Jesus is a complete failure.
Craig’s primary response to this criticism is that the death of Jesus on the cross is uncontroversial among biblical scholars:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus  (viewed 11/11/15)
Craig then quotes two biblical scholars in order to support his point:  Luke Timothy Johnson and Robert Funk, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar.
In the second post in this series, I presented my main response to this point by Craig: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
In the third post in this series, I began to develop my second main response to Craig’s point about the death of Jesus by crucifixion being uncontroversial among biblical scholars.  Since Craig pointed to Luke Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who has great confidence in this historical claim about Jesus, I have focused in on the thinking of Johnson behind his view on this matter.   I argued that Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gosopels is such that he does not think that the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion and death of Jesus are sufficient to show that it is nearly certain or highly probable that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross.
However, Johnson still asserts that these historical claims are highly probable on the basis of converging lines of evidence from historical sources other than the Gospels that support key points in the Gospel accounts, such as that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross:
Sober consideration of such difficulties ought to reduce expectations of how much real historical knowledge can be gained about the year (or few years) of Jesus’ ministry and the circumstances of his death.  Complete historical skepticism, however, is equally unwarranted.  A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events. …But they can speak to the most basic and important questions concerning the historical existence of Jesus and the movement deriving from him, as well as to some sense of his characteristic activity.  (The Real Jesus, 1st paperback edition, p.111-112; hereafter: TRJ)
Here is how Johnson explains his method:
The method used to establish the historical framework [of historical claims about Jesus] is one of locating converging lines of evidence.  It is a simple method, based on the assumption that when witnesses disagree across a wide range of issues, their agreement on something tends to increase the probability of its having happened.  When ten witnesses disagree vehemently on whether the noise they heard at midnight was a car backfire,  a gunshot, or a firecracker, it becomes highly probable that a loud percussive sound occurred about that time.
Likewise in the case of Jesus, the convergence on one or two points by witnesses who disagree on everything else is all the more valuable.  This is the case especially when the testimony comes either from outsiders or from insiders who are not creating but rather are alluding to narrative traditions.  In the following pages, then, I will suggest some of these lines of convergence and the kinds of historical assertions about Jesus they allow.  (TRJ, p.112)
The example of ten different “witnesses” disagreeing about the specific cause of a loud noise, but agreeing about the time and place of the loud noise makes sense, but this example is misleading and does not correspond well with the “converging lines of evidence” that Johnson has to offer for historical claims about Jesus.  In the case of the loud noise the “witnesses” are eyewitnesses, or more specifically, earwitnesses, and their “testimony” concerns direct observations of the event in question.  But this does not fit with the case of evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus, as another skeptical bible scholar, Bart Ehrman, makes clear:
…we do not have a single reference to Jesus by anyone–pagan, Jew, or Christian–who was a contemporary eyewitness, who recorded things he said and did.  (Did Jesus Exist? p.46)
As far as I can tell, Luke Johnson would agree with Ehrman on this point.  I quote Ehrman here because he makes this point very clearly and succintly.  There can be no “agreement” between eyewitness accounts of the life or death of Jesus, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS of the life or death of Jesus, period.
Apparently, Johnson is using the word “witness” to mean any writer who makes a comment about Jesus around the first or second century, and by “testimony” he means whatever such writers say about what Jesus did or said or experienced, no matter how the information was obtained in the first place.  It is not clear how this is analogous to a comparison of eyewitness accounts of an event where the “witnesses” related what they directly observed concerning that event.
After reviewing examples of “outsider” (i.e. non-Christian) writings from the first and second centuries that mention Jesus and that relate to some key claim or event found in the Gospels, and after reviewing examples of “insider” (i.e. Christian) non-narrative writings in the New Testament that mention Jesus and relate to some key claim or event found in the Gospels, Johnson provides a table that summarizes the evidence used in his “method of convergence” to evaluate the probability of those events.
The table has seventeen claims, and indicates the various writings and types of writings other than the Gospels that support each particular claim.  The items in parentheses refer to “insider” (i.e. Christian) non-narrative New Testament writings, and the asterisk indicates that one or more “outsider” (i.e. non-Christian) writing supports the claim:
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1. Jesus was a human person  (Paul, Hebrews)*
2.  Jesus was a Jew  (Paul, Hebrews)*
3.  Jesus was of the tribe of Judah  (Hebrews)
4.  Jesus was a descendant of David  (Paul)
5.  Jesus’ mission was to the Jews  (Paul)*
6.  Jesus was a teacher  (Paul, James)*
7.  Jesus was tested  (Hebrews)
8.  Jesus prayed using the word Abba  (Paul)
9. Jesus prayed for deliverance from death (Hebrews)
10.  Jesus suffered  (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)
11.  Jesus interpreted his last meal with reference to his death  (Paul [by implication in Tacitus and Josephus])
12.  Jesus underwent a trial (Paul)*
13.  Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
14.  Jesus’ end involved some Jews  (Paul)*
15.  Jesus was crucified  (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
16. Jesus was buried  (Paul)
17. Jesus appeared to witnesses after his death  (Paul)
(The Real Jesus, p.121-122)
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Many of these claims seem trivial and insignificant:

1. Jesus was a human person.  –  Just like every other religous leader who has ever lived, and just like every other supposed prophet or messiah!
2.  Jesus was a Jew. – If someone claims to be “the messiah” or is believed by others to be “the messiah”, then being a Jew seems like an obvious requirement.  So if someone heard that “Jesus claimed to be the messiah” or “Jesus’ followers claimed he was the messiah”, then they could easily infer that Jesus was a Jew, since the concept of a “messiah” was a Jewish concept, and since the Jews hoped for and expected the messiah to be a Jew.
Furthermore, one need not even have heard that “Jesus claimed to be the messiah” in order to infer that “Jesus was a Jew”  because the very name “Jesus” gives this fact away.  The Jewish prophet from Galilee was not actually named “Jesus” because “Jesus” is a name in ENGLISH, and the English language did not exist two thousand years ago.  The Gospels were written in Greek, and the Gospels give his name as Iesous, which is  “the Greek translation of the Hebrew name ‘Joshua.’ “ (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p.366).  The actual name of the prophet from Galilee was Yeshua, which is the Aramaic form of the Hebrew name that we translate into English as “Joshua”.
So, Jesus was apparently named after the famous military leader of the Israelites who led the army of Israel in the conquest of the “promised land” after Moses died.  Jesus was named after a very famous Jewish leader, as were many of his fellow Jews in Palestine.  “Jesus” (or Yeshua) was a very common name for Jewish males in Palestine in the first century, so anyone familiar with common Jewish names, and common Roman names, and common names of other groups, could easily infer that a man named “Jesus” was probably a Jew.
4.  Jesus was a descendant of David. – How could anyone KNOW whether this was true or not back in Jesus’ day?  The only thing that someone could actually know along these lines is that Jesus CLAIMED to be a descendant of David, or that Jesus BELIEVED himself to be a descendant of David, and this is precisely what we would reasonably expect any Jew of that time who claimed to be the messiah to say or to believe.
7.  Jesus was tested.  – I suppose this means that Jesus was tempted.  Has any normal adult human being ever lived for a year or longer and NOT been seriously tempted to do something wrong?  This claim applies to virtually every adult human being.
9. Jesus prayed for deliverance from death.  – Has any normal adult who believes in God ever NOT prayed for deliverance from death when their life was in danger?  Even atheists are thought to make such prayers when their lives are put into serious danger.  This claim applies to virtually every adult human being (who believes in God).
10.  Jesus suffered.  – We all suffer at one time or another in one way or another.  This is like a vacuous “fortune” from a fortune cookie: “You are going to suffer.”  This claim applies to virtually every human being.
12.  Jesus underwent a trial.  – I just recently went on trial for a traffic violation.  I prepared my own defense, argued my case, and the charge was dismissed by the judge.  Lots of people experience being on trial.  This is a very common experience.
14.  Jesus’ end involved some Jews.  – Perhaps Johnson was just being a bit too vague here, but given that person X is a Jew, it is only to be expected that person X’s end would likely have “involved some Jews”.  If someone is sick or dying, then we would expect friends or family members to care for or visit that person.  If someone dies, we would expect friends or family member to bury that person.  Jews are usually from Jewish families, just like mexicans are usually from mexican families (nationality/ethnicity), and just like Christians are usually from Christian families (religion/culture).  And people generally form friendships with others of similar ethnic backgrounds and similar religious beliefs as themselves.
16.  Jesus was buried.  – Like nearly everyone else who has ever died, particularly at that point in history, when a proper burial for the dead was considered to be of great importance.
Perhaps Johnson could fix some of these trivial claims by sharpening the claims up and making them less vague, but as they stand, many of these claims are vacuous or trivial.  It looks like about half of the “claims” in Johnson’s list are either vacuous or very vague or are easily inferred from little or no factual data.  Providing “evidence” for such claims does very little to provide support the “historical framework” of the Gospel accounts.
Claims (13) and (15), however, are more specific and more significant.  So, let’s focus on these claims to see how well Johnson’s method of convergence does in supporting these two claims:
13.  Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15.  Jesus was crucified  (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Note that most of the claims in Johnson’s chart only have one or two “insider” sources, and that only two claims have three insider sources: claim (10) and claim (15). Claim (15), the claim about Jesus being crucified, also has an asterisk, indicating that one or more “outsider” sources support this claim.  No other claim in the chart has three “insider” sources and also one or more “outsider” sources.  Furthermore,  Johnson reviews the “outsider” sources for (15), and there are multiple such sources.  Since there are three “insider” sources and multiple “outsider” sources supporting (15), Johnson draws the conclusion that (15) is highly probable:
…certain fundamental points on which all the Gospels agree, when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outsider testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded as historical with a high degree of probability.  Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus…was executed  by crucifixion under the prefect Pontious Pilate, and continued to have followers after his death.  These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history.  But they enjoy a very high level of probability. (TRJ, p.122-123)
Johnson goes on to say that some claims about Jesus have “only slightly less probability”, for example, claim (14) that “Jesus end involved some Jews”, and claim  (5) that “Jesus’ mission was to the Jews.”  Note that these claims have support from both “insider” and “outsider” sources, but that there is only one “insider” source (Paul) for each of these two claims, as compared with three “insider” sources for the claim that “Jesus was crucified”.  It appears that having just one “insider” source (as opposed to three) makes these two claims less probable than claim (15) about Jesus being crucified.
Although Johnson does not spell this out explicitly, it seems fairly obvious that he is basing his probability judgments here on something like the following assumptions:
A claim about Jesus that has support from all four canonical Gospels and both good “insider” sources and good “outsider” sources should be considered to be probable, and the more good “insider” and good “outsider” sources support the point, the stronger the probability.  A claim about Jesus that is supported by all four canonical  Gospels plus three good “insider” sources and two or three good “outsider” sources should be considered to be highly probable.
I have used the vague word “good” to qualify the sources, because it is obvious that not just any source would be acceptable to provide significant historical support for a Gospel claim about life or death of Jesus.
For example, Johnson quotes sources that are early, sources that date to the first or second centuries.  A source from the fourth or fifth century would clearly not provide any significant support for Gospel claims about Jesus.  In fact, in the paragraph immediately following his table of seventeen claims about Jesus, Johnson does indicate the importance of the earliness of a source, in a comment about “insider” (i.e. Christian) sources used to support Gospel claims about Jesus:
To repeat, non-narrative New Testament writings datable with some degree of probability before the year 70 testify to traditions circulating within the Christian movement concerning Jesus that correspond to important points within the Gospel narratives.  Such traditions do not, by themselves, demonstrate historicity.  But they indicate that memories concerning Jesus were in fairly wide circulation.  This makes it less likely that the corresponding points in the Gospels were the invention of a single author or group.  (TRJ, p.122)
Why does Johnson focus on “the year 70”?  He does not say, but it seems fairly obvious that this year is significant because it is the year that most biblical scholars believe the Gospel of Mark was written (plus-or-minus a few years).  The Gospel of Mark is believed by most biblical scholars to have been the first Gospel to be composed.  Presumably,  “insider” sources that were written BEFORE the year 70 CE would not have been influenced by the Gospel of Mark, and thus would provide a source of information that was INDEPENDENT of the Gospel of Mark (as well as the other canonical Gospels).
If a person read about the (alleged) crucifixion of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and then later wrote a letter that mentioned the crucifixion of Jesus, this letter would NOT provide information about Jesus crucifixion that was INDEPENDENT of the Gospel of Mark (or at least it would be reasonable to assume that this information came from the Gospel of Mark).  Therefore, it is very reasonable to use the year 70 CE as a cutoff point, and to generally presume that “insider” sources written after 70 CE are DEPENDENT on one or more of the canonical Gospels.  One requirement for something to be a GOOD “insider” source is that it was written BEFORE 70 CE.
This is one point at which we find the devil in the details.  The three “insider” sources shown for claim (15) in Johnson’s “method of convergence” table are:  Paul, Hebrews, and 1 Peter.  The problem is that we don’t know when Hebrews was written, so by Johnson’s own assumptions, this is NOT a good “insider” source of information that can be used to provide significant support for Gospel claims about Jesus:
It is therefore virtually impossible to suggest a date for Hebrews…  (Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p.1453)
Thus the most frequent range suggested for the writing of Heb [i.e. Hebrews] is AD 60 to 90, with scholars divided as to whether it should be dated before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (hence to the 60s) or after (hence to the 80s).
…Nothing conclusive can be decided about dating, but in my judgment the discussion about the addressees into which we now enter favors the 80s.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond Brown, p.696-697)
The general range within which Hebrews was written runs from ca. A.D. 60 to ca. 95.  The earlier date is suggested by the author’s reference to himself and his community as second-generation Christians (2:3-4). …The upper end of the date range  is often anchored in the use of Hebrews by 1 Clement. …That letter from the leadership of the Roman church to Corinth is normally dated to A.D. 95-96, although that date is hardly secure, and the work could have been written anytime between A.D. 75 and 120.  This provides an upper end for the date of Hebrews of about A.D. 110.  ( HarperCollins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p.1149)
In addition to the biblical scholars who wrote commentaries on Hebrews that I have quoted above, there is another biblical scholar that Luke Johnson will have difficulty arguing against, namely himself:
Hebrews was composed early enough to be quoted extensively by 1 Clement, written to the Corinthian church around 95 C.E. …The sermon [i.e. Hebrews] could therefore have been written any time between 35 and 95 C.E.  (The Writings of the New Testament, revised edition, 1999, p.461)
We don’t know that Hebrews was written BEFORE 70 CE, so we don’t know whether Hebrews is INDEPENDENT from the Gospels.  So, there are, at most, only two good “insider” sources that support claim (15): Paul and 1 Peter.
Another point where the devil is hiding in the details is that the date of composition of 1 Peter is as problematic as Hebrews, so it also cannot be considered to be a good “insider” source for use to confirm claims about Jesus from the Gospels:
 All this points to a date [for 1 Peter] somewhere between 70 and 100 CE (so Best 1971; Balch 1981; Elliot 1982; on the inconclusiveness of some of this evidence, however, see Achtemeier 1996).  (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1263)
The date of the letter [i.e. 1 Peter] cannot be settled readily, but it is more likely to have been written shortly after the beginning of Domitian’s reign in AD 81 than either earlier or later.  (Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p.1495)
If Peter wrote the letter [i.e. 1 Peter], the possible date range would be 60-65.  If the letter is pseudonymous, written by a disciple, the range would be 70-100. …the two ranges can be reduced to 60-63 and 70-90.  Pastoral care for Asia Minor exercised from Rome would be more intelligible after 70.  Similarly the use of ‘Bablylon’ as a name for Rome makes better sense after 70, when the Romans had destroyed the second Temple…; all the other attestations of this symbolic use of the name occur in the post-70 period.  The best parallels to the church structure portrayed in 1 Pet 5:1-4 are found in works written after 70… . All this tilts the scales in favor of 70-90, which now seems to be the majority scholarly view.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond Brown, p.721-722)
 In summary, 1 Peter is a general letter, probably written from Rome around the end of the first century, by follower(s) of the apostle Peter… (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, p.1168)
Many scholars…believe that the letter [i.e. 1 Peter] is pseudonymous, coming from a ‘Petrine circle’ in Rome in the last quarter of the 1st century. (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.1037).
Another biblical scholar that Luke Johnson could learn from is a scholar named Luke Johnson:
An even greater problem [than the problem of establishing dates for the Gospels] is presented by writings that are occasional in nature but cannot be fitted within the Pauline chronology.  There is simply no way to date Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, Jude, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation with any certainty.  (TRJ, p.91)
Most scholars, however, consider it [1 Peter] to have been written near the end of the first century.  (TRJ, p.164)
In that case we cannot determine “with any certainty” that 1 Peter was composed before 70 CE, and thus we cannot determine “with any certainty” that 1 Peter is a good “insider” source to use as evidence to confirm events or claims from the Gospels.
There are various arguments against Peter the apostle being the author of 1 Peter, and Johnson raises objections to these arguments to show that it is POSSIBLE that Peter is the author (see The Writings of the New Testament, revised edition, p. 479-484), but Johnson never argues that it is PROBABLE that Peter wrote this letter.
Given that there are many biblical scholars who date 1 Peter to the “last quarter of the 1st century” we can hardly be confident that this is a good “insider” source that can provide significant support for Gospel claims about Jesus.  So, because of the devil in the details, we are now down to just one good “insider” source supporting claim (15): the letters of Paul.
To be continued…
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to Dr. William Lane Craig – Part 2

In my previous post on this topic, I argued that although I do not consider myself to be a scholar, I do have an extensive background in philosophy that qualifies me as being a well-informed intellectual (BA in philosophy from Sonoma State University, MA in philosophy from the University of Windsor, and completion of all requirements for a PhD in philosophy, except for the dissertation, at UC Santa Barbara).
William Craig’s Main Point
I’m now going to respond to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.
Craig continues by giving some examples to support his claim about biblical scholars:
For example, Luke Johnson, who is a New Testament scholar of some renown at Emory University says, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”  In fact, the death of Jesus is so well established that according to Robert Funk, who was the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, the crucifixion was “one indisputable fact” that neither the early Christians  nor their opponents could deny. That remains similar today.  The crucifixion and the death of Jesus is something that is simply not in dispute by historians today.
Consensus of Scholars vs. Strength of Evidence
A consensus among biblical scholars is rare, so if there is a consensus among biblical scholars that Jesus was crucified and died  on the cross, then that is clearly a point in favor of Craig’s view.  However, what is most important is not that there is consensus, but the strength of the evidence and reasons that form the basis of the judgments of these biblical scholars.  If the evidence and reasons are weak, then the consensus of scholars does not magically make the evidence strong.  A consensus of biblical scholars suggests that the evidence is strong, but does not by itself prove that the evidence is strong.  I prefer to look at the evidence for myself, and to do my own thinking.
Funk is NOT as Confident in Jesus’ Death and Crucifixion as Craig Implies
There is no date or specific reference for the quote attributed to Robert Funk about the crucifixion of Jesus (Craig’s footnote says only this: “Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.”), so I cannot assess the meaning and significance of that quotation in context.  But I do have a copy of Robert Funk’s book Honest to Jesus (HarperCollins, 1996; hereafter: HTJ), in which he discusses his views on the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus:
There is nothing in the Christian story, so far as I can see, that is immune from doubt.  The crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question. …We do not know for a fact that he was buried.  His body may have been left to rot on the cross, to become carrion for dogs and crows.  What we have come to call the resurrection…is nowhere narrated directly, except in the highly imaginative account in the Gospel of Peter.  The reports of his appearances vary so widely with respect to location, time, and witness that we cannot particularize what sort of an event those appearances were.  And very few scholars believe that the birth stories are anything other than attempts to claim that Jesus was a remarkable person.  Even the existence of Jesus has been challenged more than once and not without some justification.  We should begin by admitting that all of these myths and legends may rest on nothing other than the fertile imagination of early believers. (HTJ, p.219-220)
Funk admits that even the existence of Jesus is subject to rational doubts, and he admits that the “crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question.”  Furthermore, Funk makes comments about the crucifixion of Jesus that support a skeptical viewpoint about it:
We know very few things for certain about the death of Jesus and the events that led up to it.  (HTJ, p.220)
Most of Jesus’ followers fled during or after his arrest, but a few, especially the women, and Mary of Magdala in particular, may have witnessed the crucifixion.  We do not know how their memories came to inform the creation of a passion narrative many decades later, if indeed that narrative reflects any eyewitness observations at all. (HTJ, p.220)
So, from Funk’s point of view, the twelve apostles were NOT eyewitnesses of the crucifixion, and furthermore, although some women “may have”  witnessed the crucifixion, we don’t know whether the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus reflect “any eyewitness observations at all.”   Given these skeptical assumptions, it is difficult to see how Funk could be certain or even highly confident in the claim that “Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.”
 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:
 The resurrection faith, then, was not the conviction that Jesus had resumed his life for a time and appeared to some of his followers.  It was a conviction, corroborated by the present experience of his power even years after his death, that he was alive in a new and powerful way; that he shared, indeed, God’s life.  (WONT, p.117)
The experience of the resurrection is not about vague and vaporous visions.  It is not a belief that Jesus was resuscitated and then resumed his former way of living.  It does not derive from insights into Jesus’ life.  The Christian witness of the resurrection does not say that Jesus was spotted in passing by a few people before disappearing. …
It is clear, then, that the resurrection experience cannot be confined to the narratives of the Gospels, for the fundamental experience and conviction were available to those who neither saw the tomb nor had a vision of Jesus.   The experience of his powerful presence was possible because he was alive and caused it. (WONT, p.114)
For Johnson, the “resurrection” refers not to an event in which the dead body of Jesus comes back to life, but to a religious experience of the “powerful  presence” of Jesus that is available to any Christian believer at any point in history.  Note also that Johnson contrasts this common sort of religious experience not with the ordinary sensory experiences of the apostles who (allegedly) saw, touched, and talked with a living, walking, talking, and physically embodied Jesus, but rather with having a “vision of Jesus”.  In other words, the apostles did not experience a living Jesus in a physical body on Easter Sunday.  On Johnson’s view, the apostles had various visions of Jesus, not sensory experiences of a living and embodied Jesus (see also p.133-136 of The Real Jesus by Luke Johnson)
I suspect that Craig is aware that neither Johnson nor Funk believe that Jesus’s body came back to life on Easter Sunday, and that this is partly why he chose to quote Johnson and Funk.  If instead of quoting these more skeptical biblical scholars, Craig had quoted the opinion of  an Evangelical biblical scholar (e.g. Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, D.A. Carson, Robert Gundry, Craig Keener, Robert Stein), I and other skeptics would respond that “Of course so-and-so believes that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross; he is an Evangelical Christian scholar, and so he believes that whatever the Gospel accounts say must be true.”  The fact that there is a consensus among Evangelical Christian scholars that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross does not carry much weight.  Thus, Craig quotes from more skeptical biblical scholars who are outside of the Evangelical Christian fold, in order to give examples that carry more weight and significance.
But the views of more skeptical and more liberal biblical scholars on this issue are ALSO problematic, and are ALSO generally lacking weight and significance.  Craig fails to notice that there is a crucially important difference between his point of view, and the point of view of skeptical biblical scholars like Luke Johnson and Robert Funk:  they DO NOT BELIEVE that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”  Craig not only believes this to be true, he believes that this is an historical FACT, or that it can be firmly established on the basis of historical facts. Since, Johnson and Funk do not believe this, they have NO SPECIFIC REASON to doubt that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.  If they did believe it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, then they might well be much LESS confident about the claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the Friday prior to Easter Sunday.
The probability of a claim is always relative to the information and assumptions that one takes into consideration.  There is a fundamental and critical difference between the information and assumptions that Johnson and Funk take into consideration when making a judgment about the probability of the claim “Jesus was crucified and died on the cross” as compared with the information and assumptions that Craig takes into consideration (or should take into consideration) when making a judgment about the probability of this claim about the death of Jesus.   Craig assumes that it is an HISTORICAL FACT that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified”  but Johnson and Funk make no such assumption, and thus they DO NOT take this claim into consideration when making a judgment of the probability of the claim that “Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.”
The relevant question at issue has NOT YET been considered by either Johnson or Funk:
IF you became convinced that it was an historical FACT that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after the Friday when he was (allegedly) crucified, THEN would you still judge it to be nearly certain or highly probable that Jesus was crucified on Friday and that Jesus died on the cross that same day?
Unless and until biblical scholars issue judgments on THIS QUESTION, their judgments are of little significance to the view that William Craig is defending (i.e. belief in the PHYSICAL resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday).
The Devil is in the Details
Although biblical scholars who are more skeptical about the Gospels (than Evangelical Christian biblical scholars) do sometimes make general statements about the crucifixion and death of Jesus being highly probable or nearly certain, when we look into the details of their views about the Gospels and about the stories about Jesus being crucified, we see that they don’t  actually have adequate grounds for their confident judgments that Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross are firmly established historical facts.
This will be the main issue covered in my next post on this topic.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.